Monday, December 31, 2007

Interest Groups, Principles, and Elections

This video of an interview with dirty trick master Roger Stone at is full of interesting quotes and nuggets that reinforce a number of my Rules of Interest Group Politics and Corruption.

Some of the best parts:

At around the six-minute mark, Stone discusses the idea that Strom Thurmond was a racist. Stone argues that Thurmond was a racist because that's what he had to be to get elected; when being a racist was no longer a good way to get elected, Thurmond stopped being a racist. Stone's point is simply a restatement of Rule 7: a politician's primary goal is almost always gaining and maintaining power, without which he cannot implement his preferred policies. It also implicates Rule 6: politicians cannot remain in power long without the support of their core interest groups. In Thurmond's case, his core interest groups changed their views on segregation and racism; without them he could not remain in power, so he changed his views on segregation and racism. Something else worth mentioning is that, as Stone discusses, Thurmond's change was a response to the people changing; in other words, Thurmond's changed position merely reflected the bottom-up changes that were already occuring.

Some other worthwhile points Stone discusses that are relevant to this blog:

1. The failure of the Reform Party was due to the fact that it had no core ideology. There was nothing for its constituent interest groups to unite behind because they had nothing in common, and so it was doomed to failure. While the GOP is not exactly on the verge of disappearing like the Reform Party did, Stone's lesson here is essentially what I've been harping on for ages: the Republican Party cannot succeed much longer with its old coalition: its core groups have ceased to have any common ground on which to unite.

2. The role of the Libertarian Party: Stone argues, correctly I think, that the LP will continue to exist because it is centered on a coherent ideology. Although that coherent ideology overlaps significantly with a part of the GOP's traditional ideology, the LP will survive because it provides an alternative for a good chunk of the GOP coalition. Thus the LP has an important role to play in keeping libertarians as a priority for the GOP (in Stone's view). While I don't think the GOP has kept libertarians as a priority in recent years, the disillusionment of libertarians (and the increasing likelihood of a Ron Paul LP run) with the GOP is going to force the Republicans to decide soon whether they should change some of their policies to reclaim most of the libertarian vote or just let the libertarians go. With the rise of Huckabee, I suspect this will be impossible to do in a way that will keep the ever-powerful evangelical contingent happy.

I also found the discussion of Eliot Spitzer interesting insofar as it implies (perhaps unintentionally) that Spitzer's self-financed campaign makes him unaccountable to interest groups, which means he is largely accountable only to himself. What this does is to allow Spitzer the ability to bully opponents and allies alike with little fear of retribution in terms of lost ability to win elections. Certainly Stone has a rather colorful history with Spitzer, so you have to take his comments on this point with a huge grain of salt.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fox News Gives a Boost to the Paul Campaign

***UPDATE 3, 1/1/2008*** CNN, via the AP, is now reporting the original story was, in fact, correct. Apparently Fox News has offered an explanation for excluding Paul that is based on the idea that it has insufficient space in its "mobile studio" to accommodate six candidates. They claim Paul is excluded because he did not receive double digit support in recent polls. This strikes me as bogus; if the criteria is to be likelihood at winning the nomination, Fox News should not be saying who has a likelihood of winning the nomination before there has even been a vote cast. The criteria ABC News has selected for its debate the preceding debate strikes me as far more reasonable and objective, based in part on the Iowa results; Fox's criteria give the appearance that it just wanted to exclude Paul from the debate. While they certainly have the right to do so, they are giving up any claim to "we report, you decide" in the process and are intentionally and overtly seeking to steer the results of the GOP race. As I said in my original post, below, it is likely that the Paul grassroots will make this decision backfire on Fox, but it is still a move that is beyond shady.

***UPDATE 2, 12/30/2007*** It is now pretty clear that the whole story was false. Which means that there were a whole host of errors here that went uncorrected for several days. When I first heard about the story on Thursday night, I was a little bit suspicious of it; but when the story remained unrefuted through most of yesterday and had been picked up by numerous sources both pro and anti-Paul, I figured it was safe to write about. I was wrong. My original analysis, which remains below, is therefore inaccurate and now meaningless.

***UPDATE***Death By a Thousand Paper Cuts raises some significant doubts about the validity of this story. The story first appeared a couple days ago, but there still has not been an official announcement from Fox News that the forum even exists or that it will be televised. Since the source of the original story was the AP (which was why I felt comfortable posting about it) and also the Paul campaign itself, I'm still inclined to think there is a story here. But the doubts raised at DBKP make a lot of sense; at the very least, there seems to be a need for more hard facts on this story. My original post remains below, unedited:

As is now widely being reported, Fox News is apparently excluding Ron Paul from a last-minute televised "candidate forum" set for January 6 in NH- two days before the NH primary, and three days after the Iowa caucuses kick off the race for delegates. I don't think it's necessary for me to repeat the many obvious problems with this decision by Fox News, which importantly appears to be Fox's decision rather than the decision of the state party itself. If you really do need an explanation of what is wrong with this decision, you can't do much better than this. The only real expanation for Fox's actions is that Fox overtly wants to control the coverage and outcome of the GOP race. While this is hardly surprising, the overtness of this actions demonstrates that Fox has dropped any pretense of being above politics and something other than an interest group unto itself.

Wake Up America has a balanced discussion of possible responses by the Paul grassroots. In this case, the grassroots are absolutely right to be angry, but the idea of "nonviolent disruption" of the event is one of the worst things they could do- they'll just come off looking like idiots. Fortunately, cooler heads seem likely to prevail and the grassroots could come up with a new creative response to turn this into a positive.

Which brings me to the point of this post. If Fox News was hoping to hurt the Paul campaign with this move, it will almost surely backfire. For starters, these debates long ago passed the point of being tiresome and meaningless; we've had one every couple of weeks for the last six plus months. While this particular debate is only two days before the NH primary, everyone in New Hampshire at this point has to be pretty much sick of hearing about politics. What this means is that the actual substance of the "forum" will have little to no effect on voter decisions in the state, and people nationally just won't care all that much.

On the other hand, Paul's exclusion will be conspicuous, especially coming on the heels of an anticipated $20 million fundraising quarter that should keep Paul in front of the cameras for much of the week. If Paul finishes third in Iowa - a distinct possibility - that absence will be even more conspicuous. Another oft-ignored fact is that Paul has been getting an unusually large number of nationally broadcast interviews the last few months; his absence will be conspicuous. On top of all that is the fact that his exclusion will itself be news, especially with the passionate hatred that exists for Fox News at the other television media outlets. There are going to be a lot of even stalwart Republicans who will think that Fox News' decision on this is a little bit shady. That treatment could make them sympathetic to Paul's campaign in a way that another debate appearance could not.

But any possible benefits like this will go out the window if Paul supporters do something stupid along the lines of disrupting the forum itself or in any way harassing average residents of the state.

Best Thread on the Kristol Hiring

I don't have much to say about the Bill Kristol hiring at the NYT since it has little to do with the theme of this blog. But the Bill Kristol Facts thread at Unqualified Offerings has to be the funniest thing in the political blogosphere in awhile.

Factionalization Watch Reaches New Heights

Via Andrew Sullivan:

"It's gone. The breakup of what was the Reagan coalition — social conservatives, defense conservatives, antitax conservatives — it doesn’t mean a whole lot to people anymore," - Ed Rollins, Ronald Reagan’s political director and Mike Huckabee’s national campaign chairman.

I've been harping on this for a while now, but it seems the idea that the GOP coalition is beyond saving is starting to spread like wildfire.

Although I don't see much way that the GOP coalition will remain intact in the medium or long run, I have this week floated the one way I can see it staying together at least through the next election. I argued that one way requires that McCain get the nomination and bring on a prominent evangelical as a running mate:

The Republican coalition is held together. This scenario is imaginable only if McCain wins the nomination and nominates Huckabee (or another prominent evangelical) as his VP candidate. McCain appeals beautifully to moderates and is at least tolerable to enough (though perhaps not most) libertarians to keep them in the fold, especially if Hillary or Edwards are the alternative; if his full record were properly represented, I also suspect he'd be quite acceptable to evangelicals, especially with Huckabee on his ticket. I might add that Huckabee seems to have a tremendous personal respect for McCain. This might result in Tancredo's head spinning like Linda Blair's and even a third party anti-immigrant run, but on the whole, I think it keeps the GOP coalition together for at least another election cycle, longer if they manage to win.

Of course, the establishment conservatives would probably lose their minds trying to support a ticket comprised of their 2nd and 3rd least favorite Republicans (Paul being the first). But they would do it because what I refer to as "establishment conservatives" are GOP loyalists first and foremost; they don't really have a coherent ideology other than whatever the GOP leadership says is right. They are, as I have dubbed them, the Romney Republicans.

I think that McCain understands all this to a large extent, which is one of the reasons he has been courting a very positive relationship with the Huckster. But if the GOP nominates any other candidate for President, I cannot see any way for the GOP coalition to remain intact even for this next election, much less for the long-term.

***UPDATE: Town Hall blogger Matt Lewis continues to push the meme that Romney still stands as a unity candidate capable of maintaining the Reagan coalition. What he fails to realize is that the so-called anti-tax wing of the party is essentially the libertarian wing of the party, which now cares an awful lot more than it used to about civil liberties issues. Maybe if Romney could give a straight answer on waterboarding, he could appeal to libertarians and, for that matter, sincere evangelicals. As I've argued repeatedly, though, the "three legs" of the GOP coalition no longer have much in common with each other. Which means that ideologues from at least two of the three legs can find little or no common ground with Romney.

A Romney candidacy won't unite the GOP coalition- it will get it to break apart even faster.

More at memeorandum

The PE Un-Dorsements White Paper Version

Looking over last night's endorsements and un-dorsements, I realized that I buried both un-dorsements at the end of exceedingly long posts. Since the un-dorsements are in many ways more important to me than the endorsements, I reprint a revised version of them both here in white paper length.

First up: The Republicans.

Mitt Romney must be stopped. He is the logical successor to all that is wrong with the Bush-Cheney administration, as Sully notes.

There are many, many reasons for this un-dorsement: His repeated assertion that the most important civil liberty you get "from" the government is the right to life; his perpetual flip-flopping on social issues; his outright meanness; his refusal to say whether he thought waterboarding is torture; his love of an L. Ron Hubbard novel; his pandering on economic policy questions; his nanny-statism on video games; his abuse of dogs; his Ken Doll roboticism; his exemption of atheists and agnostics from the concept of American freedom. Get the picture?

There's probably not a single area of agreement he has with libertarians at this point. He has a very good chance to win the nomination, and probably would have a shot against Hillary or Edwards. But most important of all, the only thing he seems sincere about is obtaining power for himself; he will say anything in front of any audience, as long as he thinks it's what they want to hear. Which means not only is he inclined towards authoritarianism, but it's also impossible to know what kind of authoritarian he'd be. But my guess is that he'd just be a younger, tanner version of Cheney- except he'd actually BE the President.

Next, the Democrats:

Obviously this came down to Hillary or Edwards: the cynical triangulator with the sense of entitlement vs. the dapper class-warfare populist. Both of them love to attack the "special interests," but their definition of "special interests" just means "groups that don't and won't support me." In other words, both define anyone who disagrees with them out of existence as a legitimate opponent.
In the end, Hillary gets the un-dorsement, though:

1. The possibility of 20 consecutive years of Bush-Clinton is too much to bear

2. Executive power is the most important issue to me in this election; on that issue, she would be every bit as bad as Bush-Cheney; where Obama would largely decentralize the political process, the unitary executive under Hillary would become massive. While I suspect Edwards wouldn't be much better on this issue ideologically, I also don't think he'd be able to get away with it in the way Hillary could.

3. She is in the running for the "Person Whose Voice Most Makes My Skin Crawl" Award. This is not merely an aversion to her voice, mind you; instead, it is a combination of her way of speaking ("Ack!ACK!Ackackack!ACKACK!"), the insincerity with which she does it, and the holier-than-thou attitude that underlies it. If I had to choose between listening to her speak for an hour and listening to Bill O'Reilly speak for an hour, I would probably choose to just get waterboarded for an hour.

So to any Dems who might be listening out there: for the love of all that is good and right in the world, please, PLEASE vote for anyone but her.

The One-Man Interest Group Behind Pork

Cap'n Ed points to a story that he figures ought to get the Progressives on board with an anti-pork campaign: a Republican congressman who got the feds to pay for a new gas station in his district. All because 25 years ago he almost ran out of gas at that intersection. Oh yeah- and also because he wanted to have a travel plaza named after him. Libby is quick to answer the Captain's call. I'm a libertarian so of course I was already on board (does that make this a "tri-partisan" effort?).

This whole story actually sums up the problem with earmarks and Congressional appropriations beautifully. This particular earmark was probably not lobbied for by Big Oil; indeed, the fuel industry had clearly decided that there was insufficient demand to warrant a gas station - much less an entire travel plaza - in this area. If they had, it's not exactly as if they're lacking in resources to pay to build one.

One of the reasons the American system of government has historically worked so well is in large part that it does a terrific job of mitigating the effects of "factions" (ie, interest groups), particularly with its system of federalism and protection of minority rights from the tyranny of the majority. The trouble with earmarks, though, is that they get around these protections. Indeed, what earmarks accomplish is the ability of an interest group of one (ie, the politician) to serve his interests at the expense of all other interests- largely without having to convince anyone else that his interest benefits them as well. This isn't tyranny of the majority- it's tyranny of the extreme minority.

The sole purpose of earmarks is often just to benefit the individual politician's chances at re-election and/or creating a legacy (see, e.g., the entire state of Bobby Byrd, err, West Virginia). Even where the earmark is intended to benefit a particular interest group, the earmarking process means that the interest group need only convince one legislator that the earmark is in the legislator's interest to achieve the interest group's goal. Since all sorts of other interest groups are doing the same exact thing with other legislators, and since all the earmarks are passed together as if they were one, no one interest group ordinarily need fear getting removed from the bill.

In essence, earmarks undermine the Madisonian principles of mitigating the effects of faction by reducing the number of factions/interest groups from infinite all the way down to 535 interest groups of one, almost none of which are conflicting interests- no one interest necessarily prevents the achievement of any other interest. All that is necessary for each of these interest groups of one to succeed is for them to have sufficient power and influence to have input into the final appropriations bill.

All this, by the way, reminds me of a parable of how another interest group of one continues to have an effect on the American tax code. Back in the 1980s, Dan Rostenkowski was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He had two daughters who worked for United Airlines, which meant that he was allowed to fly for free. But this was considered a taxable fringe benefit since only free travel by children and spouses of travel employees was tax-exempt. So Rostenkowski decided to do something about this- after all, why should he have to pay taxes on his many free flights? And so Rostenkowski carved out an exemption for parents of airline workers so that they didn't need to include free travel on airlines as taxable income. Parents of bus and train employees who got similar benefits, however, continued to have to report their free travel as income to the IRS. This specific exemption remains in place in section 132(h) of the Internal Revenue Code.

The Publius Endures Blog En-and Un-dorsements: The 'Pubs

My en- and un-dorsements for the Democrats are here.

On the Republican side, the choices for both the coveted Publius Endures endorsement and un-dorsement were difficult.

For the endorsement, there were only two choices: McCain or Paul. Each has some major plusses, and some major downsides, all of which bear addressing.

First up: McCain.

Plusses: Understands that all interest groups are "special interests," much like Obama. A true fiscal conservative who is serious about cutting government waste and understands, more or less, that you can't consume more than you produce. Alone amongst the top-tier candidates, he has an understanding and general respect for free market economics that he doesn't toss out the window at the first opportunity for political expediency. While too willing to use military force in international relations, he understands that military force should only be used if you are willing to do whatever is necessary to win, which means letting the generals make the tactical and strategic decisions. Unlike most of the other Republican candidates, though, McCain also understands that victory in which freedoms are sacrificed is not victory at all. Is on the whole a good and decent man who sincerely believes what he says. Is the only one on the stage who doesn't pander to the "base" on the immigration issue. Has a legislator's view of executive power, meaning he'd reverse the Bush-era expansions.

Minuses: While he understands "special interests," he doesn't seem to understand Federalist Number 10 particularly well, in which we learn that the answer to "special interests" isn't to restrict them, it's to let them loose- hence his championing of the onerous campaign finance legislation. His view of interest group politics is also less respectful than Obama's - he views interest groups as just plain evil rather than as a necessary evil; this makes him much less open to opposing viewpoints than Obama. Passionately in favor of restricting firearms rights. While better than Romney or Giuliani, he is still far too willing to get involved in foreign entanglements for my tastes.

Next up: Paul.

Plusses: Often talks a great game about individual liberty and free trade, and usually means it. Would do more than any other candidate to end federal incursions on civil liberties. Is the leader of a campaign that is increasingly exemplifying the Hayekian concept of spontaneous order. One group of supporters has a frickin' blimp that also manages to give the finger to McCain's precious BCRA. Has largely based his campaign on attacking Bush's foreign policy, including the Iraq War, and on Bush's assault on civil liberties. Did I mention he has a frickin' blimp? While politically obtuse, his response to the controversy over "that" donation was well-reasoned and principled.

Minuses: Despite his libertarian impulses, has some very un-libertarian views on things like immigration and states' rights. Is overly insistent on the gold standard, with little regard for the obvious logical flaws in it. Is way too close to Alex Jones and way too concerned about "conspiracies" like the NAU; his concern with the NAU places national and state sovereignty over individual sovereignty. His foreign policy, despite his claim of being just a non-interventionist, comes woefully close to isolationism. Has a large (but shrinking) percentage of supporters who behave in very un-libertarian ways and show a lack of respect for the individuality of others. Has an insufficient respect for the judiciary, and doesn't believe in evolution.

In the end, I have to give the nod to Paul- but it's a lot closer than it should be considering Paul's ability to speak in libertarian terms. Still, the biggest themes of Paul's campaign (if not necessarily his legislative career) are a humble foreign policy, respect for civil liberties, and massively shrinking the size of the federal government (and executive power in the process). Since it is impossible to see him winning the primary, it is these issues alone where a vote for Paul will have an effect- not on things like states' rights or conspiracy theories about the NAU; in other words, a vote for Paul is a protest vote on those issues. This makes him an acceptable protest vote. Even if he were to get elected by some unforeseen series of events, it is difficult to see how his views on states' rights would cause too drastic a change since Congress would wind up restricting him severely on that issue. (On the other hand, we'd see an end to trade treaties and many of even our healthy global relationships- not good).

On top of that, there is the fact that Paul's campaign will, in the long run, have a significant effect on the future of libertarianism; the more successful his campaign at this point, the more likely that effect is to be positive. On the other hand, the more his campaign is associated with conspiracy theorists and hyper-aggressive supporters, the more likely the long-term effect will be negative.

Recently the grassroots have begun to police themselves better (a fact Hayek would be proud of, no doubt), reducing my concerns about the long-term effects of the Paul campaign in the process. Moreover, some of the things the decentralized grassroots campaign has come up with have been nothing short of genius, at least in terms of reminding us how joyful life can be. I'm of course referring again to the frickin' blimp. I'm also referring to things like this: a planned online "march" in the World of Warcraft role-playing game. I've never played on online game like that, but I've seen enough of them that the thought of a massive "march" of cartoon-ish characters waltzing along a path in an online world gives me a good chuckle in much the same way as the Pirate Captain's legendary campaign for student council President at NC State did a few years ago. It's a beautiful way of telling the blowhards and power-mongers how idiotic they look in their quest to tell other people what to do. In many ways the grassroots portion of the Paul campaign has become a pure meritocracy, with the worst of the bunch contributing little other than being individually obnoxious while the most creative and best rise to the top and put together massive organized efforts like the Blimp, the Tea Party, and Guy Fawkes Day.

So in the end I've got to stick with Ron Paul for my Republican endorsement; but the non-libertarian segment of the GOP would be digging its final grave if it nominates anyone other than McCain.

...Which finally brings me to my un-dorsement. There are no shortage of choices for that less-than-coveted role on the Republican side: a Small Man in Search of a Balcony (Giuliani), "Battlefield Earth" Romney, "Real Fascist Bastard" Hunter, the Huckster, even poor ol' Lazy Fred (scratch that- I'm perfectly fine with a lazy President). So I'm just going to count them down in reverse order:

4. Duncan Hunter: You know a guy is scary when he makes Giuliani and Romney appear restrained in their views on foreign policy, and Huckabee restrained in his views on the role of religion in government. Luckily for him, he's unlikely to pick up a single delegate, which means he can't get my un-dorsement.

3. The Huckster: Plenty of other libertarians and conservatives fear the Huckster more than any of the other options, since he is in many ways the exact opposite of a libertarian: a theocrat with populist economics. But he doesn't scare me quite so much. If he wins the nomination, the GOP coalition simply breaks up; since my loyalty isn't to the party but rather to the cause of individual liberty, this bothers me not at all- libertarians will just find a new home for themselves in which they will have more influence. Besides, it's not like he'd have a chance of winning the general election. As scary as he is from a policy perspective- and he is plenty scary, he's at least sincere in what he believes, which means he's less concerned about his personal power than he is about doing what he thinks is right. On top of that, he is better than most of the other Republicans on one or two important issues: immigration and torture. He's also far less likely to use aggressive force than anyone other than Paul, which makes him better than most from a libertarian foreign policy perspective. Again- he's plenty scary, but in the GOP primary this year, we're talking about a matter of degrees. Romney and Giuliani scare me more.

2. Giuliani. He would have no regard whatsoever for civil liberties and his use of military force would be shocking. It's still plausible for him to win the nomination. If Hillary or Edwards win on the Dems' side, it's even still plausible for him to win the Presidency. He has pandered like hell to the socially conservative base of the GOP on things like gay marriage, immigration, and gun control. But you get the feeling that he'd back down from some of his newfound social conservatism if he were somehow elected. On his scarier positions on civil liberties and military force, at least you know he really believes what he's saying, which is scary in its own right. But at least he's serious.

Which leads me at long last to my big un-dorsement:

Mitt "Battlefield Earth" Romney. There are many, many reasons for this un-dorsement: His repeated assertion that the most important civil liberty you get "from" the government is the right to life; his perpetual flip-flopping on social issues; his outright meanness; his refusal to say whether he thought waterboarding is torture; his love of an L. Ron Hubbard novel; his pandering on economic policy questions; his nanny-statism on video games; his abuse of dogs; his Ken Doll roboticism; his exemption of atheists and agnostics from the concept of American freedom.

Get the picture? There's probably not a single area of agreement he has with libertarians at this point. He has a very good chance to win the nomination, and probably would have a shot against Hillary or Edwards. But most important of all, the only thing he seems sincere about is obtaining power for himself; he will say anything in front of any audience, as long as he thinks it's what they want to hear. Which means not only is he inclined towards authoritarianism, but it's also impossible to know what kind of authoritarian he'd be. But my guess is that he'd just be a younger, tanner version of Cheney- except he'd actually BE the President.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Publius Endures Blog En- and un-dorsements: the Dems

Starting with my Democratic primary endorsement, there is really only one serious choice for a libertarian with a focus on interest group politics: Obama-mama, although Richardson, Dodd, and even Kucinich warranted consideration for this choice. In the end, though, Obama gets this extremely coveted endorsement for several reasons:

1. Despite his railing against "special interests," he actually understands that all interest groups are "special interests," which is to be expected from a Con Law professor who has probably read Federalist Number 10 a few dozen times. In other words, when he rails against "special interests," he actually means what he says.

2. Because he understands that all interest groups are special interests, Obama is actually more willing to give opposing viewpoints a seat at the table. When Edwards or Clinton, however, rail against "special interests," they use a selective definition that allows them to keep opposing viewpoints from the table, since those viewpoints are "special interests." Viewpoints they do agree with are, by their definition, not "special interests."

3. No matter who they nominate, the Dem candidate will likely be the favorite to win the Presidency. Therefore, it is particularly necessary for them to nominate someone who will make a "reasonable" President. This unfortunately disqualifies Dodd, Kucinich, and Richardson from consideration, since they have no chance to win the nomination, making Obama the only option to stop Hillary and Edwards.

4. While he is certainly quite Progressive, this is mitigated massively from a libertarian perspective by the fact that he would give other groups a seat at the table. What I have noticed about Obama is that, while he has "Progressive" goals, he understands that Progressives do not have a monopoly on those goals- there are plenty of others who want the same results, but disagree on the means. He also understands that achieving those goals is what's important, not achieving those goals by virtue of means that are acceptable to key Democratic Party interest groups.

5. He is an optimist who actually means what he says when he talks about ending the bitterness that has characterized the Bush years. This sincere optimism and trust in the American people rather than the American politicians is something that is sorely needed in an era when the government has decided it needs to keep as many secrets as possible because it doesn't trust the American people to do the right thing.

So there you have it: Obama or bust on the Dem side of the primaries.

Now for my un-dorsement, which was a much tougher choice. This un-dorsement trend, by the way, is fan-tastic! Obviously this came down to Hillary or Edwards: the cynical triangulator with the sense of entitlement vs. the dapper class-warfare populist. Both of them love to attack the "special interests," but as I indicated above, their definition of "special interests" just means "groups that don't and won't support me." In other words, both define anyone who disagrees with them out of existence as a legitimate opponent.

In the end, Hillary gets the un-dorsement, though:

1. The possibility of 20 consecutive years of Bush-Clinton is too much to bear

2. Executive power is the most important issue to me in this election; on that issue, she would be every bit as bad as Bush-Cheney; where Obama would largely decentralize the political process, the unitary executive under Hillary would become massive. While I suspect Edwards wouldn't be much better on this issue ideologically, I also don't think he'd be able to get away with it in the way Hillary could.

3. She is in the running for the "Person Whose Voice Most Makes My Skin Crawl" Award. This is not merely an aversion to her voice, mind you; instead, it is a combination of her way of speaking ("Ack!ACK!Ackackack!ACKACK!"), the insincerity with which she does it, and the holier-than-thou attitude that underlies it. If I had to choose between listening to her speak for an hour and listening to Bill O'Reilly speak for an hour, I would probably choose to just get waterboarded for an hour.

So to any Dems who might be listening out there: for the love of all that is good and right in the world, please, PLEASE vote for anyone but her.

The Bhutto Assassination

As everyone is more than aware at this point, Benazhir Bhutto has been assassinated in Pakistan. To be sure, the event is a tragedy for that region of the world; it's global effects are, I think, still murky.

While I generally think it's inappropriate to think about the effects of the event on our domestic primaries, the consensus on that issue seems to be that McCain benefits most and the relatively unexperienced foreign policy candidates like Obama and Paul lose some support.

From the perspective of determining who did this, Ed Morrisey has a pretty convincing analysis.

As for making sense of the implications for American foreign policy, my initial inclination is to agree with John Derbyshire, but the fact is that it's way too early to have much of an inkling as to the regional and global fallout from this event.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why McCain Should Be Favored to Win the Nomination

While it's still too early to say for certain, and things have a tendency to switch on a dime in politics, I'm going to go out on a limb here: John McCain is the favorite to win the Republican nomination. For the record, this is different from endorsing McCain (though I certainly find him more tolerable than most other candidates besides perhaps Paul from a libertarian perspective).

With McCain's current momentum (in which he's even mending fences with evangelicals), combined with some simple delegate math (below), I think McCain is going to win the nomination as long as he can keep his campaign afloat financially going into Super Tuesday and have a run of solid but not necessarily spectacular finishes in the early primaries (neither of which is certain).

The reason for this is quite simple. There are currently six candidates polling above a couple of percentage points in the polls: McCain, Giuliani, Huckabee, Romney, Thompson, and Paul. Of those six candidates, only Paul is a guarantee to stick in the race until the end- he's running as much to prove a point as he is to win the nomination, so he'll stay in the race no matter how good or bad his primary results. The rest of the group is running for one reason only: to win. Once it becomes apparent to any of them that victory is unachievable, they will immediately fall back on Plan B: help their favorite remaining guy get the nomination in the hopes of obtaining some future reward. In the case of Giuliani and Huckabee, it's pretty clear that McCain is their Plan B; I strongly suspect the same is true of Thompson. As for Romney, Plan B would normally be Giuliani, but I think he and the mayor have developed too strong off a personal dislike for each other for that to happen, and Thompson is probably going to be the first to drop out of the group, and there's simply no way Romney would ever endorse Huckabee, leaving McCain as Romney's likely default choice should Romney disappoint in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The point is that as long as McCain can stay in the race long enough to outlast a couple of competitors, he will suddenly find himself with some key endorsements. Those endorsements are key for a couple of reasons: if they occur early on, McCain could expect to get a disproportionate share of the endorser's base of support; if they occur later in the process (like after Super Tuesday), they have the added benefit of virtually guaranteeing that McCain gets all the delegates that candidate had previously earned.

As the race wears on and the field whittles down ever more, McCain will find himself with the endorsements of everyone but the last remaining competitor (my money is on Romney), not including Paul. If by some stroke of fate Paul has earned enough delegates to prevent either McCain or Romney from getting a majority, then you have to ask whether you can really see McCain, with his decades of experience, legendary temper, and survival of torture, giving in to the younger Romney who pretends to know more about military affairs and torture than McCain.

The other possibility is for Huckabee to be the last man standing, making the Republican 2008 primary have eerie similarities to the 2004 Democratic primary: the populist Southerner against the military hero with the privileged background. But if this is the case, Huckabee (who is about as popular with establishment Republicans as Ron Paul) will see the rest of the GOP mobilize wholeheartedly to prevent him from getting the nomination at any costs- even if it means McCain gets the nomination.

Of course the key to all of this is that McCain does well enough in the early primaries to put him in the top three going into Super Tuesday (which is highly likely). Presumably Thompson will be out of the race very early on and will endorse McCain, which should give McCain a nice boost of a couple points going into Super Tuesday. It's also becoming increasingly possible that Giuliani won't be around for Super Tuesday as his support plummets in all the early states; his margin for error in his Florida firewall is even starting to dwindle.

***UPDATE: On second thought, maybe McCain isn't Romney's default Plan B. Is there anyone in the field that Romney can get along with? Everyone except maybe Thompson seems to hate him and he seems to hate everyone.

McCain: The Unity Candidate

I've been floating the idea that McCain may be the only candidate capable of unifying the Republican coalition, particularly if he can find a way of mending fences with the evangelical conservatives. One of the ways he's been doing this has been by cultivating a good relationship with Huckabee; I've suggested that Huckabee would even make a wise choice as VP candidate, politically speaking, should McCain somehow pull off the nomination.

In the NY Daily News, James Kirchick points to another surprising way in which McCain is mending fences with evangelicals: the Lieberman endorsement. This is of course, counterintuitive: Lieberman is a Jewish Democrat from Connecticut- how could he possibly help McCain mend fences with evangelical Christian Republicans from the Bible Belt?

But according to Kirchick, that is precisely what is happening:

Lieberman's endorsement makes only 15% of independents more likely to vote for McCain, yet it persuades 25% of Republicans.

Just as Lieberman's obvious comfort talking about religious faith irritates many on the left, it endears him to evangelical Christians, as does his campaign against violence and sex in movies and video games.

The McCain comeback is looking stronger every day, isn't it?

McCain Heart Huckabee

The Boston Globe reports on what appears to be a Stop Romney alliance between McCain and Huckabee. The Globe views this alliance as temporary- likely to last only as long as Romney remains the frontrunner. But I think there is a lot more to it- McCain and Huckabee seem to genuinely like each other. One need look no further than Huckabee's almost childlike reverence of McCain at the debates on the issue of waterboarding for proof of this (for the record, I don't mean that as a bad thing- Huckabee's respect for McCain on this issue is one of his better qualities, I think and stands in stark contrast to Romney's cynical disregard for McCain's experiences). On top of that is the fact that agree with them or not, and unlike Romney and Giuliani, McCain and Huckabee both at least appear to be sincere in their political beliefs; to a large extent, I think McCain respects this aspect of the Huckster.

Not only do I see the McCain-Huckabee lovefest as rather genuine, but as I argued yesterday, a McCain-Huckabee ticket may be the only way the GOP coalition can remain intact next year. While the prospect of that must make Michelle Malkin's head spin, I suspect that even establishment Republicans would at least hold their nose and vote for a McCain-led ticket. Meanwhile having Huckabee on the ticket would be a massive peace offering to evangelicals, both by McCain and the party as a whole.

The Real Reason Behind Campaign Finance Reform

An article from the Politico shows the real reason many politicians (we'll exempt Sen. Feingold and to a lesser extent McCain from this) support campaign finance reform: it's a great way of keeping outsiders, well, outside. Money 'graphs:

Now that Mayor Bloomberg is getting ready to spend hundreds of millions — maybe even more than a billion — of his own dollars on a presidential run that, if executed properly, would take the electoral votes of New York and California and Florida and Massachusetts out of the Hillary Clinton column and into the Michael Bloomberg column, President Clinton is suddenly coming down with the fantods about the dangers of self-financed political campaigns.

"We are very frustrated because we have a Supreme Court that seems determined to say that the wealthier have more right to free speech than the rest of us," President Clinton said in Iowa on Sunday, according to Politico, complaining that such spending violates "the spirit of campaign finance reform."

(My emphasis)

As the Politico points out, this means that she has suddenly decided- at the perfect time- that unlimited personal campaign financing and expenditures by individual candidates are unconscionable. This after watching all sorts of her political allies dig deep into their own pockets to run their campaigns, including John Kerry, who ran after the passage of BCRA.

As for her claim that "we have a Supreme Court that seems determined to say that the wealthier have more right to free speech than the rest of us," I have to wonder which Supreme Court she's referring to. The most logical case she's referring to is of course Buckley v. Valeo, which was a pre-Reagan Burger Court decision in which Justice Brennan (the worthy liberal icon) joined fully. So her implication that somehow the Bush-era Rehnquist/Roberts court is responsible for saying "that the wealthy have more right to free speech" is utterly false and misleading.

In any event, don't think for one second that it's a coincidence that Hillary would benefit greatly from a limit on personal expenditures on one's own campaign. She's an outstanding fundraiser who therefore has a massive advantage over almost any challengers, whether it be for the Senate or the White House. Indeed, any limits on personal expenditures (and for that matter campaign donations of any sort) provide incumbents and other already-powerful politicians with a massive fundraising advantage. By placing such limits on campaigns and contributions, fundraising becomes all about quantity rather than quality, and the incumbent and/or powerful politician will always have an easier time getting a large quantity of donations. While there are a number of reasons for this, the most obvious one is that most campaign donors want to give money to someone who can win, and incumbents and/or other powerful politicians have already proven they can win.

When an outsider can raise enough money to compete from just one or two donors or from their own personal finances, though, the incumbent/powerful politician's natural fundraising advantage gets significantly reduced. This is why Hillary (and, to be fair, plenty of other powerful incumbents and other politicians) conveniently advocates restrictions on campaign donations and personal expenditures.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Krugman: Ignore the Independents

An excerpted passage from Krugman's new book is available on Slate. In this passage, Krugman explicitly advocates for an increase in "Progressive" partisanship now that Democrats have a clear edge in the electorate. He figures that Progressives should take a page from the Bush playbook and force their policy prescriptions down the throats of Americans by whatever means necessary- in essence, Progressives have (or will have) the reins of power to implement their policies, so they absolutely must do so. In the process, Krugman makes clear that Progressives should ignore and dismiss any sentiment opposed to their policy prescriptions. His sentiment is that Progressives are always 100% right (of course he ignores that "Progressives" have a variety of beliefs on any given policy and that there isn't really what you would call a consistent "Progressive" ideology).

As Damozel points out quite well at Buck Naked Politics, this is a recipe for disaster for the Democratic Party. Not only that, but she sees the implicit problem with Krugman's "ends justify the means" rationale:

Democratic elected officials should just impose a progressive agenda on the American people, whether or not there is really public support for it? Isn't that sort of kind of exactly the mistake that the Bush administration made----taking a reaction against Clinton for a massive realignment of public opinion and a mandate to push a neoconservative agenda?
I would hate to see a Democratic administration make the same mistake or fail to take note of a strong desire on the part of a large segment of the American public to dial back the partisan nastiness.

Damozel hits the nail right on the head: Democrats have received the support of a majority of Americans in recent elections not so much because all of a sudden the US public agrees with Progressives on everything as because the US public despises what the Bush Administration has done in forcing policies upon them that the public never voted for.

In addition to the moral problems with using a mandate on one issue as a mandate on all issues, the approach the Bushies have taken, and that Krugman advocates, ignores the third and, especially, the sixth rules of interest group politics. Specifically, any interest group that votes for the Democratic party in a given election does so for a very specific reason. If the Democratic Party wins the election and then shows itself to be as bad or worse than the Republican Party on the issue that attracted the interest group, then the Democratic Party will lose the support of that interest group in the next election. In the case of the 2006 elections, it was pretty clear that the Democrats won by securing the votes of Republicans and independents who were disillusioned with the Bush Administration's policies on things like the GWOT, civil liberties, executive power, and -importantly- partisanship, as well as (to a lesser extent) their lack of fiscal restraint.

If the Dems win the Presidency in 2008, it will likely be for similar reasons- hence the reason why the only Republican who would beat either Hillary or Obama right now is McCain, who alone amongst the Republican candidates has a reputation for bipartisanship. Similarly, Obama does better than Hillary in every conceivable matchup in the general election for the same reason: he can appeal to the middle in a way that Hillary can't. Someone voting for the Dems because they're tired of Bush's partisanship and abuse of executive power isn't going to be very happy with a Dem President who is equally partisan and abusive of executive power.

Another way to look at it: in 2006, the switch in the libertarian vote was critical to the Democratic victory, almost doubling its support of Dems between 2002 and 2006. Presumably, a Dem Presidential victory will rely in part on a similar or greater share of the libertarian vote. Krugman would reward that group's support (which was critical to Dems gaining power in the first place) by forcing upon them all sorts of policies that they would find unconscionable.

Krugman's argument, in the end, is not an argument for doing what is right or what is wrong. Instead, it is a rationalization for why Democrats should favor one interest group under its umbrella (ie, Progressives who agree with Krugman) over all others (such as disillusioned Republicans, political moderates, libertarians, and independents). Implicit in his argument is also the holier-than-thou belief that Progressives are different from conservatives in that Progressives care about the "public interest" rather than "special interests." This implication is a violation of the first rule of interest group politics: there is no difference between "special" interests and "public" interests: they're both just interest groups.

More at memeorandum.

The Splintering of the GOP

Since the end of the Cold War, the GOP coalition of evangelicals, neo-conservative hawks, Wall Street Republicans, old Right paleocons, and libertarians has become increasingly fragile, to the point that I think that coalition is on the verge of a significant break-up/reformation. Two articles on Town Hall this morning by Tony Blankley and Paul Edwards typify the fragility of the coalition. Unfortunately, they both fail to realize that the coalition is probably untenable without an unforeseen shift in American political priorities (though Blankley comes close).

First, Tony Blankley gives a brief history of the GOP coalition, describing how it came to include libertarians, hawks, and evangelicals under Reagan, and seeking to predict what must happen to that coalition in the next decade. Blankley's column is quite excellent, though I have some significant points of disagreement with him. But his bottom line is that the Democratic Party's lack of focus on so-called "moral issues," combined with relative economic prosperity, allowed evangelical New Deal Democrats to switch parties. In other words, economic populism became less important to evangelicals in the post-WWII period, allowing moral issues to predominate amongst that particular group. Since the GOP was better on moral issues than the Dems, the evangelicals switched sides. Now that the Cold War is over, and the Clinton-era economic boom a thing of the past, economic populism on issues ranging from free trade to immigration has become vastly more important to evangelicals. At the same time, evangelicals have become increasingly important to electing GOP candidates. Blankley thus suggests that in order for the right-of-center GOP coalition to remain intact, it will need to give up some of its free-trade ground, or else risk losing the evangelicals. He also points out that, at the same time, the GOP will need to appeal to immigrants in large enough numbers to secure 40% of the Latino vote. Blankley hints- though does not say outright - that this all makes Huckabee an important voice in maintaining and broadening the GOP coalition.

Also today, Paul Edwards takes a look at the Huckabee movement and sees the evangelicals finally standing up for themselves within the GOP and demanding that moral issues no longer take a back seat to so-called fiscal conservatism. Money paragraph:

The Republican establishment has looked down its nose at social conservatives far too long, tolerating us because they need our votes. But now the tables are turned. The grass roots are looking up at the establishment with the will of a Lech Walesa, demanding that fiscal issues take a back seat to moral issues for a change. It’s long past time for the moral and social issues of our times to be given more than just lip service. It’s now time for our fiscal policies to be informed by our social policies rather than sacrificing our morality to our economic standing in the world.

In many ways, it is easy to see Edwards' point on this. Religious conservatives have been taken for granted by the GOP for years. For awhile, I imagine that this was acceptable to them, as the GOP emphasized goals with which religious conservatives had sympathy: fighting the "godless" communist Soviets, allowing private organizations - including religious organizations - greater leeway, and pushing for easier access to private education, including religious education. Every so often, the GOP would even throw them a bone on things like gay marriage. But the establishment's push for Romney and Giuliani this time around was a last straw; there was little in either of their records to suggest a common interest with evangelicals. And so, the evangelicals are revolting, first by floating the possibility of a third party run, and now by their passionate support of Huckabee. What Edwards is essentially saying is: it's our turn to lead the party, and if you don't like it, then we'll just leave the party altogether.

While both of these columns are worthwhile reads from the perspective of an interest group politics wonk like me, I think they both miss an important point. That point is that the GOP coalition has become largely untenable. There are increasingly few areas of agreement amongst the GOP interest groups. Indeed, where the 1994 Contract with America was predicated on issues upon which nearly all Republicans agreed, it is difficult to find any such issues today.

Edwards argues that it is time for social conservatism to take precedence over fiscal conservatism. What he doesn't seem to realize is the reason fiscal conservatism has usually taken center stage: it was the one area where Republican interest groups were usually able to agree. While libertarians were concerned about far more than just fiscal issues, fiscal conservatism is closely aligned with libertarian economic policy; while Wall Street Republicans care almost entirely about support for business, this usually (not always) involved fiscally conservative policies like lower taxes and deregulation; while neo-cons were concerned largely about exporting American ideals, this usually required fiscal conservatism domestically; and while evangelicals were primarily concerned with "morals" issues, this often involved getting rid of federal spending on "immoral" activities while allowing free market capitalism to stand in stark contrast to godless Communism.

Now, however, fiscal conservatism has diminished in importance to each of those interest groups for a variety of reasons. For evangelicals, fiscal liberalism has arguably even become the order of the day as the reasons for supporting fiscal conservatism have largely fallen by the wayside with the end of the Cold War and the remarkable fiscal conservatism of the despised Clinton Administration. Moreover, as McCain often points out, Republicans have lost credibility on the issue with their recent penchant for earmarks and expanding government programs, and a host of other things. No longer is fiscal conservatism a unifying issue for Republican interest groups.

What this means is that the single unifying issue of the GOP coalition has ceased to be a point of real agreement or importance. Without that unifying issue, libertarians and paleo-conservatives now have virtually no areas of agreement with evangelical conservatives...and all this says nothing about the way in which so-called "moderates" have been pushed out of the party. This has forced the rest of the GOP coalition to try to appease several groups who have nothing in common; on every issue, the GOP is going to enfuriate one, two, or in some cases all three.

The way I see it, there are three possible outcomes to this split, which involves at least a quarter, and maybe up to a half, of traditional Republicans:

1. Libertarians, "moderates," and/or evangelicals make a third party push within the coming years. Right now, it is easy to see the moderates jumping on the Bloomberg bandwagon (assuming he runs), and no one would be surprised if Ron Paul makes a high-profile third party run to go after the libertarian(ish) vote. If Huckabee falters, the threat of an evangelical third party run remains out there.

2. At least one, and possibly two of those three groups move over to the Democratic Party next year, creating the worst performance by a major party Presidential candidate in recent memory. For more than one group to switch over to the Dem side, Obama would need to be the nominee, as it is impossible to see libertarians or evangelicals supporting Hillary, and it is impossible to see libertarians or moderates supporting Edwards.

3. The Republican coalition is held together. This scenario is imaginable only if McCain wins the nomination and nominates Huckabee (or another prominent evangelical) as his VP candidate. McCain appeals beautifully to moderates and is at least tolerable to enough (though perhaps not most) libertarians to keep them in the fold, especially if Hillary or Edwards are the alternative; if his full record were properly represented, I also suspect he'd be quite acceptable to evangelicals, especially with Huckabee on his ticket. I might add that Huckabee seems to have a tremendous personal respect for McCain. This might result in Tancredo's head spinning like Linda Blair's and even a third party anti-immigrant run, but on the whole, I think it keeps the GOP coalition together for at least another election cycle, longer if they manage to win.

I think scenario one is most likely, and may even be almost certain, at least with respect to the likelihood of a Bloomberg candidacy removing moderates from the GOP fold in the short run or a Paul candidacy removing libertarians from the GOP fold, perhaps for quite awhile. I also would not be surprised by a combination of scenarios one and two if Obama is the Dem nominee.

Scenario three is obviously a longshot since it requires that: 1. McCain wins the nomination (at best a 3:1 proposition), 2. He nominates Huckabee or a prominent evangelical as VP, and 3. Republican voters overlook the immigration issue because the Dem nominee is equally moderate on that point. It would also help a lot if there is no Paul or Bloomberg third party run, perhaps a 50-50 proposition if McCain gets the nomination (I don't think Bloomberg wants to run against McCain, but Paul is a wild card no matter who gets the nomination).

Repost: Romney Didn't Say That, Did He?

I don't normally repost, but this post by Jim Henley at Unqualified Offerings shows that Romney continues to repeat a statement I first commented on in September. That original post is reprinted below.

From the debate tonight [September 5, 2007]:

"And I hear from time to time people say, hey, wait a second. We have civil liberties we have to worry about. But don't forget, the most important civil liberty I expect from my government is my right to be kept alive, and that's what we're going to have to do." - Mitt "Battlefield Earth" Romney

I know this sounds great to those who call themselves conservatives nowadays, but really this is a blatant justification of authoritarianism/totalitarianism. Indeed, it was the underlying (if sometimes unspoken) justification for every authoritarian or totalitarian government action in history.

If the right to be kept alive by the government is the single most important civil liberty, then there are no other civil liberties. If the government's primary job is keeping people alive, then anything which can be potentially perceived as dangerous to life can be prohibited: "dangerous" speech, "dangerous" press coverage, the habeas corpus rights of "dangerous prisoners" held without trial, "dangerous" property rights like the right to buy or sell "dangerous" products (ie, guns, drugs, cigarettes, McDonald's, etc.). And this says nothing of the socialist implications of Romney's statement, since the "right to be kept alive" by the government necessarily implies that the government must provide its citizens free healthcare, free food, free water, and free anything that would tend to lengthen an individual's life.

Monday, December 24, 2007

More Evidence of Why Romney Can't Appeal to Libertarians

The other day, a commenter - who swears he is unaffiliated with the Romney campaign - insisted that libertarians are not giving Romney a fair shake. He suggested that if we did, we would find Romney to be quite compatible with libertarian values. I provided a litany or reasons why libertarian support for Romney is simply an absurd concept.

Today, I'd like to add this little bit to the list regarding Romney's opinion on regulation of video games:

I want to restore values so children are protected from a societal cesspool of filth, pornography, violence, sex, and perversion. I've proposed that we enforce our obscenity laws again and that we get serious against those retailers that sell adult video games that are filled with violence and that we go after those retailers.

Yikes! Romney's appeal to libertarians pretty much amounts to: "I kinda, sorta support free trade, and I pretend I'm against expanding government programs. As for my position on corporate welfare, subsidies, international relations, torture, and those pesky domestic social issues....well, uhh.... HEY! I have great hair!"

***UPDATE*** I should have included this link to a post I made long before I converted this site into an interest group-oriented blog. It's one of my all-time favorite posts, and it deals with an argument Romney made at one of the debates in which he indicated that the most important civil liberty is the right to have government protect your life. If you read my analysis, you'll understand why I think Romney is as much a nightmare for libertarians as Giuliani, and an even bigger nightmare than Huckabee.

I should also point out that Romney has continued to repeat this protection of life is the most important civil liberty meme, as Jim Henley at Unqualified Offerings pointed out the other day.

Yglesias vs. Krugman on Unions as Interest Groups

Responding in part to the Krug-man's latest unhinged attack on Obama, Matthew Yglesias makes a point that is heard all-too-rarely on the left with respect to labor unions:

I don't see any need for liberal pundits to get in the business of denying that labor unions are, in fact, "special interests." Indeed, it's impossible to understand the dynamics of American politics without acknowledging them to be special interests. They're special interests who sometimes take the "wrong" side of policy debates then what's "right" for the country is "wrong" for the sector in which they work. The CWA often takes bad positions on telecommunications issues because it wants to advance the interests of unionized telecom firm vis-a-vis the interests of non-union firms. Similarly, various unions have in the past clashed with environmental groups and will certainly do so again in the context of a serious push to curb carbon emissions. There's nothing wrong with that, and liberals should strongly resist the line of inference from "unions are sometimes wrong on public policy questions, therefore we should embrace policies designed to hasten the decline of union membership." But still, unions are groups that seek to advance the interests of their members. As such, they're a vital check on what would otherwise be corporate influence run amok. But sometimes the interests of a given union's members run against the general interests of the country and there's no sense in denying this.

(My emphasis).

It's good to see an A-lister like Yglesias acknowledge that, in essence, any group that seeks to advance the political interests of its members is a "special interest group" (or as I would say, just an interest group, period). Also, kudos to Yglesias for acknowledging that interest groups can and do act as important checks on each other.

The increasingly unhinged Krug-man, on the other hand, gets a solid "F" when it comes to understanding the Laws of Interest Group Politics, particularly with these quotes:

First, does it make sense, in the current political and economic environment, for Democrats to lump unions in with corporate groups as examples of the special interests we need to stand up to?


It may be partisan to say that a 527 run by labor unions supporting health care reform isn’t the same thing as a 527 run by insurance companies opposing it. But it’s also the simple truth.

In essence, Krugman is saying that labor unions are somehow different in an important way from other interest groups. While they may be important in Democratic Party politics, they are in no way different on a substantive level from any other interest group that is important within either party. What Krugman is advocating, then, is nothing less than an ethical double standard when it comes to "Progressive" interest groups- they should be able to behave in ways that Krugman would find appalling if done by right-of-center interest groups.

Clown Hall Is Staggering

I have to hand it to Townhall- whenever I want something fun to write about, Hugh Hewitt & Co. have it in spades, especially now that Hewitt has turned much of it into Romney's unofficial campaign site.

First, Hewitt raves about Romney's two "endorsements" over the weekend: the Sioux City Journal endorsement and the Concord Monitor's full-scale assault on Romney in which the NH paper declared that "Romney must be stopped." On the latter, Hewitt hits a solid 87 on the Unintentional Comedy Scale, saying:

[T]he virulent enmity of a old media tree killer is a sure sign of which Republican the lefties fear the most in November. Had the Monitor merely endorsed a Romney rival, it would have been a minor plus for that candidate, just as the Sioux City Journal's applause for Romney helps him at the margin.But the editors at the Monitor gave every GOP voter in the Granite State a clear signal that they should support Romney on January 8th.

The second bit from Townhall today comes from Patrick Ruffini, who shows just how far the Reagan coalition has sunk. Ruffini's post makes clear that a good chunk of the GOP "establishment" continues to really fear McCain even though McCain is in many ways the most genuinely conservative candidate, at least as conservatism has come to be understood for the last 30 years. Amazingly, Ruffini outright advocates going to the gutter to attack McCain in an attempt to ensure that Romney holds on to New Hampshire. In the process, Ruffini inadvertently makes clear the difference between the Bush Republicans and the Republicans who formed the Reagan coalition.

As if the underground slime thrown at McCain in 2000 was perfectly acceptable, Ruffini now openly advocates a return to that style of attack on McCain. Indeed, the whole column seems to amount to: we can't allow McCain to be the nominee, so let's make crap up about him regardless of whether it's true. At one point, Ruffini even makes this fairly explicit:

"I would envision a series of ads around this theme launching right after Christmas — tease them on the Web on the 26th and start running them on the 27th. Do one on some sort of questionable post-Keating quid-pro-quo that’s evocative of the Drudge hit of last week without referencing it directly."

At no point, by the way, does Ruffini indicate that any of the attacks he suggests are factually valid or are anything short of distortions of McCain's record. The entire post is just an attempt to show Romney how he can take McCain down with little or no chance of responding. What is perhaps most amusing about the whole set is that it is based on getting Romney (yes, that Romney) to portray McCain, of all people, as a flip-flopper! To the extent Ruffini has a substantive point beyond "Let's make crap up about McCain," it seems to be that McCain is not necessarily 100% consistent with his views; if you're going to elect someone who isn't 100% consistent, you should at least vote for the candidate who is clear about the fact that he has no soul whatsoever.

For whatever reason, it continues to be clear that the Republican political establishment fears McCain deeply even though he is far more genuinely conservative in every category than Romney. The difference I guess is that Romney is a straight party line guy- whatever the party says is right, is in fact right as far as Romney is concerned; that's true even if the party line has changed from yesterday. When the relevant party was the Massachussetts GOP, his positions were whatever was most advantageous within the Massachussetts GOP; now that he's running nationally, his positions are whatever is most advantageous in the national GOP.

It is increasingly clear that the GOP establishment, which I have dubbed the "Romney Republicans," doesn't want to elect a candidate with any principles. Instead, they want to elect a candidate who knows how to pander to each of the GOP's primary interest groups while remaining deeply susceptible to the control of the party establishment- essentially, Bush Part II. Remember: the job of the party establishment is to maintain the coalition of interest groups within the party.

The GOP establishment, charged with maintaining this coalition, presumably understands that the party's core interest groups no longer have much of anything in common, and that it is impossible to appeal to each of those groups without a massive amount of doublethink. Romney has the ability to be a complete automoton who says and does what the party establishment tells him to say and do; in this way, the party establishment views Romney as the one candidate it can manipulate enough to maintain the historical GOP coalition. This is also why much of the GOP establishment has turned so severely against candidates like Huckabee, McCain, Paul, and even Giuliani: agree with them or not, they each have their own clear view of how the world should look. Trouble is that none of them (with the exception of McCain, who is still not a straight party-line guy and thus unacceptable to the establishment) can appeal to all of the core elements of the GOP coalition.

The Turnaround in the Paul Grassroots Continues

A week or two ago, I blogged about what appeared to be a big turning point for the Paul grassroots: an increasingly widespread understanding amongst leaders in the Paul grassroots that overzealous support could do more harm than good to Paul's ability to attract votes.

That understanding is starting to reach a crescendo as one of the leaders of the NH grassroots organization posted this at the Daily Paul on Friday. Money quote:

However, there has also been some help that has been undesirable, and downright harmful to our efforts here. I’ve said several times that Ron Paul's best asset is his supporters. But they are also his biggest liability. There can truly be “too much of a good thing”.

I continue to believe that this turnaround is coming too late to significantly impact Paul's ability to succeed in the early states. But it is remarkable to see a decentralized campaign like this start to police itself more and more like this.

In this case, the number of negative comments to the post is a much lower percentage even than the article I linked to last week. It seems the vast majority of Paul supporters are starting to understand the problems with overzealousness, and that in order for Paul to have any chance at making an impact, he needs the support of people who are not naturally part of his core group of supporters. This means his core group of supporters must be considerate of the issues, concerns, and lives of voters from the political "mainstream." Again, I think all of this is happening too little, too late to significantly impact Paul's numbers in the early states, but it may be enough to get Paul into the low double-digits in the later states.

Laws of Interest Group Politics and Corruption

Consider these to be more or less immutable laws that I will reference regularly on this blog; I reserve the right to add more rules as time goes on:

1. There are no such things as "special" and "public" interest groups: anyone seeking a particular outcome in a particular government action is an interest group, pure and simple.

2. Interest groups, even self-described "public" interest groups, seek nothing more or less than the advancement or protection of their leaders' and members' preferred outcomes.

3. Political parties are merely vehicles for the election of interest groups who have chosen to unite under a single coalition. They have no independent ideology of their own; only the collective ideologies of coalition members.

4. The fewer political parties there are relative to the size of the overall population, the more varied the interest groups that make up each political party, and the less coherent the political party's ideology.

5. The larger a political party and the less coherent its ideology, the more the political party affects the ideology of its constituent interest groups and the less the constituent interest groups affect the party's ideology.

6. Politicians, both elected and unelected, cannot remain in power long if they lose the support of a sufficient number of their core interest groups.

7. A politician cannot implement his preferred policies if he is not in power; thus, remaining in power or obtaining power is the primary goal of any rational politician.

8. Corruption cannot exist without government by definition. The more government you have, the more powerful government is, and the more government controls access to scarce resources, the more corrupt the government will be.

9. Most anti-corruption reforms either legitimize corruption or make it worse by driving it underground. In some cases, anti-corruption reforms backfire by creating a never-ending political campaign, increasing the number of favors a politician must grant in order to remain competitive.

10. The smaller a relevant population, the less significant corruption will be.

11. There is an inverse correlation between corruption and freedom.

12. All politics are interest group politics.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

WaPo Picks Up the Factionalization Watch

...Sort of. Money quote from Michael Shear and David Broder's article:

For three decades, the Republican presidential nominating contest has served to unify the national party's coalition of social, economic and foreign policy conservatives in advance of a general election fight with Democrats. This year, it is ripping that coalition apart.

While this characterization oversimplifies the interest groups that have formed the GOP coalition, it is absolutely correct in pointing out that there is no unifying candidate in the current GOP crop who can appeal to all three groups. Moreover, this opening statement from the column hits the nail right on the head: the primary campaign this year is driving a massive wedge between libertarians, evangelical conservatives, and neo-conservatives.

The Moderate Voice seems to go a bit further than the Washington Post article, calling the GOP situation a "profound identity crisis." This is all something I've been droning on about for weeks, even months: the GOP coalition is unsustainable in its current form. It is increasingly unlikely that this coalition will remain intact on Election Day 2008- the three primary interest groups mentioned above are increasingly realizing how little they have in common with each other in the post-Cold War era. I suspect the Dems may face similar problems thanks to incredibly widespread disillusionment from their bases, but I don't think that is nearly as likely unless a variety of things happen.

As I've been suggesting, the GOP's splintering means one or both of the following is likely to happen:

1. Factionalization resulting in one or two credible third party runs, along with the likely beginning of one or two traditional GOP groups permanently abandoning the GOP for such a third party.

2. Realignment in which at least one of the GOP core interest groups switches overwhelmingly in favor of the Democratic candidate, becoming an important "swing" vote in the process. In this scenario, we would also expect some traditionally Democratic interest groups to switch to the GOP.

My intuition is that at least one of these scenarios will unfold as long as the nominee is Romney, Giuliani, or Huckabee. Romney and Giuliani deeply lack bona fides when it comes to social conservatives and libertarians; after the Bush administration, both groups are deeply suspicious of candidates lacking such bona fides, particularly when the candidate comes across as being quite insincere. Moreover, their campaigns are largely focused on appealing to what I am going to call "Pu-Pu Platter" Republicans: Republicans who believe whatever the majority of Republicans believe. These are also known as the last remnants of Bush-supporting Republicans. They lack any real ideological base, except maybe on foreign policy where they subscribe whole-hog to neoconservative notions of American power. If one of them is the nominee it is impossible to see libertarians remaining in the Republican coalition. In 2006, the split of the libertarian vote (historically a solid GOP vote) was a key factor in the Dems' capture of Congress; if Giuliani or Romney were to win the GOP nomination, I think you'd see the libertarian vote become solidly Democrat and/or third party (Bloomberg?).

Huckabee, on the other hand, is increasingly viewed by libertarians and neo-cons alike as the reincarnation of Jimmy Carter. Moreover, his evangelical ideology is scaring the hell out of many Pu-Pu Platter Republicans, who are suddenly seeing the results of their "Solid South" strategy. In some ways, you could conceivably see both a good number of neo-cons switching to vote for the Dem (especially if its Hillary) and a good number of union members voting for Huckabee (especially if it's Obama). If it's Hillary-Huckabee, I think you'd also have a virtual guarantee of a credible third party run by either a libertarian and/or Bloomberg.

There is, I think, one candidate who actually could unite the party enough to keep the old Reagan-era coalition together. That candidate would be McCain. McCain is certainly far from perfect for any of the core Republican interest groups; but he is also far better for each interest group than some of the alternatives. He comes across as sincere on most issues, is very much a social conservative (despite a continued false perception amongst some evangelicals that he is pro-choice), is far more genuinely free-trade than anyone else in the GOP field, has a demonstrated record of pushing for smaller government, and is a believer in both the use of American power as a force for democracy AND in the importance of using that power ethically.

Again, McCain has serious flaws when it comes to each of the core interest groups in the Republican Party. But he also has plenty of credibility on many of the most important issues to those groups; matched up against someone like Hillary or Edwards, McCain would be incredibly appealing to every GOP interest group. I don't think you could say that with respect to any of the other potential GOP candidates. On top of that, I suspect he is the one GOP candidate who would prevent or mitigate the effects of a Bloomberg run.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Oh, Those Wealthy "Special Interests"

Via Marginal Revolution:

A common complaint about government by Progressives is that not only are the rich undertaxed, but the poor don't receive enough of the benefits of government. A good chunk of this argument is based on the belief that government largesse goes largely to evil "special interests," and particularly to wealthy such interests.

As Alex Tabarrok points out, though, the vast majority of federal government spending goes to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security (from which the rich receive less than they put in), and notably unemployment and welfare (which obviously don't benefit the rich at all, since they are almost by definition not on unemployment or welfare). Add to that the 9% of the federal budget that goes to interest on the national debt (thanks to out of control government spending dating back decades).

Another 16.6% of the budget goes to national defense. This is, frankly, absurd. But as one commenter at MR points out, national defense is pork heaven as a jobs creation program (although wealthy individuals certainly still see a good chunk of the profits from defense spending). Tabarrok's blanket guesstimate that this spending benefits the rich about the same as they contribute in tax dollars is thus probably pretty close to accurate.

Finally we come to the last 10.7% spent on "everything else" in the federal budget. This largely includes roads, but also other government programs like schools and most of those gigantic government bureacracies that employ so many Americans. Tabarrok again uses the guesstimate that this benefit goes to the rich in proportion to their tax burden. In this case, I suspect much of the benefit really goes to the poor, except for things like ridiculous agriculture subsidies. Transportation expenditures benefit everyone roughly equally regardless of tax burden, though business owners probably get a slight added advantage from savings due to marginally more efficient transportation of goods and services.

Even using Tabarrok's intentionally generous accounting, he finds that 63 cents of every dollar paid in taxes by the evil "rich" people winds up transferred down the ladder.

One of the important things this says in my mind is that the so-called poor and "working classes" are much more powerful lobbies than everyone thinks. Unfortunately, they apparently do not qualify as "special interests," which makes massive wealth transfers perfectly acceptable. One can argue that such wealth transfers are a good idea (I'd vehemently disagree, but at least it's a good faith argument).

What one cannot argue, however, is that "working class" Americans are not a powerful interest group unto themselves. Certainly any such argument pretends that "working class" Americans don't vote and, to the extent they do vote, politicians don't care about those votes. Which is silly since the vote of a rich person counts just as much as the vote of a poor or working class person; except that the poor or working classes have a lot more votes to give out. If enough poor or working class voters refuse to vote for a candidate, that candidate loses the election and no longer has the ability to help out the "evil" wealthy special interests.

Closing in on the Death Knell for the Giuliani Campaign

After the latest NH poll, the Giuliani campaign is getting perilously close to its "last throes." With only two weeks left before the NH primary, Giuliani sits in third place behind McCain and Romney, which would be fine.....except he is only at 11 percent. Worse, Paul and Huckabee sit only 2 points behind Giuliani.

I note that we have to be extremely careful when reading polls in general, and especially primary polls where the margin of error makes an even bigger difference (in this case, that 2 point lead could theoretically be as much as 10 or 12 and stay within the margin of error); indeed, this poll has the appearance of a potential outlier, though I have a hunch it merely reflects McCain's recent momentum. This news has got to scare the crap out of the Giuliani campaign. If in fact Giuliani has only a 2 point lead over Huckabee and Paul, this will likely translate into a slight deficit on primary day since support for those two candidates tends to be much more passionate. This could be important in the historically low-turnout primary stage. Worse news for Giuliani: less than half of his supporters are "certain." Indeed, when you only look at voters who are "certain" to vote for their candidate, this latest poll places Giuliani in a three-way tie at 5 percent with Huckabee and Paul.

Giuliani's campaign seems to have accepted the idea of him placing no better than third in NH, figuring they will be able to fall back on Florida. But this latest poll raises the legitimate specter of Giuliani placing as low as 5th in NH, below both Huckabee and Paul. To say the least, such a result would be an absolute embarassment for Rudy; it is hard to see him making it through to Super Tuesday if that were to happen. This of course would be terrific news for McCain, who Giuliani would presumably back if he were to drop out.

Some more interesting stuff from this poll:

Romney is holding on to his lead, but McCain is lurking as more and more of a potential upset. But with Rudy faltering, McCain may be able to stay in this race even without a NH win.

McCain's comeback has been largely at Giuliani's expense, as Giuliani actually easily wins the most "second-choice" votes, suggesting to me that there are a lot of voters who have switched from Giuliani in recent weeks, with McCain being the obvious beneficiary.

McCain wins easily on issues of understanding the average voter and, even more so, on standing on principle. He wins slightly on the question of who would accomplish things in Washington most easily, not surprising for a veteran Senator.

The issue of which candidate most shares a voter's values most closely parallels the candidate's support, even though Paul was apparently not included in the question (he was, however, frequently given as a volunteered answer- a very good sign for the strength of his support). In addition, Romney handily wins the question of who has the most innovative ideas and, surprisingly, who has the best chance of winning the general election. I suspect this last question is skewed by NH's proximity to Massachussetts, where Romney managed to govern a deeply "Blue" state. Nationally, the numbers don't bear that response out.

I must again stress that this poll must be taken with a grain of salt, as its "likely voter" model is somewhat controversial; certainly it is difficult to compare it with other polls. However, if it is in fact accurate, it paints a very bleak picture for the Giuliani campaign, which will need to make a very rapid push to save face. I can imagine little more embarassing to his formerly front-running campaign than for it to start with a fourth place in Iowa and a fifth place in NH. Not to mention a possible fifth place in SC.

Obama's Appeal

Ron Chusid, quoting an article from the American Prospect, does a great job summarizing Obama's appeal to libertarians, independents, and disillusioned conservatives in just a few sentences. Bottom line: Obama knows what he believes, but he also realizes that conservatives, libertarians, and people of just about any political stripe not only believe differently, but actually may have valid points that deserve a seat at the table. In Obama, you get someone who seemingly understands that he is fallible, and who seems sincerely concerned more about getting things right than winning political points or just winning by throwing mud at his opposition. In many ways, he is the prototype for a politician who generally seeks an "anthropology of ideas" before he seeks to attack an opponent's motives.

In essence, the value of Obama is that he appears willing to compromise details, but not principles, which is the goal of the ongoing education debate Kyle and I are having. A candidate willing to do that is a candidate who is willing to give libertarians a seat at the table. The thing about most (not all) libertarians is that we're ideologically required to accept that not everyone will agree with our ideals; as long as government gives those ideas a place on the shelf in the "marketplace of ideas," libertarians are likely to be happy or at least accepting. At least then we know that our ideas were just unpersuasive rather than being kept out of the competition in the first place.

The problem with Romney and most of the Republican candidates, not to mention Hillary and Edwards, is that they only seem interested in listening to the libertarian point of view when that libertarian point of view props up a pre-existing interest/policy proposal of theirs. In the case of Edwards, you are dealing with someone who probably has no interest in hearing the libertarian perspective on any issue.

By the way: politicians should not be required to give libertarians a seat at the table. However, a politician willing to give libertarians a seat at the table is better for libertarians than a politician who only gives libertarians a seat at the table when he wants an ideological basis for a decision he's already made.