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.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ron Paul Goes After the GOP's Other Interest Groups


The Republican Party, as with the Democratic Party, is nothing more than a collection of interest groups who have come together under one banner to elect candidates. If you were to broadly specify the interest groups that currently make up the Republican Party, you would have to say libertarians, Burkean conservatives, evangelical conservatives, business people, neoconservative hawks, and increasingly protectionists of varying stripes (especially on the immigration issue). In their own way, the Republican establishment must be something of a Frankenstein's monster of these groups in order to keep each group under their banner.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, libertarians have little in common with evangelical conservatives and increasingly have little in common with neo-conservatives. Similarly, evangelical conservatives are realizing they have very little in common with libertarians and business people now that the Cold War is long over. Nonetheless, these groups (except, maybe for the libertarians) are for the moment still under the Republican tent and still vote in the Republican primaries and caucuses. Thus any candidate hoping to make an impact on the Republican race must find a way of appealing to each of these groups.

This is especially true of Ron Paul, whose base of support, libertarians, has largely abandoned the Republican Party in recent years. While he has brought some back into the fold, and has also brought in some disillusioned Progressives, his appeals based on his libertarian opposition to the war in Iraq has little or no appeal to the rest of the Republican interest groups.

Today, he unveiled a well-produced ad that is clearly geared to the non-libertarian interest groups under the GOP tent (well, not so much the neo-cons). He had previously been appealing only to libertarians, crossover Democrats and the increasingly large protectionist elements of the GOP. This new ad makes a direct appeal to evangelicals, business "Wall Street" Republicans, gun rights conservatives, and yes, even national defense focused neo-cons. Nowhere in the ad does he mention his core issue of opposing international endeavors; the ad even quite shrewdly states right up front "he defends our freedom" and mentions his service in the military, a not-so-subtle appeal to "national defense" conservatives. At the end, he throws in a line about "our God-given freedom" that is clearly intended for evangelical conservatives.

In many ways, this ad may disappoint some of his followers because it is not particularly ideological. To be honest, I can understand why they would feel that way; certainly, it undercuts the notion that Paul is unwilling to pander (though he's still less of a panderer than the rest of the GOP field, save possibly McCain). Unfortunately in our two-party system, you can't do well in a primary without appealing to more than one or two interest groups. It's a sad reality, and it's the reason why party establishment-types (on both sides of the aisle) are generally unprincipled and wind up creating something of an inconsistent "pu-pu platter" of favored policies. But it's reality nonetheless, and politicians hoping to do well will usually have to play to that reality.

I suspect that this ad, which accepts that unfortunate reality, will help Paul. However, its value will be limited to the extent that voters have already formed a negative opinion of him. On the whole, it is probably too little, too late to help him noticeably, but it is a shrewdly done political ad that understands the political reality within the Republican Party. The ad is posted below:

McCain vs. Drudge and the NYT

(via memeorandum)

Drudge broke a story this morning suggesting that the NYT is debating the time at which it releases a story suggesting McCain performed legislative favors for a telecom lobbyist. This would obviously be embarassing for a man who has spent the last 20 years railing repeatedly against the "special interests."

While there is a certain amount of schadenfreude inherent in watching the man who championed the odious BCRA get taken down for ties to special interests, there are a lot of problems with this story, both as it is currently being reported and as an example of the flaws in our perception of lobbying and so-called "special interests."

1. McCain is fighting the release of the story extremely hard, as is the lobbyist herself, with each having retained lawyers to fight on their behalf. That they are preparing for such a hard fight over the story suggests (in my opinion) a sincere belief that they did nothing wrong and that the story is of dubious merit. The fact that the Times is withholding the story at the same time as it has done similarly negative stories about Obama and Clinton also suggests that there may be some factual problems with the story or that the Times does not think the story is as big an issue as the journalists think it is.

2. We know nothing about the substance of the story and its evidence- is there hard evidence of a quid pro quo (highly unlikely), mere circumstantial evidence of such, or simply evidence that McCain agreed to do something after a meeting/discussion with the lobbyist? Until we know those details, it is entirely irresponsible to pass judgment on the story- which is one of the biggest problems with getting your news from Drudge in the first place.

Assuming the basis for the story is that McCain received some kind of a campaign donation from the lobbyist or that he had a meeting with her, after which he did performed some legislative act on her client's behalf, this story shows the problems with our view of lobbying and "special interests." In many ways, I think it displays the unfairness of the BCRA regime and of the intuitions that underly BCRA. In the post-Buckley v. Valeo world, we now have all sorts of contribution limits; after BCRA, those limits apply to PACs as well, such that it is extremely difficult to obtain a meaningful campaign contribution from just one source. Of course, there is the issue of bundling, but I haven't seen any suggestion yet that the lobbyist here was a McCain bundler.

Considering those contribution limits and considering the amount that it now costs to run a campaign, it is exceedingly difficult to think that you can buy a politician's support simply by giving the politician a campaign donation or two. On top of that though, we have a problem where we have become so cynical (thanks in no small part to McCain's railing against lobbyists) that we immediately dismiss the possibility that a politician can be persuaded legitimately or that a politician might have a natural inclination towards a lobbyist's position in the first place.

Even if McCain received some sort of a clear quid pro quo from the lobbyist, this would show one of the fundamental problems with the lobbying "reform" over the years. Certainly, of course, such a quid pro quo would be truly deviant behavior on McCain's part. But it would also show the results of doing more and more to make lobbying an underground activity. When you force contributions underground, you get worse behavior than when you keep it out in the open, exposed to sunlight. This is how you wind up with lobbyists buying houses through third parties for politicians and things like that which are far, far more invidious than a publicly disclosed campaign contribution.

There is much more I'd love to say about this story, but unfortunately, I only have so much time in the day.

***UPDATE*** Flopping Aces is at least equally suspicious of this story.

Meanwhile, Riehl Worldview points out that McCain has a particularly cozy relationship with lobbyists. He links to a Public Citizen (one of those self-described "public" interest groups I love so dearly) study that shows McCain has more lobbyist bundlers than any other Presidential candidate. This certainly would suggest that the lobbyist at issue very well may be a bundler, contrary to my initial assumption.

If indeed this lobbyist is a McCain bundler, then this issue goes even further to prove my longstanding point that most measures to stop political corruption just wind up legitimizing it. In this case, we would do well to recall that the concept of "bundling" was non-existent before BCRA; indeed, the concept of "bundling" came about very much as a result of BCRA. Prior to BCRA, the great big evil was PACs, which themselves were a creature of the post-Watergate campaign finance reforms. Before that, the great evil was unlimited contribution sizes. But when contribution sizes were unlimited, a candidate need be beholden to only one or two interest groups; in some ways, the relationship between the candidate and the interest groups was often more one of mutual interest: since donations were unlimited in size, the interest group could spend all of its campaign donations on a handful of candidates that they particularly agreed with; meanwhile, the candidates only needed donations from a couple of interest groups that they may have already agreed with. As we've increased the number of "reforms" over the years, though, this has changed: now politicians must appeal to an increasingly large number of interest groups in order to raise the same amount of money. Conversely, interest groups wind up spreading their money around to more politicians, resulting in influence on more than just a handful of elected officials.

I should also add that without evidence of a direct quid pro quo, the assumption for McCain (as with, IMHO, any politician) should be that the lobbyist supports the politician because the politician supports the lobbyist and vice versa. In other words, there needs to be evidence that the lobbyist's status as a bundler caused McCain to do something for the lobbyist that McCain would not have otherwise done. Unfortunately, McCain, in his decades-long crusade against "special interests," has not held others to this standard; nonetheless, it is the standard that should apply in all cases like this.

Update: Tancredo Endorses Romney

I said this morning that a Tancredo endorsement of Romney would be hard to believe. It still is- except that it is exactly what Tancredo chose to do. This makes sense only if Tancredo wanted to make sure he endorsed someone with a good chance at winning the primary and decided that, in fact, Fred Thompson has no shot at winning the primary. Certainly if Tancredo limited his options to the top four candidates, Romney is probably least uncredible on being anti-immigrant (yes, that's a triple negative-deal with it!). But that's a very low bar given Giuliani's even-more recent than Romney conversion to getting tough on illegal immigrants, Huckabee's generally sympathetic view of immigrants, and McCain's relatively pro-immigration stance (which is closest to my own).

Had Tancredo endorsed Thompson, Thompson probably catapults into contention for a respectable showing in Iowa, especially since Tancredo was apparently pulling a somewhat-respectable 6% in Iowa in the most recent Des Moine Register poll. This would have had the tangential effect of keeping immigration a hot topic in the race, since Thompson could have really hit home on the issue.

By endorsing Romney, Tancredo probably reignites Romney's chances at winning Iowa, significantly wounding Huckabee in the process. He also gives Romney instant credibility on the immigration issue. On the other hand, Romney remains vulnerable enough on immigration thanks to his personal illegal immigrant scandal that it's tough to see Romney making immigration a focal point of his campaign. The endorsement also takes away much of Thompson's ability to attack Romney's credibility on illegal immigration.

So, in some ways, Tancredo's endorsement of Romney may be counterproductive to Tancredo's single-issue fight because it probably makes the issue of attacking illegal immigration less important to the overall primary battle now.

At the same time, it is getting impossible to see the Thompson campaign making any kind of turnaround. I'd be surprised to see him hang around past South Carolina.

**UPDATE** It appears Tancredo's biggest mission was to stop the Huckster (and maybe McCain):

“While several of the candidates appear to be committed to our cause, there are others whose records as public servants are abysmal on this issue. They have been on the other side of the battle for years and encouraging and even inviting, in a way, illegal immigrants into the country. I fear that remaining in this race, when I know I cannot win, could contribute to the nomination of one of those candidates. We have done too much. We have come too far. The stakes are way too high for me to allow that to happen.”

Still, I think this endorsement has the net effect of reducing the impact of the illegal immigration issue on the post-Iowa race.

Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up in Iraq

Sully points to a hopeful sign of progress in Iraq- ordinary Sunnis and Shia joining in neighborhood patrols to improve security in Iraq. This is indeed a hopeful sign- it is an important example of "bottom-up" changes to the situation in Iraq, which I have argued are the only way the situation will ultimately improve in Iraq.

Money quote:

There are now an estimated 72,000 members in some 300 groups set up in 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces, and the numbers are growing.

While Sully finds this to be good sign, he says that "it cannot substitute for national decisions."

To a certain extent he is right, but he seems to miss that such national decisions cannot happen without the demand for those national decisions from the general population. Peace cannot be forced upon the people simply by political leaders coming to agreements; as I said in my earlier post, if that were the case, Israel and Palestine would have been at peace for the last 10 or 15 years.

Explaining this in a different way: politicians are elected (in democracies) or propped up (in dictatorships and oligarchies) with the support of particular interest groups. If they do not have the support of those interest groups, they will be unable to accomplish much or anything at all, and will eventually find themselves out of power entirely. While the politicians can influence the interest groups and even control the leaders of the interest groups, they have no ability to directly control the thoughts and actions of the interest groups themselves (they can, however, indirectly do this, but only to the extent they have the support of other interest groups like the military, police, and paramilitary capable of using sufficient physical force to control the actions of civilian interest groups).

If the interest groups who support the politicians decide they want a push for national reconciliation, then the politicians will make an earnest effort towards national reconciliation (to do otherwise would mean an end to their power)- but this effort will be partly unnecessary, since the people committing the violence will have already decided to reconcile. Effective (as opposed to ineffective) political reconciliation is thus more of a trailing indicator than it is a cause of inter-group reconciliation.

Peace in Iraq will be a long process, and the indispensable Omar's metaphor of "eating an elephant" is entirely appropriate. Importantly, Omar suggests that a loss of support for radicals like al-Sadr and the Association of Muslim Scholars amongst their own groups has defanged them such that they can now be dealt with head-on. In other words, the interest groups that had propped up al-Sadr and the AMS have turned against them (and are now apparently involved in conducting neighborhood patrols with members of other groups), along the government to go after them with relative impunity as well.

Iraq still has a long, long way to go, and to a certain extent I still think a rapid withdrawal is necessary (for other reasons). But there's no denying that things have improved in recent months; I think they would have improved more if the "surge" was more meaningful, but there's also no denying that Gen. Petraeus understands the principles of "bottom-up reconciliation" more than anyone else previously in his position or similarly important positions. He deserves a ton of credit for changing our strategy in Iraq.

All Politics Are Interest Group Politics

Regarding the new energy bill, Cato-at-Liberty asks, somewhat rhetorically:

Why are these mandates necessary? If the changes are as sensible as Congress and
the White House claim, consumers would make them privately. Indeed, the data indicate that consumer preference for fuel-efficient cars is stronger than what the economics would justify. So then, what is this energy bill really all about?

The answer: interest groups- the Iowa farmers, the agriculture lobby, and environmental interest groups that are, contrary to popular opinion, quite powerful since they represent a large group of voters, have a fair amount of funding, and have an enormous amount of influence with the public, and particularly with other Progressive and centrist interest groups.

Oh yeah, they also get to call themselves the weasel words "public interest groups." That phrase is one of the most ridiculous in the English language- there is no such thing as a "public interest group," any more than there is such things as a "special interest group." All interest groups are private interests seeking to advance a cause that is of particular importance to their members. The notion of a "public interest group" simply means that the members of the group think that they know what's best for everyone who is not a member of the group but is still a member of the "public." Of course, the public never elected these interest groups, so it's hard to understand why these groups actually represent the public interest (if there even IS such a thing). Meanwhile, "special interests" often legitimately think (rightly or wrongly) that advancing their cause is in the best interest of the public, for one reason or another- which makes every interest group a "public interest group."

One Reason Tancredo is Dropping Out Today

His campaign is concerned about blog posts written as advocacy for Ron Paul on Not only that, but the advocacy he wants Paul to disavow isn't Stormfront, the 9/11 Truth movement, or Paul's conscious association with Alex Jones-type conspiracy theories about the NAU (which I suspect Tancredo would agree with, anyway). No, Tancredo wants Paul to disavow a blog post from a supporter seeking Latino support for Paul in which the writer (a Latino himself) dares to call the Minutemen "racist," announces personal support for amnesty (which Paul categorically has opposed), and attacks "English-only" laws, suggesting that Paul is opposed to any forced assimilation of immigrants (something I largely doubt). When a campaign with only a handful of staffers like Tancredo's is denouncing another candidate getting only a few points in the polls, that campaign is focused entirely on the wrong thing.

Not that Tancredo was ever going anywhere in this race. But it doesn't seem like he's made much impact during the campaign on his pet issue of extreme xenophobia (with which Paul often largely agrees more than the other candidates, anyways- one of my biggest problems with the Paul campaign).

Anyhow, with Tancredo dropping out, the issue is who he will endorse. Given that Paul is in favor of stricter immigration controls (not to mention his opposition to NAFTA) than anyone else except maybe for Duncan Hit....err.... Hunter, and given that Tancredo and Paul are supposedly good friends, Paul actually would have been a somewhat natural choice for Tancredo. Especially since endorsing a lower-tier candidate like Paul would have given Tancredo some extra publicity out of his endorsement, and particularly on the issue of immigration controls.

But this ridiculous press release of Tancredo's suggests otherwise, and I doubt Tancredo would be willing to take the personal risk involved with endorsing a candidate that is so disfavored by the Republican establishment, anyways. Soren Dayton at Eyeon08 suggests that Romney will get the endorsement since Tancredo will want to endorse someone with a chance at winning. I find this somewhat hard to believe, given Romney's penchant for flip-floppery and insincerity, not to mention his recent personal problems with the illegal immigration issue.

Fred Thompson would be the most logical remaining choice- the Thompson campaign is struggling, so Tancredo's endorsement would get a little extra publicity, plus Thompson still has an extremely outside chance of pulling the nomination off. On top of that Thompson is probably the strongest candidate against illegal immigration of those in the top two tiers of the race.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Change in Focus

When I started this blog in late July, there was a very specific reason I titled it "Publius Endures." Specifically, the title came from my long relationship with the Federalist Papers, and especially Madison's Federalist No. 10, which is perhaps my favorite essay (if you want to call it that) of all time.

My goal at the time was to make this something of a Conlaw blog. However, that quickly fell by the wayside and I wound up writing about libertarianism and politics more generally, as well as increasingly about the horse race specifically.

As much as I enjoy writing about all of those things, I'm realizing that I have a very specific interest that I am undercovering with this blog. I'm also realizing that such a general focus is perhaps too broad. and I don't think I contribute enough unique material to make it useful.

So, effective immediately, I'm going to give this blog more direction and focus than I have been. Specifically, I am going to gear it towards a topic I should have focused on in more detail from the beginning, which is an area in which I have an unusual amount of expertise, experience, and interest. As I allude to with my mention of Federalist Number 10, this area is the study of interest group politics and political corruption more generally. Indeed, my favorite series of posts here at PE has been my still uncompleted discussion of why most anti-corruption "reforms" fail and actually create more corruption or just legitimize it.

To a certain extent, much of what I already write about falls under this umbrella, so this won't mean too many changes to my topics. I will still cover the horse race as I have been, but to a large extent the reason I find the horse race fascinating is what it says about interest group politics and about both our systemic benefits and our systemic flaws. Of course, I will continue with the Education Debate with Kyle at Comments From Left Field, and will participate in similar such debates in the future if possible.

But on the whole, I want to re-focus this blog on a specific area where I think I can make my best contribution to political debate in this little corner of the blogosphere I seem to occupy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Those Dog-Hating Republicans

Sully writes:

This is getting ridiculous. Romney shoved his pooch on the top of his car. Huckabee's son hanged one. And Blackwater just shot the NYT's. The beagles - who have always, like all beagles, registered as Independents, are now considering the Democrats.

...So is my Golden-Doodle Puck, a card-carrying member of Dogs Against Romney. He is terrified that another Republican President will label him a terrorist and send him to Gitmo for his repeated malicious attacks on my shoes, not to mention the dozens of times he has tried to take our oven mitt hostage. He says he just does it to make me give him attention, and so I do. Which means that I want to let the terrorists win, I guess.

Misreading the Gallup Poll

Greg Mitchell at Pressing Matters has a discussion of the new Gallup poll. He focuses especially on the fact that Ron Paul has dropped from 5% to 3%, in a tie with Alan Keyes, since the last poll. He points out (correctly, I think) that the media is not missing a grassroots surge in Paul's support over the last few weeks. He also says that the poll shows Huckabee peaking nationally and Giuliani still in good shape.

However, I think he reads a bit too much into this poll. While Paul's support is certainly nowhere near what you would call a grassroots surge, there are a few key factors Mitchell misses here:

1. The problem of small numbers: one of the big problems with relying on any polls involving Ron Paul is that his support level is on the whole relatively small. Thus, a poll showing a rise or fall of one, two, or three points is not statistically significant, but it can appear significant since it shows a big change in his relative performance (ie, a 2% difference in one poll can amount to 40% of his support from the previous poll). If this poll were one of several showing a downward trend in Paul's support, Mitchell's conclusion that Paul was at Keyes' level would make sense. We should probably also add that Keyes' 3% has this same statistical problem. Paul's change in support amounts to 8 fewer people out of 399 polled. The sample size here is just not large enough to draw much of a conclusion.

2. This poll seems to be an outlier in general. Giuliani's support in this poll increased by 2 points, while Huckabee remained steady at 16 points over the last Gallup poll 2 weeks ago. In that same time period, though, the overall polling trend for Giuliani has been sharply down, while the overall trend for Huckabee has been sharply up.

Don't get me wrong- the overall trend for Paul seems to have been going slightly down the last few weeks (since about the time of his Thanksgiving appearance on Alex Jones). But it's tough to say that this particular Gallup poll, standing alone, proves anything about anyone. Especially the Giuliani-Huckabee trends. Since this poll is clearly an outlier, I would not make any conclusions about the state of the horse race based on this poll without some supporting evidence from other polls.

UPDATE: Ron Chusid largely comes to the same conclusions as Mitchell. While I agree with Ron on a lot of things when it comes to the Paul campaign (though he is slightly more critical than I), I do think he's overreacting to this one poll a little bit for the reasons I stated above. Still, as I said, the overall polling trend for Paul has either leveled off or is going slightly downhill since the Alex Jones appearance.

(via memeorandum)

Libertarians as the New Swing Vote (Realignment Watch Bonus!)

David Boaz points to this fascinating piece of evidence that shows the changing allegiances of libertarians as a massive swing vote in the 2006 elections, with the self-identified libertarian vote split nearly even between Republicans in Democrats just four years after being nearly 75% for the Republicans.

I think this switch is ultimately good for libertarians, as suddenly the parties have to pay attention to the libertarian vote. The Republicans can no longer take us for granted, and both parties will need to compete for the libertarian vote. Given that self-identified libertarians make up about an equal portion of the electorate as evangelicals, this means the parties will both have to promise some anti-authoritarian type ideas if they want to win the election.

Alas, this will mean that libertarians in the upcoming election may wind up being named in the same sentences as "soccer moms" and "NASCAR" dads."

An Open Source Solution to Nuclear Policy

Via Cernig at the Newshoggers, I learn that nuclear policy expert Cheryl Rofer is seeking to engage in what she is calling a "blog-tank" approach to creating a new nuclear policy for the United States. The goal of this approach is to create a consensus on nuclear policy from all parts of the blogospheric spectrum in what can almost be described as an open-source approach.

This should be an interesting experiment and I hope to participate, assuming I can find the time to do so.

Sen. Byrd Getting Pushed Out?

Via the Politico, Dems are apparently seeking to push Sen. Byrd out of his position as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Alas, the reason he is to be pushed out has nothing to do with the fact that he has managed to name half the state of West Virginia after himself through his penchant for earmarks.

No, the reason he is being forced out is simply that the old guy is apparently starting to wear down a bit. In fact, he seems to have gotten too old to write his own name into Congressional Bills, as he barely cracks the top 40 senators in terms of times named in the current omnibus spending bill. Actually, most of the reason is probably that the Dem leadership has earned a lot of shame for itself in its cowtowing to the Administration on certain budgetary issues like that Iraq War thing.

His most logical successor, Senator Inoue of Hawaii, is also getting up there in years and rather likes his position running the pork-heavenly Defense subcommittee. It seems that the Dems will thus be turning to their 7th most senior member on the committee, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington. Given that Murray ranks right up with Chuck Schumer for most mentions in the omnibus spending bill, it would seem that the Dems, it would seem that her leadership of the Appropriations Committe would be based more on her penchant for securing pork than on her ability to put together a good budget. But I guess that's just me.

My Current Position on the Republican Primary

A reader at Andrew Sullivan just about perfectly sums up my own position on McCain vs. Paul at the moment, right down to being a Cato Institute type, Reason Mag-subscribing libertarian. He doesn't get too much into the flaws of either candidate, but I don't see how libertarians could have any other choices to look at in the Republican primary (and yes, I'm aware that McCain's campaign finance reform was the worst offense against free speech in recent memory).

Money quote:

McCain's a solid free-trader (at a time when the tide runs against the policy), a moderate tax and spending cutter, pro-life yet mostly tepid on social policy, and best of all, a torture abolitionist. I agree completely that he was, and remains, dead wrong on Iraq. And yet I'm beginning to oscillate more, not less, between Paul and McCain. It's for one conservative reason: timidity.

McCain will be a force for good in many ways, whereas Ron Paul is, by my lights, mostly right about everything (except immigration, on which McCain, significantly, takes a better position).

Read the whole thing.

At the moment, I see myself voting for Paul while sincerely hoping McCain (who has a far more realistic shot at the nomination) pulls off the upset. If McCain has a real shot at winning the thing come Super Tuesday, I may even vote for him just as a way of helping a rational Republican win (on the other hand, my vote might not matter too much since Rudy's proxies rigged the primary here in NJ, which means I'm not doing any harm by voting for Paul as a protest vote).

The general consensus is that Obama hurts McCain a lot in the states with open primaries because they both appeal to independents, so Obama is pulling a lot of McCain's traditional support. I think that's certainly true, but ironically enough it seems like Paul is also damaging McCain a bit for the same reason. Add Huckabee to the mix (who appeals to Christianist "change" voters) along with Edwards (who appeals to the labor union "change" voters) and suddenly you have five candidates primarily competing for the "change" vote in this election. Usually there's only one or two such candidates, and they rarely get a respectable percentage of the primary vote. Now you have five candidates, all of whom are registering in the polls (starting with Obama and Huckabee competing for their party's lead and finishing with Paul in the 5-6 percent range).

Monday, December 17, 2007

On Conspiracy Theories

I've had my share of problems with the whacky conspiracy theorists that the Paul campaign has attracted. One of my bigger concerns with them has been that more mainstream people would associate libertarianism with whacky conspiracy theories in general. Well, it turns out those "mainstream" people - at least the "conservative mainstream" - are every bit as into conspiracy theories as the whackier elements of the Paul campaign grassroots.

When the response to one of your own being exposed for creating a hoax "hate crime" is to say that he must have been a liberal working covertly, you may want to check yourself before you start calling other conspiracy theories "whacky." You gotta love the Freepers!

"Fake" Hate Crimes

Orin Kerr from Volokh has an interesting thread regarding the seemingly unusual prevalence of "hate crimes" on college campuses that turn out to be hoaxes or something less than criminal. The impetus for this thread is the hoax at Princeton this weekend in which an anti-gay marriage student faked an attack on himself, along with sending several fake threats to various anti-gay student groups. He then blamed the fake attack and threats on gay rights group.

Anyways, Kerr makes an interesting observation about the unusual prevalence of incidents like this on college campuses. Such incidents are more often than not centered around left-wing groups, but the Princeton case shows that the Right is hardly immune from the false sense of victimization that often leads to these cases.

The thread at Volokh is interesting in the number of commenters who can recall at least one faked or grossly exagerrated hate crime on their campus. I am no exception to this, either:

When I was in college, on a snowy night a group of lesbians wrote the word "queer" (or some other word often deemed a homophobic slur) in snow on the lawn of a fraternity. Worth mentioning, this was not your stereotypical fraternity of homophobic jocks, but was instead a fraternity that was generally considered to be kind of, well, dorky and actually had at least one openly gay member. Anyhow, several of the fraternity members saw this happening and ran outside, naturally angered that someone was writing what was normally regarded as a slur on their lawn. The brothers shouted "Why are you writing "queer" on our lawn?" The girls ran off, with one or two of the fraternity members pursuing them as far as the edge of the property.

Within 48 hours, the campus was in full-on crisis mode. Apparently the actions of the fraternity amounted to an anti-lesbian hate crime against the girls who had been writing the slurs on the lawn of the fraternity. Supposedly, the girls were writing the word on the fraternity lawn simply because they were proud of their sexuality and (presumably after a number of drinks downtown) wanted to express this in writing somewhere on campus. The girls believed that by writing the words on the fraternity's lawn, they were making clear to everyone that it was they, the girls, who were gay. Thus, any anger directed towards them by the fraternity was, apparently, a symbol of homophobia. That the fraternity members gave chase to the girls, even for an extremely short distance, was allegedly an attempt at intimidation of the girls for being gay. Indeed, the girls claimed (wrongly) they were chased across campus and also that they were afraid for their lives.

The college paper, along with various student groups, accepted the girls' victimhood without question, conveniently forgoing questions like whether the fraternity might have a right to be offended by someone writing "queer" on their lawn, and might interpret that act as the girls calling the fraternity a bunch of queers; the outraged groups also conveniently failed to ask how, exactly, the fraternity members could have or should have known that the two girls were gay given that most straight people at the time viewed the word entirely as a homophobic slur, not as a word of gay pride. Despite these failures, the outrage grew into a full-on maelstrom within just a few days, including as I recall a formal investigation into the charges with the fraternity (IIRC) receiving immediate sanctions pending the investigation. Editorials and commentary pieces were published, including one that said the incident proved that not only this particular fraternity, but all fraternities, should be burned to the ground.

Eventually the story faded away as the details became clearer. But the students who started the whole thing were encouraged to maintain their victimhood even though the whole incident was a bizarre delusion on their part. Meanwhile, as I recall, the fraternity was still forced to accept a punishment of some sort, although far more mild than was initially sought.

So that's my "fake" hate crime story.

Factionalization/Realignment Watch

In an article discussing the fact that Republicans are uninspired by their choices for President this year, we learn that:

A New York Times/CBS News poll last week found that none of the Republican candidates — not even the suddenly hot Mr. Huckabee — was viewed favorably by even half of Republican voters.

This means that whoever is the Republican nominee will likely have the support of less than 50% of the party's base. That amounts to between 15 and 20 percent of the electorate. I can't imagine many of those people voting for Obama, much less Hillary. Which means there's a good chance they'll have to look elsewhere in the general election- maybe a well-financed third-party run?

One Quote from the Ron Paul Iowa Infomercial

For all of Ron Paul's shortcomings in advocating for states' rights (as plenty have said before, states don't have rights), it's always worth remembering that for the most part he's an individualist. Which makes this little nugget from the segment of the Iowa infomercial on the Second Amendment worth singling out:

"All rights are individual, no rights are collective."

The Ron Paul Tea Party and More

The push of the Ron Paul grassroots continued with yesterday's Boston Tea Party event. The over $6 million raised from almost 60,000 donors is truly impressive, setting a new US record for single-day primary fundraising. As much as I've ragged on certain elements of the grassroots, the 'roots ability to put together and coordinate events like this, as well as the Ron Paul Blimp are responsible for making Paul into a factor to be dealt with. Indeed, Paul's first noticeable rise in national support corresponded almost perfectly with the Guy Fawkes Day moneybomb.

Were it not for the counterproductive effects of the elements that I've previously discussed, I suspect that his support would be nearing or crossing the 10% threshold. Like it or not, Paul is out of the American political mainstream, and that makes him an extremist in the eyes of most people.

Which makes Paul's 30-minute infomercial slated for airtime in Iowa worth discussing. The infomercial is set to air next weekend throughout the state. I don't know much about the tine of day the infomercial will air, or about the amount of viewership he can expect from it. But for a voter who has bought into the picture of Paul as a conspiracy-obsessed extremist (myself included), the infomercial could be quite persuasive. Not that I found it persuasive on the issues; just that the infomercial does a terrific job of presenting Paul as something not too far afield from the type of old-time politician that people always reminisce about (even though they never really existed).

The infomercial does a terrific job of prominently featuring photos with Paul talking to the sainted Ronald Reagan. The beginning also has a terrific, down-home folksy appeal that somehow manages to come across as sincere. The next thing it accomplishes is giving Paul a platform to fully explain his positions, which for the most part he does in a way that manages to make himself seem perfectly within the mainstream of American politics. He even manages to talk about the NAU silliness in a coherent way that didn't make me cringe too much (I'm still not persuaded, but his discussion of it is surprisingly rational). The part where he loses me is the immigration issue, and there's a period of about 5-7 minutes in the middle in general where it goes off track a little bit and the tone gets a bit shrill.

But on the whole, the infomercial does a great job of presenting Paul's positions in a logical, coherent, and sincere manner. One of its strengths is that it puts the core Republican issues right up front, and he goes right after the terrorism issue. What is great about the terrorism issue is that he does a fairly good job of refuting the notion that his thoughts on terrorism are "unserious." In a way, he even implies that it is the "bomb them and let God sort 'em out" crowd that are unserious about fighting terrorism.

For a voter sitting on the fence about Paul or who may have been turned off by some of the whackier supporters, I can see the informercial being quite persuasive. Right now, he is between 5 and 8 percent in the polls in Iowa; a high turnout from his existing supporters could feasibly put him in third place in the caucuses. If he can use this infomercial to get some of those fence sitters or would-be supporters into the fold, it is quite easy to see him picking up a few delegates and getting some publicity as the big surprise of the day.

The infomercials are below, if you have a half-hour to waste:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Disturbing Politicization of the Military

We learned yesterday that the Bush Administration is now seeking to have direct input on all promotion decisions related to military JAG lawyers. Given the role of JAG lawyers in acting as defense attorneys in all cases involving accused foreign-based terrorists, and given their role in law-of-war decisionmaking (read: prohibiting torture), this is truly disturbing news. When you recall the way in which promotions of JAG defense attorneys at Guantanomo have already been politicized, it is even more disturbing.

I also recall 2000 presidential candidate George W. Bush campaigning on a platform of getting politicians out of the way of military decisionmaking. Something about letting the military folks do their jobs. I guess the Bush Administration doesn't consider any of its members to be politicians...