Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Few Thoughts on the Dem Debate Tonight

I missed the GOP debate tonight, but this was only second Dem debate I've watched in full. I can't imagine the GOP debate was more interesting than this one.

Some thoughts:

- The level of fatigue on that stage was incredible

- Edwards' response to Hillary's setup of Obama was astounding. First you have Obama doing an excellent job of not taking Hillary's bait, allowing him to retain the posture that has driven his rise. Then, Edwards comes into the issue, with Hillary thinking she's guaranteed that Edwards will be merciless towards Obama....and Edwards defended Obama! The whole exchange was the most interesting exchange I've ever seen in a debate. Was Edwards accepting that he has no chance of winning after failing to win Iowa (where he staked everything for the last 4 years) and implicitly telling his supporters to back Obama?

- I missed the GOP debate, but it seemed like the first several questions were a bit too close to GOP talking points- and I say that as someone who is generally far more sympathetic to the GOP on several of these issues. I would love to know if ABC took the same approach in the GOP debate.

- Every time I watch Richardson I can't help but wish he was having more of an impact on the race.

- Obama's response to the Iraq question typified one of the things the less partisan among us most like about him- an outright willingness to acknowledge the truth and gravity of politically inconvenient facts but then explaining how they do or do not affect his policy ideas. In his case, he did a fairly adequate job of explaining why those facts actually strengthen the case for his plan.

- Substantively I just can't see Hillary's appeal to Progressives anymore. She's the Dem equivalent of the two-headed monster that is Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani on the GOP side. Still, I think she probably stopped her free-fall tonight; whether that is too little, too late is still to be determined.

- I'm growing to respect John Edwards again. The idea of him as President scares the hell out of me, to be sure, but I can respect him in much the same way as I can respect Huckabee- he knows what he believes and he's not afraid to say it.

- The reason this libertarian can get behind Obama isn't that he favors libertarian policies- he most definitely does not. The reason is that he understands the problems caused by trying to make change work from the top-down. Top-down change just pisses off the people upon whom change is forced; they get left out of the process, depicted as evil, and then to add injury to insult have to pay the price of the change forced upon them. Bottom-up change and consensus building insures that the people upon whom the change is forced are at least accepting (if not necessarily supporting) of the change. He understands that no group is monolithic in nature, and that there are members of any particular group whose support you may need on another, unrelated issue. In essence, Obama seems to have as his goal making sure that his policies are the best possible policies; he wants to reduce, if you will, the amount of asymmetrical information. Importantly, I might add, is that most people who subscribe to a particular opinion do so because they think that opinion is right and, if implemented, will achieve the best results; for instance, I identify as a libertarian not out of a slavish devotion to libertarianism, but because I think that less government intervention is the best way to allow humans to live best; but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise. Obama will give me the opportunity to be convinced otherwise.

- Sticking with Obama, there is a stark contrast between the way in which Obama and Ron Paul discuss the impact of our foreign policy on our national security. Substantively they are saying much the same thing; the difference is that Paul dramatically oversimplifies the issue when he speaks and leaves himself open to false charges of "Blaming America First." Obama substantively says the exact same things, but does so in a much more nuanced fashion that shows he understands the complexity of the issue. I actually don't think it's a conscious attempt by Obama to show that he understands the complexity of the issue- that would come across more clearly as Romney-style pandering. Instead, it seems to be just his general manner of handling things- he comes across as appreciating nuance and holding a considered position precisely because he actually does appreciate nuance and hold a considered position.

- When Hillary gets agitated, all that comes through to me is "Ack!ACK!ACKACKACK!ack!Ack!ACK!"

- If I was a Dem, I'd say Edwards won the debate- but his defense of Obama makes me wonder how much Edwards really wanted to win. Hillary did well enough to stop her free-fall. And Obama did what he needed to do- no home runs, but no gaffes either. Which means that the only possible loser was Richardson, which isn't fair because he was so limited in speaking time.

- From the point of view of a political independent, Hillary proved just how nasty she can be (her quip on the likability question aside). For those of us unwilling to have either party's agenda shoved down our throats, she did a good job telling us that is exactly what she would try to do. As did Edwards- but in a much nicer and considered manner of speaking.

Fox News Decision Benefits Paul

When we first learned that Fox News was planning on having a forum in NH that excluded Ron Paul, I said that I thought the decision would only wind up benefiting Ron Paul. It gives Paul a legitimate claim to the idea that the party establishment is trying to censor him and gives him nothing but positive press. Meanwhile, with debate fatigue setting in, I doubt that the forum will have much substantive effect on the primary vote.

Today it looks like I was right, as the New Hampshire Republican Party has withdrawn as a co-sponsor of the event. Fox News' decision to exclude Paul is doing more in the way of garnering sympathy for Paul than it could ever do by way of removing him from the minds of voters. It's not as if people in NH don't realize Paul is still running for President; nor do they fail to understand his platform, which is pretty easy to understand.

This issue isn't going to suddenly create a massive influx of new Paul supporters in New Hampshire; but what it will do is motivate some of the more lukewarm Paul supporters to get to the polls. And it sure as hell isn't going to do much by way of getting lukewarm Paul supporters to switch candidates.

Global Obama

The Moderate Voice has a quick wrap-up of the global reaction to Obama's win the other night, and how Obama has captured the attention of the global press.

This is a bit off-topic for this blog, but I wanted to add something here. When I was in Europe last February, I got to talking politics with a couple of people I met from Austria and Slovakia. What was interesting was that in each case, the European brought the topic up, and in each case their first question was in essence "what can you tell me about this man Obama"? There was a fascination with him that was amazing to me, especially considering as this was before Obama had really started picking up momentum here in the States. It's tough to pick just one reason why they were so fascinated with him, though I think the Moderate Voice's analysis comes pretty close to the mark.

But there was something else there, at least with respect to the few people with whom I spoke. The best way to express this element of the fascination is that it was a hopeful amazement that we had a plausible Presidential candidate who actually has experience with the rest of the world beyond just carefully orchestrated and superficial diplomatic and "human rights" missions.


For all of the bloviating by the Krugman wing of the Democratic Party and elements of the netroots about Obama as a "moderate" because of his principled bipartisanship, isn't it interesting that one of Hillary's more frequent attacks on Obama is that he's too liberal? So who's right: Hillary or her supporters?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: there's a huge difference between partisanship and principle. Partisanship means that you let your political party define your ideology- your only real touchstone is "what's good for the party." Principle means that you define your ideology and your political touchstone is "what's good for my principles." Hillary exemplifies the former; Obama the latter.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Obama the Madisonian?

Obama's record in the Illinois state legislature shows his sense of bipartisanship is built on a desire to build consensus for his very Progressive goals. Rather than demonize his political opponents, he accepted their arguments at face value; he then convinced them why his goals were consistent with their principles and arguments. He did not bully, threaten, or use coercive force of any sort- he just used reason.

Damozel - fast becoming one of my favorite left-of-center bloggers - has a beautiful take on this:

If people feel that a measure that infringes or undermines their interests has been imposed on them by the opposition, they will kick back----as we saw with the Bush Administration's Republican Congress. On the other hand, if you can show them why the measure helps them, or demonstrate that there are ways to address their concerns without losing the benefit of the measure, you can get the bill passed; and once it's in effect, they can then see for themselves that the worst case scenario doesn't come into being. Which means that you're in a better position to make the next change.... This route to implementing a progressive agenda takes longer, but represents the difference between building your house on quicksand and building it on firm ground.

This is how I think Madison would have envisioned the passage of good laws. Not by creating two giant monolithic interest groups that reflexively oppose anything the other group supports. As I said earlier today, this enhances the opportunity for corrupt policy by uniting each party behind every issue that is of paramount importance to just one constituent interest group within the party. The Madisonian principle of mitigating factions no longer applies: only the monolithic faction in control of the government matters; its members need not concern themselves with being in the minority on other issues of importance to them, because they are guaranteed to be in the majority on all issues important to them.

This creates a very real problem of tyranny of the majority, except worse- it's really a tyranny of a minority of people within the most powerful political party at the time. This is one reason divided government works well- although each party's policies on a given issue are dictated by one group within that party, that group is often deterred by the fact that an opponent interest group resides in the other party, which controls another gateway to policy implementation.

But when a politician like Obama recognizes that the two parties are not really monolithic (or at least don't need to be), the problems of faction are mitigated. Coalition and consensus building through reason and persuasion become important on every issue since you implicitly realize that you are not in the majority on every issue and don't want to get bowled over on those issues where you are in the minority. As Damozel correctly points out, this strategy of consensus building by persuasion takes longer. But it also makes it more likely that the final policy is the policy most likely to succeed rather than the policy that most benefits a particularly powerful subgroup of the most powerful party.

Principled Conservatives vs. the Establishment

Hewitt's meltdown continues here. In the process, he implies that the prescription drug benefit was in fact perfectly consistent with conservatism and that the GWOT is about protecting the middle and lower classes:

Did the tax cuts help families making less than $50 K a year? Did the prescription drug benefit? Does not getting attacked since 9/11 benefit only the middle and upper classes?

As a libertarian, I'll leave the rhetorical questions about tax cuts alone- but you get the picture.

Hewitt even sounds a bit like an Alex Jones-style conspiracy theorist at one point:

[T]he conservative activists have to realize that there is an attempted coup underway.

Hewitt then hits a perfect 100 on the Arrogance and Condescension Scale:

He or Rudy need to win in Florida, or achieve a three way tie with McCain to put the campaign back into the hands of the people who built the party over the past 28 years.

This last statement is simply astounding. Hewitt actually thinks that the Republican establishment is responsible for building and maintaining the Reagan coalition (which by the way started as a run against the Republican establishment!). He thinks that the establishment is entitled to win the primaries every year.

Hewitt's ravings today show exactly how insane one can become when they equate outright partisanship with actual political principles like conservatism is supposed to be. Huckabee, McCain, and Paul are three very different types of conservatives- but they are all actually conservatives of one sort or another, even if not necessarily of the Burkean variety. The Republican Party line- and those who ascribe to it wholesale- have no understanding whatsoever of conservative principles. They just think that whatever they say is automatically the principled conservative position.

The arrogance of Hewitt and the establishment is shown by their apparent belief that the various groups of principled conservatives don't actually have any principles. Hewitt does not and cannot understand the fact that these principled conservatives built the coalition by realizing they had a common interest and agreeing to follow the GOP establishment. If anyone deserves credit for this, it is Reagan and perhaps Gingrich for showing these groups why they had a common interest in supporting the GOP establishment. But these groups ultimately joined the coalition of their own free will, not because Hewitt and his ilk magically invented a consistent ideology that encompassed all of these groups. Now that these groups have realized they no longer have a common interest in supporting the establishment, they are finding their own leaders to support: Huckabee, McCain, and to a lesser extent Paul and even Thompson.

The principled conservatives aren't betraying the GOP establishment; they are realizing that the establishment betrayed them. Without their support, the GOP coalition never would have existed; without Hewitt and Limbaugh's attacks on anyone who violates the party line, I suspect it would still be strong.

Last night's results, in which the two true "establishment" candidates drew less than 30% of the vote (and a little over 40 if you consider Thompson the "establishment") amounts to Republicans of principle expressing their ability and willingness to think for themselves.

Polarization and Interest Group Politics

I was struck by this quote from Tyler Cowen this morning:

Polarizing America won't make interest group politics go away, no matter how hard either the right-wingers or progressives wish it so. It may even make interest group politics worse, and in the meantime the polarizer is simply demonstrating a lack of meta-rationality on the part of the polarizer.

I couldn't agree more. I just wish he was more unequivocal than saying that polarization "may" make interest group politics worse. I don't think there should be a "may" about it.

The trouble with polarization is that it leads myriad interest groups to hitch all their hopes to one political party or the other, resulting in the interest groups conforming their secondary and tertiary interests with the polarizer's. When this takes place within the context of a political party, it creates the equivalent of one mega-interest group; people are defined as either a hundred percent part of the team or as actively working to undermine it. The result is that the party simply represents the top priority issues of each of its constituent interest groups. Since the constituent interest groups each have their own top priorities, the end result is a kind of "pu-pu platter" partisanship that is more concerned with keeping constituent interests happy on their top-line issues than it is with anything resembling principle.

Effectively, this means that polarization undermines the constitutional safeguards meant to mitigate faction by reducing all or most of politics to two mega-factions. The corrupting influence of subsidiary factions becomes tremendous because those subsidiary factions effectively have a monopoly on the party's political positions within their interest area. Thus, polarization worsens interest group politics.

Ron Paul Wins a County

Ron Paul apparently actually won at least one county outright, specifically Jefferson County.

Interestingly, it looks like his win in that county was fueled by overwhelming support in the town of Fairfield (the county seat). And what is in Fairfield, Iowa? The Maharishi University of Management. I don't offer this as a criticism or generalization about Paul's support in the rest of the state; but it's certainly an interesting observation.

(H/T Lew Rockwell)

Hewitt's Head Spins Off

Hysterical. Apparently Romney's problem is that he isn't doing a good enough job connecting himself to Reagan's ideas, especially on immigration. You know, since Reagan never gave "amnesty" to illegal immigrants or anything. Oh wait- yeah, he did. The entire column is kind of amusing if only because you can see how desperately he's trying to salvage Romney's candidacy.

The most amusing quotes refer to the changed dynamic that Obama has brought about, and why McCain has less of a chance against Obama than Romney:

It will be difficult for a long-time D.C. insider like Senator McCain to stop Obama.

And this blanket unsupported assertion:

And most importantly, a commander-in-chief who understands the threats abroad and who can win the right to succeed the president and extend the determination of George W. Bush to prevail. Yes, Senator McCain understands the war, but it is very doubtful that he can beat Obama.

Apparently this means that the candidate with the strongest negative ratings has a better chance of beating Obama than the candidate with the strongest positive ratings. Apparently it's Romney the Dems fear most, not McCain. And apparently in Hewitt's eyes McCain is the candidate of the GOP establishment and Romney is the candidate of the GOP grassroots and independents. Hewitt implicitly realizes that last night proved this will be a "change" election; to suddenly suggest that Romney fits the bill of the "change" candidate and Huckabee and McCain do not is just utterly silly.

Frankly I have no idea if McCain - or anyone - could beat Obama. As I told a friend last night, every time Obama speaks, he makes me smile- and I don't agree with him on much of anything of substance.

But to suggest that Romney poses a bigger threat to Obama than McCain shows just how delusional the GOP establishment has become.

Looking at the Ron Paul Numbers

There has been some question about the extent to which the passion of Ron Paul's support would equate to actual poll numbers. Looking at the CNN entrance polls, I find some interesting data about this.

It seems Paul did exceedingly well amongst voters who decided who to vote for at least a month ago, getting the third most votes in that category, around 15%. That is about triple his polling support from that time frame. While still only good for 5th best, he also managed about 13% of the vote amongst people who decided who to vote for today. He did poorest amongst voters who decided who to vote for between yesterday and a month ago.

So- what does this mean? First, it means that his core group of supporters turned out in droves; the meetup group organization paid off as well as anyone could have expected. Second it suggests that his speakers at the caucuses were quite effective. Third, it suggests that his campaign's appeal peaked in late November. I don't know if this means the Alex Jones appearance became too much public knowledge, if it was "that" donation, if it was overzealousness on the part of some supporters, if it was just an issue of oversaturation by December, or if the people who made up their minds during that period were primarily people who originally supported Rudy (and would thus never be likely to support Paul). Given Paul's relative support amongst independents, it's also possible that Obama's ability to draw independents to the Dem caucus took away some of Paul's would-be support from this group. It's probably a little bit of all of these, but my suspicion is that the oversaturation issue and the Rudy factor were the primary factors at work here. From my understanding, overzealousness would be less an issue in Iowa than it would in New Hampshire, which is a much smaller state both area-wise and population-wise.

New Hampshire has also been a much more intense focus for grassroots efforts, so I suspect Iowa would not be the state where the overzealousness question would most come into play. If overzealousness played a more prominent role in limiting Paul's support, it would have manifested itself in a lower vote total amongst people who decided who to support today. I say that because the likely effect of overzealousness is to turn people completely off from your message; Paul's reasonably good showing amongst this subgroup suggests that a pretty good number of people were still willing to hear his message today.

A Random Question

If - and this is a mighty big IF - the nominees are Huckabee and Obama, with third party runs by Bloomberg and Paul, what happens to the traditional party die-hards on both sides? Does the Republican establishment back Huckabee after all the Huck-a-bashing they've given him over his refusal to toe the party line on fiscal issues and foreign policy? Does the Democratic establishment back Obama after all the attacks on his principled bi-partisanship? Does either party's establishment back Bloomberg after all the ridicule they've heaped on the idea of a Unity '08 run?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What to Make of Tonight: Who's Alive, Who's Dead

We now know that Huckabee destroyed Romney by I think a larger margin than just about anyone predicted. Obama's deals with Biden and Richardson appear to have paid off handsomely as he will have won by a surprisingly comfortable margin, though by no means a landslide. We also now that each of the candidates in the GOP's race for third acquitted themselves quite well, each apparently reaching the double digits in support. While Ron Paul appears to have finished fifth, his support level was greater than most of the polls predicted, which shows that his campaign is able to get a pretty respectable turnout. But the biggest loser of the night - on both sides - was the party establishment. Overall, clearly defined ideology appears to be the big winner over pu-pu platter partisanship, and that is the most encouraging thing about the evening, even if it means that the GOP victor's clearly defined ideology is an unapologetic theo-conservatism.

Given the amount of time and money Edwards and Romney pumped into the state over the last few years and months, it might be worth noting that Iowa voters did a pretty good job of seeing through fakery.

It also looks like the long-term strength of the Democratic party is formidable as they nearly doubled their 2004 turnout; this certainly suggests that Obama (and for that matter the embarassment that is the Bush administration) has excited an awful lot of people into throwing their lot in with the Democrats.

My full analysis:

The Dems:

Obama: Obviously the big winner of the night, winning by a more comfortable margin I think than most had expected. He appears to have in part rode the wave created by his last-minute deals with the second-tier candidates. He dominated among independent voters, but perhaps not as much as expected, winning less than half of both the independent vote and the Republican cross-over vote. More surprisingly, and more importantly for his campaign's sustainability, he appears to have won a plurality of registered Democrats' votes in CNN's entrance polls. Indeed, it appears his victory was across-the-board- except for one particular group: conservatives, who broke for Edwards and to a lesser extent Hillary. What was that I kept hearing from the Democrats' netroots about how Edwards was the true Progressive and Obama the conservatives' wolf in sheeps' clothing?

I don't know if this result makes him the favorite going forward, but it comes pretty damn close.

Edwards: It looks as of this moment like he will have squeaked out a second place finish over Hillary by at best half a percentage point in terms of delegates. The fact that he will owe that to his support from conservatives has got to set Paul Krugman's head on fire. That support combined with Huckabee's win shows just how little difference there really is between the evangelical populists in both parties. If Huckabee falters (which I think he will), does this raise the possibility of an evangelical populist third party run? Probably not, but worth keeping in mind. In any event, given the amount of time and money Edwards has poured into the state the last five years, this result has got to be pretty close to crushing, given Obama's margin of victory and how close Edwards came to third. I think his campaign is pretty much dead in the water after tonight, but I could be wrong- I'm less in-tune with the Dems than I am with the Republicans.

*UPDATE, 12:15 AM* On Larry King, Edwards doesn't sound crushed and points out that both Obama and Clinton outspent him. Maybe I should downgrade my statement about Edwards' result from near-crushing defeat to acceptable outcome that he prefers was better. In any event, I don't really see Edwards' campaign gaining enough national traction for him to remain competitive if this becomes a long campaign. Though he might be the Dems' equivalent to McCain- the "change" candidate that the party establishment finds at least palatable; certainly if Hillary continues to struggle down the line and drops out, Edwards would be her "Plan B"- she and Obama aren't exactly buddies.

Clinton: It's safe to say her apparent third place finish does my black heart good. I decided this morning that her stump speech sounds an awful lot like the campaign speech given by Summer (the popular girl) in Napoleon Dynamite: just a litany of goodies for everyone that she has no intention or ability to deliver on. In fact, I think that's what Hillary's campaign most reminds me of: the popular girl running for student council president in high school who everyone votes for because she's dating the quarterback.

In any event, this result probably doesn't kill her campaign: she's too strong nationally and has too much of a spin machine behind her. She'll be able to point to the fact that she just about tied Obama amongst Democrat voters and destroyed Edwards amongst that obviously most-important of groups. Plus she finished close enough to Edwards and for that matter Obama that she can spin the results as not being overly indicative of the national race. But she now absolutely needs to win in New Hampshire and probably South Carolina for that matter. She may still be the favorite, but tonight is clearly quite the blow.

The rest of the Dems: I don't know that it's worth figuring out what this means for the rest of the Dem field. Clearly Dodd is done, which is a shame because he was an important voice of principle in the race. Kucinich probably doesn't care one iota about the results. I would imagine that Biden and Richardson are just about done as well, but again the second-tier Dems aren't really my forte.

The Republicans:

Mike Huckabee: Obviously the big winner of the night. I don't know how much his support will translate outside of the Bible Belt areas, but he laid down a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to Mitt Romney's face tonight. And as far as I'm concerned that alone means that Huckabee has performed an important service to his country. Tonight the evangelicals that the GOP establishment has nursed for 30 years have finally broken loose. For some reason, the phrase "you reap what you sow" comes to mind. Still, Huckabee deserves plenty of congratulating for actually standing for some kind of principle, even if that principle is one I find deeply unnerving.

Mitt Romney: Just an embarassing night for the Robot-King. To have barely gotten a quarter of the GOP vote in a state where he has pumped millions and millions of his personal fortune and lose by about 10 points in the process- wow! It's going to be tough for him to come back against McCain next week in NH, but if he doesn't, it's tough to see how he can run a successful national campaign. He's not quite crippled, but he's definitely walking on crutches after tonight.

Fred Thompson: It's unclear still whether he or McCain will take third. But he most definitely did well enough to hold his head up high and push forward to South Carolina. It may be that he'll be able to peel off some Romney supporters in the interim and stick around longer than I thought. He just about tied Romney amongst the very conservative caucus-goers, which gives credence to his relatively touted conservative credentials. He's probably the closest thing the GOP has had to Calvin Coolidge since, well, Calvin Coolidge. It also seems from the entry polls that he did exceedingly well amongst voters who made up their minds most recently, suggesting he may have stolen a lot from Romney's base in the last week. Ditto McCain.

John McCain: Any decent showing in Iowa was going to be gravy for him given his abandonment of the state ages ago. This most definitely qualifies as a decent showing, and he now may lay claim to the mantle of favorite for NH next week. I increasingly view him as the favorite to win the nomination, for reasons I laid out last week.

Ron Paul: His support materialized. It didn't materialize perhaps enough to give him third, but it did well enough to show that it was real and substantial. Even though Giuliani long ago abandoned Iowa, his margin of more than 2:1 over Giuliani is something to be proud of for a guy no one outside libertarian circles knew about a year ago. Also worth noting is that his support appears to have been fairly consistent throughout the state, suggesting he very well could mount an extremely respectable third party bid this summer and fall.

Giuliani: Even though he never really tried too hard in Iowa, this result has to be embarassing. For the self-styled national security candidate to get beaten more than 2:1 by the supposedly lunatic peace candidate isolationist is just not a good sign. Since Iowa wasn't in his strategy, he doesn't need to fold up shop right now, but his Florida firewall strategy is looking increasingly foolish. I think he desperately needs to mount a comeback in the coming days in either South Carolina or New Hampshire to give himself a shot; at the very least, he needs a top three finish in one or both of those two states. I don't know that he can pull that off.

The Democratic Caucuses

I'm following the live results on the Democratic caucuses. Very early on, Edwards had about a 6 point lead and Hillary had a slight lead over Obama, but presumably those were less populated precincts reporting, which should have favored Edwards. As the night has gone on, and the more populated precincts have reported, Obama has looked stronger and stronger. As of this moment (9:30 EST/8:30 Central), Obama has a little more than a five percentage point lead (in delegates) over Edwards, who is in a virtual tie with Hillary. A little over 80% of the precincts have reported, so it looks safe to say that Obama is going to win....but I'm not saying anything for certain just yet.

Interest Group Politics In Everything

Tyler Cowen has made a career in part on the phrase "Markets in Everything." But seeing this makes me wonder if there aren't also interest groups for everything: the foodie interest's endorsements and unendorsements. Money quote from the Huckabee un-dorsement:

Whoa, whoa, whoa, guvner - you had to choose ANY RESTAURANT IN MANHATTAN and you opted for TGIF, with the backup of Olive Garden?!?

I understand you are going for the whole populist preacher thing, so no one expects you to dine at Momofuku of Per se, but um…Famous Rays? Five Guys? Shake Shack? Chipotle for Christ’s sake! Anywhere but Friday’s. Mike Huckabee, you are unendorsed.


Thompson Close to the End?

(via memeorandum)

Per the Politico, Fred Thompson is likely to drop out of the race if he doesn't finish third or if he fails to get 15% of the Iowa vote. As I suggested last week, the Politico is reporting that Thompson would most likely endorse McCain should he drop out. This would be a crucial boost to the already-surging McCain, particularly since it would occur early enough in the campaign for McCain to take a long-term advantage from it. A Thompson drop-out and endorsement of McCain would be the first in what my previous post suggested is likely to be several, provided McCain can stay in the race financially through to Super Tuesday. If Thompson does drop out, this would possibly also mean a strong Iowa placement for McCain, which would give him some almost unstoppable momentum going into New Hampshire; after New Hampshire, we would expect McCain's fundraising to accelerate enough to make him the presumptive favorite.

Predictions for 2008

This post at A Glittering Eye convinced me to make a few of my own predictions for 2008, to wit:

The eventual nominee for each party will rail against "special interests in Washington" on numerous occasions. That candidate will fail to understand the irony of railing against "special interests" while seeking out and taking money from (choose at least one, or if you're John Edwards, several): labor unions, trial lawyers, telecom companies, lobbyists acting on behalf of foreign interests, descendants of immigrants, convicted felons, space aliens, Klansmen, or Corey Feldman's agent.

At least one GOP interest group will either form a third party or switch overwelmingly to the Democratic side.

Both the federal and all state governments will at some point determine that the solution to a failed government program will be to expand or increase funding to that program.

Hillary Clinton will have the moment that most closely resembles Howard Dean's infamous scream. This scream will have no effect on perceptions about Hillary.

Paul Krugman and much of the netroots will continue to refuse to understand the difference between Progressivism and partisan loyalty to the Democratic Party.

Libertarians will be this year's NASCAR Dads/Soccer Moms. The media will come up with a clever term for this; libertarians everywhere will be annoyed.

Labor unions will endorse the Democratic presidential candidate. Unless Huckabee wins the GOP nomination and Obama the Dem nomination.

The MSM will manufacture self-righteous outrage against at least one "shock jock." Both parties' nominees will quickly jump on the bandwagon and condemn the "shock jock."

Mitt Romney's head will explode during a speech to a group of Vietnam Vets opposed to torture; the explosion will reveal that Romney is, in fact, made in China by Mattel's robotics division.

Congress will achieve little legislatively; Bush will achieve nothing Presidentially. This will result in the years 2007-2008 being viewed as Bush's only good years as President when historians look back at this time.

"Something" will be done to fix the mortgage "crisis." This "something" will ignore the fact that many defaulted loans involved fraudulent loan applications by the purported "victim" homeowner. Almost everyone who doesn't read this blog will fail to call the small minority of homeowners who default a "special interest." The Democratic presidential candidate will, however, call the mortgage lenders "greedy special interests."

Fred Thompson will wake up just long enough to endorse John McCain. But Fred might not wake up until sometime in 2009.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Paul Grassroots Movement and Spontaneous Order

For all of the railing I've done against some of Ron Paul's more vocal supporters, and for all of some of their failures to understand that online polls and presence don't necessarily translate to the real world, it's worth remembering that Ron Paul's most dedicated supporters aren't always online. I've noted before how these supporters have started to "self-police" the movement online, and viewed that as a major turning point for the Paul campaign.

But just as I've admonished online supporters for thinking the internet is the same as the real world, so too have I gotten caught up in that false reality. The fact is that there are plenty of Paul supporters on the ground who are giving up days and weeks of their time to live in small towns far from home. Those supporters are the real core of the Paul campaign, not the echo chamber that is the netroots. This article today from TNR serves as a potent reminder of that fact and of the promise of the "spontaneous order" that has started to take shape within the Paul grassroots. It may not get Paul very far in the primary and may not get him any states should he run as a third party, but that doesn't take away from the beauty of spontaneous order when a movement grows up based entirely around voluntary, optimistic choices.

Money quote:

These volunteers' whole idea is to get the world's attention without shouting. They're the closest thing this race has to the Deaniacs of '04: Hundreds of young volunteers, who have traveled to Iowa on their own dime to knock on doors and make pleading phone calls. But where the Deaniacs got a reputation for being revved-up and angry, the Paul guys are pacific. At Paul's headquarters, they hesitate to bash other candidates, even when I goad them. They are unfailingly courteous, holding doors and always referring to their candidate as "Dr. Paul." They pepper me with curious questions. ("Are the police in Washington D.C. under federal or local authority?") After the taping, when the ABC cameraman observes to nobody in particular that "they remind me of Howard Dean's people," several of the volunteers urge him, "Don't say that!" as much to dissociate themselves from the Dean people's wildness as from Dean himself. "I know you meant it as a compliment," one especially young-looking volunteer in a pageboy cap reassures the cameraman, gently.

I understand from the article that these supporters represent the cream of the crop amongst the Paul grassroots- they don't represent the entirety of the movement. But that's exactly the point: if there is ever to be a libertopia based on spontaneous order, it will be a pure meritocracy. There is something comforting in knowing that the Paul grassroots understand that the most meritous of their numbers are the calmest, least angry, and even most subdued. No matter how the Paul campaign does in the next year, this article gives me real hope that the effects of the grassroots movement around his campaign will create a lasting and powerful movement that at the very least places libertarians in a position of influence that they have not seen before.

The McCain-Huckabee Idea Gets Momentum

Last week, I posited that a McCain-Huckabee ticket may be the only way to keep the Republican coalition together for a meaningful period of time. I also posited that the relationship between the two makes such a ticket completely plausible if McCain can pull off the upset over Romney.

Now Noah Millman at the American Scene makes the case that, should McCain win the nomination, a Huckabee VP candidacy is "blindingly obvious." The folks at NRO disagree here and here, on the grounds that Huckabee is controversial enough that he would make McCain's age a legitimate issue in the campaign and that McCain would have enough support from evangelicals to obviate the need for Huckabee.

While I understand this logic, I think the NRO pair underestimate the disillusionment of evangelicals with the GOP. Yes, McCain's record is strikingly conservative on social issues, but there is still a profound level of distrust from evangelicals towards him. Huckabee's presence would be a major bone thrown to evangelicals that would likely keep them on board the GOP train since it would be an actual acknowledgement of their influence within the party.

The biggest problem with having Huckabee on the ticket would be that it would hurt McCain's appeal to independent voters, who are obviously crucial in a general election. However, unless Obama is the Dem nominee, it's hard to see concerns about Huckabee overriding McCain's general appeal to independents who would be strongly disinclined to vote for overt partisans like Hillary and Edwards. If Obama were to pull off the Dem nomination though, the equation for a Huckabee/hard-core evangelical would change drastically.

A Plea to Primary Voters and Caucus-Goers

In the coming days and weeks, voters and caucus-goers will determine which two individuals represent the Republican and Democratic parties in the November general elections. While I certainly have my share of differences with each of the candidates in each race, as well as my preferred candidates in each race, my purpose in this post is not to tell you who is best or worst.

Instead, I am writing to ask that voters and caucus-goers who may read this ask themselves some deeply important questions as they go to the polls. These questions are not specific to any one issue, yet they implicate all issues.

The questions voters of both parties should ask themselves are:

1. Am I voting for the candidate who most represents my stated political philosophy or for the candidate who most represents my chosen party? Isn't there a difference between Progressivism and the Democratic Party, and between conservatism (of whatever stripe) and the Republican Party.

2. For that matter, what is the philosophy from which my political beliefs all flow? Is it a defined conservatism, a defined Progressivism, a defined libertarianism, etc.? Or is it simply a belief that whatever the Republican or Democratic Party talking heads say is conservatism or Progressivism?

3. Is my goal in casting my vote to do what is best for my chosen political party or for my core set of values?

4. Isn't there an important difference between bi-partisanship for its own sake and principled bi-partisanship geared towards building a coalition that achieves common goals?

5. Isn't there an important difference between ideology and partisanship? Am I comfortable with the idea of allowing my chosen political party to dictate my ideology?

6. Is it possible that people of different ideologies have similar goals? If so, isn't bipartisanship a worthwhile endeavor? If not, then am I falsely equating my political party with an ideology?

7. When my chosen candidate rails against "special interests," how are they defining those interests? Are they defining them to mean only interest groups that disagree with the candidate, or do they realize that anyone who opposes or supports a given policy is a "special interest"?

8. Am I supporting a candidate who will represent all Americans, just the Americans that support them, or just the Americans in their party's establishment?

Some will read these questions and think they are a screed for Obama and, perhaps, McCain. They are not. Indeed, supporters of a number of other candidates, many of whom I find personally unappealing, may be able to answer these questions with a clear conscience.

Instead, they are honest questions intended to draw out the differences between principled ideology and partisanship. They are a call to voters to be more concerned with their own ideology and less concerned with what their chosen party claims to be an ideology. In that way, my plea is essentially for a stronger commitment to ideology- in both parties, and a weaker commitment to defining one's positions in reference to the political party one is part of.

But most importantly, these questions are a call for voters to elect candidates with an independent mind rather than on their ability to conform to party orthodoxy. What should matter are the candidates' primary goals, not their specific modes of achieving those goals. If you think that a candidate's mode of action is intended to undermine the stated goal or is intended to primarily serve another goals, then ask yourself if you have a sufficient "anthropology of ideology" to come to that conclusion.

More than anything else, I hope that voters will recognize the difference between partisanship and ideology, and that bi-partisanship is a good thing if it advances ideological goals.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Romney: the Last Gasp of the GOP Coalition

Romney and his supporters have made much of his ability to appeal to each of the so-called "three legs" of the GOP coalition. He is therefore, they say, the fusion candidate, the only one who can keep the coalition together. Today, David Brooks argues that Romney's candidate represents "the last gasp of the Reagan coalition," appealing to some members of each GOP constituency because he "studied the contours of the GOP coalition and molded himself to its forms." (my emphasis).

This has resulted in the Mitt Romney we know today: a man who holds an overall set of positions that are completely and utterly incoherent, requiring a level of doublethink almost unprecedented in American history. He may be able to win the GOP nomination, but he will guarantee a crushing GOP defeat next November.

The Reagan coalition is a thing of the past, as I've argued time and time again. The legs of the GOP "three-legged stool" have realized they have nothing in common with each other. Unfortunately, the seat of that stool, the GOP establishment, doesn't realize just how divided its legs are.

If the GOP wishes to win in November or return to power within a reasonably short period of time after a November loss, it will need to build a new coalition, something that Huckabee, McCain, and to a lesser extent even Paul implicitly understand. But Romney and his supporters either do not understand this or choose not to understand it.

Brooks gives us a hint as to the reason for this:

The leaders of the Republican coalition know Romney will lose. But some would rather remain in control of a party that loses than lose control of a party that wins. Others haven’t yet suffered the agony of defeat, and so are not yet emotionally ready for the trauma of transformation. Others still simply don’t know which way to turn.

In other words: Romney's base is the GOP establishment, the "seat" of the "three-legged stool"; they support him because he represents the only real chance for them to remain in control of the "three legs," also known as the GOP base. They fail to understand that they do not represent each of the interest groups that make up the GOP; instead, they are simply an interest group unto themselves, concerned more with controlling the other GOP interest groups than with having a coherent, rational system of beliefs. In the end, Romney doesn't have the ability to appeal to any of the "three legs"; instead, he appeals only to the "seat," which has appointed itself the representative of the legs.

This year's primary represents a battle between the "seat" and the so-called "legs" of the GOP coalition. It may be that the seat will win the battle; but in the process, it will cut itself off from its base. If the GOP is to hold on to power or return to power anytime soon, it will have to either find a new leg or allow the existing legs to strengthen themselves; with Romney as the leader, this cannot happen.

(via memeorandum)

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.