Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Carnival of Divided Government Quadrâgintâ (XL)
Special "Fight Procrastination Day" Edition

Welcome to the 40th edition of the Carnival of Divided Government - The Special "Fight Procrastination Day" Edition - posted a mere two weeks late.

World Headquarters for the DWSUWF Blog has temporarily relocated to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, coincident with the end of the trout and beginning of the bird hunting season. With the fall color change just starting, it is a fine time to be in the north woods. Given these distractions, your loyal blogger is pleased with getting this compilation out at all.

Carnival of Divided Government

As explained in earlier editions, we have adopted Latin ordinal numeration to impart a patina of gravitas reflecting the historical importance of the series. In this the Carnival of Divided Government Quadrâgintâ (XL), as in all of the CODGOV editions, we select volunteers and draftees from the blogosphere and main stream media writing on the single topic of government divided between the major parties (leaving it to the reader to sort out volunteers from draftees). Consistent with this topic, the primary criteria for acceptance in the carnival is to explicitly use the words and/or concept of "divided government" in submitted posts. A criteria that, to our endless befuddlement, is ignored by many of the bloggers submitting posts, which sadly results in The Dividist reluctantly ignoring their fine submissions. Among the on-topic posts and essays fished from the blogosphere we choose our ten favorites (more or less) for commentary and consideration. We hope you enjoy these selections.

First up, blog favorite Stephen Slivinski, updating his excellent 2006 work on Divided Government with an op-ed in the Washington Examiner - "Want Spending Discipline? Wish for Divided Government."
"This isn’t a new idea, but it’s one that’s rightly begun to get some more attention. If history is any guide, the data show that divided government has quite a good track record at moderating the rate of spending increases. Updating the analysis that first appeared in my book on a related topic (Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government, published in 2006) I find that the past three years hasn’t changed the fact that tamer-than-average rates of spending growth – after adjusting for population growth and inflation -- still correlate with periods of divided government. Here are the numbers: Between 1965 and 2009, the average growth rate of real per capita federal spending in the divided government years was 1.9%. For the years of united government, that average was 3.1%."
The beauty of the Divided Government voting heuristic is that it is based on empirical historical evidence. If the batshit insane spending in Washington is an important issue to you (and it should be) - there is exactly one way to vote that is unarguably, factually, historically documented to restrain the growth of federal spending. That vote is for divided government. That means voting for GOP Senators and Representatives in 2010 and - if they take either house of Congress - voting to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012.

Truth be told, after the panicked spending spree by the Bush/Pelosi/Reid divided government regime of 2008, I thought this particular divided government voting rationale might have outlived its usefulness. It certainly would have, if Barack Obama lived up to his campaign rhetoric of moderation and fiscal responsibility. We were disabused of any such notion with the first major action of the Democratic One Party Rule - passing a trillion dollar (fully loaded) stimulus bill written by Nancy Pelosi's House of Representatives. With that one partisan pork-laden stroke of the pen, Obama and Democratic One Party Rule spent more money than eight years of the Iraq war. As Slivinski cautions us in this article - divided government can still be bad, but one party rule is far far worse. Always. Every time.

Why does divided government work to restrain and moderate government? Why does the American electorate seem to prefer a divided federal government? I could speculate about the mechanism, but nobody really knows. It is enough for me to know that it works to restrain the growth of leviathan. Full stop. But for many scholars and political scientists, it is a fascinating topic. Most recently...

Meg Sullivan offers some PR for UCLA Professor Tim Groeling's new book "When Politicians Attack! Party Cohesion in the Media" claiming that "Obama's best chance for reelection? Democratic losses in 2010":
"Groeling argues that achieving unified government, in which one party controls both the presidency and Congress, ends up damaging the governing party's brand in the eyes of the same voters who will later decide whether they stay or go."Every time you see divided government, it sticks around for a while," Groeling said. "But every time you have unified government, it breaks up very quickly, and the news media have a lot to do with it." Groeling bases his views on a painstaking analysis more than 4,000 hours of political coverage that aired on network television from the Ronald Reagan through the George W. Bush administrations...

"Unified government gives the governing party total responsibility, but that means they have total accountability," he said. "If they fail to deliver on even one of their promises, they have no one to blame but themselves. In other words, if something goes wrong for the governing party in unified government, the firing squad forms a circle. That sort of ugly intra-party feuding turns out to be exceptionally damaging to their standing with voters."
Professor Groeling's analysis is interesting and he may have the mechanism right or wrong, but it matters not to me. You don't need to understand nuclear fusion in a star to know that it is smart to wear sunscreen. And you don't need to understand the motivation of the voters or why divided government controls federal spending to know that it is smart to not give one party all the keys to the castle.

Andrew Gelman at The Monkey Cage puzzles over poll results that show voters saying Democrats are better at governing, but planning to vote Republican anyway. He finds no paradox in "Voters hate Republicans but are planning to vote for them anyway: The non-paradox":
"Those 10% or so of voters who plan to vote Republican—even while thinking that the Democrats will do a better job—are not necessarily being so unreasonable. The Democrats control the presidency and both houses of Congress, and so it’s a completely reasonable stance to prefer them to the Republicans yet still think they’ve gone too far and need a check on their power."
W.W. blogging at Democracy in America for The Economist, quotes Andrew Gelman (among others) and agrees with his analysis in "Disliking Republicans, voting for them anyway":
"In this case, however, it is likely that a bum-swap will deliver divided government, a prospect that warms my anti-partisan heart. Divided government has many under-appreciated virtues. As the Cato Institute's William Niskanen has pointed out, divided government is the best recipe for fiscal restraint—something America will urgently require, come the recovery. Divided governments are also less likely to charge into war. "In 200 years of US history, every one of our conflicts involving more than a week of ground combat has been initiated by a unified government," Mr Niskanen observes. Though the electorate is mostly unaware of these benefits, the historical record suggests a fairly stable and long-standing preference for relative gridlock. Perhaps this explains the otherwise puzzling polling data. In any case, an era of peaceful belt-tightening sounds pretty good, no?"
You betcha. It sounds pretty friggin' good to me. But I don't understand one thing. Why do pundits insist that this particular 10% of voters, the most independent voters in the electorate, the swing voters who actually think about and change their party preference from one election to another - these particular voters - Why assume they don't understand how their vote results in divided government? Why do pundits refuse to consider the possibility that some of us may know exactly why we vote for divided government and vote for it consciously?

Michael Cohen presents - "Exposing The Clinton Defense" posted at Double Dip Recession, looking to debunk some of the comparisons frequently made with the Clinton administration, including....
"Divided government is good for the economy since those idiots in Congress can’t get anything done. Little was done during the Clinton years and little will be done in 2011-2012
In general, I agree with this statement by economic bulls. However, the problem is that we do not face a discretionary spending crisis. Rather, it is the mandatory entitlements set up by Bush, Obama, and decades of fiscal insanity. As boomers approach retirement, the demands on Medicare and Social Security will balloon and will exacerbate our structural deficit
Divided government means there will be no solution for this, and we will become closer to the fiscal endpoint like Greece and other fiscally irresponsible countries. Except, unlike Greece, we are too big to bailout…"
Michael makes some excellent points debunking the invalid comparison of higher tax rates during the Clinton administration as a justification for higher tax rates with the economic situation we face today. However, he misfires on this last point highlighted above.

He conflates Divided Government with "getting nothing done". political scientist David Mayhew has shown empirically and convincingly that, in the modern era, there is no discernible difference in legislative productivity during times of divided versus one party rule. As David Mayhew documented in his seminal work "Divided We Govern", there is no empirical statistical evidence for more or less productivity out of Congress during periods of divided or unified government in the modern era. None. No correlation. No causation. In fact, Congressional productivity in "getting things done" is more closely correlated with a "pervasive public mood for change." To bring this back to Michael's point - when there is a real demand from the public to fix our structural deficit, it will happen regardless of whether there is a united or divided government in power. In the meantime, a divided government will help keep the problem from getting worse.

Michael Gerson, writing at MySanAntonio, offers some cogent observations about what passes for a Democratic Party "message" this election season, but then goes on to misunderstand the dynamic that drives political compromise when he incorrectly concludes "Divided government won't work with Obama, Boehner":
"Democratic leaders and their supporters approach the November elections with a lumpy mix of messages. It can't be as bad as it looks (it is) and maybe losing the House would be a good thing for Democrats (it isn't) and Americans are spoiled, ungrateful brats (not really an electoral winner)...

Barring some decisive intervening event, Obama and House Speaker John Boehner seem fated to be awkward partners in the public good. Beyond November, there will be a single political question: Can divided government work? The answer: Probably not. On the Republican side after the election, ideology will be ascendant while congressional leadership will be weak. Since no Newt Gingrich-like figure has emerged to direct the revolution of 2010...
There are a few areas where Obama and a Republican Congress might be surprised by agreement. Both endorse expanded trade, making the passage of three currently stalled bilateral trade agreements likely. Both would probably support budget process reform. Both may find a common interest in imposing budget caps on discretionary spending — largely symbolic measures, since the real deficit problem lies elsewhere. But these would be exceptions — like Christmas cease-fires during years of trench warfare...

If the Republicans win big in November, the comparisons to 1994 will quickly be raised. After a series of bitter confrontations, Speaker Gingrich and President Clinton found agreement on a balanced budget and welfare reform — successes of divided government. But this progress required a strong Republican leader and a flexible, willing president — neither of which is likely to emerge from the 2010 election."

I generally like Gerson's stuff, but the conclusion to this piece is simply incoherent. He acknowledges that there are areas of agreement between a Republican Congress and an Obama Administration, yet concludes that divided government will not work based on - what??? - his intuition of the personalities involved???

Compromise happens when there is no other choice. Anyone who remembers Clinton and Gingrich as cooperative bipartisan leaders has a serious memory deficiency. Yet they accomplished a great deal. The deciding factor will be the American people - as it always has been and always will be. When the hue and cry from the electorate gets loud enough, the bullshit stops and the compromise starts. This was true with Gingrich and Clinton. It will also be true with Boehmer and Obama.

To that point, Andrew Romano and Daniel Stone at Newsweek have a very different view of the Boehner/Obama dynamic. They identify potential House Speaker John Boehner as "The Necessary Man" and suggest we "Ignore the fake tan. John Boehner could actually be a good speaker of the House.":
"Boehner and Obama won’t have the same kind of chemistry, but they will face similar political pressures. If the GOP takes over, the president will have just suffered a major rebuke at the polls, and he will need to prove to a skeptical country that he’s not out of touch. Republicans, meanwhile, will no longer be able to respond to Obama by shouting “hell, no,” as Boehner once did; mainstream voters will expect them to contribute, and will hold them accountable if they don’t. According to Gingrich, Boehner is even better suited to this process—the slow, methodical give-and-take of divided government—than he was. “If I was a roll-out quarterback who occasionally threw an interception,” Gingrich says, “then John is a natural head coach. He knows how to keep the team together and win the game by methodically picking up four yards on every play.”
Problem solving and real compromise result in better legislation. Real bipartisan compromise only happens when both parties have a share of power and a seat at the table. Divided government ensures everyone has a seat at the table. QED.

Jason Pye at United Liberty climbs the pulpit, quotes David Harsanyi, and delivers a sermon on the virtues of divided government saying "America needs a divided government" :
"Divided government is really the best recipe for good government and a strong economy... While spending under George W. Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress was out of control, under Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and a Republican-controlled Congress, spending grew by 1.5% per year. This is lower than the annual growth in spending under Ronald Reagan. Tea partyers and those of us in the freedom movement should be preaching this as loudly as any other issue."
Hallelujah! Say it brother. Say it loud and say it long! I believe in the power of divided government!

Metavirus at Library Grape is increasingly unhappy that the divided government meme continues to gain traction despite his oft expressed disdain, prompting him to ask whether we would not be better off abandoning our constitutional checks and balances for a more Euro style parliamentary system - "If Divided Government Is So Awesome, Why Do All Other Rich Countries Eschew It?":
"So there's been a bit of an extra helping of "divided government" pseudoanalysis going on here lately. I don't have much time at the moment to do a whole post but I just wanted to throw out a question to everyone: If divided government is so demonstrably awesome, why do all the other rich first world countries have parliamentary systems that prevent such a thing from occurring?"
Metavirus claims to be an independent* (EDIT - Note correction in comments) . But after reading through his comments on that post, I cannot help but note that all of his arguments are indistinguishable from the mantra of a partisan hack - to whit -"My party is good (competent/acting in good faith). Your party is evil (incompetent, acting in bad faith)." I don't know whether he is being disingenuous or just oblivious to what he is saying, but - If it walks like duck, and quacks like a duck, then that is good enough for me to start looking for some Peking sauce. A partisan, by any other name will still only enjoy the sweet smell of his preferred partisan poop. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends are partisans.

I say to you Metavirus - Be proud and revel in your partisan nature!

That out of the way I will acknowledge that, under the snark, Metavirus is posing a pretty interesting question. A question about the distinction of and our preference for a unique checked, balanced, and divided government vs. the more widely adopted parliamentary system. This is a topic that deserves a separate post, but until I get around to that, I'll weigh in with a few thoughts here.

It seems to me the crucial distinction is that our constitutional government was designed from the ground up to be a divided government and to hinder united unilateral government action (explained beautifully by constitutional architect James Madison in Federalist #51).

Historian Joseph Ellis coined a wonderful phrase that succinctly sums up how our unique constitutional government is conceived. He calls it the "enshrinement of argument". The Constitution promotes divisiveness, opposition and obstruction - by design. It was designed that way to protect the rights of individuals and minorities against the tyranny of majorities, executives, or the judiciary. If and when partisan unity overrides the checks and balances built into the Constitution, then our government is not working as designed.

A parliamentary government, by contrast, is designed to elect a unified government for as long as the electorate considers said government to be representative of the majority, whether that government is comprised of one party, or two, or more. That unified majority then may run roughshod over the minority in pursuit of its majority policy preferences - by design.

One could argue that a divided government is contrary to the spirit and design of a parliamentary system, while a unified government is contrary to the spirit and design of the U.S. Constitution.

And one can also see why many liberal Democratic partisans pine so wistfully for a parliamentary form of government.

Rereading Metavirus' post, my curiosity was piqued at what prompted his derisive "pseudo-anaylysis" characterization. Looking a few days earlier on the group blog, I found...

Gherald at Library Grape offering a summary and some real analysis on why divided government works for us, while making "The Case For Local Control And Federal Inaction":
"This is a huge and diverse country. I think it's safe to say no other nation has as many different cultures and economic and political views represented within itself as does the United States.

The European Union is the most comparable bloc in scope, but few people think Europe would be better off with a stronger central parliament that sets tax rates and health care and welfare policy across the width of the continent. Why then do so many think 51% majorities in the US Congress should be setting policy for the other 49%? Why should Washington be setting policies that are uniform from Maine to California, Florida to Alaska?

Progressives are wont to bemoan that California, with 69 times Wyoming's population, has but an equal voice in the Senate. And obviously coasties are known to joke about the insignificance of 'flyover' country. But on reflection, how many are so vainglorious as to think representatives from California should be setting economic and social policy in Wyoming?

...I am pleased by the upcoming return to a divided federal government that will keep itself in check, leaving more to local control."

We wrap this edition with Conor Friedersdorf blogging at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish and "Stating the Obvious":
"In the course of American history, if either liberals or conservatives disappeared entirely from the American scene, leaving the right or left to pursue their best ideas and most flawed excesses alike, this country would be in far worse shape than it is today. And anyone who thinks that completely vanquishing "the other side" in American politics would produce good results for very long is naive at best.

It is to our collective benefit that the competing ideological factions in the United States operate as the best versions of themselves. Criticism that helps them get there is the most useful. On individual matters, one or another faction occasionally ends up being definitively right (or catastrophically wrong). Still, on the whole our ideological opponents are more help than hindrances compared to a world where they didn't exist. This seems obvious to me, but I thought I'd state it since a lot of people disagree, or at least talk and act as if they do"

I hope Conor will forgive me copying his short post in toto as I simply could not decide what to edit. Conor eloquently expresses the essence of why divided government is worthy of support as an ideal in and of itself.


Traditionally, we conclude this Carnival by including one "off-topic" submission, as a grudging acknowledgment and proxy for the many off-topic submissions received. Off-topic in this context means - no mentions of "divided government" or gridlock.

For the third edition in a row, we again present Madeleine Begun Kane (who practically owns this spot) as she presents Apathy, Schmapathy --- Dems Still Have To Vote! posted at Mad Kane's Political Madness.

With that we'll conclude this edition.

Look for the next edition of The Carnival of Divided Government ûnus et quadrâgintâ (XLI) - Special Perfect 10 You Are Not Going to See This For Another Century Numerology Edition - to be posted at exactly 10:10:10 on 10-10-10. Submit your blog article at carnival of divided government using our carnival submission form.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Carnival of Divided Government

Friday, September 10, 2010

Top Ten Dem Delusions

As is my wont, I checked in on memeorandum this morning (as required by the Blogger Bylaws) to see this item by Brent Budowski...

"If Obama names Warren, the momentum in the campaign would shift powerfully and immediately, with a rejuvenated Democratic base excited and fighting trim, ready to roll, ready to fight, ready to erupt with support that the selection of Warren would inspire."
...and I say to myself -"That's 10."

Since Obama was elected, I noticed a propensity for Democrats to enthusiastically embrace broad sweeping generalizations that strike me as - well - delusional. These episodes are characterized by an extended period of self-congratulatory, mutually-admiring, media/blog linkfests that bloom like a 1,000 flowers across the intertube gardens. Eventually the meme withers on the vine and is recognized to be - well - delusional, at which point it is never mentioned again. Except by Republican blogs who point and laugh.

So, I started accumulating a list. Adding Budowski's latest, I now have 10, and it is time to go to press. This list is by no means exhaustive. Please nominate any additional delusions I may have missed in the comments. If there is enough interest, I'll post a poll to rank them.

Caveat: Upon further review, I am not really sure that this last one qualifies. We have to consider the possibility that no Democrat actually believes this except Brent Budowski, in which case this is a Budowski delusion and not a generalized Democrat delusion. In fact, his post induced such cognitive dissonance that I questioned my reading, thinking it might be satire or sarcasm and I'm just missing it. As an option, feel free to substitute the following Democratic delusion unequivocally documented by Rachel Maddow to round out this top 10:
Look, Republicans are certainly not immune to delusions, but it does seem that One Party Rule is a requisite to achieve truly breathtaking disconnects from reality (Recall Tom Delay, Karl Rove, the "durable" 30-40 year Republican majority and Republicans keeping the House majority in 2006).

Help keep our politicians and pundits sane. Vote for Divided Government in 2010.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

I don't think President Obama is like a dog. He's more like a one trick unicorn.

President Obama was in Milwaukee on Labor Day and kicked off the fall political season by introducing his fire-breathing stem-winder stump speech for the fall campaign. As happens occasionally when a politician gets on a roll in front of a friendly crowd, the President took a short detour off message. Here he channels Jimi Hendrix to take a shot at his critics, saying "They talk about me like a dog."

As soon as he said it I thought - He's going to regret that.

While that sound bite got most of the media attention, the real meat on the bone of that speech was President Obama's announcement of a new $50B+ infrastructure spending stimulus development program. Some highlights:
"....as part of the largest new investment in America's infrastructure since President Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System... jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, and schools, repairing our faulty levees and dams, connecting nearly every American to broadband, and upgrading the buses and trains that commuters take every day... we will be investing $28 billion in our highways, money that every one of our 50 states can start using immediately to put people back to work.. the jobs that we're creating are good jobs that pay more than average; jobs grinding asphalt and paving roads, filling potholes, making street signs, repairing stop lights, replacing guard rails..." "We also have to build a new foundation for our future growth. Today, our aging system of highways and byways, air routes and rail lines is hindering that growth. Our highways are clogged with traffic, costing us $80 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel... we're talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America... I'm announcing my administration's efforts to transform travel in America with an historic investment in high-speed rail... The Department of Transportation expects to begin awarding funds to ready projects before the end of this summer, well ahead of schedule." - President Barack Obama - March 3, 2009 and April 16, 2009.
Wait! My mistake. Those excerpts were from a couple of speeches the President made announcing the benefits of the $787 billion $862 billion somewhere north of $1 trillion (fully loaded) stimulus legislation passed in February 2009. Apparently that bill was about $50 billion dollars short. Easy mistake. It was a big bill, nobody really read it. It would be easy to forget an additional $50 billion dollars or so. Could happen to anyone. Fortunately the administration is correcting that oversight now. For some insight into what this extra $50 billion dollars of not-a-stimulus infrastructure spending will get us now - excerpts from the the Milwaukee Labor Day speech:
"I am announcing a new plan for rebuilding and modernizing America’s roads and rails and runways for the long term. I want America to have the best infrastructure in the world. We used to have the best infrastructure in the world. We can have it again. We are going to make it happen. Over the next six years, over the next six years, we are going to rebuild 150,000 miles of our roads -– that’s enough to circle the world six times. That’s a lot of road. We’re going to lay and maintain 4,000 miles of our railways –- enough to stretch coast to coast. We’re going to restore 150 miles of runways. And we’re going to advance a next-generation air-traffic control system to reduce travel time and delays for American travelers...We’re going to continue our strategy to build a national high-speed rail network that reduces congestion and travel times and reduces harmful emissions... this will not only create jobs immediately, it’s also going to make our economy hum over the long haul." - President Barack Obama - September 6, 2010
I'm not the only one who had a deja vu experience watching his performance:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2010 - Are You Ready for Some Midterms?
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

No, President Obama is not a dog. He is a one trick pony unicorn. For this administration there is exactly one answer to every problem. Spend more. Raise taxes to pay for new spending. Spend more. Borrow more to pay for new spending. Spend more. Every problem is a nail, spending is the hammer that the administration wields as every solution. So what if ARRA (the biggest spending program in US history until HCR a year later) did not stimulate the economy as expected? No problem - get a bigger hammer, because obviously, even more spending is the right answer this time.

Look, the problem with the President's newer bigger spending hammer, is not that he is spending on infrastructure per se. As I said at the time of the original porkulus, if you are going to do a stimulus program, funding needed infrastructure is the right way to do it:
"It is incumbent on our Federal government to help cushion the blow for those Americans devastated by this economic contraction. That includes unemployment extensions such as are in the stimulus bill. If there are infrastructure projects that we know we really need, like upgrading the electric transmission backbone, and repairing dangerous bridges, there is certainly a case to be made to do the projects now and cushion the recession impact. Fine. I’m on board. The operative word being “need”. But to spend a trillion dollars, just for the sake of spending a trillion dollars,just because some economists and politicians have an unproven dogmatic ideological belief in Keynesian theory, or - more likely - using unproven Keynesian theory as an excuse to load up a porker the likes of which we have never seen before - strikes me as batshit insane."
As Rachel Maddow points out, many Republicans complained that the 2009 ARRA porkulus legislation did not contain enough infrastructure spending. She is correct that the Republicans are playing politics now, just like the President and Democrats are playing politics now by pushing new programs before the election. Everyone understands that two months before the election, this is par for the course. But I have a solution that will get bi-partisan support if the administration is sincere about this program.

Since (as clearly indicated by the President on Monday) the monstrous ARRA stimulus legislation did not have the right mix of infrastructure spending (if it did - why would we need a new program less than two years later?) - then the solution is not to spend new money, but instead to fix the stimulus. If the Democrats believe they did the right thing ramming the ARRA stimulus package through - let it play out. But if it was wrong and we need this infrastructure, then reallocate the remaining unspent $200+ billion in the stimulus package to pay for the needed infrastructure.

That is an approach that might elicit bipartisan cooperation - even during the election season. But the exact wrong answer for the the administration and the country, is to pile on new spending.

The administration is reported to be in a panic about the recent polls on the mid-term election. Given that focus, given the politcal acumen of Rahm and Axelrod, it is astonishing that they are so tone deaf to the message being delivered by the electorate. Let me help:

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Live Blogging Ron Paul Rally in San Francisco - maybe

I made a contribution to Ron Paul's campaign in 2007 during the ground breaking Fuy Fawkes "money bomb" and have been on his e-mail and phone list ever since. They notified me that he will be in town for a rally today. Looks like it is intended to support Republican John Dennis' quixotic campaign to unseat Nancy Pelosi. Talk about tilting at windmills. Ralph Nader's 2008 Green Party V.P. running mate Matt Gonzalez is also scheduled to appear. Anyway, I think I will make my way down to the Civic Center this afternoon to check it out. Depending on what I find, and subject to the limits of technology and bandwidth, I may do some live blogging on My Other Blog, and then will update a summary here later. Maybe.

Let's just say my live blog effort met with limited success. I'll include a couple of pics from the rally here, the rest are on the other blog. This examiner story matched my observations. Robert Taylor posted a few pics and a report on his blog, including one of your loyal blogger wandering around with head down immersed in his own live blogging efforts.

Gonzales, Dennis and Paul

Friday, September 03, 2010

Boxer and Fiorina Debate in Blue Red State California

Jan Brewer's cringe inducing debate performance received more media attention, but there was another debate last week of significantly greater import. Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer met for their first (and potentially only) debate of the election season. It is one of the "dirty dozen" contests that will determine whether the GOP retakes the majority in the Senate.

Democrats enjoy a huge advantage in statewide California elections. In 2008, 44% registered Democratic, 31% registered Republican and 20% Independent (Decline to State). Despite the uneven playing field, Fiorina and Boxer were polling at a dead heat going into the debate. Combine that with Republican Meg Whitman's lead over Democrat Jerry Brown, and some usually careful conservative bloggers are moved to hyperbole - Ed Morrissey:
"Welcome to California, the Red State... If both Boxer and Brown lose, what does that say about the direction of California — and what does it mean for Barack Obama? California’s one of the few states where his approval numbers remain mildly positive. If that’s true and Democrats still lose statewide races in this cycle, it makes Obama an irrelevance, and perhaps means that the state with the largest number of electoral votes may be in play two years from now."
Yeah... I think Ed is getting a little ahead of himself. Let's dial back a bit and just focus on this critical California Senate contest and debate. A sample clip:

I generally have very low expectations for political debates. Perhaps that is why I was pleasantly surprised, even impressed by the Boxer/Fiorina face-off. My take:

Both candidates acquitted themselves well and were very well prepared. It was a good debate. Boxer and Fiorina clearly had different objectives in this debate, and I think they both accomplished what they set out to do. With her big registration advantage, Boxer just needed to play to her base. California voters already know Boxer and her shtick. She just needed to be the crusading liberal senator her base expects and not make mistakes. If she can get the Democrats off their collective asses and voting in force, she should win this going away. But this year, with 60 days to go, with Democrats feeling lethargic and uninspired, that appears to be a mighty big "if".

Fiorina had more at stake in this debate, as I suspect this was the first time that many California voters started to pay attention to this election. This was Fiorina's chance to make a first impression on voters who do not know her well. She needed to look senatorial, competent, and in command of the issues facing the state. Debates are as much about TV, presence and image as they are about issues. From that perspective, she knocked it out of the park. She came across as smart, articulate and tough with a detailed understanding of the issues - basically a strong business woman. Fiorina could have easily blown her chances with a stumble in this debate, but instead she inspired confidence.

That said, there was one major issue that has emerged in this contest that I did not feel qualified to judge. So I asked my wife - Who had the better hair? She did not hesitate - Carly had the better "do". That seals it. I'm calling this round for Carly. Michael Rosen agrees...
"... in one area in particular these two strands — big government liberalism and legislative fecklessness — weave together: the cap-and-trade regime, which Fiorina calls the “most expensive regulatory act in U.S. history,” which will burden consumers and kill yet more jobs, but to which Boxer has adhered religiously. At the debate, Fiorina blasted the senator for her inability to shepherd the ill-considered legislation to passage and for having it “taken away from her and given to John Kerry.” This, in the end, is Boxer’s legacy: failed leadership and misguided policies amidst troubling times. Thus, in a toxic environment where irate voters find themselves booting incumbents even during primaries, it’s not much of a stretch to predict that Boxer’s political life will never be the same come November."
...and Garry South disagrees. Most post-mortems called it close or a draw. The Survey USA Poll that Morrissey linked has Fiorina up by 2 points - within the margin of error. It was conducted the day before and day of the debate, so we don't get a clean read of the debate with that poll. I'm guessing Fiorina was good enough for a bump in the polls that will give her a lead outside the margin of error. We'll update this post when we get a definitive read - probably early next week.

In other election news, the blogosphere was abuzz with Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Prognostication:
"In the Senate, we now believe the GOP will do a bit better than our long-time prediction of +7 seats. Republicans have an outside shot at winning full control (+10), but are more likely to end up with +8 (or maybe +9, at which point it will be interesting to see how senators such as Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and others react). GOP leaders themselves did not believe such a result was truly possible just a few months ago. If the Republican wave on November 2 is as large as some polls are suggesting it may be, then the surprise on election night could be a full GOP takeover. Since World War II, the House of Representatives has flipped parties on six occasions (1946, 1948, 1952, 1954, 1994, and 2006). Every time, the Senate flipped too, even when it had not been predicted to do so. These few examples do not create an iron law of politics, but they do suggest an electoral tendency."
Strange, his prediction seems vaguely familiar.

Let's net this out - for any fellow Californians who understand and believe in the moderating influence and simply better governance that results from divided government in Washington D.C. - this is the contest that is likely to be the difference. It is time to step up.

x=posted at Donklephant
Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Good News, Everyone!

OK, I couldn't resist the title & pic combo. But it IS nice to finally see a small suggestion of a bright spot in the employment situation. Below is a chart from the Mercatus Center at George Mason U. regarding temp staffing contrasted with payroll employment.

While the short text implies the fall in temp staffing is a bad sign, I have a somewhat different take seeing the two stats together*. The fall-off in temps staffing coincides with a positive uptick in payroll hiring, which strongly suggests that an equilibrium is being reached in payroll staffing. To wit, it suggests that employers have reached a point where they have quit downsizing and insuring against further decline, and for the moment are feeling comfortable with fully staffing at their current levels of production.

That's a far cry from actual growth, mind you, but given the very expensive mandates already shoved down their throats (ObamaCare, new taxes and regs), the threat of more to come (more tax hikes and even more burdensome regs), the weak economy and ongoing workout of bad assets from the real estate and financial bubble-bursts, amd the enormous uncertainties associated with all of the above, it's a positive indicator of equilibrial stabilization, perhaps due to watchful waiting ahead of the elections. Which beats the hell out of further decline and IMHO is a positive indicator of reduced "double-dip" potentials.

If the "watchful waiting" hypothesis is correct, evidence of it will be found in market trends tracking the polls the closer we get to the elections, and in the election-reaction market movements the first week of November, as election results are confirmed.

[*--Pay attention to the somewhat different scales so as to not get the two levels confused as being the same. Also, for those not used to reading such things, please note that positive/negative is where the lines cross their respective 0.0% lines, not where the trend direction changes. Payroll jobs did not start upticking in early-'09, for example, that's where the rate of losses started reducing. But increases in payroll employment do not begin until the 0.0% point was reached in the uptick of the trend, roughly May '10. And temp staffing did not hit 0.0% until July '10.]

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The question facing libertarians...

...is not the question debated in the August-September issue of Reason - "Where do Libertarians Belong?".

That debate featured Cato Kauffman Foundation scholar Brink Lindsey, Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg and Tea Party organizer Matt Kibbe. An interesting read, but more than a little frustrating. They re-litigate the same hand-wringing debate I first noted and commented on at the beginning of this blog, over four years ago. In particular, Jonah delights in beating Brink about the head and shoulders with the "Liberaltarian" trope that Brink enthusiastically supported a few years ago. Brink is decidedly less enthusiastic now. Perhaps he read this sad account of my own failed liberaltarian affair.

For those who don't have the time or inclination to read the entire article, I offer this debate summary:
  • Shorter Brink Lindsey: Libertarians should forget the right and aim for the center. BTW the Tea Party also sucks.
  • Shorter Jonah Goldberg: Libertarians should forget the left, and stick with the right.
  • Shorter Matt Kibbe: Libertarians should forget the right and left, and work with the Tea Party to find a new path. BTW - Fuck you Lindsey and the horse you rode in on.
Brian Moore has an even shorter version. No real conclusions were either expected or found by the paticipants. But at least there was one amusing answer to the question offered by a commenter at Reason.com: "Where Do Libertarians Belong? - In the camps, silly."

More interesting than yet another futile attempt to answer this unresolvable question, are the questions that the debate spawned around the blogosphere -

Clive Crook
thinks the question should be phrased "What Use Is a Libertarian?" Nick Gillespie answers his question with another question - "Are Libertarians Really as Useless as a Bucket of Armpits? Or Do They Just Smell That Way?" Black Jesus worries "Is Libertarianism Dead?" Ilya Somin wonders if Brink is moving "From 'Liberaltarianism' to Libertarian Centrism?" Noah Millman asks "Whither Libertarians?" Mollie Hemingway invokes the "The death of liberaltarianism?" Stackiii wants to know "Can These Groups Win Without Each Other? Heather Horn finds even more posts with even more questions and finally asks one herself "Should Libertarians Ditch the Republican Party?

So many questions. And yet, no one is asking the right question:

How can libertarians become politically relevant?

Back to Clive Crook:
"I cannot see what purpose is served by worrying about which of these unappeasable opponents would make the better partner."
Exactly. Aiming for the middle does not cut it. Nor aiming to shoot the right as Lindsey advocates, nor aiming to shoot the left as Goldberg advocates, nor aiming at both as Kibbe advocates.

From a practical perspective, asking rhetorically whether libertarians have a "use" or "where they belong" is less important than understanding how they can be politically relevant. One key to political relevance is simple - a predictable centrist libertarian swing vote. The rub - for a swing vote to be predictable it has to be organized. And nobody yet has figured out how to herd these cats. This is sometimes referred to as the "Hot Tub Libertarian" problem.

There is an answer. There is a way to herd these cats. There is a path to imbuing libertarians with policy shifting power and political relevance. Paraphrasing from an earlier post "Curing Libertarian Electile Dysfunction":
A libertarian swing vote organization is going to have to look different than traditional political organization. After all, it is something we will have to accomplish while sitting in the hot-tub. What is needed, is an organizing principle. Ideally, a principle that is so obvious, so logical, and so clear-cut, that no leadership is needed, no parties are needed, no candidates are needed, and no infrastructure is needed. Ideally it is this easy: You think about the principle, and you know how to vote.

That organizing principle exists. It is voting for Divided Government. It is absolutely clear-cut and easy to understand. Divided Government is documented by Niskanen et.al. to work in a practical real-world manner to restrain spending and the growth of the state. As a voting strategy it can be implemented immediately. More importantly, it can collectively be implemented individually as we sit in our hot tubs and ponder the sorry state of the world. Whatever the percentage of the electorate that a libertarian/Tea Party represents, whether it is 6% or 20%, if they vote as a block for divided government, they immediately become the brokers of an evenly split partisan electorate. They arguably become the single most most potent voting block in the country, specifically because they are willing to vote either Democratic or Republican as a block. Specifically because they are not fused to one party or the other. Specifically because they are not trying to figure out "where they belong".

If a libertarian/Tea Party divided government vote is shown to swing elections for two or three cycles, then libertarians will no longer be inchoate, their message no longer diffused, and their political clout no longer flaccid. As long as the bulk of the electorate remain polarized and balanced, even a small percentage libertarian (or Tea Party) swing vote organized around divided government will be enough for those Tea Party libertarians to proudly display the biggest swinging political "hammer" in town.
It could happen.

The Reason cover has an image of some of our favorite pols on a Nolan Chart. This quick quiz plots your political proclivity on such a two dimensional political chart, with the four corners defined as liberal (L), conservative (R), libertarian (U), statist (D). I hadn't taken the test in a while, and the result is unsurprising - this is where The Dividist belongs...

As a libertarian dividist, I'll be voting straight Republican for federal office this year. Should the GOP take the majority in either house of Congress, I'll be voting for the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.