Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Painting 2016 By The 2014 Numbers
- Visualizing the Data -

Bolten Painting with numbers graphic

I understand. It's time to start looking forward to the 2016 Presidential Election. After all, it's been three long months since our last national election and the next is less than 650 days away.

I understand. The Democrats are Ready for Hillary.  Ready or not (and really nobody is), I understand we are going to get plenty of Bernie and Liz.  I understand that over the weekend we saw a parade of Republican hopefuls make an appearance at the Iowa Freedom Summit and learned: Everyone hates Christie; Walker was Best In Show; Romney is on a Mission From GodRand Paul is Ron Paul's son; Trump is pretending to run and is upset that nobody believes him; Palin is pretending to pretend that she might run but not really;  Republicans are pretending they won't nominate Jeb Bush; and I understand we're just getting started.

Spoiler Alert: Nobody wants Clinton vs. Bush in 2016.  Doesn't matter. It's going to be Clinton vs. Bush in 2016. They are the two best candidates. Clinton's a lock and Bush is the only Republican with a chance to beat her. The Dividist will be supporting Clinton to preserve divided government and avoid the risk of Republican One Party Rule.  And I expect she will win.

That said, I'm not ready to let go of the 2014 results. We know the numbers. In 2008 the Obama tsunami swept the Democrats into Unified Filibuster-Proof One Party Rule of our federal government. The punditocracy were delivering eulogies for the GOP because of demographic destiny or voting Democratic being genetically wired or... something. Since then the Republicans have rebounded with a vengeance.  In 2010 the Republicans retook majority control of the House. In 2012 Americans resoundingly reelected divided government. In 2014, Republicans took majority control of the Senate with a net gain of nine seats and padded their majority in the House with an additional thirteen seats. They now have the most seats in Congress and their biggest majority in the House of Representatives since the Hoover administration in 1928. But numbers alone don't tell the story.

Randall Bolten literally wrote the book on visualizing data, saying about his work:   “Painting with Numbers is my effort to get people to focus on making numbers understandable." 

I think we all could use some help making these recent election cycles understandable. In a six-part series on his blog, Bolten shows us exactly what he means with a series of visualizations that help us get a deeper appreciation of the shifting partisan political fortunes in Washington D.C.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Gridlock Is Still Good. Kind of. Most of the time.

Gridlock and Delegation in a Changing World
Illustration from Callander & Krehbiel - Gridlock and Delegation
The Dividist Papers regularly features academic scholarship from political scientists, economists, and historians explaining the benefits of divided government and gridlock.  The first entry in the "Gridlock is Good" series featured economist William Niskanen of the Cato Institute and Ohio University Economics professor Richard Vedder outlining the fiscal and economic benefits of gridlocked government. More recently, we featured University of Wisconsin Political Science Professor Marcus E. Ethridge, who made the case that our inefficient checked, balanced, and divided government is less susceptible to special interest influence and corruption than the more efficient executive branch agency rule-making process.

In this post we offer the latest edition in this series by Stanford professors Steven Callander and Keith Krehbiel.  In a Stanford Business School article Edmond Andrews introduces their paper:
"Americans are angry about partisan gridlock, but they also harbor mistrust about nonpartisan bureaucrats. Steven Callander and Keith Krehbiel, professors of political economy at Stanford Graduate School of Business, see it differently. In a recent paper, they apply game theory to understanding U.S.-style gridlock. Their conclusion: Two of the system’s most unpopular features — supermajority voting (as in the Senate filibuster) and delegation of authority to “unelected bureaucrats” — can together produce good outcomes."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

State of the Union - The Musical!
'Frozen' Edition

State of the Union - The Musical - 2015 Frozen Edition
Welcome to the Dividist's annual coverage of the Presidential Address to Congress - aka State of the Union - The Musical!

In 2007, as a blogging toddler, the Dividist despaired at finding a unique approach to the SOTU when so many other bloggers would be traversing the same ground. The answer came from Bob Woodward. In an on-line Washington Post forum the Dividist asked whether the SOTU had any real relevance. Woodward responded by saying it was "mostly theater." Genius. That was the answer. What better way to frame the SOTU, media and blog reactions than within the lyrics of a Broadway show tune?

The game is to start with a Broadway song then find blog posts, news stories, tweets, essays and commentary that can be vaguely referenced in the song and link them to the lyrics. It keeps the Dividist awake and blogging throughout the speech and mandatory drinking game.

In 2007 it was "Comedy Tonight" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In 2008 it was the 1966 hit "Georgy Girl Boy". For 2009, we welcomed President Obama with "Razzle Dazzle" from the musical Chicago. In 2010, the man behind the curtain was revealed in - The Wizard of Oz. We mostly skipped 2011, but in 2012, with the President and Congress erecting barricades against mobs wielding pitchforks and torches, we were drawn to Les Miserables and "Do you hear the people sing?" In 2013, after the people handed the President an overwhelming 52% mandate for absolutely no change, we offered a tribute to our prog friends as they gaze lovingly at President Obama Superstar and thought "I don't know how to love him". In 2014, although an election year, we were virtually assured of continuing our happily divided government for the balance of his administration, so the President declared he will rule with a pen and a phone. It sounded like he was going to mail it in for balance of the second term. What could be more appropriate than President Obama gazing in a mirror and singing "I believe in you" from "How to Succeed as President Without Really Trying".

An now, here we are in 2015, with not just any divided government, but the very best kind of divided government. With fears of a lame duck President locked into a frozen block of icy gridlock with a Republican Congress, what could be more appropriate for the State of the Union than President Obama choosing to empower himself with "Let It Go" from Frozen?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Je Suis Pussies

Charlie Hebdo Cover

Over seven million copies of the Charlie Hebdo survivor issue are now being printed and still only a trickle are making it out of Paris.  Sooner or later they'll get across the pond in sufficient quantity that I too can buy a copy.  As I wait for my opportunity to show this small gesture of support, it's interesting to note many news organizations chose not to print or broadcast the cover including NBC, NPR, and the New York Times.

The two primary rationales for major media outlets to not publish or display the unquestionably newsworthy cartoon cover of the Charlie Hebdo survivor issue are 1) fear of violence for their employees or 2) protecting the feelings of readers/viewers from being offended by a presumptively blasphemous cartoon.

A corporate decision to abrogate journalistic integrity out of fear of violent reprisal can be criticized, but it is at least an honest rationale. As for the latter...

Ross Douthat's NYT column in the immediate wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and his somewhat more nuanced follow-up deconstruct the rationalization and makes a very important point:
"Must all deliberate offense-giving, in any context, be celebrated, honored, praised? I think not. But in the presence of the gun ... both liberalism and liberty require that it be welcomed and defended." 
"...the kind of offense-giving that’s often most worth defending or even embracing is the kind that’s made in the face of, or in response to, lethal violence."
I'll offer less nuanced phrasing - If the "we won't print the Charlie Hebdo cover because it might  offend" rationale is not completely hypocritical, it is intellectually dishonest. In the case of Douthat's employer at the New York Times - it is both.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Your New Improved 2015 Divided Government

Your New Improved 2015 Divided Government

It's been a while since the midterms and the Dividist's last post. Never did quite get around to posting the 2014 election recap. No matter. It's 2015! This week the 114th United States Congress will be sworn in.  Our New and Improved 2015-16 Divided Government has arrived!

Of course, our divided government is not new. We've had divided government for the last four years and six of the last eight. By the time our next President is sworn into office in January 2017, we'll have lived under divided government for eight of the prior ten years. That's a pretty good run. But not all divided governments are the same.  There are divided governments and then there are divided governments.

The Golden Age of Divided Government 
In fact, there are eight possible configurations of partisan legislative / executive mixtures in the United States federal government (assuming a two party duopoly). David Mayhew outlined all eight in the 2005 updated preface to his seminal book Divided We Govern:
"This book, like most treatments of the subject, addresses party control as a yes-or-no matter. That makes good sense. It must be the case that either a) one party simultaneously control all three national elective institutions, or b) one party controls two of them and the other party controls the third. For most analytic purposes, a yes-or-no coding is the way to to go. Yet it is also true that eight possible conditions, not just the conventional two arise if we take into account which party controls which institutions. If the presidency, House and Senate are arrayed in order, the possibilities are respectively DDD, DDR, DRD, RDD, RRD, RDR, DRR, and RRR. How many of those eight patterns have appeared since 1980? The answer is now six, which shows the surprising versatility of the regime that has unfolded in recent decades. The only exceptions DDR (the Republicans have not controlled just the Senate since 1185-89) and DRD (the Republicans have not controlled just the House since 1859-61)."
Divided government has proven even more versatile since Professor Mayhew wrote those words. From 2011-2014 we experienced the rare configuration of Republicans controlling only the House.

In a March, 2012 post I listed all eight possible configurations stack ranked by the most probable outcome of that presidential election year.  The most probable outcome (DRR) did not win despite an election year stacked heavily in favor of Republicans taking the Senate majority. A variety of Republican clown candidates enabled the GOP to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  It's a good time to update that chart, but this time we'll rank the configurations in order of my personal preference.