Friday, April 29, 2005

The Economist Endorses Labour

From The Economist yesterday - "For want of a better option, we favour another Labour victory on May 5th." [Read the entire endorsement here.]

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Third Party Possibilities

In Monday's Los Angeles Times, Ron Brownstein had an interesting column in which he suggested that the current partisan polarization in the country and the resulting failure to address pressing problems facing the American public presents an opening for an independent candidacy in 2008, if not an opportunity for the development of a third party.

Ordinarily, I'd say that the chances of either happening are non-existent. Mounting a national campaign, or even a statewide one, requires a vast organization and candidates not linked to a major party lack such organizations. But there's another element to Brownstein's argument that has to make one pause before pooh-poohing the rise of a third party (or an independent candidacy). That element is the Internet. The Dean campaign - not to mention organizations like - showed that a campaign's infrastructure can be built quickly and relatively cheaply.

I'm still skeptical. The space for such a movement, as Brownstein points out, is in the middle. But folks in the middle aren't highly motivated to get active in politics because (a) they are moderates who, by definition, tend not to be activists; this is in part because (b) the kind of rhetoric that best activates people is ideologically charged and because (c) most independent voters (though by know means all) don't follow politics closely. Still, it's worth keeping an eye on developments in this direction.

One aspect of Brownstein's column addresses the strategies of the two major parties in mobilizing voters. Joe Trippi, the brains behind Dean's Internet "revolution," argues that the Bush 2004 campaign proved that you can win by focusing on your base, rather than appealing to swing voters. I think Bush did both, simultaneously. Furthermore, in an era when your party is dominant (as Republicans are now), mobilizing the base may be more successful than when you aren't dominant. There are just more Republican voters (not identifiers, but voters) out there right now than there are Democratic voters. I'm not arguing for a DLC-type move to the center for the Democrats, just that this is a little more complicated than it appears (and far more complicated than Simon Rosenberg makes it sound when he says the strategy of appealing to the center has now "been rejected for all time"!).

Incidentally, Trippi visits Franklin & Marshall today and I've got the good fortune to have 45 minutes with him for an interview. I'll post on our conversation tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Hitchens Endorses Blair

Christopher Hitchens is backing Tony Blair for another term as British Prime Minister. If it has any effect at all, I wonder if this endorsement will help Blair or hurt him.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

British AG's Advice on War Leaks to Press

The Observer is reporting today that the British Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, advised Tony Blair in March of 2003 that a war in Iraq "could be in breach of international law for six reasons ranging from the lack of a second United Nations resolution to UN inspector Hans Blix's continuing search for weapons." Eventually, Goldsmith publicly gave his seal of approval to the invasion.

Leaving aside the validity of the legal advice (which I'm in no position to judge), the "sudden disclosure is bound to have an explosive effect on the election campaign," according to the paper. Labour has a structural advantage going into this election (once again, single-member districts will distort the seats-to-votes ratio), so they are still likely to hold a legislative majority. But this news will fuel Lib Dem and Tory attacks on Blair's credibility, which will diminish the size of the Labour vote, if not its majority in the Commons.

Stay tuned - the election is only 11 days away.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

NPR Story on Strat-O-Matic

I spent the vast majority of my waking hours outside of school as a kid playing baseball. I preferred the real thing, but when I wasn't actually playing outside, I was playing a baseball board game called Strat-O-Matic. I mention this because NPR had a really nice piece on "Strat" this morning. The Jon Miller sound effects are worth a listen by themselves!

By the way, Congress gave me the perfect excuse to occasionally post about baseball on a blog devoted to American politics when they held the steroids hearings.

Carter-Baker Commission Hearing

The Commission on Federal Election Reform (a.k.a. Carter-Baker) held its first hearing yesterday. Unfortunately, the Commission made it clear that it won't tackle the real defects in our electoral system - legislative redistricting and the Electoral College. According to Commission co-chair James Baker, "We should not take on the really volatile issues with respect to which we have no reasonable chance of success... There are plenty of other issues for us to consider." Fair enough, but some national commission ought to take on the really big issues.

As for the testimony itself, Loyola law professor (and fellow blogger) Rick Hasen best captured the house of cards that is our election process.

In the 2004 presidential election, the United States came much closer to electoral meltdown, violence in the streets and constitutional crisis than most people realize.


Less than a 2 percent swing among Ohio voters -- about 100,000 voters -- toward Democratic candidate for president John Kerry and away from incumbent Republican President Bush would have placed the Ohio -- and national -- election for president well within the 'margin of litigation,' and it would have gotten ugly very quickly.
[See Hasen's entire testimony here.]

Monday, April 18, 2005

Dems Looking West

Interesting piece in the LA Times today on the view of some within the Democratic Party that the path to electoral fortune lies in the West. I continue to believe that the Chicken Little Democrats are wrong - the sky isn't falling and the party doesn't need a major overhaul to be competitive. (Thus, the obsessive focus on values is overwrought. Today's Roll Call reports {subscription only} that the Senate Democrats are developing a media strategy that focuses on Christian broadcasting. That is a serious waste of time and money.) Nevertheless, as the LA Times piece notes, Democrats made some inroads in the West in 2004 and so a bit more effort there couldn't hurt.

One footnote to this is that as Democrats place more emphasis on the West, the stock of politicans from that region will rise. When coupled with what is likely to be a desire to give the 2008 presidential nomination to a governor, I'd say keep an eye on Gov. Bill Richardson (NM).

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Frontline on Rove

Be sure to watch tonight's Frontline documentary on Karl Rove, "The Architect" (check local PBS listings here). Reviews haven't been good, but it's still probably worth seeing.

The problem with stories about Rove is that they're all circumstantial. On the one hand, you feel compelled to conclude that if there's no hard evidence for his role in any of the dirty tricks, maybe he's not guilty. On the other, it can't just be a coincidence that so many of the same kinds of things happen in campaigns he's involved in.

By the way, check out "Bush's Brain," a documentary based on the book by the same title. More tomorrow after I've watched the Frontline piece...

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy to Meet

ABC's The Note reports today that a group of liberal movers-and-shakers is meeting this weekend to mount a "vast left-wing conspiracy." (NB: The latter link is to the National Review website; lefties beware!) According to the Note,

For years now, wealthy liberal activists have formally strategized about the creation of a center-left message machine, similar to the pyramid Bill Bradley described in the New York Times last week and equal in heft and influence to what conservatives built through the Scaife and Bradley funds and the Heritage Foundation. Rob Stein, formerly a top aide to the late Ron Brown, has been the project's intellectual and organizational whip.

Stein and dozens of top party fundraisers will meet this weekend in Scottsdale, Arizona to plan the future of his enterprise, called the Democracy Alliance. These are folks who have seen his fabled PowerPoint and who have agreed to help build a grassroots, communications and think-tank network for liberals and progressives.

From this preliminary meeting, according to several Democrats who planned to attend but who asked not to identified for fear of losing their invitation, will come more concrete proposals down the road for groups, political entities, think tanks, and coordinating bodies.

Some fundraisers have ties to top party officials, although very little time will be spent discussing electoral politics per se.

The Bradley piece mentioned above is must-read (it can be found, via Common Dreams, here). In it, he argues for a stable base of big donors, a second level of think tanks, a third level of political candidates and operatives, topped off with an ideological media effort. (Right now, according to Bradley, the Democrats operate under an inverted pyramid.) Most importantly, this structure would produce new ideas.

Everyone on the left can agree that new ideas are important and should be cultivated in a manner similar to conservative efforts. But what I'll be interested to see is whether this new liberal effort - the Democracy Alliance - buys into the George Lakoff model of "reframing" the left's positions. If so, it will be a waste of time. (I hope to explain my dissatisfaction with Lakoff's approach in the near future; in the meantime, take a look at this piece by Marc Cooper in last month's Atlantic.)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Et tu, Santorum?

Arianna Huffington suggested on Real Time with Bill Maher this weekend that unless there's a celebrity death every three days for the foreseeable future, Tom DeLay will soon be out of power. You can't predict when the bottom will fall out of this thing - or even if it will - but it's not looking good for Mr. Delay. First, DeLay's supporters have been forced, according to the Washington Post, "to form what is essentially a campaign organization aimed at minimizing damage to DeLay and building support despite what they believe will be a continuing torrent of news stories about his travel, fundraising and dealings with lobbyists."

Now, some prominent Republicans are distancing themselves from him. This includes not only the RINO (Republican in Name Only) Rep. Chris Shays (CT), who called DeLay "an absolute embarrassment to me and to the Republican Party," but also PA Senator Rick Santorum. Whether Santorum would be calling on DeLay to come clean in the absence of his own reelection bid next year is irrelevant. Santorum's comments are a sign that the pressure is mounting. It will be hard to keep the troops in line if they start hearing from the voters back home (as is apparently beginning to be the case).

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Who are the Deaniacs?

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released the results of an absolutely fascinating survey of Dean activists. I haven't read the entire report yet, but the executive summary includes a few interesting tidbits. For example, Dean activists aren't as young as many assumed. While 18% are under 30 and another 26% are 30-44, 42% are 45-64. As expected, however, they are "far wealthier, better educated, more secular and much less ethnically diverse than other Democrats," according to the report. They are also far more liberal.

And, yet, there is less support for bringing the troops home from Iraq among Dean activists than among Democrats generally (52% to 64%, respectively); this, despite the fact that 99% (yes 99%!) of Deaniacs believe that invading Iraq was the wrong decision, compared to 68% of all Democrats who believe the war was wrong. (I think explanation for this is that Dean activists are better informed than Democrats generally and, thus, are more likely to recognize the consequences of such a move.)

This does not, however, mean that the Dean wing of the Democratic Party is pacifist. Only 21% of Dean activists think preemptive force is never justified; similarly, 20% of all Democrats agree. Nevertheless, 60% of Dean activists believe such force is rarely justified (compared to 32% of all Dems); just 19% of the former think it is often or sometimes justified, while 44% of all Democrats think that.

One last nugget - when Dean activists' foreign policy views are broken down by age group, it's the youngest Deaniacs who favor keeping troops in Iraq; 61% of those under 30 take that position, while only 34% of those over 50 agree. Why? As the Pew report reminds us, the latter group is comprised of 1960s activists.

I'm off to read the report in detail - this faction may dominate the party for years to come and it's worth understanding where they're coming from.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Permanent Campaign

I've been falling down on blogging duties for the past few days because I've had some writing deadlines. I did, however, want to make mention of Mark Barabak's LA Times article from Monday on the "permanent campaign." Here's the nut graph(s):

The permanent campaign — a never-ending cycle of fundraising, polling and candidate positioning — has been a growing part of American politics for a generation, even before the term was popularized in a 1980 book of that title by journalist Sidney Blumenthal.

But those immersed in the election system — candidates, fundraisers, campaign consultants, issue advocates — say that in just the past few years the pace has grown even more relentless, to a point where the notion of a political "off-season" seems every bit as quaint as straw boaters and torchlight parades.
The article focuses primarily on the most obvious sense of the term 'permanent campaign' - that elected officials are constantly looking ahead to the next election (as are potential challengers). There's another sense of the term that the article mentions but doesn't spend a lot of time on; namely, that the line between campaigning for office and campaigning to govern has been erased. That is, in order to govern successfully, one has to employ the tactics of an election campaign (e.g., polling, messaging, etc.). This phenomenon has many causes and a number of consequences (none of which are good). If you want to understand it, Barabak's article is a good place to start.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Baseball 2005

Opening Night, Red Sox vs. Yankees. The first pitch of the season is a... strike from Randy Johnson.

Here's hoping for a Red Sox - Pirates World Series.

Illiberal Culture and Democracy

The New York Times Magazine this week has a truly fascinating article on Dutch member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She's a former Muslim feminist from Somalia who is highly critical of Muslim culture and it's potential impact on Dutch democracy. Hirsi Ali herself is interesting given the fact that she doesn't fit the conventional left-right spectrum in the Netherlands and given her bravery in the face of numerous threats to her life. (She was a friend of, and collaborator with, Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh, who was murdered by an Islamist last November.)

But the article raises even more interesting questions about how a liberal democratic society accommodates an illiberal culture that is growing within its boarders and that threatens the foundations of democracy. I don't study comparative politics, so I can't say anything insightful about this. However, it seems to me that we all ought to consider the paradox of a multicultural society, whose very principles embrace diversity, being forced to consider intolerant measures to preserve tolerance.

Fake Town Hall Meetings

I'm WAY behind the curve on this, but I've been thinking about the scripted "town hall meetings" that the president is holding to promote his efforts to change Social Security. Last week, the Washington Post ran a story on the lengths the president's handlers will go to ensure there's no dissent in the audience. Three nicely dressed individuals were escorted out of the hall because some Republican operative noticed a "No Blood For Oil" bumper sticker on their car in the parking lot. (The Post doesn't say how, exactly, the individuals were linked to the car.) Mind you, they had no signs, no buttons and hadn't done anything to suggest they were going to disrupt the event (and they certainly hadn't actually done anything of that sort). This is an administration that really is committed to preemptive strikes!

On Friday, E.J. Dionne wrote about the incident and Bush's "Stepford Town Meetings." As usual, Dionne has a great take on the matter. Here are a few tidbits:

Lately the president has been chastising Democrats for not sitting down with him to fashion a solution. "I think there is a political price for not getting involved in the process," Bush said in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday. "I think there is a political price for saying, 'It's not a problem, I'm going to stay away from the table.' " But when Bush's critics show up at the president's taxpayer-financed events, they are often told there is no place at the table for dissenters.


Do we live in a country where the president's representatives are authorized to read citizens' minds to determine who is suitable to hear his speeches?


And so you wonder why a president who sells himself as a tough, confident bring-'em-on type of guy seems so anxious about facing average citizens who disagree with him. Why does he insist on being surrounded, always, by people who tell him that he's right and great and wonderful?
What interests me most about these events is that they're having no impact (and maybe even a negative effect) on public support for his plan. Why? There are two possibilities. The first is that these sham town hall meetings are seen for what they are - campaign-style events where the president preaches to the choir. As a result, many citizens may wonder, if the President's plan is so good, why can't he answer his critics? One possible answer is that the President's plan isn't any good.

The second explanation is based on what political scientists call "issue ownership." This is one of the most important concepts in American politics, though it isn't often invoked in popular analysis. The concept explains what's happening as follows: The two parties "own" different sets of issues. The Republicans are thought (by a majority of voters) to be better at handling taxes, crime, national security, foreign policy, and "values." Democrats are more trusted to handle education, the environment, health care and jobs. Importantly, they are also more trusted to protect Social Security. Thus, the more President Bush talks about Social Security - particularly in hermetically sealed situations - the more people are primed to apply their preconceived attitudes about which party they trust on the issue.

To be sure, a politician who devotes considerable time and effort to "leasing" an issue that the other party owns, can do it (particularly if something in his/her political history makes him/her uniquely credible on an issue). But leasing an issue is difficult and even when successful is only temporary (e.g., Clinton gained an advantage on the issue of crime during his time in office, but Republicans own the issue again). So it's unlikely that Bush is going to win on this issue; but if he wants a chance, he ought to open up the discussion.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Hitchens on the Pope

Hitchens, as usual, has the guts to say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said.

Credit is certainly due the Pope for his efforts to defeat communism. But let's not go overboard praising him as a "champion of human freedom," as President Bush referred to him today. There's this, for example, (from a NY Times article this week on unprecedented religious unity in Jerusalem against a gay pride event planned for that city)...

When the first WorldPride festival was held five years ago in Rome, religious opposition came from the Vatican, while secular opposition came from a neo-Fascist group that vowed to hold a counterdemonstration. But the neo-Fascists canceled their demonstration, the march came off peacefully, and even a few center-right politicians joined many thousands of marchers.

One day later, however, Pope John Paul II appeared on a balcony over St. Peter's Square and delivered a message expressing his "bitterness" that the gay festival had gone forward, calling it an "offense to the Christian values of a city that is so dear to the hearts of Catholics across the world."