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Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Nominating Process

Once again, party activists are considering changes in the presidential nomination process. In the Washington Post, Dan Balz writes:
Now a new effort to fix a broken system has begun. A commission established by the Democratic National Committee to review the nomination process held its first public meeting yesterday in Washington. A panel set up by the Republican National Committee to examine its process met privately a week ago.
A couple of observations are in order. First, I would quibble with the word broken. What's broken? In 2008, both parties nominated the candidates that their rank and file supported. The process allowed for an airing of issues, and on the Democratic side, it enabled voters to get a good long look at a relative newcomer to national politics.

Second, the only prediction that one may make with confidence is that any reforms will have unanticipated consequences. Front-loading was supposed to bring the process to an early close. But 2008 showed that two evenly-matched candidates can keep the contest going for a long time. Superdelegates purportedly would exercise independent judgment and tend to favor "establishment" candidates. In 2008, they followed the polls and flocked to Barack Obama.

You may find the Democratic Change Commission at

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 7

At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast (transcript here but not on White House website), chief of staff Rahm Emanuel got a question about the movites of those opposing the health care public option:

RE: There’s no part in which I can say something off the record, is there? What are the rules?

DAVE COOK: I can’t bind 40 reporters [inaudible] We can’t go off –

RE: Because I was going to say something as a joke, but I can’t – [laughter] I’ll have to wait for Thursday night open mic night. It dealt with the motive part. We’ll just leave it at that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 6

The White House website does not include two recent interviews with network correspondents.

The president told Harry Smith of CBS:
The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for -- those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States. That's what they do. That's what we've already seen. We shouldn't be playing into that. There should be no distractions from the fact that the -- Iranian people are seeking to -- let their voices be heard.
In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, the president addressed the question of whether health care cost measures should be voluntary or mandatory:
OBAMA: What I've suggested is-- is that we have a-- a commission that helps-- made up of doctors, made up of experts, that helps set best-- best practices.
SAWYER: By law?
OBAMA: Well, what it does is-- that if we know what those best practices are, then I'm confident that doctors are going want to engage in best practices. But I'm also confident patients are going insist on it. Because one of the things they're going say is, "Well, gosh, Doctor. If-- if-- if-- what I'm hearing is, is that I just need one test instead of five. Am I paying for the other five?" Employers are going start asking, when they're shopping around for health systems for their employees, "Are we getting the best deal possible?" So, I-- I think that-- we-- we shouldn't be overly cynical. In some cases, people just don't know what the best practices are. And certain cultures build up. And we can change those cultures, but it's going require some work.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama Campaign Style in 2009

My student Nick Warshaw wrote a terrific study of the organization of the Obama campaign. (Hint to any publishers reading the blog: the ms would make a terrific book.) That campaign continues to be relevant, shaping the off-off-year elections. AP reports:
In this year's marquee races — gubernatorial campaigns in Virginia, where Deeds goes up against Republican Bob McDonnell, and New Jersey, where Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine faces a tough challenge from Republican Chris Christie — candidates are trying to duplicate Obama's success using modern communications tools to mobilize supporters. "Any smart campaign will take a look at everything that was done before," said Mo Elleithee, who was a strategist for Terry McAuliffe's unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial primary bid in Virginia this year. "This will be a first test of how to take the '08 strategies."

Fundraising and Unanticipated Consequences

President Obama's fundraising success in 2008 and 2009 may have had the unanticipated consequence of making things harder for other candidates. The Kansas City Star reports:
While the bad economy takes the biggest share of blame for the problems, donors have other concerns. Many are tapped out after record donations in the Obama-McCain race in 2008. Others are giving to issues and causes, not candidates. For example, Hoffman’s fundraiser this week is for Organizing for America, a group put together to support President Barack Obama’s agenda.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ambassadorships and Campaign Contributions

From the Center for Responsive Politics:
President Obama announced another 10 names for ambassadorships last week, and in doing so, he awarded another set of big donors and bundlers with plum positions
representing U.S. interests abroad. The new nominees for ambassadors to Belize, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Romania and Switzerland — along with their spouses and dependent children — have contributed at least $637,800 to federal candidates, parties and committees since 1989, CRP has found. Nearly that entire sum has gone to Democrats, including $32,775 to Obama himself and $8,300 to former primary
opponent and now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. These individuals also brought in at least $1.1 million for Obama's presidential bid as bundlers, and at least another half-a-million as bundlers for his inauguration.

Republican and Democratic presidents alike have given ambassadorships to political supporters. Late last year, however, former diplomat Morris Abramowitz urged the new president to change the practice: "Obama can publicly declare that he will not appoint ambassadors who have in effect secured their posts through financial contributions and who have little background to merit any such appointment." He explained that the practice "further diminishes the appeal of the Foreign Service, and it is particularly discouraging when many of the most important jobs are reserved for political appointees. In fact, not many talented professional career diplomats can become ambassadors under current practices, especially at the larger, more prestigious posts."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Obama's Widening 2008 Margin

Barack Obama won the 2008 popular vote over John McCain by a 53-46 percent margin. At Slate, Christopher Beam notices that current polls show something different:
When respondents were asked by the WSJ whom they voted for in the 2008 presidential elections, 41 percent said they voted for Obama, compared with 32 percent for McCain. Factor out the 18 percent who said they didn't vote, and you've got Obama beating McCain by 11 points, 50 percent to 39 percent.

The gap in the New York Times poll is even wider. In it, 48 percent of respondents said they voted for Obama, compared with 25 percent for McCain. Again, subtract the 19 percent who say they didn't vote, and you've got Obama winning by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, with 60 percent to McCain's 32 percent.

It is an old story. In Attitudes and Opinions (Routledge 2005), Oskamp and Schultz offer several examples of the social desirability bias. In a 1964 survey, 64 percent reported that they had voted for JFK four years earlier, even though he actually won only 49 percent of the vote.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 5

On June 16, the president did a couple of media interviews, mainly about economic policy and financial services regulation. As of this post, neither is on the White House website.

Well, this is something that keeps me awake at night. There's no doubt that we've got a serious problem in terms of our long-term deficit and debt. I make no apologies for having acted short-term to deal with our recession. I think the vast majority of economists, conservative and liberal, felt that extraordinary interventions were necessary to prevent us from slipping into a potentially deep depression. But as soon as this economy recovers, and that means planning now and starting to take some steps now to deal with it, we're going to have to close that gap between the amount of money coming in and the money—amount of money going out. I have said before and I will repeat, I believe that we can reform entitlements in a way that makes it more sustainable. But most experts will tell you that the biggest driver of those deficits is health care costs. And no matter what else I do, if health care is still going up 5, 6, 7, 8 percent a year, if it's going up three times faster than wages, then we are going to see a federal government that is broke.

I do think that tackling tax reform, both on the individual side and on the corporate side at some point — akin to what was done in 1986, where you clear out some of the underbrush and you make sure that the base is broad, but everybody knows what it is that they’re paying and there aren’t a whole bunch of loopholes; there is serious enforcement and predictability — that kind of reform could end up generating the revenues that we need to run the basics of our government while actually in some cases lowering some rates. But that requires that everybody buy into a simpler, fairer system.

The one thing that I think is very important to understand is that there’s no free lunch, and sometimes politicians have been pretty irresponsible in saying you can have a prescription drug plan, you can have two wars, we can do a whole bunch of things, but we’re going to cut your taxes at the same time. And at some point something has to give.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 4

On Sunday, Vice President Biden appeared on "Meet the Press." The transcript is not on the White House website, but is available here. One exchange involved earlier predictions about the effect of the stimulus package. (You may check out the report in question here. See Figure 1.)
DAVID GREGORY: this package was sold on the premise that it would in fact keep unemployment at 8 percent. It's exceeded that...
VICE PRES. BIDEN: No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
MR. GREGORY: ...with the recovery plan.
VICE PRES. BIDEN: It wasn't sold on that. It was sold on it would create...
MR. GREGORY: That's what the report said, Mr. Vice President.
VICE PRES. BIDEN: ...or--no, it said it would--what would happen was it would save or create jobs. It's doing that. It is doing that. Everyone guessed wrong, at the time the estimate was made, about what the state of the economy was at the moment this was passed. Now, we're going to recalibrate this in terms of what we've inherited, what in fact is going on out there.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Leaderless Parties

There has been a great deal of talk about a USA Today poll finding that 52% could not come up with a name when asked to specify "the main person" who speaks for Republicans today. The GOP certainly has serious problems, but this poll result is not one of them. Parties that hold neither the White House nor Congress generally do not have "a main person." Consider the Democrats just a few years ago. Pollsters did not ask such a question at the time, but journalists noted the absence of a "main Democrat."
  • Howard Fineman: "The Democrats are leaderless and reeling, seemingly bereft of inspiring ideas" (Newsweek, December 27, 2004).
  • James Harding: "The leaderless and cowed opposition in Washington - a Democratic party in disarray over its message, the moral values debate and its future standard-bearer - may give Mr Bush yet more room to exploit the power of the presidential bully pulpit" (Financial Times, January 19, 2005).
  • Howard Fineman (again): "Leaderless and intellectually rudderless, the Democrats are desperate for issues, and they have decided (to the extent there is a `they') to make a pinata of DeLay" (Newsweek, March 30, 2005).
  • Ryan Lizza: "Democrats are, at the moment, leaderless. There are few Democrats who command enough attention to make the party's case to the country" (The New Republic, September 19, 2005).
  • Helen Thomas: "The leaderless Democrats, speaking in a cacophony, are being outgunned by the conservatives and members of their own party representing the Democratic Leadership Council who are at heart `Republican lite.'" (Houston Chronicle, June 24, 2006).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 3

Some news stories noted Vice President Biden's remarks on Judge Sotomayor. Speaking to police officers, he said: "As you do your job, know that Judge Sotomayor has your back as well." Politico quotes legal ethicist Stephen Gillers: “She’s not there to ‘have their back.’ She’s there to interpret the law as she sees fit. . ." But another legal ethicist, Steven Lubet, disagrees: "This lacks the sort of specificity that would suggest bias."

The transcript of the Vice President's statement is not on the White House website, but is available here. See video here:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Two Worthy Items: Conservative Future, WH Press Corps

The Hudson Institute recently had a symposium on the future of conservatism. The transcript is worth a look. From Governor Mitch Daniels (R-IN):
I think we must be a friendly political movement. When some of us would get a little hotheaded, Ronald Reagan used to say, “Whoa, boys! Remember: We have no enemies, only opponents. We are all Americans after all.” And we must have deeply at heart the best interests of our fellow Americans including those who haven’t made up their mind, ... and even those who disagree with us most strongly.

In Vanity Fair, Michael Wolff describes the comprehensive approach of the White House press operation:
Courting the dinosaurs, the Obama people feed the increasingly hungry new media the scraps—and manage, mostly, to have them thankful for them. The Huffington Post has become an ideal back door for the most partisan stuff. ... Indeed, while the Times seems reserved for the more weighty exegesis, and the HuffPo for its attacks, Politico, the politics-focused site that began during the last political campaign and is now trying to build an off-election-cycle business, has become the prime outlet for Obama White House gossip—the fuel of the day’s political kibitzing, the candy by which an odd intimacy is created with both the media and the political hard core. It’s politics as a short take—politics as an item. “They use it for the quick pops. They get the headline out there. They short-circuit analysis. They keep momentum going. All day, rat-a-tat-tat,” says one pressroom-watcher. “They essentially write it themselves.”

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Superdelegate War

At The Huffington Post, Erik Ose offers an inside view of the grassroots/netroots effort to sway superdelegates to Barack Obama:
Obama supporters ... organized spontaneously, and used the power of the internet to shine light on who the superdelegates were and how ordinary citizens could contact them. None of this was encouraged by the Obama campaign, who had their own, internal strategy to woo the supers. Obama himself began personally calling superdelegates in late 2007, something Hillary agreed to do only after March 4. Although Team Obama eventually decided a little citizen lobbying might not be such a bad thing. Yet throughout the primaries, lobbying was happening fast and furiously at the grassroots and netroots levels.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 2

June 2: President Obama Discusses Health Care After Meeting with Senate Democrats

And this window between now and the August recess, I think, is going to be the make-or-break period. This is the time where we’ve got to get this done. I want to just make mention of something that I’ve talked to many of you privately about. I want to say this publicly. As we move forward on health care reform, it is not sufficient for us simply to add more people to Medicare or Medicaid, to increase the rolls, to increase coverage, in the absence of cost controls and reform.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mighty Blogging!

Shortly after I pointed out that the White House website hindered searching by arbitrarily separating "speeches," "statements" and "remarks," the president's web team reorganized the page. The day after the Epic Journey blog posted items missing from White House website, the items suddenly appeared. To drive the point home, they used capital letters:

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 1

The White House website is not a complete record of what the president has said. In a number of cases, transcripts of interviews and other public appearances are missing. To fill this gap, this site will occasionally provide links to audio, video, and text of presidential utterances that the official website has omitted.

For June 1:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Party Composition, Party Positions

Gallup reports:

Eighty-nine percent of rank-and-file Republicans are non-Hispanic whites, leaving just 5% who are Hispanic (of any race), 2% who are black, and 4% of other races.
Further, by well over a 2-to-1 ratio, whites who identify as Republicans claim a conservative, rather than a moderate or liberal, ideology (or have no opinion when asked about their ideology).Democrats have a significantly more diverse party composition. Well over a third (36%) of Democrats are nonwhite (Hispanic, or black or some other race) and the 64% of Democrats who are white are strongly skewed -- by more than a 4-to-1 ratio -- toward an ideological position that is moderate or liberal rather than conservative.

The overall pattern is no surprise. African American and Hispanic voters have favored Democrats for many years. But the data do raise the question of how Republicans can get more votes. That is, having cornered the market on conservative and religious whites, how can they appeal to others? Michael Barone explains that "moving to the center" is not a cure-all, since opinions do not exist on a simple left-right spectrum but instead have multiple dimensions.

So I think Republicans today should be less interested in moving toward the center and more interested in running against the center. Here I mean a different "center" -- not a midpoint on an opinion spectrum, but rather the centralized government institutions being created and strengthened every day. This is a center that is taking over functions fulfilled in a decentralized way by private individuals, firms and markets.

In that light, it may be instructive to read survey results from Rasmussen:

Only 21% of voters nationwide support a plan for the government to bail out General Motors as part of a structured bankruptcy plan to keep the troubled auto giant in business. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 67% are opposed to a plan that would provide GM with $50 billion in funding and give the government a 70% ownership interest in the company.

Rasmussen's methodology has come in for criticism, but these data are consistent with earlier Gallup polling.