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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Learning from the Competition

Having learned from the successes of the 2008 Obama campaign, Republicans are stepping up their efforts at Twittering and community organizing.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Obama's Standing and the CIA

Pollster John Zogby says:
"Another not so good week for the president. Augusts are generally a cruel month for presidents because no news only makes the press dig harder to find bad news. Going on vacation is a good idea because the president gets to reduce the heat. Still, there have been a number of left-right lightening rods during this administration but maybe none hotter than Attorney General Eric Holder's new appointment of a prosecutor to investigate CIA treatment of prisoners. If sores were already open, this act threatens to pour salt and vinegar on the wounds. Obama's initial message of healing rifts has been lost. But remember, and I've said this before, Obama was toast last August and won."

Zogby's reputation took a hit last year when he mistakenly predicted that Obama would win the California primary. In this case, however, other evidence supports the notion that the CIA issue may not work to the administration's benefit:

From May 11-14, 2009, Resurgent Republic conducted an extensive survey of registered voters regarding the debate over harsh interrogations of high-value al-Qaeda detainees. The survey specifically asked about criminal investigation of those involved in conducting enhanced interrogation techniques:

Congressman A says there should be a criminal investigation into the Justice Department lawyers who wrote legal memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques. We need to hold people accountable for their advice justifying what was really torture.

Congressman B says there should not be a criminal investigation into harsh interrogation techniques. That investigation would divide the country, turn policy disagreements into criminal charges, and have a chilling effect on future efforts to keep America safe. We should thank the people who kept us safe, not prosecute them.

Sixty-two percent agreed with Congressman B, including a vast majority of Independents (66-29) and an overwhelming majority of Republicans (79-18). Democrats were evenly split (47% favored Congressman A and 45% favored Congressman B).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Democratic Dominance, Republican Future

In National Review Online, I question the argument that President Obama's problems stem from GOP power: "Even at the GOP’s 2004 peak, rumors of its omnipotence were greatly exaggerated. Now they are just plain loopy. Democrats hold daunting advantages that American parties have seldom enjoyed." The article goes on to catalog some of these advantages in Congress, the media, and campaign finance.

Nevertheless, the president could help revive the GOP. In Commentary, Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson observe:
Obama’s overreach has created a measure of opportunity for Republicans. The question is whether that opportunity will be grasped. Can Republicans overcome their manifest problems and succeed in preparing themselves for a restoration of public trust, and can they do so not only by appealing to new groups but also by offering compelling answers to pressing public needs?

They offer a thought-provoking primer, urging Republicans to take a full-throated stand on national defense, develop a reform agenda, and restore their reputation as the party of community and order. And they stress the importance of demeanor:
Running through this account of domestic and national-security issues is an attitude toward public life and toward public discourse. Tone and bearing are terribly undervalued commodities in American politics. On the whole, people drawn to a party like to feel that those representing the party are both amiable and peaceable. This hardly precludes conviction and tough-mindedness when it comes to articulating policy. Democracy was designed for disagreement, and the proper role of an opposition party is to oppose. But anger, personal attack, and extreme language do nothing to expand the appeal of a party in trouble.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Two Views of the Political Climate

Mark Schmitt sees a bad future for the GOP:
As of this writing, Republican conservatives lack Voinovich’s self-awareness, and seem eager to recreate the backlash that crippled Clinton in the first year of his presidency and led to the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. That backlash required unleashing a latent conservative majority in the South and to a lesser extent the West in districts that had been voting for Democrats largely for historical reasons. Republicans cashed in on them in 1994, but they cannot do it again—most of the Democratic-held districts that Newt Gingrich was eyeing fifteen years ago are now solidly Republican. Meanwhile, the older Republican seats in the Northeast and Midwest are gone. Republicans cannot form anything close to a majority.
Charlie Cook, however, sees the storm clouds on the Democratic side:
Many veteran Congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats. A new Gallup poll that shows Congress’ job disapproval at 70 percent among independents should provide little solace to Democrats. In the same poll, Congressional approval among independents is at 22 percent, with 31 percent approving overall, and 62 percent disapproving.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 19

In a conference call with religious leaders, the president criticized what he regarded as falsehoods by those opposing his health care plans.
Now, I’ve said this before; I want to repeat it so that every member of your congregations understands this: If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan ...
You’ve heard that this is all going to mean government funding of abortion. Not true.
These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation., however, notes: "As for the House bill as it stands now, it’s a matter of fact that it would allow both a "public plan" and newly subsidized private plans to cover all abortions." The claim about keeping health plans is also questionable.

Unified v. Divided Government

In 2008, voters opted for unified Democratic control of the government. That outcome, however, guarantee the Democrats a lock on Washington for years to come. On the contrary, Gary Andres argues, divided government may loom.
[F]rom 1900-1952 unified government was the norm in Washington. During those years, the same party controlled the presidency and at least one branch of Congress 22 times, while Republicans and Democrats split power only four times, according to political scientist Morris Fiorina in his book Divided Government. But since 1952, unified party control--the conditions we face now--are more rare. Voters split control in 17 elections between 1952-2008 and opted for unified control only eight times. For the past 50 years, not too long after one party achieves unified control, Americans almost reflexively put the other in charge of at least one branch of government.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 18

Even an interview with ESPN's "NASCAR Now" touches on significant areas of public policy:
If somebody’s excited about NASCAR, that means they’re excited about cars. And we want to make sure that people know what great American cars are, and obviously it’s understandable at a time when GM has gone through some tough times, that they may need to cut back sponsorships briefly, but over the long term, if we look 5-10 years out, I think they’re going to come back stronger than ever, and I think their association with NASCAR makes a great difference.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Secret Service

The annual report of the Secret Service contains some remarkable numbers. During the 2008 race, the Service screened 2.84 million people at campaign events using Uniformed Division officers, Transportation Security Administration security officers and more than 3,500
metal detectors. Here are the number of days it protected each candidate:

Obama 517
Clinton 195
McCain 157
Biden 39
Palin 33

The introductory message says that it is the first annual report of the Secret Service. But according to an article in The New York Times on December 3, 1893, the Service issued an annual report that year.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Public Option

According to Marc Ambinder, a White House aide backed away from Secretary Selebius's backaway from the public option for health care. Actually, strategic ambiguity on the public option is nothing new. Consider this press briefing from July 13:

Q Okay. Rahm Emanuel said last week about public options, "a goal of this legislation on health care reform is to lower costs and improve competition. The goal is nonnegotiable; the path is" -- leaving out the public option. And today you have said -- you've not declared the President would veto a bill without a public option in it. Taken together, should we therefore assume, with those two comments on the record, that a public option is simply not essential, an essential component, of a finished product on health care reform?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President --

Q And if not, explain to me why not.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President, again -- don't quote Rahm, don't quote me, quote the President. I think if you look back at the transcript from the press conference we did a couple of Tuesdays ago, I think the President addresses this.

Q Well, speaking of press conferences, Friday in L'Aquila the President laid out what he called his "clear parameters." Public option was not listed among the clear parameters he mentioned.

MR. GIBBS: I'd have to go back and look at the transcript.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

President Obama and Single Payer

Conservatives have challenged President Obama's denial that he has supported a single payer health system. This exchange echoes one from the 2008 campaign. As the Huffington Post reported on January 22, 2008:
Pivoting off of one of the few policy spats in Monday night's presidential debate in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton hit Barack Obama on Tuesday for wavering on his support for a single-payer health care system. In a video put out on YouTube, the Clinton campaign contrasts portions of the debate - in which Obama says "I never said we should go and try to get single payer" - and a speech Obama gave to the AFL-CIO in 2003 - in which he says, "I happen to be a proponent of single-payer health care coverage."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Michigan Roll

The Michigan primary, which proved a headache for the Democratic Party and a hollow victory for Senator Clinton, has been a bonanza for a political consulting firm. State voters do not register by party, so it is hard to reckon the partisan preferences of individuals. Alan Grebner solved the problem by painstakingly examining who voted on which side. The Detroit Free Press reports: "His goal was to identify the party affiliation of voters who participated in the primary and sell the data to political campaigns, which prize such critical information. For about 1.43 million-- or 97% -- of the voters, he was successful."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 17

(Unrelated plug: doing an APSA session on classroom technology. You are all invited!)

The president recently appared at a VA roundtable. Curiously, although the White House provided a transcript to Stars and Stripes, it did not post the text on its website. In his comments, the president mentioned health care:

Lessons that we've learned in the VA can actually be exported to other systems out there. One specific issue, in addition to letting your readers know that if you're in the VA or TRICARE this will not force you to change systems — people should also know though that if they are eligible for VA benefits but, for example, live in an area where they might want to get a better deal because it's closer, for example, then veterans would be eligible potentially for this health care exchange where they could select from a different set of plans and still receive some help in paying for their premiums, depending on what their income levels were. So it'll actually give them more choice and more flexibility.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 16

From an August 5 interview with NBC's Chuck Todd:

OBAMA: Normally, you don't raise taxes in a recession, which is why we haven't and why we have instead cut taxes. So I guess what I would say to Scott is his economics are right, you don't raise taxes in a recession. We haven't raised taxes in a recession. We don't have a...
TODD: But you might for health care. You might for the highest -- for some of the wealthiest.
OBAMA: The -- we have not proposed a tax hike for the wealthy that would take effect in the middle of a recession. Even the proposals that have come out of Congress, which, by the way, were different from the proposals I put forward, still wouldn't kick in until after the recession was over. So he is absolutely right, the last thing you want to do is to raise taxes in the middle of a recession because that would just suck up -- take more demand out of the economy and put businesses in a further hole.

According to OMB Director Peter Orszag:

The Budget proposes allowing most of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire in 2011, as scheduled, for couples making more than $250,000 and individuals making more than $200,000 per year.

Excellent Analysis of 2008

In the Boston Review, Andrew Gelman and John Sides offer a thoughtful and clear-headed analysis of the presidential race:
Nearly one year after the election, we can significantly revise some of the now-conventional narrative threads. The Obama victory was historic, but it was not surprising; Obama shifted, but did not redraw, the electoral map; race and class mattered, but not in the way people assumed they would matter; and partisan loyalty was powerful even as partisan defections like Colin Powell’s garnered headlines. Furthermore, it is simply too soon to tell how and how much campaign tactics mattered, whether this election’s outcome constitutes a realignment in voting behavior, and whether Obama has emerged with a mandate.
This analysis is consistent with Epic Journey. The destination was obvious far in advance: the intriguing part was the journey itself.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Nixon's America, Palin's America

Suggesting that conservatives such as Sarah Palin face political doom, a Daily Kos writer observes:

When Richard Nixon won the presidency, the silent majority of Americans was white and conservative. The demographics of this country have changed, and that change is now accelerating. Voters are getting younger, more racially diverse, and less tied to organized religion.

There is some truth here, but a careful look at the data reveals a different picture.

Black and Hispanic political participation has grown over time. Even so, new Census statistics show that three-fourths of the 2008 electorate consisted of non-Hispanic whites.

In 1974 (RN's last year in office), the General Social Survey found roughly equal percentages of liberals and conservatives in the population. In 2006, conservatives outnumbered liberals by 8 points, and a Gallup survey indicates the conservative lead has grown even more. Granted, self-identification can be slippery, since the definition of terms can shift over time. And on certain social issues (e.g., gay rights), opinion has become more liberal. But in other respects, it is hard to argue that RN's America was more conservative. Despite a modest inflation rate, he faced pressure to impose wage-price controls. When he yielded -- which he later acknowledged as a mistake -- public reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Today, even President Obama is not talking about such measures.

As for religion, there has been a great deal of hype about a Newsweek cover proclaiming the end of Christian America. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, the share of Americans who say they have no religion is at a high -- but is still only 15 percent. That figure has barely increased since 2001, and self-identified atheists and agnostics make up less than 2 percent of the population. When Gallup asked respondents if they had attended services during the last seven days, 39 percent said yes. That figure was statistically the same as the 1972 figure of 40 percent.

Of couse, serious problems do confront Republicans in general, and Sarah Palin in particular. But it is a serious misreading of the data to suggest a sudden leftward shift that rules out GOP victory.