Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘2010 Elections’ Category

As I write this, Republican Scott Walker is flirting with a 60-40% landslide victory over Democrat Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin recall election. The GOP state senators up for recall are also all leading by 20%+ margins. While the counting is early yet and those margins may come down (even though the races have been called), the county-level results are showing Walker almost uniformly outperforming his 2010 showing, which was of course a very Republican year. What accounts for this overwhelming victory, which seems to defy much of the polling (although one late poll had Walker up 12) as well as the CNN exit polling?

We can discard one possible explanation right away: low turnout. In fact, the election had very high turnout, about 60% of the eligible electorate, which is normally thought of as favoring Democrats. It is possible that Republicans were more motivated than Democrats and turned out in particularly high numbers, and indeed Walker was more likely to outperform his 2010 performance in counties that were Republican to begin with. So differential turnout remains a strong possibility, but merely invites a further question: Why did pro-Walker voters turn out in greater force?

Another possibility is that Walker is quite popular and that the median voter strongly favors his collective bargaining reforms. This is likely part of the explanation, as polls show majority approval of Walker’s job performance and his collective bargaining reforms, but he still seems to be outperforming even these polls in the recall election.

The third piece of the puzzle may be that some people who oppose Walker and his reforms actually voted for him because they did not believe in using the recall process. The exit polls, flawed as they apparently were, show a strong majority in favor of the view that recall elections should be used only in cases of official misconduct. However, I remain skeptical that very many voters would actually cast a vote in favor of a candidate to which they were opposed. Ideology almost always trumps process concerns for voters. What may have happened is that the process concerns kept moderate Walker opponents home disproportionately, thus contributing to the GOP turnout advantage.

UPDATE: Despite the apparent county-level improvements over 2010 for Walker in the early counting and huge leads for the Republican senators, the final count ended up much closer than the early results. In fact, one of the Republican senators was defeated. The early precincts to report must have been overwhelmingly Republican across the state. The closer final count makes me think that the “process” issues were a lot less relevant to voters than the media spin would have it.

Read Full Post »

Roger Pilon’s op-ed in the WSJ today, “Congress Rediscovers the Constitution,” gave me an idea. According to Pilon, when representative Barney Frank was asked about the rule the newly elected Republicans in the House are considering adopting that would require all members to cite the specific passage in the Constitution authorizing any proposed legislation, Congressman Frank said, “It’s an air kiss they’re blowing to the tea party.”

This initially struck me as odd, since Congressman Frank, like all other members of the House, swears an oath before taking office. Here is this “Oath of Office“:

“I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

It seems odd that a person would make such a statement in an official and public ceremony, and then later mock and cavalierly dismiss the suggestion that he be held to it. It causes me to take a closer look at the oath itself. Despite its brevity, it is remarkably complete and substantive. 

Here are a few things I notice about the Oath:

1. It presumes something called the “Constitution of the United States” (hereafter “Constitution”) exists. One cannot support or defend something that does not exist.

2. It implies that the Constitution has substantive content, that the person speaking knows it has content, and that the person speaking understands (or believes he understands) its content. One cannot bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution (or to anything else) unless one believes one knows what the thing in question is and means.

3. It implies that one is declaring one’s intentions honestly. Taking the oath freely, without mental reservations, and without any purpose to deceive eliminate any relevant sense in which one might utter these words but not really mean them. (I use relevant here because one might ask, for example, about a person in a play who was merely repeating assigned lines, or about a person who was repeating—as, say, a reporter might—what someone else swore. True enough, the words alone are necessary but not sufficient; they must also be uttered in the proper context with the proper public understanding of what is going on.)

4. It implies that one understands and believes one will be punished if one does not fulfill one’s oath. I think “So help me God” indeed implies that one (a) believes in God, (b) believes God is a witness to one’s oath, and (c) believes God will hold one accountable for whether one fulfills one’s oath or not. My interpretation of that clause raises, however, the question of whether an atheist or agnostic can honestly take this oath of office. Let us suppose an atheist or agnostic takes this oath. What does it mean? It means either (a) this person believes there is some external and objective moral force to the words he is uttering, and “God” is a proxy representing this moral force; or it means (b) that the person is taking the oath disingenuously. But (b) is already eliminated by #3 above. And I think (a) would suffice for the purposes of the oath. Thus this short declaration implies that its utterer invites and welcomes punishment if he fails, through his own fault and decision, to fulfill his now voluntarily incurred obligations.

That oath of office, then, is quite a carefully constructed argument, binding its utterer in clear, powerful, comprehensible language. The moral: If you do not intend each and every part of it, and do not invite and welcome punishment for failure to uphold it, do not take it!

Back to Congressman Frank for a moment: Perhaps he is right that this new proposal by the Republicans is a mere “air kiss” to the tea party, a way of thanking them for helping to elect many of the tea party Republicans. It is certainly true that there has been a lot of let’s-pretend-we-didn’t-actually-state-that-oath going around Washington, in both parties. And it’s easy to see why: it gives such wonderfully decadent license.

In light of Congressman Frank’s implied criticism, however—namely, that the Republicans are offering this new proposal only for political reasons—perhaps we might consider adding the following sentence, just before “So help me God”: “Allegiance to parties or to political agendas does not invalidate my obligations under this oath.”

Read Full Post »

[Author's note: Although I wrote it before the election, I embargoed this essay until today, lest anyone think I was advocating for a political party or for an electoral victory. The sentiments expressed below are unrelated to any partisan agenda.]

Billionaire businessmen and philanthropists Charles and David Koch have come in for a lot of criticism lately, and in all the best places: among others, in The New York Times (both Paul Krugman and Frank Rich), in New York Magazine, and in an improbably long piece in the The New Yorker. The charges in all the accounts are the same. The Kochs are “covert” bankrollers of the Tea Party, shadowy “tycoons” funding a relentless campaign to discredit President Obama and his policies, and, more generally, financial supporters of numerous initiatives whose real goals are to help them line their pockets—all either in secret or behind a false mask of charity and patriotic rhetoric. According to critics, when the Kochs talk about “individual liberty” and “free markets,” what they really mean is “get the government off our backs so we can make even more money.” And people supported by the Kochs who espouse similar notions are just puppets pulled by the strings of the Kochs’ billions.

As someone whose work has sometimes been supported by the Koch Foundation, the criticisms directed at the Kochs are thus also directed at me, as they are at the other professors, students, academic institutions, charitable organizations, and others that have benefitted from the Kochs’ giving over the years. If the Kochs really are this bad, however, am I required, in good conscience, to abjure any and all connection to them?

Luckily I don’t have to answer that question: The charges are in almost all cases either false or grossly misleading. They may fit a narrative typical of a Hollywood movie, where evil rich businessmen connive to manipulate others for their own benefit, but conspiracy theories like those rarely match reality. The Kochs themselves have responded to the various allegations, but there are at least two clear reasons why the allegations must be either false or misleading.

The first relates to the Tea Party movement. Attending a Tea Party rally or listening to people sympathetic to the movement, one cannot help but be struck not just by how articulate they are, but how genuine. They mean what they say, and conviction like that simply cannot be bought. By contrast, paying people to claim they believe things that they really don’t is a rather dicey affair: It is almost always transparent, and mercenary offers like that appeal to only a small number of people in any case. But the Tea Party phenomenon is astonishing precisely because it is not orchestrated from the top. Indeed, its decentralized, bottom-up character is one of the keys to its success. The hundreds of thousands of people who have attended rallies nationwide have done so because they have sincere beliefs on which they decided to act.

The second reason that charges against the Kochs are false or misleading relates to their alleged influence in higher education. The Kochs have given millions of dollars over several decades supporting students, professors, academic institutions, and nonprofits that are either sympathetic to their worldview or at least willing to give it a fair hearing. Yet what proportion of professors today subscribe to the Kochs’ view? Less than one-tenth; probably more like one in twenty. How could this be, if the clandestine reach of the “Kochtopus” is so far and wide?

Consider what they are up against. According to the New Yorker article, Charles and David Koch “have given over one hundred million dollars to right-wing causes” since 1980. That sounds like a lot, but it averages only about $3.5 million per year. Generously adjusting for inflation, assume it is the equivalent today of even $10 million per year. That is enough to pay the full salary and benefits of perhaps seventy professors in the country per year. That would be seventy out of some 1.7 million, or a vanishingly small .004%.

Considering, moreover, the substantial predominance of left-leaning political and economic worldviews on today’s campuses, one begins to see why the money the Kochs are donating hardly warrants the hyperventilating rhetoric it is receiving. For better or worse, theirs is a small minority view on college and university campuses, and the money they give is dwarfed by the resources that left-leaning faculty, centers, programs, and institutions regularly devote to discrediting positions like theirs and to advocating contrary views.

But putting aside money and numbers, what of the Kochs’ ideas themselves? The Kochs support limited government, free markets, protections of private property, individual liberty, and peace. This is approximately the political-economic vision of America’s founders. Perhaps that is a “radical” view in the minds of an average New York Times columnist, but it still resonates with many Americans who understand that that vision has enabled more freedom and prosperity for the average person than any other system of political economy ever tried. It is moreover an inspiring moral vision: human beings as unique and possessing a dignity that requires both individual freedom and personal responsibility, and a system of social institutions that leads to prosperity and peace.

These are the ideas that are so ominous and threatening?

Charles and David Koch are those rare specimens who take their convictions seriously enough to put their own money where their mouths are. One might in the end disagree with their vision, but for standing up for what they believe, and for being willing to shoulder their part of the burden of maintaining a free society, I say they should be not vilified but applauded.

Read Full Post »

David Boaz at Cato discusses the fact that the Tea Party phenomenon—and it is a phenomenon—continues to “freak out” commentators on the Left. He writes (preserving his links and italics):

With a few rare exceptions like [Jonathan] Rauch and John Judis, non-conservative intellectuals are just freaked out by a mass movement against big government. Jill Lepore, Sean Wilentz, E. J. Dionne, Frank Rich — they just can’t imagine that real middle-class Americans could honestly oppose President Obama’s tax-and-spend agenda and march in the streets against it — just like, you know, they did against the war and stuff. It’s got to be racism, billionaires, extreme libertarianism, extreme authoritarianism, the John Birch Society, something. And so they tell the president that the Tea Party is reminiscent of “the Know-Nothings and Father Coughlin.” Why oh why can’t we have better historians?

As I have had occasion to remark in the past, I don’t think that the Tea Party’s motivations are all that mysterious. Vast and expanding government debt to finance vast and expanding government intrusion into people’s lives: that is pretty much it. So I share Boaz’s bemusement at commentators’ professed inability to comprehend.

One thing I think Boaz might be missing, however, is the possibility that these commentators, or at least some of them, might perfectly well understand what motivates the Tea Partiers—which is precisely why they accuse them instead of uncontrolled and irrational anger, racism, inhumanity toward others, and assorted other moral vices.

Expanding spending and centralized control are necessary parts of and deeply integrated into their political worldviews. They are willing to engage opposition on this or that policy, on this or that spending level increase; but a generalized opposition to debt and control is something that questions their premises, and so something they are far less willing to entertain. Premises are also far more difficult to justify, especially to skeptics. Much easier, then, to demonize one’s opposition by suggesting their views have roots in despicable motives.

Perhaps some of the commentators to whom Boaz links are genuinely flummoxed by the Tea Party phenomenon. But I think it is more likely that they are surprised by its strength and durability, have recognized the size of its threat to what they hold dear, and thus have decided to discredit it as best they can.

Time will tell whether the whether their strategy will work. Indeed, we should know in roughly fourteen days, give or take.

Read Full Post »

There is an excellent and quite revealing interview with President Obama (conducted by Jann Wenner) in the October 15 edition of Rolling Stone. Several things are clear. First, President Obama views his accomplishments in the first two years quite positively:

When I talk to Democrats around the country, I tell them, “Guys, wake up here. We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.” I came in and had to prevent a Great Depression, restore the financial system so that it functions, and manage two wars. In the midst of all that, I ended one of those wars, at least in terms of combat operations. We passed historic health care legislation, historic financial regulatory reform and a huge number of legislative victories that people don’t even notice. We wrestled away billions of dollars of profit that were going to the banks and middlemen through the student-loan program, and now we have tens of billions of dollars that are going directly to students to help them pay for college. We expanded national service more than we ever have before.

The Recovery Act alone represented the largest investment in research and development in our history, the largest investment in infrastructure since Dwight Eisenhower, the largest investment in education — and that was combined, by the way, with the kind of education reform that we hadn’t seen in this country in 30 years — and the largest investment in clean energy in our history.

You look at all this, and you say, “Folks, that’s what you elected me to do.” I keep in my pocket a checklist of the promises I made during the campaign, and here I am, halfway through my first term, and we’ve probably accomplished 70 percent of the things that we said we were going to do — and by the way, I’ve got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum. So I think that it is very important for Democrats to take pride in what we’ve accomplished.

Second, he views things with a streak of pragmatism and is disinclined to follow the lead of many of his former disciples and make the perfect the enemy of the good:

What is true, and this is part of what can frustrate folks, is that over the past 20 months, we made a series of decisions that were focused on governance, and sometimes there was a conflict between governance and politics. So there were some areas where we could have picked a fight with Republicans that might have gotten our base feeling good, but would have resulted in us not getting legislation done.

I could have had a knock-down, drag-out fight on the public option that might have energized you and The Huffington Post, and we would not have health care legislation now. I could have taken certain positions on aspects of the financial regulatory bill, where we got 90 percent of what we set out to get, and I could have held out for that last 10 percent, and we wouldn’t have a bill. You’ve got to make a set of decisions in terms of “What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to just keep everybody ginned up for the next election, or at some point do you try to win elections because you’re actually trying to govern?” I made a decision early on in my presidency that if I had an opportunity to do things that would make a difference for years to come, I’m going to go ahead and take it.

Third, his post-partisan yearnings aside,  he has nothing positive to say of the GOP.

It “has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place.”

The Republicans assumed a strategy of “sitting on the sidelines, trying to gum up the works, based on the assumption that given the scope and size of the recovery, the economy probably wouldn’t be very good, even in 2010, and that they were better off being able to assign the blame to us than work with us to try to solve the problem.”

This strategy ( “the unprecedented obstruction”) “ sent a message to the public that ‘Gosh, Obama said he was going to come in and change Washington, and it’s exactly the same, it’s more contentious than ever.’ … it created an atmosphere in which a public that is already very skeptical of government, but was maybe feeling hopeful right after my election, felt deflated and sort of felt, “We’re just seeing more of the same.”

Fourth, the President recognizes the diversity of the Tea Party activists but believes they are being used by K street.

It is an “amalgam” of “sincere libertarians,” social conservatives, people who are “troubled by what they saw as a series of instances in which the middle-class and working-class people have been abused or hurt by special interests and Washington”  and “some aspects of the Tea Party that are a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president.”

“There’s no doubt that the infrastructure and the financing of the Tea Party come from some very traditional, very powerful, special-interest lobbies. …financed by very conservative industries and forces that are opposed to enforcement of environmental laws, that are opposed to an energy policy that would be different than the fossil-fuel-based approach we’ve been taking, that don’t believe in regulations that protect workers from safety violations in the workplace, that want to make sure that we are not regulating the financial industries in ways that we have.”

Finally, he is quite frustrated with the Progressive base that put him into office, particularly in anticipation of what is likely to be a very difficult midterm election:

“It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. …The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible….

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that’s what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we’ve got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.

If you’re serious, now’s exactly the time that people have to step up.”

This is an interesting interview and I strongly recommend it to readers of Pileus. It is very clear that “hope and change” and the “post-partisan” aspirations that were so central to the 2008 campaign have collided with political reality. It is also quite clear that much of this has taken Mr. Obama by surprise.

Outside of his most ardent supporters (now his critics), he may have been the only one who would have found this surprising.

Read Full Post »

Like many other people, I was underwhelmed by the recently released Republican “Pledge to America.” Longwinded, wishy-washy, and mostly tinkering on the edges.

I am not a member of the Republican Party (or any other party), and I am indeed one of those who fails to much difference of substance between the two major parties—at least on fiscal issues. There are differences on social issues, but, as I have argued before, those issues pale in importance to the fiscal reckoning that looms before us.

I am not alone in thinking this. In fact, I believe this cluster of fiscal concerns constitutes the core of what animates the Tea Party. It is what explains why they oppose some candidates, including some Republicans, and why they favor others, including some independents. Their surging influence gives me some hope that we might finally address this issue, and it is why I welcome their contribution.

But I am not here to defend the Tea Party qua party either. I want us to get our fiscal house in order—now. To that end, I humbly offer what I believe would be a winning, and indeed inspiring, agenda for an ambitious group of politicians.

Call it “The Principles of American Renewal”:

1. No new taxes of any kind.

2. No new spending of any kind.

3. An immediate, across-the-board 5% reduction in the budgets of every department, agency, bureau, institute, and program currently operated under the auspices of the federal government. That includes both “discretionary” spending and “mandatory” spending budget items.

4. Do the same next year, and then freeze all spending levels there unless a super-majority of both houses of Congress approves otherwise.

That’s it. It’s not much, but I think it has considerable virtues.

First, it does not require us to argue about which agencies, offices, etc. should be cut and which should not—cut them all, with proportionate equality.

Second, no one can claim, at least not credibly, that there is not at least 9.75% of fat (what two years of 5% cuts amount to) to cut in every single line of budget in the federal government.

The 2010 federal budget (October 2009–September 2010) entails spending $3.55 trillion dollars. So this policy would entail a 2011 budget of approximately $3.37 trillion, and a 2012 budget of approximately $3.20 trillion—a savings, after two years, of some $350 billion, bringing federal spending down to what it was all the way back in . . . 2008. Is anyone willing to claim that the federal government was just not spending enough in 2008?

Third, if Daniel Mitchell is correct (H/T Roger Ream), a policy like this would rapidly balance the annual budget, and it would be a good first step toward addressing our longer-term national debt.

Fourth, there are many, many households and business who have had to make similar adjustments. Many of them indeed have gone completely under and wish they only had to make a 9.75% adjustment over two years. So this pledge could enable its supporters to claim that they understand our economic difficulties and are willing to do their part.

There would be some obstacles, of course. This policy would require reform in some entitlement regulations, and special-interest groups would complain about their funding decreasing. But politicians could insulate themselves from the worst of the complaints by claiming, truthfully, that their hands are tied by the need for across-the-board reductions; no one is being singled out for special treatment.

A pledge to support a program like that, backed up with, perhaps, a promise to resign if a candidate voted otherwise, would, I preduct, be a winning one. If enough people got elected on it, it might also actually do some good in Washington, making it a win for the rest of us as well.

Read Full Post »

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, under a tough re-election challenge from Republican Sharron Angle, is running ads slamming Angle for opposing health insurance mandates. Angle was one of two state senators to vote against mandated coverage of colonoscopies and correctly argued that these mandates drive up costs for everyone. Angle is right on the economics, but this is a hard one to explain to voters. Let’s hope a courageous adherence to principle wins the day, but I’m not holding my breath.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,015 other followers

%d bloggers like this: