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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.

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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.”

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[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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We have had some discussion on the curious case of Christine O’Donnell (here), and on the apparently dwindling advantage Republicans are enjoying over Democrats as we transition from primaries to the general election (here).

For the record, I am not a member of any political party. I am, moreover, repelled by arguments that people should vote for a party’s candidate because . . . he is the party’s candidate. I have no interest serving any party simply for the sake of serving the party. I want the right principles advanced, whoever, and from what party soever, the person should come who supports those principles.

I think George Washington was right when he said, in his 1796 Farewell Address, that political parties “are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” He went on to argue:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

What Washington called “the spirit of party” was, he argued, “inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind”—namely, the tribal passion to separate the world into “we” vs. “they,” into rival and competing groups. This spirit can then easily become a desire to see “our side” win, regardless of whether our side is better than “their side” and regardless of the issues at stake or the facts of the matter.

I think this spirit of party is behind the attacks on O’Donnell from Republicans. Karl Rove is on a one-man wrecking-ball mission, it seems, to destroy her candidacy (here are more videos than you’ll be able to stomach of him attacking her), and Charles Krauthammer has joined the fray. Rove beats the drum on her dabbling in witchcraft and on “financial questions” in her past, but I think that is blowing smoke. What really angers him is that he thinks she won’t win; if she doesn’t, it would leave one more seat in the Democrats’ hands. Krauthammer has the same objection: What O’Donnell’s supporters are missing is “the point that what’s at stake here is control of the Senate.”

Right. We want our guys to be in control, not the other team’s guys. Perhaps Rove or Krauthammer would like to explain what exactly their party did during the eight years of its occupancy in the White House that should endear itself to citizens concerned about our most pressing issues now? I think there are two huge, looming, and ominous issues facing the country over the next several years, issues that dwarf all the others: (1) our spiraling-out-of-control fiscal situation, at the federal, state, and local levels; and (2) growing geopolitical instability and aggression.

Perhaps Republicans, or some of them at any rate, have awakened to the first issue, but, with a few exceptions, establishment Republicans’ recent conversion to the religion of fiscal conservatism does not inspire confidence. Democrats, for their part, seem willing to pretend the first issue doesn’t exist. And neither party is offering a coherent and plausible plan to deal with the second issue.

One reason the Tea Party has been able to exercise such astonishing influence is precisely that it is not beholden to any party. They want fiscal conservatives who will commit to the principle of constitutionally limited government. As they have now shown, they are perfectly happy to campaign against Republicans who are unwilling to discipline themselves according to that principle.

In this I think the members of the Tea Party are heeding Washington’s counsel. Washington predicted that parties could come to see their own survival and interests as being more important than the interests of the constituents or country they served. When that happens, Washington, argued, tyranny will result. Whatever else is true of the unorganized, decentralized, raucous, and motley Tea Party supporters, they seem to understand the dangers of the spirit of party, and they are moving to oppose it.

For that, I think they should be applauded, not vilified.

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Tomorrow my current and future states of residence are holding primaries. In New York the Republican gubernatorial contest has generated quite a lot of controversy, even though the nominee is likely to lose to Andrew Cuomo, while I’ve heard almost nothing about the special senatorial contest, even though that nominee has a fair shot at unseating Kirsten Gillibrand. (There’s also a regular senatorial election that incumbent Chuck Schumer is a shoo-in to win, but the special election for the other seat should be much closer.) The top two Republican candidates for governor are downstate politician Rick Lazio, who lost to Hillary Clinton a few years ago, and Western New York developer Carl Paladino, who has tried to assume the “Tea Party” label. Paladino, however, is no libertarian, arguing for the use of eminent domain to stop the Park 51 mosque and for state-provided (voluntary) collective housing for welfare recipients. Recently he has been cosying up to the political establishment, causing even Tea Party types to despair of him. The Libertarians will run a candidate in the general election. Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo has made some noises about budget and labor law reform, but my default rule is always to vote against attorneys general. In the Republican senate campaign, economist David Malpass seems like the least bad option from a libertarian point of view.

(more…)

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Hope and (Party) Change?

There has been more than enough bad news for Democrats lately. The other day, a new Gallup poll gave Republicans a historical 10 point lead over Democrats in the generic ballot for Congress.

Today Gallup released more dire news. “Americans saying the Republicans in Congress would do a better job than the Democrats in Congress of handling seven of nine key election issues. The parties are essentially tied on healthcare, with the environment being the lone Democratic strength.”

After spending more than a year (and a fair amount of political capital) on health care (remember the “big f’ing deal,” to quote the vice president), the Democrats’ lead on the issue is 44 to 43 percent.

Those of us who remember the circumstances surrounding entry into Iraq, might find it interesting that the GOP holds a thundering lead over Dems (55 to 33 percent) on the issue of terrorism.  Those of us who remember the dramatic post-2000 expansion of federal spending and the introduction of Medicare Part D might find it odd that the GOP also leads on the issue of controlling spending (50 to 35 percent).

Do voters suffer from amnesia or is the recession-induced hatred of incumbents and the controlling party so great that they are hoping that this time will be different?

Unless there has been something of a conversion experience in the past few years, can we reasonably expect the GOP to exhibit a level of responsibility and a fidelity to foundational principles that was sorely lacking when they held the reigns of power?

If the November midterms go the GOP’s way and there has not been some serious reflection on the mistakes of the past, my guess is that many of these numbers will quickly flip by 2012.

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Polling Update

A new Gallup poll has Republicans up 5 percentage points in the national congressional poll (generic ballot). The RealClearPolitics average has the Republicans at +6. As Sean Trende points out, these polls historically underestimate actual Republican performance. If the Republicans actually win by about 10 percentage points in the national vote, we would expect a seat swing in the House of about 80, putting the GOP up just as big in the House as the Dems are now.

Sven Wilson on the joys of gridlock.

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In politics, it’s rare that one gets to say “I told you so” quite this quickly. So forgive my being a little smug after yesterday’s post about how the left is underestimating Rand Paul, when a Rasmussen poll has come out today showing Paul up 25 points over his general election opponent.

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Rand Paul’s victory in the Kentucky Senate primary has befuddled and deranged much of the left. Matt Yglesias calls Paul a “lunatic,” while the Daily Caller reports on Democratic attempts to portray him as “out-of-touch, elitist, and selfish.” Ed Kilgore says Paul’s “radicalism,” identified by his association with the Tea Party and calls for “massive budget cuts,” is “politically perilous.” (What this misses is that ordinary voters don’t see the Tea Party as being a partisan Republican or far-right phenomenon, and Paul’s trumpeting of that connection is unlikely to hurt him among swing voters. Furthermore, polls show strong evidence that voters want large cuts to government spending, if necessary to close the deficit. There’s nothing in the rulebook that says Paul has to specify what he wants to cut.)

The trouble is that Paul is not a carbon-copy right-winger, and he left himself enough room, if not to move to the center in the traditional sense, at least to distance himself strongly from Bush-era Republicanism. Given that swing voters are not all that politically knowledgeable, for the most part, and interpret ideological cues rather straightforwardly, Paul should be able to create constructive ambiguity about his position on the left-right ideological spectrum.

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Over at fivethirtyeight, Ed Kilgore pooh-poohs the notion that Rand Paul’s expected victory in today’s Republican U.S. Senate primary in Kentucky represents an anti-incumbent, insurgent mood among voters:

Kentucky has a closed primary system with a very early cutoff date for registration changes, so independents are quite literally not going to be a factor in Paul’s win or in the Democratic results, for that matter. Furthermore, there’s no incumbent in the race, and the actual incumbent, Jim Bunning, has endorsed Paul. . .  Paul’s status as the candidate of “movement conservative” Republicans rather than tea-party independents or self-conscious libertarians, is buttressed by the endorsements he received from Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint and (in a reversal of an earlier Grayson endorsement) James Dobson.

What this analysis ignores is two facts. First, the polls show Paul with a lead outside the margin of error against both Democratic candidates, so his popularity is not just evidence of partisan polarization. Second, the endorsements from establishment figures have come very late in the game, after Paul had already built up his polling lead. Going back to December, Paul’s lead over Grayson has always been in the double digits.

It’s true that Paul has won over movement conservatives, including Internet activists like RedState.com, but his message has been about as libertarian as any Kentucky politician could ever afford to be: opposing the stimulus, opposing TARP, opposing Obamacare, and supporting reductions in spending to eliminate the deficit, while making noises about “strong national defense,” saying the Iraq War was a mistake, and arguing for a “more local approach to drugs.”

The fact that Paul’s message is popular does not mean that it’s not anti-establishment.

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While my fellow bloggers explore the philosophical foundations of libertarianism, let me turn to matters more

Richard Blumenthal, Warrior

pedestrian: elections. Having been a resident of the nutmeg state for the past two decades, Richard Blumenthal has been as constant and as exciting a presence as steamed cheeseburgers (believe it or not, they do that in some parts of Connecticut).

With Senator Chris Dodd’s retirement from the Senate, it appeared that Attorney General Blumenthal would have a cakewalk as the next Democratic Senator from Connecticut.

Today’s New York Times reports that Blumenthal has misrepresented his Vietnam era service. Here is one of many examples. When he proclaimed: “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” he meant the days he served in the Marine Reserves where he “conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive.”

The Times reports that Blumenthal responded to the findings by saying that he lied “misspoke” on this and other occasions. “My intention has always been to be completely clear and accurate and straightforward, out of respect to the veterans who served in Vietnam.”

Will any of this matter? Only time will tell. The capacity to “misspeak” and dissemble appears to be a prerequisite for service in Washington (note to self: only Republicans routinely lie).  If Blumenthal survives the next few days and reports for duty in the next Congress, he will already have proven that he has the skills necessary to frankly address the looming entitlement crisis and many other problems that will challenge policymakers of both parties in decades to come.

Mike Allen and Alexander Burns (Politico) have an interesting piece linking the revelations to the campaign of World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder Linda McMahon, who hopes to be the Republican nominee in the Senate race.

A candidate who misleads the public about his days in Vietnam versus a candidate who made untold millions from staging fake wrestling matches.  Either would undoubtedly have the skill set necessary for the twenty-first century Senate.

God Save the Republic

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