Archive for January, 2010

Obama Hits His Stride

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I didn’t have the time to do a full State of the Union reaction post, though I wanted to but suffice it to say, I think it was one of the most effective speeches Obama has ever given. It wasn’t the most inspirational, nor did it have the most soaring rhetoric, but that’s not really what the situation called for. Obama needed to project confidence and strength, both to the nation and to Congress, and I thought he did that very well. The speech ran a bit long and contained the requisite laundry list of proposals, but interspersed within were digs at Republicans, both procedural and substantive. He dinged them on the filibuster and climate change denialism. He laughed, he poked fun, he was light and jovial throughout. And more importantly, you could visibly feel the spirits of Congressional Democrats lifting. By about the mid-point of the speech they were smiling, laughing, tossing amused glances at uncomfortable Republicans. As I saw someone (Chait maybe?) remark, Pelosi and Reid should have gaveled their chambers into session after the speech and passed the entire agenda right then; it certainly looked like they might have had the votes for it.

But that pales in comparison to what Obama did today. Going to House Republicans at their retreat in Baltimore, Obama fielded questions from the most vehement of his opposition, the House Republican caucus, and he ran circles around them. One thing I don’t think conservatives realize is what talk radio has done to their attachment with reality. You can toss something around the echo chamber, unchallenged, and it starts to sound pretty good. When someone a lot smarter than you is handling the nonsense in real time, to your face, well, that makes you look quite a bit dumber (and it doesn’t help that House Republicans are really dumb to begin with). When you couple this with the address Wednesday night, it’s been a very good couple of days for the White House. They’re clearly back on top of the political world, at least for now.

What does it mean on a substantive level? It’s hard to say, but something has clearly had an impact on Congressional Democrats. Nancy Pelosi is absolutely determined to pass healthcare reform, and even Kent Conrad and Ben Nelson are holding out the possibility of going to reconcilliation to pass a bill.  A lot of Democrats clearly understand that they have to do healthcare reform, for political, policy, and moral reasons, and the momentum seems to be back, at least somewhat. Is that because of the White House? Maybe not, but something has lit a fire under very key players in the caucus to make this happen.

There’s hope yet.

Has Everyone Calmed Down Yet?

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

So it turns out I was wrong, and Martha Coakley, aka the Worst Candidate Ever, actually did manage to lose an election in Massachusetts to a right-wing Republican. And, apparently, among the many other attributes the new Senator-elect from Massachusetts possesses, he has the ability to make the collective internets lose its fucking mind. Or maybe that’s Washington Democrats, who are apparently suddenly wavy on healthcare reform.

Well far be it from me to be a party pooper, but it does seem worth pointing out that, for all the freakout, very little is actually different today than it was last Monday. The House and the Senate can come to an agreement on how to move forward together? Well the fact that Republicans can filibuster anything they want doesn’t help matters, but they couldn’t really figure much out regarding collective action this time last week either. House progressives don’t like the Senate bill and don’t want to vote for it? That might be a problem, but they didn’t like the Senate bill Tuesday morning either.

I tend to agree with the broad consensus that the House and Senate should pass a reconcilliation bill amending the Senate bill in agreeable ways, and f course ways that are possible through reconcilliation, after which the House should vote to pass the Senate bill. I also agree that if the two chambers can’t work out an agreement that can get enough Democratic votes in the useless upper chamber, that the House ought to go ahead and pass the Senate bill anyway. Yeah they’ll hate it, but it’s still better than the status quo, and if that’s the best that can be done, then that’s what you do. I also sympathize with the House where it comes to negotiating with the Senate; the filibuster gives the Senate a huge upper hand in negotiations, and makes a mockery of the notion of equal chambers. But it is what it is, for now anyway, and the House has to put aside its pride and do what’s best for the people. There will be a time to take on the Senate, but this is not it.

Outside of that, would everyone please calm down? It’s been 4 days since Brown won. That the House hasn’t passed something yet, or that the House and the Senate haven’t quite come to an agreement, isn’t that worrying. The Senate is the hard part, but they’ve already cleared their procedural ball. If 256 House Democrats, including the progressive caucus, put the bullet in healthcare reform, well, we’ve got bigger problems I guess.

Massachusetts

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

by Brien Jackson

I haven’t had much to say about the race for Ted Kennedy’s seat, because, frankly, I haven’t really known what to make of it. I wasn’t a big fan of Coakley’s originally; beyond the fact that she has a somewhat troubling record as a prosecutor, she was also easily identifiable as a poor campaigner, and also lacks significant legislative appearance, or any history with any major national issues she’ll be tasked with making policy on. Coakley’s nomination is a good example of why I’m not a huge fan of special elections; hasitly throwin together a contest with little time for candidates to prepare for it and, especially, campaign, with very few voters actively paying attention to what’s going on almost always produces a contest where the candidate with the highest initial name recognition wins, especially in the primary. Especially where Senate seats are concerned that seems like a problem to me.

But do I think Coakley might actually lose this race? Well, I guess anything is possible, but I’m still pretty suspicious. Enthusiasm gap or not, Massachusetts is still an overwhelmingly Democratic state. It’s so Democratic, it doesn’t have a single Republican in its entire Congressional delegation. And healthcare reform is pretty broadly popular there, which makes Brown’s decision to campaign almost exclusively around blocking healthcare reform somewhat odd. And now, Nate Silver confirms a suspicion I’ve had for awhile, that pollsters generally understate a party’s advantage in states that overwhelmingly favor them.

Anything can happen in a special election, of course. Still, I think at the end of the day, Massachusetts is going to remain as blue as it has been, and I don’t think the teabaggers are going to score a major win in one of the country’s most liberal states.

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Palin’s Still a Longshot, And Nate Silver is Overrated

Friday, January 8th, 2010

by Brien Jackson

Nate Silver writes:

I find this truly remarkable: in a National Journal survey of 109 Republican “party leaders, political professionals and pundits”, not a single one deemed Sarah Palin to be the most likely Republican nominee.

I’ve written extensive commentary about how I think Palin’s chances are in fact pretty decent. I’d probably call her the “favorite”, although “favorite” in this context might mean having a 25-30 percent chance of winning.[…]

But back to the point I made in November — there’s going to come a time, probably in July 2011 or so, where the knives are really drawn on Palin and Republican pundits, strategists and candidates start saying in public some of the things they’ve been thinking in private. And that in all likelihood will play very well for her. Although the Establishment’s concerns about Palin’s viability as a general election candidate are well grounded, mostly they’re just terrified of her because she doesn’t need them.

This largely misses the point. The problem with having no “establishment” support for your candidacy is that the establishment contains pretty much everyone with any idea how to run a campaign. Particularly the national campaign it takes to compete in a Presidential primary. We’ve spent a lot of time mocking Palin’s current staff, and some of the rather comical missteps they’ve made, and that’s just in booking speaking events. How well is she going to manage a year’s worth of on the ground campaigning in multiple states/regions if the same people she has arond her now are in charge of managing things? Moreover, the Clinton campaign proved that even professional operatives can be bumbling idiots, how well is a group of amateur bumbling idiots likely to do? And popularity alone, especially popularity within a narrow subset of the electorate, isn’t a substitute for a functioning campaign. Ask Fred Thompson.

But a larger point that needs to be made here, at the risk of sounding like a politco version of Mike Silva, is that Nate Silver actually doesn’t seem to understand that much about politics. He understands statisitcs and polling, to be sure, but that only takes you so far. His schtick, basically, is built on taking polling data and plugging it into a computer model that runs a lot of times, which tells you the most likely outcome. And that’s great, but it’s also a lot of work that really doesn’t add much value to the task of predicting election outcomes. I didn’t have a sophisticated compter program running thousands of scenarios, but I still managed to come pretty close to the ultimate outcome of the 2008 cycle; missing only Missouri in the Presidential contest, correctly predicting every Senate and Gubernatorial race, and missing by 6 seats in the House. Which isn’t (totally) to toot my own horn, so much as it is to point out that sometimes there’s a level of obviousness involved in last second pick ’ems, and you don’t really need computer simulations to figure this stuff out, particularly when the election isn’t very close. Perhaps Silver’s computers add value in an unusually close contest, but those are, well, unusual.

There’s nothing wrong with Silver’s blogging mind you, but he’s much better when he’s analyzing polling and numbers, as opposed to trying to analyze non-statistical aspects of politics. Which isn’t to say he can’t toss his two cents out by any means, but I wish more “A-Listers” would keep that in mind a bit when reading him. I mean, Silver’s models still give Democrats a better shot to retain Blanche Lincoln’s Senate seat in Arkansas than Joe Biden’s old seat in Delaware. Perception and conventional wisdom can often prove to be wrong, and polling can, over time, show where it’s wrong, but that has to pass the smell test too, especially this far out of an election, with little to no actual campaigning having occured, and with very little data to work with.

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Dorgan, Dodd, to Retire

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

The big political news of the day is that both Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Chris Dodd of Connecticut will retire rather than seek another term. Dodd, of course, had been embroiled in a a scandal involving a sweetheart mortage deal from Countrywide that had tanked his poll numbers, with even libertarian kook Peter Schiff polling ahead of him head-to-head recently. Dorgan, however, was pretty well liked, had no major challenger yet, and probably would have retained the seat, although it might have been a tough contest. The obvious narrative is going to be that this spells trouble for the Democrats in 2010, but I’m not sure that’s a logical conclusion. For one thing, there are 6 Republicans who won’t be seeking re-election. For another, while Dorgan’s announcement guarantees they’ll lose the seat, Dodd’s pretty nearly guarantees they’ll hold his, which they probably would have lost if he sought re-election. So it’s basically a wash, but that is a wash that results in a net loss of one seat for Senate Democrats. Still, looking over the map for 2010, I think the field is pretty well set for a more or less even contest, and I think either party is going to gain one or two seats. Which is to say, don’t sleep on the possibility Democrats gain seats in the Senate.

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