The Four Corners

Friday, May 16, 2003

Electability 101 After getting a number of responses on yesterday's post on Dean vs. the DLC, I feel the need to respond and explain why I think Dean's current strategy is a losing one (if not in the primaries, then the general).

  1. Iraq: Now people say, the war issue will go away, the war is over right? Well, yes and no-- the battles have stopped but the messy part has just begun (and surprise! Bush is pulling an Afghanistan again) And as much as Dean is trying to change the subject-- by attacking Gephardt's health care plan (as the DLC did too) instead of attacking Kerry's "yes, but" Iraq stance-- Bush et al, if he faces him, won't let it drop. They are going to play that quote and make it out to be that he is questioning his support of the troops, his dislike of Saddam, etc. Even though Dean has some valid points here, he is couching them in a World Bank/IMF protester language and then trying to backtrack with his 60-days or else ultimatum.

  2. Plus, a guy whose only foreign policy experience is defending his state against Canada and meeting with Israeli PM Sharon is not going inspire confidence in a scared electorate.

  3. Turnout: Old Dem CW is "if only we could get more African-Americans, etc. to the polls, we would have won!" The trouble with that is, the more you try to excite your base, you excite the opposite base even more. Don't believe me? Just ask now ex-Sen. Max Cleland or ex-Gov. Roy Barnes, who, despite extremely high A-A turn out still got slaughtered against by a huge wave of angry white rural (conservative) men.

  4. That was 2002 you say, "they were Bush-lite;" if only it you had run it like Gore did in 2000. Psst, hate to brake it to you, but Gore lost, and his mobilize strategy backfired as well. For every one liberal he got to the polls with his "People vs. the Powerful" Bob Shrum routine, 10 more conservatives went to the polls for Dubya.

    Why? Because A) there are more conservatives than liberals, and they vote more often B) Gore scared away voters in places he needed like WV, NH, FL, AR, and TN, because of his gun stance...If he had won any of those states, he would have won.

  5. "It's the Economy, Stupid!" Ever since the movie "The War Room" and Clinton's victory in 1992, James Carville became a household name in Washington, and the slogan has stuck with us forever. But the fact is, it is not a panacea. Democrats tried in 2002 to run a national campaign (based on Carville's advice) based on the economy, health care, and by "getting the war off the table" and look what happened, a winnable year turned into a big loss.

  6. People in this country are afraid. They need some one who makes them feel safe. And Bush, with his tough talk and wager and smirk, makes them feel that way. Even though, he has done nothing to make us safer-- actually he has made us less safe.

    But in order to get that message across, (and to talk about the economy) a Democratic Presidential needs to pass the sniff test on national security. Don't get me wrong, I don't support Lieberman or Graham (I actually hate them) and Kerry strikes me a "Pander Bear," but the general principle of what the DLC says is true.

    Who do I think can carry that message? General Wesley Clark. Creating a new federal department of "save my ass" doesn't prove you can protect Americans (sorry Lieberman and Bush). But actually defending Americans and its ideals (by fighting in wars, getting medals, and saving millions from ethnic cleansing and Europe from chaos) does prove it.

    Dear readers, you are right that the D. Party needs some one who speaks with passion and conviction and has new, bold ideas, and I agree with you that the rest of the lot are horribly boring, unqualified, or worse. But Dean is a dream candidate for Karl Rove (because Kucinich et al is not even a fantasy) make no mistake about it.

  7. DLC In the last 30 years, the only winners on a national level have come out of the DLC. What has the DLC done for me lately, you ask (and think to yourself 2002)? Not quite, the DLC was one of the first groups to say stop trying to bribe seniors with Rx drugs, to disagree with Bush's 2001 tax cut, etc. If you want some one to blame, blame Shrum, Carville and, Lieberman who brought us the Department of Homeland Security (and the union fight which became a loser issue for Dems) and the war on Iraq (he called to attack Saddam in like November 2001).

To win a presidential campaign, one needs a vision, a message, connection with the voters, support from all of the party, and money. Bush had all those things in 2000, Clinton had those in 92 and 96, (GHWB didn't in 92) and Gore didn't in 2000. The DLC helps a candidate with "the vision thing" supplying good ideas like welfare reform, paid family leave, a balanced budget, free trade with the middle east, etc. and support from the center of the party, and of course, money. But the DLC can't give you a likable personality (sorry Lieberman, Gephardt, Gore, Kerry, etc.)... but they did find it in 1992 with the perfect candidate.

To me, the closest thing to Bill in 92 is Clark in 2004-- he has charm, brains (Rhodes & 1st in his class at West Point), southern accent (from AR), and even better, he has fought and won a modern war, and he keeps his pants on.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

What's a Ho-Ho? No, I am not talking about a Hostess brand sweet thing you buy at 7-11 or a scantily dressed woman on a street corner asking if you want a "good time," I am taking about Howard Dean, or as his fellow 2004 wannabes call him Ho Dean, since they hate him.

The latest attack against the attacker is the DLC, who decided to pick a fight with the former governor and doctor (sorry he doesn't practice medicine anymore and his license has expired. I don't think he can call himself doctor anymore than Bill Clinton can call himself a lawyer).

"Unlike Gov. Howard Dean," DLC head honchos Al From and Bruce Reed quip, "we never forget to give the late Sen. Paul Wellstone credit for coining the phrase, 'Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.' We often disagreed with Sen. Wellstone on the issues, but we always knew he was fighting for the little guy.

    "But the great myth of the current cycle," they continue, " is the misguided notion that the hopes and dreams of activists represent the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. Real Democrats are real people, not activist elites. The mission of the Democratic Party, as Bill Clinton pledged in 1992, is to provide 'real answers to the real problems of real people.' Real Democrats who champion the mainstream values, national pride, and economic aspirations of middle-class and working people are the real soul of the Democratic Party, not activists and interest groups with narrow agendas."

Now, I totally disagree with the strategy of attacking Dean by branding him as elitist, even if he is squarely a "Rob Reiner Democrat," primarily because Dean has some of the most enviable grassroots organization going on. His numbers are 20 times greater than the nearest opponent (Sen. Kerry) and the passion behind his support is real.

And claiming the banner of the working class and middle class by a group that gets large amounts of undisclosed donations from cigarette companies, pharmaceuticals, oil companies and the like is really a bit too much even for my taste.

Further, the blow back on this is not worth the brownie points you score with the press and donors. Predictably, Dean's blog and website have items screaming out of their lungs that the DLC doesn't represent the party and that Howard Dean does.

"So let’s get this straight," Dean's blog says, "The underemployed mother who attends a Dean Meetup in Omaha because she wants health care and better schools for her kids, fiscal discipline in Washington, a sane foreign policy, a balanced judiciary, a healthier environment and true homeland security-- she's not a real Democrat?"

All the red hot rhetoric aside, it was a stupid move to attack Dean on his biggest strength-- volunteers.

But, I do agree with the strategy of branding him a "loser," since if he does win the nomination (which is extremely unlikely even if he wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, since there are no more early leftie states after that), he will go down in flames in November 2004.

"What activists like Dean call the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is an aberration," From and Reed argue, calling him a member of "the McGovern-Mondale wing, defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home. That's the wing that lost 49 states in two elections [twice], and transformed Democrats from a strong national party into a much weaker regional one."

The DLC has made it it's business to piss off parts of its own party, for the good of it. Resently, an Op-Ed by former Clinton Advisor and current PPI President Will Marshall got that same McGovern up in arms.

The usually quiet McGovern wrote a reply Op-Ed in the Washington Post finding it "puzzling why he [Marshall] concluded that I'm opposed to internationalism and the 'use of force in the national interest.' I first used force in the national interest during World War II, when I flew 35 combat missions in Europe. American involvement in that war was clearly in our national interest, and that is why I volunteered at the age of 19 to be part of it."

All War Vet bragging aside, McGovern whines that if people had listened to him about Vietnam and Nixon's dirty tricks, he would have won. Well great but, guess what? They didn't.

Just like how people didn't listen to Al Gore when he said the U.S. Military was strong as ever, that Bush over dependant on special, moneyed interests, that Bush would appoint radical right-wingers, that Bush would hurt the environment, that Bush is political etc. And don't cry out "Florida," because it never should have been that close.

The point is, people won't listen to Howard Dean just like they won't listen to Gore or McGovern, even if they are right. You can be a fiesty bulldog all you want and attack Bush all you want but the American public like him.

Democrats need to convince people that they can protect this country, that they have a vision for this country-- beyond preserving programs that their special interests like, and that they will leave the office better than when they took it.

Dean, with his bellicose and ridiculous stance on the war on Iraq-- "I suppose it is a good thing that Saddam is gone." --will never get him anywhere in any states that matter to swing the electoral college in his favor.

As much as I admire some of his statements, his passion, his articulate manner of speaking, etc. I still don't consider him a credible nominee that can win it all. And that, ultimately, should be the goal of any "wing" of the Democratic Party.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Oops, they did it again Republicans made a boo-boo on their way to voting on tax cut legislation yesterday. Sound familiar? The same thing happened in 2001.

Back then, when there was still a budget surplus but no budget, GOPers tried to sneak in a telephone book-sized bill in which one page was missing. That one page? Why it just so happened to be the page with all the Senate compromises on it, but it must have been a clerical mistake right?

Flash forward to 2003. Republicans name Bush's tax cut bill H.R. and S. 2, in order to denote its importance. Unfortunately, GOP Senators forgot to look up some arcane Senate rules that say, like football jersey numbers, a tax bill is ineligible to receive cloture protection if it has a bill number like 2. Which means of course, that it would take 60, not 51 votes to pass it. And that means it wouldn't pass.

Democrats, united after losing in 2002, wouldn't offer Republicans the courtesy of changing the bill number, forcing GOPers to reintroduce the whole thing through the Finance Committee again and delay the vote on the tax cut bill for another day.

So the question is, since we have beaten the tax cut debate to death, is what is which the GOP and clerical errors? Has something rubbed off from their buddies at Enron and Worldcom?

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Sweet Psuedo-Anarcho-Capitalist Home Alabama: From Virginia Postrel, an interesting link to a blog devoted entirely to punditry from the libertarian perspective of F.A. Hayek, whose first post I saw contains an even more interesting link to a blog run by Auburn University's Mises Institute, one of the few bastions of Austrian economics you can find in academia.

Steve would undoubtedly find this as funny as I do, given that we both spent a week the summer after our freshman year in college attending a sort of intellectual summer camp at the Institute, where we spent most of the day in seminars on topics ranging from central banking to the economic history of the 20th Century, all rooted in the Austrian school of economic thought.

Looking back, I can't help but muse at how far my own view of economics and social science in general has changed over the years, from an almost doctrinaire belief in the conservative/libertarian philosophy of free markets and minimalist government to what I would consider now a far more discerning view of the nature of economics and its relation to society as a whole.

Over the course of that week, I was struck by the almost perfectly rigid adherence to the idea that government must be stripped to its bare minimum of functions (and to the Austrians, we're really talking bare -- one of the seminars was on the possibility of scrapping the Department of Defense in favor of privatized national security). As I sat there in those seminars, there appeared to me to be at least two major problems with the Austrian school of thought:

1) The methodology of Austrian economic analysis seemed entirely lacking in analytical rigor -- most of the ideas proffered by Austrian economists are qualitative and rooted in the simple philosophy that government can only do harm. There are really no models to support their ideas, which is why they're generally relegated to the "crank" bin by mainstream economists.

2) For all of the vigor with which the Austrians promote their ideas, they seem entirely unable to provide any answers to questions about the viability of their policy ideas and the problems that could arise if they were actually implemented. The idea that abolishing the Federal Reserve and all semblance of monetary policy in favor of market-determined interest and exchange rates could sound appealing to the libertarian at first, but anyone with any economic sense could tell you that the damage wrought on the world's economy by eliminating all central banks, cold turkey, would be horrific. The Austrians have nothing to say about the practical problems associated with their proposals and don't seem to be too concerned about it.

The Austrians do, however, have a few good things to lay claim to. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom is still the definitive tract for understanding the dangers of socialism and the problems associated with inertial bureaucratic government, and Ludwig von Mises' Human Action is ( if you can stomach all 900 pages of it) an excellent overview of the nature of human behavior and its relationship to the workings of an aggregate economy.

Some Austrian economists have actually had some success in getting their ideas into the mainstream of economic thought: Hayek spent a number of years at the University of Chicago attacking the once-touted economic doctrines of the Soviet Union, and Israel Kurtzner has done some pretty fascinating work with theories of entrepreneurship and industrial organization over at NYU. Austrian economics, I think, is a good starting point for understanding the virtues of laissez-faire economics and the free market in general; unfortunately, the rest of these guys shouldn't be taken too seriously.


WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE: being in a minority back home, I know what it must be like to a Texas Democrat, and a member of the Texas House of Representatives at that. But now this is just getting ridiculous: right now, 50 out of the 53 Democrats are holed up in a hotel just over the border in Oklahoma after the Republican controlled legislature got mad and the GOP governor ordered state troopers to hunt them down. There is even a pack of cards of the AWOL Dems like the 55 used to hunt down Iraqi Saddam Administration folks.

As Texas Public Safety Officer who found the Democrats in OK explained to the Dallas Morning News: "We came at the request of the governor's office to make contact and to inform them that their services are still needed in Austin. They have chosen to stay here," said Capt. Mike Caley, from the Hurst DPS office. "I've been with the Department of Public Safety for 24 years, and this is probably one of the most unusual requests I have ever received."

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, who is married to Rep. Steve Wolens, apparently had warning that the Democrats planned to be AWOL. But she betrayed no hint of her husband's destination.

"I kissed my husband goodbye this morning and knew I wouldn't be seeing him for awhile," the mayor said.

New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid said it appeared her state had no authority to arrest the lawmakers if they show up there, despite being asked to do so by the Texas governor.

"Nevertheless, I have put out an all-points bulletin for law enforcement to be on the lookout for politicians in favor of health care for the needy and against tax cuts for the wealthy," said Ms. Madrid, a Democrat.

How the hell did it all happen? Well, amidst the up to $12 billion budget deficit the Lone Star state is facing, GOP lawmakers took it upon themselves not to pass a balanced budget but to do Congressional Redistricting.

Again? In 2001, with Democrats in control of one branch of the legislature (the state senate I believe) ensured that a super pro-GOP plan wouldn't be pushed through. The result: a Democrat-sympathetic judge drafted the redistricting map that mercifully only cost Democrats a few seats instead of the 5 additional ones the 2003 one would. Texas GOPers say that since a judge, and not the legislature made the map (even though they grudgingly approved it), they get to cry "do over" when they have the majority after the fact. But these Democrats, lacking a majority, decided to run away so that a quorum (or two-thirds of the legislature were present) couldn't be called.

The man behind all this? Former insect exterminator turned congressman Majority Leader Tom Delay, who never met a single government program he liked. Delay, who is being investigated for his corporate money heavy campaign fund that helped get the GOP majority in the statehouse.

"The Hammer," as he is called wants to ensure that Republicans maintain their majority in the US House at least until the next redistricting in 2011, which is a perfectly reasonable goal, but a perfectly unreasonable way of going about it.

You see, GOPers are doing something very similar to Texas in Colorado at the same time, also on behest of Mr. Delay of Sugarland, TX and a one Mr. Karl Rove of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even though Democrats recently gained control of the New Mexico state houses and governorship, no plans are in the works to screw Republicans.

More to the point, the U.S. House of Representatives is the most unrepresentative republican governing body in the U.S. and possibly the world. Well over 90% of incumbents get reelected, and not just by a little but well over 55%. It is not because the members are particularly good or beloved by their district, although that is part of it. It is because most of these members reside in gerrymandered districts where a large majority of their party and orthodoxy line. Out of the 345 seats, only 40 seats (or a bit more than 8%) last year were deemed competitive, and in reality the number was much lower.

U.S. Senate Races are by far more competitive and the Senate is closely divided 51-48-1, why? While it is true that Senate races draw better opponents than House races (because of the allure of power and the six year term and not two year House term), the main reason is you can't redistrict a state. As a result, the moderating factor of a large populace counteracts extremism.

Texas is living proof that the redistricting process needs be taken out of the hands of politicians and into a balanced, non-partisan group, like they do in Nebraska and Iowa. And look how competitive all the races in those states were.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Tax Cuts: The Series We all know that President Bush sees tax cuts as an economic/fiscal panacea (its either that or he wants to reward his campaign contributors at all costs, which is an even scarier proposition), but now we can confirmation via the Washington Post that Bush Co. plans to make tax cuts an annual affair.

The idea is to make Democrats come out against tax cuts and solidify a Republican majority in the Congress and White House for years to come. "A tax cut bill a year keeps the Democrats away," says Kenneth Duberstein, who was chief of staff to President Reagan. But instead of just reforming the tax code like Regan did in 1986, the Bushies are content to push deceptively "temporary" tax cuts every year he is in the White House.

Which inevitably brings up the non-political and economic point (on which I stand on much shakier ground than my colleagues) "How low can you go?" No, I am not talking limbo, although that is an appropriate analogy. The lower you have to bend over in the game, the more and more exciting it gets, but at a certain point, you just can't clear the bar and fall down-- and the jig is up. The same can be said for tax cuts, if they really are stimulating, you could keep doing them, but at a certain point, their won't be enough revenue in the U.S. Treasury to pay for defense let alone Social Security, Medicare, Head Start, etc.

This is silly you say, we would never cut taxes to virtually zero. As much as Reagan was infatuated with the Laffer Curve, supply side economics is so 80s! Unless, like bellbottom jeans, this defunct branch of economics is now hip again.

All this makes me nostalgic, all the way back to 1988, when I handed out door hangers that said "Haven't you been trickled on enough?"-- accompanied with a nice picture of a rusty faucet and an explanation of how trickle-down economics had never helped the poor out of poverty.

The one good idea that Reagan had (recently deceased Sen. Russell Long (D-La) wrote the bill in Congress) was the earned income tax credit or EITC, which helped lift millions out of poverty in the booming 1990s.

Unfortunately Bush has decided to make sure he raises taxes on the poor by unleashing the IRS's Gestapo on potential violators of the EITC, an already complex piece of tax legislation (the instruction booklet alone takes up 54 pages). Of course, Bush could use his Treasury Department or IRS to crack down on millionaires and billionaires who stiff the government (sorry Willie), who are far fewer, more obviously cheating than ill-informed users of the EITC, and would rake in much more money-- but it would be slap in the face to his friends like ex-Enron CEO Ken Lay, or "Kenny Boy"as Bush called him.

Bush's process includes 45,000 EITC recipients -- and maybe a lot more later -- to go through a "pre-certification" process providing proof they are related to children who are being claimed on income tax forms. It's sort of a mini-audit done separately from tax filing, and will cost the federal government $100 million.

But, as the DLC's New Daily points out, "deliberately creating more bureaucracy to hassle EITC filers makes a mockery of both the Administration's alleged commitment to streamlining government, and its alleged compassion for the neediest Americans not to mention its claim to support work-based welfare reform."


Red Bull in the Red Country: At least there are some scientists in Pyongyang who aren't spending their time developing nuclear WMDs?


Yet another journo who's a few words short of a full headline: I'm probably the last pundit in the bloggerworld to comment on this, but I just have to say that I am absolutely astounded by the extensiveness of the fraud and deception carried out by Jayson Blair at the New York Times. What surprises me the most is not that a journalist, whose code of ethics should be on par with that of a doctor, would actually do such a thing, but that no one among the hundreds of editors, reporters, and fact-checkers at the Times was able to pick up on the fact that Blair literally fabricated parts of almost half of his stories.

Perhaps I'm just being naive, but I always assumed that every word that appears in the world's most important newspaper would be double-checked, triple-checked, and pored over with a fine-toothed comb by as many people as is necessary to make sure that everything is entirely accurate. The alleged "liberal bias" of the Times' op-ed pages aside, the hard-fact reporting should be just that -- full of hard facts, and not all that substantively different from coverage of the same stories in any other leading paper. But the fact that Blair was able to get away with plagiarism and storyline fabrication for four years really opens my eyes to how the newspaper business really functions.

Not surprisingly, Andrew Sullivan is all over this development like a moth on a light, finally having a legitimate opportunity to rail against Howell Raines and a newspaper he detests. Even though the editorial oversight is pretty shocking, however, I don't think this story is a symbol of the degradation of the Times as a quality and respected newspaper, despite the declining circulation numbers. This episode is really more of a reflection of the journalism industry itself, where the competition for the front-page bylines is so fierce that someone would actually be compelled to break such an important honor system just to move up the ranks as quickly as possible. Too many journalists out there seem willing to go to extreme lengths to advance professionally, even compromising the profession itself and defeating the purpose of journalism overall: to provide the public with an accurate and concise view of what's going on in the world. When journalists at a paper like the Times fail to do that, where are we to turn?

Maybe Don Luskin is right: the uncharted wild, wild west nature of the blogging universe is really the only place you can find reports and analysis at face value. Let's hope it stays unsettled territory, because the moment it becomes a real business and its egalitarianism breaks down, then we really have no place to go.