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Tilting at Windmills

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November 30, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

A DISH BEST SERVED COLD....You've heard of those distributed computing projects that take advantage of unused time on millions of personal computers, right? Usually you download a screensaver or something, and when your computer isn't busy it turns itself on and cranks away at calculating a Mersenne prime or a SETI signal or some other worthy semi-scientific endeavor.

That's all very well, but it doesn't really have much chance of improving your life, does it? Instead, how about a distributed computing project aimed at harassing spammers? Now that sounds like a worthwhile use of spare CPU cycles. Details here.

Kevin Drum 11:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRACY AND WAR....I kinda hate to pick on Gregg Easterbrook so often, but he sure does say the weirdest things sometimes. Today he talks about the Allied victory in World War II:

When I ponder the twentieth century, one of the things that strikes me is that democracies turned out to be much better at fielding armies than dictatorships. In World War II, freedom beat dictatorship by a decisive margin in combat, even though dictatorship began the conflict with a significant advantage.

Why do Americans so routinely forget that the Soviet Union was on our side in World War II and fielded far more troops than the U.S. and Britain combined? If WWII had really been the dictatorships vs. the democracies basically, Germany/Japan/USSR vs. Britain/France/U.S. the democracies would have gotten their butts kicked.

I'm all for liberty and freedom, but let's at least keep our history straight, OK?

Kevin Drum 5:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WORD OF THE YEAR....Via TalkLeft, here are Merriam-Webster's top ten words of the year:

  1. blog

  2. incumbent

  3. electoral

  4. insurgent

  5. hurricane

  6. cicada

  7. peloton

  8. partisan

  9. sovereignty

  10. defenestration

These are apparently the words that were most often looked up on Merriam-Webster's website during (the first 11 months of) 2004, and they all make sense except for one: defenestration. What caused the sudden interest? Was there an outbreak of window leaping that I missed during the year?

And I know that there were lots of big hurricanes this year, but did lots of people really have to look up the word to see what it meant? I sure hope those were mostly schoolchildren doing the looking.

UPDATE: In comments, Peter Sokolowski of Merriam-Webster answers our questions:

'Defenestration' came from a contest Merriam held earlier this year on the Web site, asking users for their favorite word. 'Defenestration' won and was subsequently looked up many thousands of times, hence its odd presence in the top 10.

The other words all reflect what people are thinking and talking about. You are correct that international hits are also registered, but my guess is that folks wanted the definition of 'hurricane' as it related to specific wind speeds.

"Defenestration" won a contest for favorite word? Well waddaya know....

Kevin Drum 4:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AL-QAEDA A PAPER TIGER?....Last month, the BBC ran a 3-part documentary arguing that al-Qaeda is not the threat they've been made out to be:

The Power of Nightmares seeks to overturn much of what is widely believed about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The latter, it argues, is not an organised international network. It does not have members or a leader. It does not have "sleeper cells". It does not have an overall strategy. In fact, it barely exists at all, except as an idea about cleansing a corrupt world through religious violence.

A couple of weeks later, Eric Umansky spoke with LA Times reporter Terry McDermott, who is writing a book about al-Qaeda and has come to similar conclusions:

Al Qaeda itself was never the huge organization its opponents sometimes portrayed....Its own small size, with which came severe limits on the skills available from within its ranks, virtually required it to reach beyond its members for specific needs.

....Shared values enabled the organization to amplify its power by aligning with similarly politicized fundamentalist groups, many of them completely autonomous, around the globe. This made the group at times seem ubiquitous, but, in fact, it was a few men persistently pursuing a few deadly enterprises.

Today in the LA Times, Dirk Laabs chimes in on the subject and recounts the conclusions of Germany's famed terrorist hunting federal police force:

This month, at the BKA's annual conference, Germany's top investigators and international experts discussed what they had discovered since Sept. 11 about Al Qaeda and the international Islamist terror network. The main thing they have learned is that there is less than meets the eye.

.... In other words, this battle in the war on terror might already be over.

I don't really have much of an opinion on this myself, especially since I've always considered the war on terrorism to be less against al-Qaeda per se than against radical Islamic terror in general and the ideology that goes along with it. Still, it's interesting that the conventional public wisdom about al-Qaeda now seems to be shifting, a backlash that was perhaps inevitable given the larger-than-life hold that Osama bin Laden has had on our imaginations for the past three years.

You can read the three linked pieces and make up your own mind, of course. I just thought it was an interesting pattern to pass along.

Kevin Drum 2:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CABINET RESHUFFLE UPDATE....Replacing six cabinet members after a reelection isn't that unusual. But eight? If John Snow and Tom Ridge both go, that will be three of Bush's top four cabinet officers and eight altogether. That's quite a shakeup.

Are there more to come?

Kevin Drum 1:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING....What is going on in Washington State, anyway? In 2000, the Maria Cantwell/Slade Gorton Senate race led to multiple recounts before Cantwell was declared the winner one month after the election. And now in this year's gubernatorial race, a machine recount has left Democrat Christine Gregoire a mere 42 votes behind Republican Dino Rossi. Democrats are pressing for a hand recount--a request that has been backed by the Republican Secretary of State, Sam Reed--but they'll need to raise at least $700,000 by the end of the week to finance the recount.

So what's up? It's true that Washington is really two states--Seattle and, well, the rest of the state--but it's not really a toss-up. Kerry won the state by a good seven percentage points, the state legislature is now completely controlled by Democrats, Democrats have ruled from the governor's mansion for the past twenty years, and Patty Murray handily beat Rep. George Nethercutt this year to hold onto her Senate seat.

A friend of mine who knows the state's political scene well says that a recent problem for Democrats is a tendency to run weak candidates against Republicans who are fairly moderate and hard to demonize. Sam Reed, for example, has not only supported Gregoire's request for a hand recount, but also proposed election reforms that would have required a more extensive paper trail to make precisely this kind of situation easier to resolve. His efforts were defeated in the state House by his Democratic opponent, who needed an issue to use against him in the general election. In other races, several Democrats who had an actual chance of winning were vetoed in the primaries by groups like Emily's List for being insufficiently pro-choice, as if the Land Commissioner's portfolio includes abortion policy.

Gregoire doesn't entirely fit this mold. She was extremely popular as Attorney General and, while perhaps not seen as a slam-dunk in the gubernatorial race, was the odds-on favorite going into the general election. The combination of a bad media consultant and campaign overconfidence may have done her in. Whatever the eventual result, Washington state Democrats need to take a good look at recent history to figure out how to take back their competitive edge in a state that should be solidly blue.

Amy Sullivan 1:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JUST CLEARING MY THROAT HERE....Joe Sharkey writes today about the thing that really bugs me about airport security procedures: their inconsistency. If they want me to take my shoes off, fine. If I'm not allowed to carry a cell phone through the metal detector, fine. If bottles of shoe polish aren't allowed, fine.

But for crying out loud, can't they make up their minds about what the policy is and then enforce it the same way at every airport in the country? I'd just like to know what they expect instead of playing a guessing game every time I get on a plane.

End of rant. Actually, this was just a test to make sure everything is working after last night's server failure and this morning's internet outage. Following hot on the heels of my electrical outage a week ago, I'm beginning to feel like a third world outpost here in leafy Irvine.

Kevin Drum 1:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FAMOUS CANADIANS....I realize that a "Greatest Canadian" contest sounds like the punchline to a Letterman routine, but it's not. It's the CBC's "most talked-about show in recent years," and you can click here to find out who the winner was. (Conservatives will not be amused. 24 fans, on the other hand, will be pleased to learn that the winner was Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather.)

However, in something that can only be described as an act of self-parody, the #9 person on the list was Alexander Graham Bell, whose sole connection to our northern neighbors is that he lived in Canada for a grand total of eight months. For that he edged out Wayne Gretzky?

UPDATE: As several commenters have pointed out, Bell bought a summer home in Nova Scotia in 1885 and spent summers there until he died. I'm still not sure this qualifies him as Canadian, mind you (he was born in Scotland, lived in Washington DC, and was a naturalized U.S. citizen), but I guess his connection was longer than eight months after all. My apologies to Canada.

Kevin Drum 2:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRAMING....After my less than enthusiastic review of George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant, David Brodwin of the Rockridge Institute emailed to suggest that my post had been unclear about the difference between framing and message crafting. It's a fair point. For the record, framing is the creation of the deep, underlying ideas that support a particular point of view, while message crafting is the creation of snappy public arguments that take advantage of the overall framing and help to sell it further.

As it happens, despite my criticism of Lakoff I don't have a lot of brilliant ideas of my own along these lines, which is kind of a bummer. However, it occurs to me that a couple of historical examples might serve both to illuminate the framing/messaging idea and to cheer up despondent liberals. You see, although conservatives seem to own both the framing and sloganeering market these days, exemplified by catchy phrases like "tax relief" and "partial birth abortion," we liberals used to be pretty good at this stuff too.

Example #1: In the late 1940s, a subject of considerable public discussion was "the Negro problem." As a slogan, this wasn't very catchy at all, and as framing it downright sucked. It (a) limited the issue to Negroes, (b) portrayed it negatively as a "problem," and (c) even managed to imply that perhaps it was actually Negroes themselves who were at least partially at fault for this problem.

In the late 40s, though, liberals managed to get the press and public to stop talking about the Negro problem and instead start talking about civil rights. It's not just that this was a better (and less threatening) phrase though it was but that it reflected a change in the underlying terms of the debate. Rather than being an issue limited only to Negroes, it was now everyone's concern. And it wasn't just an inchoate "problem," it was a specific issue of rights that needed to be fought for. The change in framing made it an issue of fundamental fairness, regardless of what you personally thought of Negroes, and it also provided a very specific goal to fight for.

Example #2: In the early 60s, old people were....old people. Or the "elderly." There was nothing really wrong with that, but if your goal was to expand Social Security and create Medicare, you needed something better.

The answer was to relabel the elderly as "senior citizens." It's an odd phrase, although we're all used to it these days, but its purpose was a serious one: to portray the elderly as literally senior to the rest of us. Wiser and more deserving than young people, certainly, and with a lifetime of hard labor behind them. And it worked.

There are a couple of lessons here: first, liberals can reframe with the best of them. Second, that catchy phrases only work if there's some substance behind them. Garbage collectors can call themselves "sanitation engineers" all day long, but this title change never caught on in public discourse in fact, it's mostly been a cause for late night TV jokes. Why? Because nobody buys the framing behind it, namely that these folks are highly trained professionals just like the guys who build suspension bridges.

This is why so many seemingly nice catchphrases are foolish: because they're trying to create a frame that simply doesn't exist and has little chance of ever existing. Ford can spend billions telling us that "Quality is Job 1," but it's not going to work unless there's some real evidence that Ford cars are genuinely higher in quality than others. There has to be a significant kernel of truth behind the message in order for it to work.

So that's the challenge for liberals: not just to reframe issues to our advantage, but to reframe them in ways that people are likely to accept. It's a tough job, but the more people who are working on it the more likely we are to trip across stuff that works. The answers are out there.

Kevin Drum 1:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 29, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CHANGING THE GUARD....President Bush is apparently planning to make some wholesale changes to his economic team:

One senior administration official said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow can stay as long as he wants, provided it is not very long.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out, John!

I'm suffering from cognitive shock at the moment. I managed to forget about the real world this weekend and ended up reading a couple of good books: Running On Empty, by Peter Peterson, and Harry and Ike, by Steve Neal. At first glance they have nothing in common: one is about entitlement reform and the other is about the relationship between Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower in the 40s and 50s. Oddly, though, they come together in throwing the partisan recklessness of modern politics into high relief.

Peterson is a Republican, but in his book he's almost embarrassingly earnest about being nonpartisan. (He's one of the founders of the nonpartisan Concord Coalition.) He takes on Democrats for being unwilling to take seriously the need for modest benefit cuts in any plan to save Social Security and Medicare, but he's equally scathing toward Republicans who are unwilling to consider modest tax increases as part of a fiscally responsible plan. He's honest enough to concede that private accounts might be part of a solution, but also that they only make sense if they're funded with additional taxes, not smoke and mirrors that funds them out of ever larger deficits.

And then there's Harry and Ike. They split deeply during the 1952 presidential campaign, which at times seemed more like a contest between them than between Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson, but for all the bitterness and partisanship between them it was always clear that they both cared deeply about doing what was right. It's not that they didn't play for big stakes, it's just that on the big issues neither of them was willing to deliberately make things worse solely to gain partisan advantage.

Fast forward to 2004, and if you read between the lines of the Post story linked above it's obvious that Peterson has about as much chance of being listened to as the ghosts of Harry and Ike. The White House is planning to recruit yet another economic team, and what seems to be driving it is their difficulty in finding people sufficiently willing to sell their souls to the devil. Anyone with a remaining shred of integrity knows that financing Social Security privatization via higher deficits is madness, which means Bush's task is to find people from the ever dwindling pool of loyalists willing to make the case anyway. Neither Harry nor Ike or even Ronald Reagan, for that matter would have been willing to betray our future merely for a small, short-term partisan advantage, but today it barely even raises an eyebrow.

We've come a long way, baby.

Kevin Drum 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CIVIL WAR?....Spencer Ackerman is depressed about the future of Iraq:

The January election is now itself on track to deliver what used to be considered the worst-case scenario (but which is now acceptable to some advocates of the war): civil war.

Bottom line: it's impossible to delay the elections because that would cause a decisive U.S. break with the Shia majority. On the other hand, the 20% of the population that's Sunni is now dead set against the elections and considers them illegitimate. That's more than enough people to keep a civil war in high gear.

I suppose the best hope now is that in the end the Sunni minority will back down and eventually take part in the elections if not in January, perhaps sometime down the road. It's a pretty thin hope, though.

Kevin Drum 1:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NATURE, NURTURE, ETC....It's been a while since we had a rollicking nature vs. nurture discussion here, so here's some new fuel for the fire from Alex Tabarrok, taken from a recent paper by Bruce Sacerdote.

Sacerdote examined various outcomes of Korean children who had been randomly assigned to adoptive families in the U.S. during the 70s, and as the chart on the right shows, he concluded that family income had no effect at all on the eventual earning power of adoptees. Conversely, it had a big effect on biological children. In other words, being raised in a high-earning family doesn't seem to have much effect, while being born to to a high-earning family does.

Sacerdote also looks at some other variables and concludes that income, college graduation rates, height, and obesity are correlated significantly more highly for biological children than for adoptees. Conversely, smoking and drinking behavior is about the same, indicating that these traits are strongly affected by family environment.

It's ironic that research like this is so often embraced by conservatives as evidence that government programs ought to be abolished looky here, biology is destiny and there's not much to be done about it. Although studies like this do indicate a strong biological basis for a variety of behavioral traits, they're also part of a growing body of research indicating that most families at least, those outside the extremely dysfunctional low end have very little impact on their childrens' outcomes. Environment does play a powerful role in nearly every element of behavior, but it's mostly environment outside the family. Not exactly what the family values conservatives want to hear.

Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SPYWARE....Terry McDermott, an LA Times reporter, recently became a victim of the nationwide spyware epidemic and wrote a pretty good story about in today's paper:

I found links for Lycos and clicked on one. That was the beginning. Within minutes, my computer was swamped with advertisements pop-ups, pop-unders, pop-all-overs. There were so many I couldn't close them before others started appearing. I had to shut the computer down.

....It went on for days. The blizzard of ads sometimes thinned, sometimes thickened. At times, there were so many that the computer couldn't process them all and froze. Every time I restarted, my home page was reset to the pornographic site. Every time I tried to do a Google search, a Lycos search engine appeared instead. New items for services called Bargain Buddies and Deal Helper were added to my Web favorites list.

The whole story is pretty interesting, especially the interview with the spyware promoter who sings a sad song about how he's a victim too. McDermott reports that he eventually solved his infestation with help from a group called AumHa.org.

Of course, there's another way: set up a blog, wait a couple of years to accumulate a large readership, and then beg them for help. Hey, it worked for me!

However, McDermott's article reminded me that I never got around to explaining how I got rid of my mother's spyware infestation last month. And since so many people were willing to help me out with advice, I really ought to do my part to pass on some of the knowledge I gained to others who may someday run into spyware problems of their own.

The complete blow-by-blow description is below the fold. Click the link to read the whole thing.

Here's what I did. Note that this was all for a Window XP machine, and some parts of it might not apply to non-XP machines. What's more, just because this worked for me doesn't necessarily mean it will work for you. But it's worth a try.

  1. Luckily, my mother knew exactly when the spyware problem had started. So I rebooted in safe mode and chose a restore point from a couple of days before then.

    To boot in safe mode, tap the F8 key repeatedly while starting up your computer. Choose "Safe Mode" when the option menu is displayed. (Other methods of booting in safe mode along with a more detailed description of the whole process can be found at www.pchell.com/support/safemode.shtml.)

    Eventually you will be asked if you want to proceed to safe mode ("Yes") or perform a system restore ("No"). Click No and then choose the date you want to restore to. (You can find a nice description of the restore procedure at www.theeldergeek.com/system_restore.htm complete with pictures!) The whole process takes several minutes. Get a cup of coffee.

  2. Following the restore, I rebooted in normal mode and installed the freeware versions of three anti-spyware programs (you can't install new software in safe mode):

    • AdAware (www.lavasoftusa.com/support/download/)

    • SpyBot (www.safer-networking.org/en/download/index.html)

    • a-squared (www.emsisoft.com/en/)

    Needless to say, you'd be wise to install (and regularly update) these programs now, before you need them. Downloading was impossible on my mother's computer, for example, so I had to download them on my machine, burn them onto a CD, and then install from the CD. You can save yourself this hassle by installing them right this minute and then remembering to update them every once in a while. (Yeah, yeah, I know: fat chance. Believe me, I feel your pain.)

  3. Then I rebooted in safe mode again and ran all three programs. Why in safe mode? Because I had already tried running AdAware in normal mode and the spyware was smart enough to detect it and shut down the computer before it could run. Safe mode prevents the spyware from running and gives the anti-spyware programs a fighting chance to do their job.

    This took about half an hour, but it was worth it because each program found stuff that neither of the others did.

  4. Finally, I rebooted in normal mode and ran all three programs again. Just to make sure. (This was worth it too, since the second scan found yet more stuff that was missed the first time around.)

  5. And then, if memory serves, I rebooted in safe mode and ran 'em all one more time. Couldn't hurt, after all.

  6. That did the trick. The final step was to download and install the Firefox browser (www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/). The entire installation took just a few minutes and it automatically imported all my mother's Internet Explorer settings. Since Firefox is impervious to most spyware, my mother is unlikely to ever get infested again.

    (I've found that Firefox works very well and it's now my default browser. It has a couple of minor drawbacks, but nothing serious, and I now keep IE around only for the rare site that doesn't render properly in Firefox. More here.)

In addition to all this, you might want to consider installing a firewall like ZoneAlarm. I didn't install it on my mother's machine because it can be a little confusing to use sometimes, but if you're not scared of the occasional popup query it's a good line of defense to have on your PC.

That's it. Good luck!

Kevin Drum 2:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....There's not really much new here, but at least today's Washington Post confirms that the Valerie Plame case is still being actively pursued. Apparently the big question is whether Bush administration officials leaked Plame's name before or after the original Robert Novak column that made her name public:

In questioning reporters for The Washington Post, NBC and Time, prosecutors have shown a particular interest in the events of July 12, reporters and their attorneys have said. Word that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA had by then circulated to some media organizations, though the origin of the information is not publicly known.

While Novak's column did not run until Monday, July 14, it could have been seen by people in the White House or the media as early as Friday, July 11, when the Creators Syndicate distributed it over the Associated Press wire.

So if the White House folks ripped Novak's column off the wire and then started working the phones, no problem. But if they were doing it before Novak made Plame's name public, they're in trouble.

Of course, we still don't know the two people who leaked to Novak in the first place. Tick, tick, tick....

Kevin Drum 12:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 25, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THANKSGIVING....Is there a Thanksgiving equivalent of Scrooge? I dunno. But if there isn't, Tom Friedman is now it.

But hey, when the man's right, the man's right. I hope this means he's turning over a new leaf.

And with that, I'm off. Thanksgiving #1 is tonight at my mother's house, and then we're out to the desert tomorrow followed by Thanksgiving #2 on Saturday with my father-in-law. And shortly after that, it's USC vs. Notre Dame and we will all be rooting for the Cardinal and Gold, right? Right?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Do something nice for someone today.

BY THE WAY: I strongly recommend that you not follow this advice from CNN's so-called "nutritionists." Sheesh.

Kevin Drum 1:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 24, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LAKOFF AND FRAMING....As promised, last night I read George Lakoff's book on political framing (Don't Think of an Elephant). Here's what I thought of it.

Good news first: there was some advice near the beginning that was quite cogent:

  • Facts are great, but don't fall into the trap of thinking that you're going to win arguments with facts. When facts collide with a person's worldview, it's the facts that get tossed overboard, not the worldview.

  • Stop yammering about how irrational it is that so many people vote against their own economic self interest. People do this all the time, including liberals. "They vote their identity. They vote their values. They vote for who they can identify with."

  • Laundry lists of programs don't work. You need an underlying narrative. You need a frame that puts it all in perspective.

"Framing," of course, is Lakoff's claim to fame, and he bases his analysis of contemporary American politics on the idea that conservative and liberal worldviews are based on a "strict father/nurturant parent" dichotomy (see here for a description). As it happens, I think he stretches this metaphor farther than it can reasonably go, but that's not my real problem with him. My problem is that although he does a good job of explaining how conservatives use framing to their benefit, he fails to provide very much compelling advice for liberals.

A good example is "tax relief." Lakoff is persuasive in arguing that the word "relief" automatically frames taxes as an affliction that needs to be lifted and anybody who lifts an affliction is, of course, a hero. Those who don't are goats.

Fine and Democrats shouldn't allow themselves to get suckered into using the phrase themselves. But what does he propose instead? Lakoff has two suggestions: (1) taxes are "wise investments in the future" and (2) taxes are your "membership fee in America." Those aren't really as snappy as "tax relief," are they?

Unfortunately, it gets worse. There's an entire chapter on foreign policy, for example, that would probably delight Noam Chomsky but not too many others. Check out this paragraph, written five days after 9/11:

Do we really think that the United States will have the protection of innocent Afghans in mind if it rains terror down on the Afghan infrastructure? We are supposedly fighting them because they immorally killed innocent civilians. That made them evil. If we do the same, are we any less immoral?

Now, you might personally agree or disagree with this, but I'll say this flatly: if Democrats adopt this kind of framing we will be out of power for the next half century or so. And we'd deserve to be if we had actually been unwilling to support even a war against the country that harbored the guy who had just killed 3,000 Americans. Hell, even the hated French and Germans supported the Afghan war.

(And no, I'm not taking this out of context. This chapter has some pro forma bits about the importance of alliances and the need for more than just military action which is fine but it also has lots more about the need for nurturance and empathy, including a paean to Barbara Lee, the sole member of the House to vote against the Afghan war.)

I'm already going on too long especially for a pre-Thanksgiving post that nobody's going to read anyway. But I've at least highlighted my basic complaint: Lakoff may have identified a serious problem for which he deserves credit but he hasn't identified a serious solution. In fact, here's how he ends the book, with his nomination for a "ten word" philosophy for liberals:

  • Stronger America

  • Broad Prosperity

  • Better Future

  • Effective Government

  • Mutual Responsibility

Maybe it's just me, but those sure don't sound as zingy as Lower Taxes, Family Values, and A Kick-Ass Military. I'm a liberal myself, but even so this list almost put me to sleep. (It's also a list that doesn't strike me as especially liberal. With the possible exception of the last bullet, is there anything there that would be out of place in the Republican party platform?)

There are the seeds of some good ideas in this book trial lawyers as consumers' last line of defense, gay marriage as a freedom-from-government-interference issue but that's about it. Overall, I have a deep fear that if liberals are taking this stuff too seriously we could be about to drive ourselves off a cliff. Street smart framers like Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz are probably laughing themselves silly over this stuff.

POSTSCRIPT: It's possible that for ten bucks all I got was the teaser. If I really want the goods, maybe I have to attend one of Lakoff's seminars or something. Could be. But for now, all I can go by is what was between the covers of the book in my hands.

Kevin Drum 8:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONSPIRACY MONGERING....A close election? But one marred by voting irregularities? Mostly centered on Democratic precincts? And now a subject of conspiracy theories and demands for a recount?

Ah, it's just a bunch of whiny Democrats. They should suck it up and accept the will of the people.

Unless, of course, they're Republicans.

Kevin Drum 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VENEZUELA....We already know that the Bush administration has trouble with clearly worded CIA briefing documents ("Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S."), but today we get further word on the poor level of reading comprehension at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:

  • April 6, 2002: A widely circulated CIA briefing paper about unrest in Venezuela states, "dissident military factions, including some disgruntled senior officers and a group of radical junior officers, are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chvez, possibly as early as this month."

  • April 12-14, 2002: Dissident military factions in the Venezuelan army organize a coup against Chvez.

  • April 17, 2002: A senior administration official tells the press, "The United States did not know that there was going to be an attempt of this kind to overthrow or to get Chvez out of power."

The Bush adminstration also said that the United States was not actively involved in any way in the coup attempt. I wonder if they were lying about that too?

Kevin Drum 12:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

COMPUTATIONAL GENOMICS UPDATE....Quick note: I got several dozen responses to my computational genomics post last night, most of them from folks with pretty serious credentials. Many thanks to everyone who emailed me.

I haven't quite decided what to do with them all yet, but I might write a post later to try and give a flavor of what the consensus was. In the meantime, here's the nickel version: (a) everyone agrees that the whole subject is really complex and is dangerously susceptible to oversimplification, (b) most emailers basically think Derbyshire is full of hot air, but (c) a few people think there's a kernel of truth in what he said.

Kevin Drum 12:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A BIGGER, BETTER, CIA?....Is George Bush planning a massive expansion of the CIA? Apparently so, according to the LA Times.

He's not planning to pay for it, of course, but that hardly even rates a yawn anymore.

Kevin Drum 12:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LAKOFF FRAMING....I finally finished Neal Stephenson's The System of the World, and boy howdy, it just wasn't very good, was it? Took me a while to figure that out, though, since I'm generally a big fan. Bottom line: if you're interested in a detailed geography lesson of Queen Anne London, this is the book for you, but if you're looking for a satisfying ending to Parts 1 and 2 of the Baroque Cycle, it's a bit of a slog.

(But Stephenson has always had a bit of a problem with his endings, hasn't he? Unfortunately, this one was a thousand pages long.)

Anyway, that means it's time to pick up some new reading material, which in turn means it's finally time for me to get a copy of George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant, which appears to be something of a Bible among despairing liberals who can't believe that half the country likes George Bush and apparently doesn't like us. Basically, Lakoff says we need to get our act together and "frame" our arguments in more positive ways:

We came together because of our moral values: care and responsibility, fairness and equality, freedom and courage, fulfillment in life, opportunity and community, cooperation and trust, honesty and openness. We united behind political principles: equality, equity (if you work for a living, you should earn a living) and government for the people all the people.

These are traditional American values and principles, what we are proudest of in this country. The Democrats' failure was a failure to put forth our moral vision, celebrate our values and principles, and shout them out loud.

I dunno. This just doesn't seem like it's going to be very convincing to all those fence sitters out there and the whole "strict father-nuturant parent" thing has always left me cold. Still, before I kvetch about it I really ought to read the whole book and see if it's better than the snippets I've seen so far. I'll report back later.

UPDATE: In comments, Don Hosek reminds me that my initial review after I was a third of the way through Quicksilver (the first volume of the Baroque Cycle) was also pretty negative. I checked the archives, and he's right.

So....take the above with a grain of salt or two. In retrospect, my feeling is that I mostly enjoyed the first two volumes, and maybe in time I'll come to feel the same way about System of the World. On the other hand, I'll stick to my guns in my general belief that the trilogy is just way too long and sloppy, and I hope Stephenson isn't falling into the Tom Clancy trap of writing ever longer and less disciplined novels just because there's nobody around to tell him not to. I like long books, and the Baroque Cycle offered plenty of rewards in return for slogging throught it, but it would have been a lot better with more focus and half the fat.

Kevin Drum 7:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MARLBORO COUNTRY....Charles Duhigg's story in the LA Times today about Philip Morris' annual adventure fest for foreigners in Moab, Utah, is worth it for this line alone:

"We want the winners to experience the freedom of America," explains [company executive Franois] Moreillon. "And we find this is easiest when Americans are not part of the event."

Classic. On the other hand, this piece managed the difficult task of making me feel kind of sorry for Philip Morris. I'm not quite sure why Duhigg thought this thing was such a big deal that it required Woodward & Bernstein levels of in-your-face reporting, but by the time I was done I pretty much understood Moreillon's point. Relentless harrassment of a private party on the thin grounds that they're hiking on public land is not exactly a high point of American journalism

Kevin Drum 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLITICAL BLOGS....This is a little old, but Intelliseek's BlogPulse is a cool site that tracks blogs and the issues blogs talk about. The chart below shows their ranking of the 35 "most cited" political blogs during the 2004 campaign (note that the rankings go from the bottom up). I don't know what their methodology is since all their site says is that they "mined and analyzed politics-specific data in a variety of ways," but it's interesting anyway. They also have a variety of charts showing top media sources, top blog issues, and so forth. Enjoy.

Kevin Drum 2:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SOCIAL SECURITY FANTASYLAND....On Friday I speculated that George Bush might decide to tackle the transition costs of Social Security privatization by simply pretending that that the costs don't really exist. Today, via the Washington Post, it appears that several variations on this idea are already being run up the flagpole:

The strategies include, for example, moving the costs of Social Security reform "off-budget" so they are not counted against the government's yearly shortfall.

...."You cannot look at Social Security in the context of a five-year budget," the window that current White House and congressional spending plans cover, [Senator Judd] Gregg said. "To do so is naive and foolish. . . . If this is simply scored as a five-year exercise, we're never going to solve the problem."

....An analysis of one plan produced by Bush's Social Security Commission concluded that the interim financing would cost as much as $104.5 billion the first year, balloon to $194.4 billion in the 10th year and would peak in roughly 20 years at $258 billion.

....Gregg and other allies of the president argue, in fact, that transition costs of $1.5 trillion or more over the next 10 years should not be considered an increase in the nation's debt. Instead, they say, such borrowing would be a prudent recognition of future obligations.

"The diversion of a portion of payroll taxes to personal accounts is akin to prepaying a mortgage," R. Glenn Hubbard, former chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, wrote in the current issue of Business Week.

...."The market is rational, and they are already nervous about all these unfunded obligations in Social Security and Medicare," said Kent Smetters, a former Bush Treasury Department economist now at the University of Pennsylvania. "Resolution of that uncertainty is actually going to be a positive."

Wonderful. Just move it off the books. After all, it's not a real deficit anyway because we're promising to make it all up in 30 years or so which means the bond markets won't care about it. In fact, a willingness to blow up our deficit right here and now will actually be a positive!

This is just plain scary. What planet do these guys live on?

Kevin Drum 2:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

COMPUTATIONAL GENOMICS....I'm not in the habit of paying much attention to anything John Derbyshire writes, but I'm going to make an exception tonight. Derbyshire spent the day recently with a hotshot researcher in the field of computational genomics, a discipline that makes use of high-speed computers and eye-glazing mathematical methods to trawl though the human genome looking for useful nuggets. But apparently there's a problem:

There is a huge swelling wave of knowledge building up knowledge about human variation, human inheritance, human nature. Things have gone much further than I realized. Genes controlling intelligence? "We've got a few nailed down, and more are showing up..."

....And all this work has to be done while keeping a sort of radio silence, because it is deeply unpopular. I know some of the scientists doing this work people like the datanaut. They are just like other scientists I have known, driven by a kind of hypertrophied curiosity, by an innocent urge to understand the inner secrets of the world. In other respects, they are just representative human beings, with the normal range of human weaknesses and failings. To the guardians of our public morality, though the media and political elites, the legal and humanities academics they are very devils, peering into what should be kept hidden, seeking out things better left alone, working to secret agendas, funded by groups of sinister anti-social plotters "bigots!"

What Derbyshire is alluding to here is the possibility that genomic research might turn up hardwired genetic differences between races, between genders, or between ethnic groups. And not just morally neutral things like Tay-Sachs among Jews or sickle cell anemia among Blacks, but gene complexes related to, say, mathematical ability or verbal skills.

The thrust of Derbyshire's piece is that the mere possibility of discovering hardwired differences between racial groups in an important personality characteristic such as IQ or aggression is so frightening to the liberal mainstream that the entire field of computational genomics shies away from even investigating them. Alzheimer's research, for example, is allegedly a no-go zone because it correlates with both IQ and race.

So here's my question: do I have any readers who work in this field (or a closely related one) and know if there's something to this? Or is Derb off in fantasyland?

If you have any genuine expertise in this field, please feel free to email me here. I'd be interested in hearing from you.

Kevin Drum 1:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PRESIDENTIAL CHARACTER....Over at NRO, Jonah Goldberg says that George Bush just can't catch a break:

To understand the president's Catch-22 with his critics, consider his latest move as he prepares for his second term: shaking up the Central Intelligence Agency. Ever since 9/11 a cacophonic chorus has been calling for shake-ups at the CIA. "Why hasn't anyone been fired?" demanded everyone from the New York Times and the Democratic party to the so-called 9/11 families. The 9/11 commission demanded a huge shake-up not only of our intelligence bureaucracy but of the way we think about national security more broadly.

Well, the administration is attempting to do that. Porter Goss, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a one-time CIA operative himself, is shaking things up. Several longtime and senior veterans of the agency have resigned in protest over Goss's supposedly rough and rude tactics. The protest doesn't end there, of course. They've brought their grievances to a press corps all but elated to let the opponents of change and reform use them as a megaphone.

He's absolutely right. But there a bit more to it. Consider:

  • 9/11 was the biggest CIA failure in history. No one was fired for this.

  • The CIA's assessment of Iraq's WMD program turned out to be completely wrong. George Tenet reportedly called it a "slam dunk." No one was fired for this.

  • The Senate Intelligence Committee reported that the CIA didn't have a clue about the likely extent of the postwar insurgency. No one was fired for this.

  • During the presidential campaign, several CIA sources leaked material to the press that was damaging to President Bush. Shortly after the election, people started getting fired.

What does this tell you about George Bush's priorities? Just this: even though a bipartisan chorus of voices has called for a CIA shakeup ever since 9/11, Bush did nothing for three long years. The only thing serious enough to finally prompt him to take action was a few CIA leaks that made him look bad.

Quite a president we have, eh?

Kevin Drum 9:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IS OUR ADULTS LEARNED?....In a recent Gallup survey, only 35% of Americans said they believed evolution was "a scientific theory well-supported by evidence." The other 65% either disagreed or weren't sure. Depressing, isn't it?

Maybe so, but on the scale of human ignorance, is it really that bad? After all, according to an NSF survey done in 2001, 25% of Americans think the sun goes around the earth. That's depressing.

Kevin Drum 7:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

STEM CELLS....The California stem cell initiative passed easily earlier this month, and already we're starting to see results:

As California moves quickly toward setting up a $3-billion embryonic stem cell research agency, other states are scrambling to prevent their top researchers from being raided.

The lure is clear: $300 million a year for embryonic stem cell research in California for the next decade, more than 10 times the yearly federal funding available and free of the Bush administration's tight restrictions on what research can be conducted with federal money.

This is sort of the mirror image of the all too common "race to the bottom," where factory owners and shopping mall magnates pit local governments against each other in a demeaning auction to find out who's most willing to slash services and mortgage their futures. In this case, though, instead of promising special tax reductions, we're promising special funding increases.

I'm still not very happy about this, and I voted against Prop 71. On the other hand, I have to admit that I'm happy that enough people disagreed with me to carry it to victory. Stem cell research holds out a lot of promise, and funding biotech development is a helluva lot better use of taxpayer dough than providing a property tax easement to a strip mall developer.

Does this make me completely incoherent on this subject? Yes it does. Must be time for lunch.

Kevin Drum 3:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MANDATE WATCH....Fast forwarding through commercials: the latest menace to Western Civilization?

Luckily, Republicans in Congress want to make it illegal. Thank God someone is paying attention to these threats.

Kevin Drum 2:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NIPPLE-GATE....Want to read a Grade A rant against Michael Powell and the FCC? Tom Shales has one right here. Enjoy.

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH PRESS COVERAGE....Over at the newly rechristened CJR Daily, Susan Stranahan wonders if the press will be tougher on Bush in his second term than it was in his first. Here's the response that jumped out at me:

"History doesn't give us much evidence of that," says author Mark Hertsgaard. "Look at the Reagan era. The media certainly didn't get tougher in his second term."

...."I think that basically press coverage of any president is only as critical as the opposition party is critical," says Hertsgaard, who also wrote about the media and Reagan for The Nation shortly after the ex-president died in June.

I think that's exactly right. With occasional exceptions like Watergate, the press rarely starts crusades of its own. If Democrats want coverage of Bush to be more critical, they're the ones who are going to have to feed consistent, ongoing critical coverage to the media. Are they up to the task?

Kevin Drum 1:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND THE ENVIRONMENT....Gregg Easterbrook has an article in the New Republic today that provides a nice summary of some recommendations from an environmental think tank. But his lead is inexplicable:

John Kerry ran on a platform that called for dramatic changes in United States energy policy, and George W. Bush ran on a platform that called for keeping the energy status quo. Bush won, yet my guess is that change will soon win on energy policy. Too many trends are worrisome. To name a few: United States dependence on Persian Gulf oil keeps rising, greenhouse gas emissions keep rising, scientific indicators of artificially triggered climate change keep getting stronger, mega SUVs keep proliferating and damaging our civic space by causing ever-more road rage, and natural gas supplies are perilously close to becoming a national problem. Clinging to the status quo on energy policy is not attractive.

He's right about these trends, but what on earth makes him think Bush is going to respond to any of this stuff? Alan Greenspan, Mr. Tax Cut of 2001, is now publicly warning that we need to balance the budget, and Paul Volcker thinks there's a 75% chance that Bush's policies will lead to an economic disaster within five years. Despite this, Bush has shown exactly zero interest in changing his economic direction. In fact, increasing the deficit by making his tax cuts permanent and privatizing Social Security is front and center in his 2005 agenda.

The same is true of environmental policy. There are three basic recommendations in the think tank report and, as Easterbrook points out, all three are things Bush opposes. The first is a higher gasoline tax, which everyone knows is a nonstarter. The second is higher mileage standards, which Bush also opposes. Third is a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide, something Bush actually went out of his way to change his mind on after first supporting it during the 2000 campaign.

I'd love to see us make some headway on this stuff. But expecting George Bush to lead the way is just wishful thinking.

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

"UNIVERSAL DEFAULT"....I was chatting with a friend on Friday who suggested that Democrats needed to adopt more populist economic policies, things that really helped (and resonated with) the working and middle classes. My initial response was that I thought that Democrats were already doing that, but just weren't doing it very effectively because Republicans control every branch of government.

Still, point taken, and the New York Times ran a long piece on Sunday that's a good example of the kind of thing Democrats could champion. It turns out that credit card companies aren't just charging higher interest rates than ever, they're also writing multi-page, fine print contracts that allow them to double or triple your interest rate with no warning for practically any reason:

The practice, called universal default, started after a rash of bankruptcy filings in the mid-to-late 1990's and has increasingly become standard in the industry.

....Last month, a consumer advocacy group in San Diego, the Utility Consumers' Action Network, filed suit against Discover Financial Services, the issuer of the Discover card, asserting that it had changed the rules late in the game. The group contends that a recent rewording of Discover's universal-default policy is unfair to consumers, especially those in difficult financial situations.

The change, disclosed to cardholders in April, allowed Discover to raise the interest rate to 19.99 percent, from as low as zero, for a single late payment. But the infraction did not have to follow the revision, because Discover reserved the right to look back 11 months for a late payment that could justify the increase.

If you have a large balance on your card and pay your phone bill late, that can be enough of an excuse to double your interest rate.

The illustration below shows what's happening. A decade ago credit card companies issued cards carefully and charged a minimum interest rate of 12% and a maximum of 22%. Today, "careful" is a thing of the past. Instead of evaluating a potential customer's creditworthiness before issuing them a card, they issue them to anyone with a pulse aggressively wooing their business with introductory rates as low as 0%. Then, when these relatively poorer credit risks show even a slight sign of financial distress a late car, phone, or rent payment, for example the rate can be instantly jacked up to as high as 40% or more. And unless you've carefully read your agreement and understand what "universal default" means which virtually no one does these increased payments are completely unexpected.

Is this the sort of abusive practice that populist Democrats could make hay with? Probably. And who knows? Maybe there's a smart one out there who will. If credit card companies refuse to take responsibility for evaluating their customers' creditworthiness before loaning them money, they should expect to take the responsibility for a larger number of defaults. That's the banking biz, after all.

Kevin Drum 1:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NOT ENOUGH TROOPS....This won't come as a surprise to anyone, but apparently we don't have enough troops in Iraq:

The possibility that additional troops would be required to battle the insurgency in this critical period preceding the Iraqi elections, scheduled for Jan. 30, has been signaled for weeks. The Pentagon took an initial step in this direction last month, ordering about 6,500 soldiers in Iraq to extend their tours by up to two months.

....The officers said the exact number of extra troops needed is still being reviewed but estimated it at the equivalent of several battalions, or about 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq fell to nearly 100,000 last spring before rising to 138,000, where it has stayed since the summer.

To boost the current level, military commanders have considered extending the stay of more troops due to rotate out shortly, or accelerating the deployment of the 3rd Infantry Division, which is scheduled to start in January. But a third option drawing all or part of a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division on emergency standby in the United States has emerged as increasingly likely.

The only really noteworthy part of this story is that it's just about the first time the military has been willing to publicly admit that it needs more troops in Iraq. However, the story also makes the reason for this painfully obvious: why ask if there aren't any more troops to give?

Last month the Army decided to redeploy its famed OPFOR training regiment to Iraq "eating your seed corn," as Phil Carter called it and now they're talking about drawing on a brigade currently on emergency standby. And of course, this is all in addition to the accelerated rotations, IRR callups, and stop loss orders of the past several months.

All of these things are enormous morale busters that provide only a few thousand additional troops, and it's pretty clear that no one would be resorting to this stuff unless we were in pretty desperate straits. But we are: as with every previous operation that was supposed to turn the tide, it turns out that flattening Fallujah didn't turn the tide after all.

Now, tell me again why Donald Rumsfeld still has a job?

Kevin Drum 12:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MANDATE WATCH....Congressional Republicans have now been back in town for five days following their big election victory on the 2nd. So what are they using their newfound mandate for? Let's take a peek:

Pretty good work for five days! I wonder what they'll manage to get done when they actually have a full session on their hands next year?

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By: Kevin Drum

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION UPDATE....The LA Times reports on the latest affirmative action outrage:

When admissions officers for Santa Clara University recruit new freshmen, they do their best to reach the kind of students they'd like to see more of on the Silicon Valley campus: boys.

"We make a special pitch to them to talk about the benefits of Santa Clara, as we do for other underrepresented groups," Charles Nolan, Santa Clara's vice provost for admissions, said of the school's efforts to boost male applicants.

....Vincent Garcia, a college counselor at the Los Angeles prep school Campbell Hall, said liberal arts colleges, especially, can be "more forgiving of the occasional B or even a C" from a boy. "Sometimes the expectation is a little bit less" than for girls, he said.

....an applicant's sex is "one of many factors we take into account in the interest of bringing in a diverse class," [William and Mary director of admissions Henry] Broaddus said. For this year's freshmen class, 30% of male applicants were admitted, compared with 22% of female applicants.

I'm hopeful that the principled folks over at National Review will condemn this practice. And please: not just a desultory acknowledgment or two to prove you care. I expect a stream of outraged posts and crosstalk at least equal to the recent torrents about Arlen Specter, the lack of conservatives among humanities faculties, and the shocking tolerance of liberalism at the University of Chicago.

I'm counting on you, Cornerites. The eyes of the blogosphere are on you.

Kevin Drum 1:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

REQUEST....Quick request: does anyone know of a piece of software that can capture images from video being played by Windows Media Player or RealPlayer? I've tried several screen capture programs and can't get any of them to work. Needless to say, free is best and simple is highly desirable. My needs are not very sophisticated.

Kevin Drum 6:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE DELAY MELTDOWN....David Brooks says that the ground has shifted under Tom DeLay's feet:

It's shifted because many House Republicans know that DeLay has been playing close to the ethical edge for years. They've noticed the number of scandals the latest involving lobbying fees for some Indian casinos that trace back to DeLay cronies.

....Tom DeLay is a scandal waiting to happen. He casts himself as the enemy of Washington, but he's really a conventional (if effective) pol who wants to use dollars to entrench power. He represents the greatest danger the Republicans face, bossism. He wants to be the G.O.P.'s Boss Tweed.

....When people start gossiping about what the world would be like if you were gone as Republicans are now starting to do with DeLay you are in the first stages of political decline. It means that members start regarding you with a little less awe, and they start regarding your potential successors with a little more.

What's weird about Brooks' piece is that while he ruminates about why more members haven't stood up to DeLay, he shies away from stating the obvious: DeLay raises a ton of money for his colleagues. Even if it's not the whole story, it's certainly a big part of it.

For more on DeLay, Josh Marshall is having a lot of fun trying to track down which House members voted to protect DeLay and which ones stuck with their consciences. I emailed my congressman, Chris Cox, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, but I haven't heard back. A friend called and left voice mail, but she hasn't heard back either. Maybe we'll get replies on Monday....

Kevin Drum 6:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VOTING FRAUD UPDATE....The latest investigation into possible voting fraud in the 2004 election comes in a paper by a team at UC Berkeley headed by sociologist Michael Hout. Basically, they are trying to figure out whether the returns in counties that used electronic voting were systematically different in unexplainable ways from those that didn't.

Bottom line: they didn't find anything fishy in Ohio, but they did in Florida: "the total estimated excess votes in favor of Bush associated with Electronic Voting...is 130,733."

However, both Kieran Healy and Andrew Gelman are skeptical that Hout's results stand up. The chart on the right, adapted from Gelman's site, shows why.

The chart shows the size of the vote swing toward Bush in all Florida counties, and the basic pattern is simple: the more Republican a county was in 2000, the more heavily their vote swung even further toward Bush in 2004. At the bottom left are counties that are strongly Democratic, and their swing to Bush was actually negative compared to 2000. At the top right are counties that are heavily Republican, and their swing toward Bush was eight percentage points or more, far higher than the statewide average swing of 2.5 points.

Counties in red used electronic voting and counties in black didn't. Nearly all the counties fall within the two black lines, and there doesn't seem to be much difference between them. Both red and black circles show the same basic pattern, which means there's no special reason to think that anything funny was going on in counties with electronic voting.

In fact, it turns out that Hout's entire result is due to only two outliers: Broward County and Palm Beach County. This suggests several things:

  • There was almost certainly not any systemic fraud. If there were, it would have showed up in more than just two counties.

  • The results in Broward and Palm Beach are unusual, but it's hard to draw any conclusion from just two anomolies. As Kieran says, "it seems more likely that these results show the Republican Party Machine was really, really well-organized in Palm Beach and Broward, and they were able to mobilize their vote better than the Democrats."

  • Anyone who wants to continue investigating possible fraud in Florida anyway should focus on Broward and Palm Beach.

That's the latest. I'll post more if I hear anything interesting.

Kevin Drum 5:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BCS WOES....Auburn fans are unhappy with the BCS. J.A. Adande quotes Joe Piazza, whose brother owns an embroidery store in town:

"I don't think the computers can do the job that we think they should do. And I don't think people are going to vote the way we think they should vote. So I've got problems both ways. And that's the Auburn bias coming out."

That's admirably honest. And believe me, Joe, we USC fans feel your pain after getting the BCS shaft last year.

It's puzzling that Division 1 university presidents and coaches continue to be so opposed to a playoff system. The official excuse is that it lengthens the season too much, but that doesn't hold water. The BCS championship game is usually played around January 4, and if you had a four-team playoff you could play the two semifinals on New Year's Day and the championship game a week later. It would extend the season for two teams by about three days.

And it would mean we'd get a consensus winner, just like every other college sport. There have been many years in which more than two teams had a legitimate claim to being #1, but I can't ever remember a year in which more than four teams did. A four-team playoff is all that's needed.

So why not do it? I don't know. But the likely answer, as with everything related to college football, is money. Follow the money.

Kevin Drum 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COOPERATION....Apparently President Bush is preparing a push to "repair relations" with key allies:

The effort stems from the administration's realization that progress on issues that include the Middle East peace process, stabilizing Iraq and preventing Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons is far more likely with the cooperation of allies than if the U.S. worked alone, a White House official said.

I have nothing against this, of course, but it's still a pretty stunning admission. It's sort of like a basketball coach having a "realization" that good teamwork will probably help win more games.

Why would anyone on Bush's staff admit publicly that this hadn't really occurred to them before?

Kevin Drum 1:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

YES, YOU'RE BEING WATCHED....Quiz question of the day: Which of these famous institutions has the most data?

A. Wal-Mart
B. The entire internet

The fact that I'm asking the question at all probably makes the answer obvious. Details here.

UPDATE: False alarm! John Berry, VP of Engineering for the Internet Archive, emails to say that their site alone has about 1000 terabytes of information online, compared to Wal-Mart's 460 terabytes.

Google supposedly has 5,000 terabytes of hard drive space in its server farm.

UC Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems estimated last year that the total amount of information accessible via the internet was about 100,000 terabytes.

In other words, unless you take a very restricted view of the size of the internet (for example, limiting yourself to static public web pages), Wal-Mart is just a blip on the horizon.

Kevin Drum 8:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TRANSITION COSTS....Very roughly, Social Security is a "pay as you go" program. That is, workers pay payroll taxes, and those tax dollars are immediately transferred to retirees. If taxes are reduced, there's not enough money to pay current retirees.

This is the "transition cost" problem. If a portion of payroll taxes is diverted to private accounts, as President Bush is proposing, there's less money available to pay current retirees. This shortfall will remain a problem until private accounts are fully funded, a transition period of (probably) around 30 years or so.

Brad DeLong notes today that it seems likely this transition cost will be funded not by raising taxes in some way, but simply by increasing the deficit. But how will Bush get away with this, given the very considerable federal deficit (and related trade deficit) problems we already have, problems that are getting increasing attention even from prominent conservatives?

I'm not sure, but I want to throw out a wild guess. As some people know and lots of people don't, Social Security is only roughly pay as you go. In fact, right now payroll taxes exceed payouts to retirees by about $150 billion per year. This extra money is used to buy treasury bonds, which are piled up in a trust fund designed to be used in the future when taxes no longer exceed payouts.

Now, George Bush is known for liking "big" ideas. So here's a big idea: let's stop filling up the trust fund. This gives us $150 billion a year to fund the transition without raising taxes and without affecting benefits for current retirees.

What's the downside? First, it means the trust fund will run out of money sooner. Right now it's good until 2042, but if we stop filling it up it's probably only solvent until 2030 or so. For Bush, though, that's a minor roadblock. He'll just claim that by then private accounts will be so bulging with cash that we won't need the trust fund anymore.

Second, it means the federal deficit will go up. Right now, that $150 billion stays inside the government, turning a $600 billion deficit into a $450 billion deficit. But if that money is used to fund private accounts, our $600 billion deficit will genuinely become a $600 billion deficit.

But I'm not sure Bush will care about that either. My guess is that he'll argue that he isn't really increasing the deficit at all. He's just getting rid of some fuzzy accounting and ensuring that Social Security money is really being used for Social Security, not for funding other parts of government. Hell, he might even start quoting Al Gore about putting payroll taxes in a lockbox.

Needless to say, this is all speculation. But I hope somebody is thinking about how to fight this just in case it turns out to be his plan. Remember, George Bush has a penchant for making proposals that are more dramatic than anyone thought he'd dare, and this would certainly qualify. It's at least worth thinking about.

Kevin Drum 6:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELIMINATE THE NEA?....Looking for a symbolic way of demonstrating that Democrats share some of those all-important red state values we've heard about so much for the past two weeks? Jon Chait says today that while compromises on abortion and gay rights might be off the table, what about the National Endowment for the Arts?

The NEA is a major stick in the eye to the, um, culturally traditional. (I was going to write "guys named Jethro who own pickup trucks" but I'm trying not to inflame cultural sensitivities here.) In the past, the NEA has provoked enormous controversy by funding artists such as Andres Serrano, whose artworks include a photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine. Two years ago, the NEA helped support a group that put on "Broadway Bares XII," an AIDS fundraiser featuring nude performers. And even though the overwhelming majority of its projects aren't controversial, let's face it, the NEA is in large part a way of forcing the NASCAR set to subsidize the art house set.

[blah blah blah, art gets plenty of private funding already, it forces the feds into a censorship role, etc. etc.]

In that way, arts subsidies aren't much different than farm subsidies. The main difference, other than scale, is that arts subsidies go to a constituency that Democrats can afford to no, make that desperately need to offend.

I don't get it. I actually agree with Chait, and I'd throw in a few other items, like NPR and Amtrak, things that the free market is capable of supporting perfectly well. (Did you know, for example, that Congress continues to support long-haul Amtrak routes largely because Amtrak provides jobs in their districts? And does anyone think that market failures have produced a shortage of radio and TV channels in this country?)

But as a strategy for Democrats, what exactly is this supposed to accomplish? A wedge issue is something that forces the opposition party to make a difficult choice, but in this case it would be easy: if Democrats were on board too, Republicans would almost unanimously and gleefully vote to eliminate NEA. It wouldn't hurt them a bit. And I'd venture to say that not one single Democrat would pick up one single red vote for having championed this.

So what's the point?

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FIGHTING BACK....Ronnie Earle is the Texas DA who's currently pursuing an indictment of Tom DeLay for campaign finance violations. Mark Kleiman has a question:

Is anyone rallying the law enforcement folks behind Ronnie Earle?

I've only met him at a few conferences, but I know his reputation, and he rates about as high on professionalism as any D.A. in the country. But that doesn't mean that Earle won't get spattered by the current slime-and-defend if people don't speak out for him.

Somebody in the Democratic party or one of those new million-dollar liberal think tanks ought to be helping out with this, too. After all, one of the jobs of an opposition party is to highlight corruption and hypocrisy in the majority party and to help out anyone else doing so. So why aren't we seeing more descriptions of Earle as a tower of integrity in press reports?

Kevin Drum 11:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GROUNDHOG DAY WATCH....Colin Powell on Wednesday:

The United States has intelligence that Iran is working to adapt missiles to deliver a nuclear weapon, further evidence that the Islamic republic is determined to acquire a nuclear bomb, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Wednesday.

...."I have seen some information that would suggest that they have been actively working on delivery systems....You don't have a weapon until you put it in something that can deliver a weapon," Powell told reporters traveling with him to Chile for an Asia-Pacific economic summit.

The CIA on Thursday:

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell shared information with reporters Wednesday about Iran's nuclear program that was classified and based on an unvetted, single source who provided information that two U.S. officials said yesterday was highly significant if true but has not yet been verified.

....The official said the CIA remains unsure about the authenticity of the documents and how the informant came into their possession. A second official would say only that there are questions about the source of the information.

Even for the Bush administration, this is hard to believe. In a repeat of his infamous performance before the UN in 2003, Colin Powell deliberately decided to release damning information about our enemy-du-jour even though he knew the CIA was still in the process of deciding whether it was any good.

Glub, glub, glub....

UPDATE: And here's what the LA Times has to say:

[A] source described the intelligence mentioned by Powell as "weak." "They were surprised he went public on something that was weak and, because it was weak, was not supposed to be used," the source said.

...."I was surprised the administration put him out there or he put himself out there on this," said David Kay, the former head of the U.S. weapons search team in Iraq. "I thought if there was anyone in the administration that had been sufficiently burned by such sources, it would be Powell."

That's just great. It's hard to believe our credibility can get any worse on stuff like this, but obviously we're trying.

Kevin Drum 1:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REALITY TV....A few days ago the LA Times ran an article detailing the woes of the reality TV business. Apparently, with only a couple of exceptions, every reality show has shown big drops in viewership this season.

I have an idea that might explain part of it. As regular readers know, I'm a Survivor fan (the perfect show for the George Bush era, I like to call it), but this season hasn't really grabbed me much. One of the reasons is that for about the third or fourth time, the producers have decided to turn it into a Battle of the Sexes. Yawn.

What's more, an awful lot of other reality shows are following the same formula. The Apprentice pits the boys against the girls, Richard Branson divvied up the teams along gender lines in his new reality show, and of course all of the Bachelor/Bachelorette/Joe Millionaire shows are gender based by definition.

The first time Survivor did it, it was sort of a guilty pleasure. Deep in their hearts, who wasn't curious to see who'd come out on top? But now it's just old. Maybe reality TV still has legs, but it just needs to find a different trope for pitting the teams against each other. Anybody up for city slickers vs. rural hicks? Liberals vs. conservatives? Tall people vs. short people?

Kevin Drum 12:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CIVIL UNIONS....This column is a week old (I noticed it today via Andrew Tobias), but it's worth linking to. Thomas Oliphant points out that of the 11 gay marriage initiatives on the ballot this month, only three of them were solely about gay marriage:

In state after state...these referendums went far beyond the question of who gets to be formally married. They also banned legal and other conventions incidental to marriage, which are central to the evolving institutions of civil unions and domestic partnerships.

....In pivotal Ohio, for example, the voters may not have realized it but they voted to strip people of the right to contractually arrange distribution of assets, child custody, pensions, and other employment benefits. They most definitely were not "protecting" marriage; they were attacking gay people. That is why the political and business establishment there, including Republicans, opposed the measure.

These initiatives weren't "protecting" marriage, they were effectively banning civil unions too.

If I'd been paying more attention, I would have known that. But I figure that if I didn't know it, a lot of you probably didn't either. Now you do.

Kevin Drum 9:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE INFAMOUS TRUST FUND....Andrew Olmsted writes today that he often disagrees with me (sometimes harshly!) and that he has no doubt that I would disagree with him too if I had more time. Well, there's no time like the present!

As it happens, Andrew has a post today on a subject I get a steady stream of email about: the infamous Social Security trust fund. Basically, he takes issue with Edith Fierst's contention that Social Security is solvent until about 2042, correctly pointing out that payouts start to exceed taxes in about 2017. The only way Social Security stays solvent between 2017-2042 is by cashing in the treasury bonds it's been piling up in the trust fund since 1983.

The problem, of course, is that these bonds are redeemed by the U.S. treasury, which means they're basically an IOU from one branch of the government to another. What kind of a shell game is this?

Not a very good one, I agree. The trust fund was Alan Greenspan's idea in 1983, and it's a bit of sleight of hand that allows payroll taxes to stay low after 2017, but only at the cost of raising incomes taxes. Basically, the Social Security trustees redeem bonds every year after 2017, the feds cover the redemptions by increasing the income tax rate, and the additional income tax revenue is handed over to the Social Security trustees for disbursement to retirees. All we're doing is trading one tax for another.

But here's the thing: it doesn't matter. Maybe the trust fund was a good idea, maybe it wasn't. The fact is that it exists, and the federal government is not going to default on treasury bonds. Those bonds are going to be redeemed, they are going to be used to fund Social Security payments, and the money to redeem these bonds is going to come from the general fund i.e., income taxes. That decision was made two decades ago and there's no way to undo it now.

So that's why Fierst is correct to use the 2042 date. She's assuming that the treasury won't default on the trust fund bonds, and in that she's quite correct.

But Andrew is also quite correct to say that we're going to have to increase income taxes (or run a bigger deficit) in order to redeem those bonds. There's no way around that.

Really, though, there's no way around any of this. Over the long term the only way to keep Social Security solvent is to (modestly) raise taxes or (modestly) reduce benefits. All the fancy arithmetic and doubletalk in the world can't change that, no matter how desperately people want to believe it. We could make progress on this issue an awful lot faster if there weren't so many ideologues in Washington pretending otherwise.

Kevin Drum 7:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SOCIAL SECURITY....I've been cruising around the nooks and crannies of the conservative/libertarian web lately to see what they have to say about Social Security privatization, and it's made me even more puzzled about the whole thing than ever. As near as I can tell, privatization doesn't seem to make sense on any level (including the conspiracy theory level that it's just a payoff to Wall Street, by the way).

More on that later, when I work up the energy. In the meantime, Edith Fierst has a short op-ed in the Washington Post today explaining that (a) Social Security's problems are fairly minor and (b) they can be fixed fairly easily. Go read it.

POSTSCRIPT: I should add that there are lots of options here, not just hers. But the bottom line is that there are lots of options, they're all well known, and they aren't very painful.

And while I might choose a different mix than Fierst's, it's worth mentioning that I agree with her that raising the retirement age is probably a bad choice, although in the past I've been open to the idea. It would be unpopular, probably unwise, and wouldn't save all that much money. There are better options out there.

Kevin Drum 3:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INSURGENCY UPDATE....Last month I suggested that the success rate of big foreign armies fighting local insurgents was pretty low in the post-WWII era. It seemed like bad news for our effort in Iraq.

Today, David Adesnik points to a pair of professors from Dartmouth who make the same case, but says they're missing a key element: none of the failures involved democracy promotion while both of the successes did. Read and decide.

Kevin Drum 2:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANTI-SEMITISM....This is getting tiresome. It has long been a staple on the right that most criticism of Israel is really just thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Then after 9/11 we began hearing that criticism of neocons was just thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Now David Bernstein comes along to tell us that use of the term "Likudnik" is just thinly veiled anti-Semitism. This is apparently based on a dumb email he received that used the term both incorrectly and insultingly.

I have no doubt that some anti-Semites do indeed use these terms as ways of expressing their views in more socially acceptable ways. But what are the rest of us supposed to do? These groups and their supporters are all perfectly legitimate targets of criticism and I'm getting tired of the hyper-PC right suggesting otherwise. Using "Likudnik" as a synonym for "supporter of right-wing Israeli politics" isn't entirely correct, but it's not all that far off the mark, especially in casual usage.

Pointing out specific instances of anti-Semitism is a public service. Pointing out incorrect usage of specific terms is also fine although sometimes more pedantic than substantive, since it's hardly surprising that most Americans aren't familiar with the minutiae of right-wing Israeli politics. But a transparent effort to stifle criticism of right-wing Israeli policies by charging that "the Left...has let this particular anti-Semitic genie out of the bottle" isn't. Let's leave charges of anti-Semitism for actual anti-Semitism.

Kevin Drum 2:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TAX REFORM....Ah, I see that the news I missed during my little blackout last night was this Washington Post article about the Bush administration's likely plans for tax reform.

Apparently the idea of a flat tax or a national sales tax isn't under consideration after all. Instead, the plan is to fiddle with the current tax code.

But fiddle how? After a quick look, Matt Yglesias says, "I count three tax cuts for the wealthy here offset by two tax hikes on the middle class." Is he right? Let's excerpt the relevant passages from the Post article in handy bullet list form:

  1. ....shield interest, dividends and capitals gains from taxation.

  2. ....expand tax breaks for business investment.

  3. ....eliminating the deduction of state and local taxes on federal income tax returns.

  4. ....scrapping the business tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance.

  5. ....large savings accounts that could shelter thousands of dollars of deposits each year from taxation on investment gains.

  6. ....eliminate the alternative minimum tax, a parallel income tax designed to ensure that the rich pay income taxes.

Matt was close! But I count four tax breaks for the well off (1, 2, 5, and 6) along with two tax hikes on the middle class (3 and 4). I guess you can argue about #2 if you want.

The final plan might look completely different, of course, but it sort of shows you how they're thinking, doesn't it?

UPDATE: And Max points out that since blue states generally have higher state income tax rates than red states, #3 is a stealth tax on blue state residents. Well, that's what you get for voting against the guy! To the victor etc. etc.

UPDATE 2: Matt emails to say that he was counting #1 and #5 as the same thing. Good point. #5 is basically just the vehicle for accomplishing #1.

So that gets the score back to 3-2. On the other hand, interest, dividends, and capital gains are really three things not one, and if you break them out separately the score rises to 5-2. Any way you count it, the well off are doing pretty nicely here.

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OUT OF POWER....Good news and bad news this morning. The good news: to my surprise, that little UPS I bought a couple of years ago works. The bad news: my neightborhood has been without power since last night. And the UPS beeps annoyingly for a full hour while its batteries drain away.

Luckily, I had just gotten our propane tank filled up, so dinner was no problem. Missed last night's episode of Lost, though. Listened to it on the radio instead. It's not as good without pictures, is it? So what does that Danielle person look like? Is she hot?

After the evening's "television" was over, we read in bed for a while until our flashlight batteries gave out. The cats took the whole thing calmly although some broken crockery during the evening demonstrates that feline night vision isn't all it's cracked up to be. This is our second power outage in a month. Maybe I'll go out later and buy a Coleman lantern or something for the next time Southern California Edison decides to turn us into a third-world outpost.

Today's task: clearing out the refrigerator.

Kevin Drum 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

NOT CHUMP CHANGE....John Kerry ended his campaign with over $15 million in the bank plus $7 million in legal and accounting compliance funds. The legal funds I can understand, since those are meant to be used after the election, but the other $15 million is a little harder to justify. I'm not very sympathetic to post-election Kerry bashing, but in a campaign that featured a presidential race lost by less than 200,000 votes (and that went completely dark in August) plus several senatorial races lost by a few percentage points or less, it's a little hard to understand why that money wasn't put to use.

Kevin Drum 8:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX....I suppose it couldn't hurt. The following just came across the fax machine in our office: "The Amazing Kreskin Offers His Talents To Help His Homestate of New Jersey During Transition: Mentalist offers to use abilities to safeguard against corruption."

Apparently, there's been a slump in demand for world famous mentalists lately. So Kreskin has decided to offer his services to the state of New Jersey in order to determine whether its leaders are lying or trying to cut unscrupulous deals. "If he detects dishonesty," the press release says, "he plans to work with the proper authorities to correct any misdeeds." It's unclear whether Kreskin plans to donate his skills--although the fax does say "The Amazing Kreskin has never taken his gift for granted and has often used it for social good"--or whether he expects payment in return.

I have to say, it's kind of cute that someone thinks you need extraordinary abilities to determine whether public officials are lying or not. I also try to use my skills for good and not evil, and I'm willing to offer them not just to the state of New Jersey, but to the entire country in exchange for nothing more than, perhaps, some snacks. We've run out of popcorn again in the office and we're getting hungry.

Amy Sullivan 6:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXIT POLL UPDATE....The exit polls this year indicated a big lead for John Kerry, but when the final vote tallies came in George Bush had earned a decisive victory. Should we be suspicious of this? Is it evidence of possible vote fraud?

I've already expressed my skepticism about this, but last week I posted a paper by Steven Freeman that laid out the exit poll case so that people could judge for themselves. Today, though, Ruy Teixeira throws yet more cold water on the fraud thesis by taking a look at raw exit poll results from past years. Here's the basic data for the popular vote:


Exit Poll Results

Dem Lead

Dem Actual


Dukakis: 50.3%
Bush: 49.7%




Clinton: 46%
Bush: 33.2%




Clinton: 52.2%
Dole: 37.5%




Gore: 48.5%
Bush: 46.2%



As you can see, the raw exit poll results always overstate the Democratic vote, sometimes by as much as eight percentage points. So the fact that the raw results this year overstated Kerry's actual vote tally is hardly cause for alarm.

Of course, that's not the whole story. In a masterpiece of understatement, Ruy avers that "exit pollsters have never made much effort to publicly explain and document their methods," which is sort of like saying that the Mafia has a preference for holding staff meetings without the media present. As near as I can tell, it's not that they don't make much effort, it's that they actively refuse to explain even the rudiments of what they do, even when the exit polls become a legitimate news story in their own right.

Why does this matter? Because while the 1988-2000 results above are completely raw and unweighted, we don't know for sure if the 2004 results that Freeman lists in his paper are also completely raw. They may already be partially weighted, in which case we'd expect them to be more accurate than the stuff from past years. The exit pollsters who, you may recall, are contractors to large media organizations that normally value transparency and the public's right to know could easily explain this if they chose to. And they could just as easily show us proper comparisons with past results.

But if they did that, then there wouldn't be any conspiracy theories left for large media organizations to mock. We can't have that, can we?

UPDATE: It appears that Freeman's data is correct, but Mystery Pollster has a long post explaining that his conclusions probably aren't. And Mayflower Hill has a brief interview with exit pollster Warren Mitofsky, who says (a) he thinks the pro-Kerry bias was due to Kerry voters being more willing to fill out exit poll surveys, and (b) an analysis they've done shows that exit poll deviations weren't any different in precincts with different kinds of voting machines, which means that electronic fraud is very unlikely as an explanation for anything.

But I have to love this:

[Mitofsky] is reluctant to release anything prematurely that could be misinterpreted by the talking heads who showed on election day they aren't capable of analyzing basic raw polling data because of all the controversy it might cause. As he told me, "If you think I've got headaches now [from explaining data I didn't give out], imagine what that would do to me. I don't need that." He added, though, that "At some point it would be appropriate to release a public report."

Unbelievable. The huddled masses are just too ignorant to possibly understand this stuff. Question: what would be the media's reaction to, say, NASA, if that were the line they took after the Columbia disaster?

Kevin Drum 5:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CORNER OFFICES....Quick quiz: what do the following people have in common? And what do those numbers next to their names mean?

7. Condoleezza Rice
12. Andy Card
13. Dan Bartlett
22. Margaret Spellings
26. Alberto Gonzales

Answer: Aside from George Bush, these are the five people in the West Wing with corner offices. (The numbers come from a Washington Post graphic that identifies each of the offices.)

Note that three of them have just been promoted (Rice to State, Spellings to Education, and Gonzales to Justice), one is staying put (Card) and one is....well, we don't know what's going on with Dan Bartlett, do we? However, Mike Allen of the Washington Post suggests that he is likely to "assume an expanded portfolio, perhaps as Bush's counselor, a title that was retired when Karen Hughes left in 2002."

It just goes to show: sometimes conventional wisdom is right. Keeping an eye on the people with the biggest offices really can pay off....

Kevin Drum 4:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GROUNDHOG DAY?....You know, I'm more than willing to believe that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a very bad thing indeed. But take a look at what's been going on just in the past few weeks:

I can't be the only one to think I've seen this script before, can I? Is real life turning into Groundhog Day?

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PERSON OF THE YEAR....Time magazine's "Person of the Year" began in 1927. Since that time, only two U.S. presidents have failed to win. Who were they?

Complete list here.

Kevin Drum 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONDI FOR PRESIDENT?....Here are a few excerpts from a profile of Condi Rice in the LA Times today:

Rice's ability to become an almost clone-like extension of the president to understand what he wants, to make her only agenda his agenda and to carry out his wishes with unfailing loyalty has made her invaluable.

....Wherever she goes and whomever she's talking to, admirers and critics agreed, Rice has exercised unusual power because she has had only one agenda and spoken in only one voice: the president's.

...."She is remarkably effective in being a very attractive mirror for whomever she is working with," said a foreign policy specialist who had known Rice for 20 years and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

I just wanted to lay this out for all those members of the Condi fan club who think she would be a great candidate for president in 2008. "Clone-like extension" and "attractive mirror" are not the phrases that usually leap to mind when I think of presidential candidates.

Kevin Drum 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BERNARD LEWIS AND THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS....Bernard Lewis is one of America's best known scholars of the Middle East. To the public, he became famous with the fortuitous publication a few weeks after 9/11 of What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, but among Washington policymakers he became more than just famous he became influential. Deeply influential. Michael Hirsh explains:

Lewis's basic premise, put forward in a series of articles, talks, and bestselling books, is that the West what used to be known as Christendom is now in the last stages of a centuries-old struggle for dominance and prestige with Islamic civilization.

....This way of thinking had the remarkable virtue of appealing powerfully to both the hard-power enthusiasts in the administration, principally Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, who came into office thinking that the soft Clinton years had made America an easy target and who yearned to send a post-9/11 message of strength; and to neoconservatives from the first Bush administration such as Paul Wolfowitz, who were looking for excuses to complete their unfinished business with Saddam from 1991 and saw 9/11 as the ultimate refutation of the realist response to the first Gulf War.

....Bernard Lewis was persona grata, delivering spine-stiffening lectures to Cheney over dinner in undisclosed locations. Abandoning his former scholarly caution, Lewis was among the earliest prominent voices after September 11 to press for a confrontation with Saddam, doing so in a series of op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal with titles like A War of Resolve and Time for Toppling. An official who sat in on some of the Lewis-Cheney discussions recalled, His view was: 'Get on with it. Don't dither.'

But what was behind Lewis' vision of "a secularized, Westernized Arab democracy that casts off the medieval shackles of Islam and enters modernity at last"? And is it right?

Hirsh explains that too. Click here when you have a few spare minutes to read about it.

Kevin Drum 12:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SCORCHED EARTH....On Thursday, House Republicans took the odd step of reversing a rule that says anyone in a leadership positions who's indicted of a crime has to step down. Why? Because one of their leaders, Tom DeLay, seems likely to be indicted sometime soon on charges of breaking Texas state fundraising rules. Mark Kleiman responds:

Pelosi and Reid, and the rest of us, need to take a page from the Republican playbook of 1993-2000. No surrender, no compromise, no bipartisanship, no civility, no reaching out to Republican officeholders (as opposed to detachable Republican voters): nothing but scorched earth from here to victory.

I'm a moderate kind of guy, but this sounds about right to me. When you're playing against people like this, what choice do you have?

Kevin Drum 12:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE SPECTER SHOW....You know, this whole Arlen Specter thing is turning out pretty well for Republicans, isn't it? At this point, despite a hail of criticism from the pro-life forces, it looks like he's going to win the Judiciary Committee chairmanship after all. A triumph for moderation!

At the same time, he's been forced to grovel so badly to get it that it's pretty obvious he's going to do whatever the president and his social conservative pals want from this point forward. Even for a guy I don't like much, it's been almost painful to watch the humiliation he's been put through over this.

So in the end, Republicans get to look moderate by confirming Specter, but only after forcing him to publicly capitulate to the conservative abortion lobby. If they had actually planned things that way, I'd have said it was an unusually well played round of political theater.

Still, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Kevin Drum 6:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE INCREDIBLES....I wonder if we could all call a truce in the relentless battle to find political messages in every last corner of popular culture? Sure, Team America had an obvious political spin, but The Incredibles?

I mean, is it really true that "many critics on the left have decried it"? I'll admit I haven't been paying a lot of attention to this topic, but color me skeptical anyway. Many? It's true that a joke about frivolous lawsuits sets up the movie's premise, but that's followed a mere few minutes later by that lefty favorite, a scheming insurance company executive whose only goal in life is to screw his customers out of money they deserve.

And yes, there's some stuff about how everyone should make the most of their talents, but that doesn't strike me as something even extreme lefties would object to. Quite the contrary. What's more, the ending is practically an ode to fairness toward those who are less talented than you.

But the biggest meme from the right seems to be astonishment that the movie features an ordinary, suburban nuclear family. Hurrah!

Now, as it happens, I don't watch a lot of kids' movies. But I saw Toy Story, and it starred a suburban nuclear family. The Simpsons are a suburban nuclear family. Finding Nemo may have been about fish, but it was a father and son pair of fish. Spy Kids featured a nuclear family.

Aren't lots of movies aimed at children like this? Nuclear families, or love stories, or rags-to-riches stories, or the like? With the heroes triumphing over incredible odds? What am I missing? It really doesn't seem like The Incredibles broke any new ground here.

POSTSCRIPT: In case you're curious, I thought The Incredibles was OK, but not great. There's something about the Pixar formula that's getting a little tired, I think. The Incredibles was wry, it was ironic, it had the usual quota of jokes that only adults would get, it had....well, it had all the stuff Pixar movies always have. It was fun, but far from their best.

And Team America? I can't say I wasn't warned: if you don't like South Park, David Adesnik told me, you won't like Team America. And he was right. The first South Park movie is literally the only movie I've ever fallen asleep in, and while I stayed awake for Team America, and even laughed a few times, the Trey Parker/Matt Stone humor formula is just too obvious and forced for my taste. (Which, as the saying goes, there's no accounting for.)

On the other hand, for a cat lover like me, it was kind of funny to watch the scene where they're using a couple of black housecats as stand-ins for vicious puppet-eating panthers....

Kevin Drum 5:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

BUT STEREOTYPES ARE SO FUN....Consumed with writing our next cover story (on a not-even-remotely-related-to-religion topic) these past few weeks, I decided that instead of weighing in on the whole "Are all liberals godless heathens and all conservatives intolerant Bible-thumpers" debate, I'd let it play out for a little while and then assemble my thoughts at some point. That point is not now. Fortunately, in the midst of a lot of nonsense about moral issues and values flying around right now, there are a few thoughtful pieces worth reading. Over at Beliefnet, Steve Waldman eschews the stereotyping that is so popular and presents instead the ten ideas about liberals and conservatives that are true. Elsewhere on the same site, David Domke argues that a new religious coalition contributed to Bush's victory. I'm withholding judgment about whether David's right until I've had a chance to crunch the numbers for myself, but his theory is worth a look.

Amy Sullivan 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POWELL'S LEGACY....Does it really make any difference that Colin Powell is leaving the State Department? After all, the combination of the Rumsfeld/Cheney axis and his own loss of public credibility after the UN speech marginalized him so much that he wasn't doing anyone much good by the time he finally resigned.

Maybe so. But Juan Cole argues that Powell did make a difference after all:

Insiders in Washington have told me enough stories about Powell victories behind the scenes that I am not sure the marginalization argument is decisive. Powell had an alliance with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the two of them could sometimes derail the wilder plans of the Department of Defense. Blair, and probably Powell, convinced Bush to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan before going on to an Iraq war. Imagine how dangerous the situation would be if the US were bogged down in Iraq as it is now, but Bin Laden's 40 training camps were still going full steam!

Likewise, I have it on good authority that Powell and Blair derailed a Department of Defense plan to install Ahmad Chalabi as a soft dictator in Iraq within 6 months of the fall of Saddam. Jay Garner had been given this charge, and Powell was able to get Paul Bremer in, instead, with a charge to keep the country out of Chalabi's corrupt hands.

If this is true, it's no wonder that Blair seems a little nervous these days. What's he going to do now that there are no adults left for him to team up with?

Kevin Drum 2:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRATS AND TERROR....Matt Yglesias suggests a few ways in which Democrats can gain more credibility on national security issues:

One good place to start, ironically enough, would be where the Kerry campaign left off: by picking up some proposals that his political team inexplicably failed to emphasize. Expanding the size of the regular Army by adding new special forces and civil affairs personnel is good policy, strong politics, and even something that might pick up Republican support. More special forces are precisely what the country needs if it wants to retain a capacity to use military power against terrorist groups without committing to a massive, Iraq-style operation every time we do so. Iraq has also taught us that as the military is currently configured, so-called post-conflict reconstruction operations place an intolerable burden on Reserve and National Guard units, where almost all the civil affairs troops are located.

There are plenty of other concrete proposals Democrats could make too, primarily in the areas of homeland security and democracy promotion. Some of them would be serious proposals, while others might be little more than populist wedge issues. But Republicans use both kinds of proposals to their advantage, so why not Democrats?

And as Matt says, the kinds of things we're talking about are perfectly consistent with liberal principles. There's no compromise with our conscience required here, and no appeasement of Christian extremist intolerance. Just a combination of smart proposals and smart politics.

Kevin Drum 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON MILEAGE TAXES....The LA Times has a story today about proposals to begin taxing motorists by the number of miles they drive. There's no telling if this will go anywhere, since the technology to accomplish this isn't really ready for prime time yet and the policy arguments for and against it are sort of wonkish.

But there were two part of the article that just had me shaking my head, and I thought I'd share them with you. First this:

The idea has been circulating because more Californians are driving fuel-efficient cars....Revenue from the gas and diesel fuel tax about $3.3 billion will have declined 8% between 1998 and 2005, adjusted for inflation....Drivers of non-hybrid cars have said it's unfair to pay the larger burden of gasoline taxes.

Let me get this straight. For years we've been trying desperately to get people to buy more efficient cars, and one way of doing it is to tax gas guzzlers at a higher rate than hybrids and other fuel-efficient cars. It's good for the environment and it helps reduce our need for imported oil. And it's working!

So what happens? Now people are worried that it means lower gas tax revenues. Drivers of fuel hogs think it's unfair that they should pay more than drivers of hybrids. So let's think of a way of taxing fuel-efficient cars at higher levels. Yeah, that's the ticket!

And then there's another issue: privacy. One way of tracking mileage is to put a GPS receiver in everyone's car and then track where they drive. Does it bother you that the government would be compiling this information on your movements? Apparently not:

"While some people are concerned about civil liberties, most people are not," [policy expert Elizabeth] Deakin said. "One of the things we found from focus groups and surveys is that most people said if the government wanted to track you, they have other ways to do it."

Is that the most depressing quote in the world, or what? While some people are concerned about civil liberties, most people are not.

And the worst part of it is that she's probably right.

Kevin Drum 12:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

STEALTH SQUARED....Speaking of stealth legislation, how do you like these apples?

Tucked within the House's 497-page version of the "9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act" is a provision to repeal the requirement that senior-level officials report their personal financial assets valued at more than $2.5 million. It also would end the practice of disclosing the dates of stock transactions.

The proposal to limit financial disclosures initially covered only top-level intelligence officials. It was recently expanded to include all executive branch officials, according to a draft version of the bill.

Yes, that makes sense. We need to eliminate financial reporting requirements for every rich person in the executive branch. For national security reasons, natch.

I guess that's what this whole mandate business is all about. Pretty sweet.

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A PLEA TO MICHAEL KINSLEY....OK, I asked this once before, but the LA Times editorial page is under new management so I'm going to ask again: what is John Lott doing writing op-eds for them? The man is a fraud and the Times demeans itself by allowing him space on their pages.

This has nothing to do with complicated arguments over statistical models that require an advanced degree to understand. It's also not about the fact that he appears to have lied about conducting a survey that he doesn't seem to have actually conducted. Neither is it about his infamous career as "Mary Rosh" defending his own work under a pseudonym on the internet.

It's about the fact that he has posted, retracted, and then reposted fraudulent data and then covered it up. Details are here, and no mathematical background is needed to understand it.

If anyone from the LA Times editorial page is reading this or anyone from any other editorial page, for that matter do your credibility a favor. Stop publishing this guy.

Kevin Drum 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

STEALTH CONSERVATISM....In my post this morning about liberal goals, I mentioned that one of the problems facing Democrats is that "Republicans are mostly nibbling around the edges, not taking a chainsaw to liberal programs." And why is this a problem? Because it's hard to mobilize widespread opposition to conservative policies when they're put into place a little bit at a time. It's the old boiling frog problem.

Via Tapped, though, Jeffrey Rosen at the New Republic provides an example of a related but different problem for Democrats, one that I briefly touched on a year ago. The problem is this: modern conservatives are largely trying to implement their policies via stealth. It's not always clear what they're up to, and even when it is, it's way too complex to explain what's going on to the average voter.

Rosen's article is about the conservative project to overhaul the judiciary. Abortion, he says, is just a red herring:

In fact, what is at stake in the election is not the future of Roe v. Wade, school prayer, or any of the culture-war issues that have inflamed the country since the 1970s....If Bush wins, his aides seem determined to select justices who would resurrect what they call "the Constitution in Exile," reimposing meaningful limits on federal power that could strike at the core of the regulatory state for the first time since the New Deal.

....In 1995...the Supreme Court began taking tentative steps toward resurrecting some of the constitutional limitations on the regulatory state that had been dormant since the '30s....Nevertheless, the Rehnquist Court's so-called federalism revolution has not yet delivered what the conservatives hoped. Every time the conservative justices have appeared on the brink of striking down a federal statute with real political support, such as the Environmental Protection Act, O'Connor or Kennedy have written hedging opinions reassuring moderates that the Court intends to challenge congressional power only at the margins.

....Taken to its logical limits, the Constitution in Exile would call into question not only environmental protections but workplace regulations like the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Furthermore, in the hands of a determined Bush majority on the Supreme Court, Congress's power to ban discrimination might be challenged as well.

Other examples of stealth programs include the implicit voucherization of public education in the No Child Left Behind Act, the administration's embrace of the Orwellian "Data Quality Act," and the Medicare "competition" plan slipped into the prescription drug bill last year, a plan that's both reviled by Republicans themselves and not slated to start until Bush is safely out of office in 2010.

The comparison with liberal programs is instructive. The point of the Social Security Act really was to provide pensions to old people. The point of the Civil Rights Act really was to eliminate discrimination. The purpose of Bill Clinton's healthcare plan really was to provide national healthcare. Win or lose, there was no stealth involved.

But conservatives are increasingly unwilling to say what they really want and risk public opinion in an up or down vote. After all, if they wanted to reduce congressional regulation or repeal OSHA, they could just introduce a bill to reduce congressional regulation or repeal OSHA. They control both houses of Congress and the presidency, remember? But that would be unpopular, so they don't do it.

I don't have a clue how to make this stuff simple enough that it becomes an electoral winner for liberals. Eventually, of course, when it becomes clear what conservatives are up to, they'll lose public support. But it would be a lot better if we could make it clear now so we don't have to clean up the mess it leaves in another decade or two.

I'm just not sure how to do that.

Kevin Drum 6:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PURGING THE CIA....Knut Royce of Newsday reports that the CIA is screwed:

The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President George W. Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to knowledgeable sources.

"The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House," said a former senior CIA official who maintains close ties to both the agency and to the White House. "Goss was given instructions ... to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats. The CIA is looked on by the White House as a hotbed of liberals and people who have been obstructing the president's agenda."

Again: loyalty is everything, now. Justice, State, and the CIA are being filled with people whose most signal qualification is loyalty to George Bush, and I'm sure more is on the way.

As Josh Marshall says, this is a recipe for disaster, especially at the CIA. It's not that the professionals at the CIA have always been right:

But in the cases where they got things wrong, it was always the case the the White House and the rest of the administration was pushing for wrong+1 or more likely wrong-squared.

....On every significant point of conflict between the Bush administration and the country's cadre of intelligence professionals, the Bush political appointees turned out to be wrong. Often very wrong, and with disastrous consequences. Sometimes the intel folks were wrong too; but when that was so, the appointees were always more wrong.

....If you think this is just a Washington squabble or political debating point you'd be mistaken. Because your lives, and those of your families and friends, may very well be on the line.

I think that about covers it.

Kevin Drum 2:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELEVATOR TALK....After smashing an egg on his face in yet another bizarre public act of contrition, James Carville said this about the Democratic party on Meet the Press yesterday:

And by and large, our message has been we can manage problems, while the Republicans, although they will say we can solve problems, they produce a narrative. We produce a litany. They say, "I'm going to protect you from the terrorists in Tehran and the homos in Hollywood." We say, "We're for clean air, better schools, more health care." And so there's a Republican narrative, a story, and there's a Democratic litany.

I think Carville is right about this. In the high tech world, we like to say that if you can't explain what your company does in the space of an elevator ride, something is wrong. And while I can rattle off the "elevator" version of what Republicans stand for without even thinking about it ("lower taxes, family values, smaller government, and a kick-ass military"), I sure can't do the same for Democrats.

But I'm going to venture an even more fundamental explanation for the problem Carville addresses: in broad terms, Democrats have already accomplished their goals. What's left is mostly improving things at the margins, not fundamental changes.

To see what I mean, think about the "elevator" version of modern American liberalism. I don't have a bumper sticker version on tap, but if you'll excuse some awkward wording I think it goes roughly like this: "Equal rights, economic security, personal liberties, and protection from huge corporations." There's unquestionably work left to be done on all these things, but take a look at the big ticket items we already have:

  • Equal rights? We've got the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, gender discrimination laws, and the ADA.

  • Economic security? We've got Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, subsidized public education, welfare, and the minimum wage.

  • Personal liberties? Abortion is legal, forced prayer is gone from public schools, criminal defendents are guaranteed a lawyer, and there are times when it almost seems as if high school students and the mentally deranged have more rights than normal adults.

  • Corporate predation? We've got OSHA, workers comp, loads of environmental regulations, consumer protection laws by the bushel, and capital markets that are more transparent than ever in history.

Make no mistake: there's plenty of progress yet to be made on all these scores. Black poverty remains a national scandal, the current minimum wage would be shameful in a country half as wealthy as ours, and we still have a long battle for gay rights ahead of us.

But I suspect that most people, maybe even most liberals, would say we've accomplished 80% of what we set out to do back in the 30s and 60s. Maybe even 90%. In terms of genuinely big programs, the only one left is national healthcare and that's just not enough to hang our hats on.

To a large extent, Republicans have woven a compelling narrative out of their desire to tear down a big part of this liberal legacy. If they succeed, public opinion is almost certain to turn against them, but in the meantime Democrats are stuck. Merely objecting to the Republican agenda isn't enough, especially since Republicans are mostly nibbling around the edges, not taking a chainsaw to liberal programs.

But if we've accomplished most of what we set out to do all those decades ago, what's next? Finishing off the final 10%? Fighting a war of attrition against relentless Republican dagger thrusts? It's true that those things need to be done and I'm not trying to denigrate their importance but they just aren't compelling enough to win elections for us. We need new goals. We need a new elevator talk.

Kevin Drum 2:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CABINET RESHUFFLING....CNN reports that four more cabinet members are resigning, including Colin Powell at the State Department. That means that two of the "Big Four" cabinet members are now out (Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft) along with four other lesser cabinet members (Commerce, Energy, Education, and Agriculture).

So far, then, the cabinet shuffle seems fairly normal. After the 1996 election, Bill Clinton replaced his State and Defense secretaries along with five other cabinet members. Unless there are a lot more resignations on the way, Bush's reshuffle seems about par for the course.

Unsurprisingly, I guess, Condi Rice is said to be the "likely" choice to replace Powell although I've never understood the Rice fan club that's taken hold among some conservatives, since she seems to be one of the most signal failures of Bush's first-term team. After all, her job is coordinating foreign policy, and if there's anything that pretty clearly didn't happen over the past four years, it's been getting everyone to sing out of the same foreign policy hymn book.

Still, loyalty seems to be the name of the game this time around, and Rice is nothing if not loyal. Between her at State and Alberto Gonzales at Justice, the cabinet loyalty quotient has just gone up several notches.

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUDGET HAWKS....The LA Times has a peculiar story today about possible conflict between the president and Congress on spending. Here's a snippet:

In the first test of the fresh "political capital" he said he earned in winning a second term, President Bush will try to convince the lame-duck Congress that convenes Tuesday to approve money for a host of spending initiatives from helping community colleges to exploring outer space.

...."The lame-duck session may provide an early indicator of how successful the Bush administration will be in halving the deficit by controlling spending," said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, an Arlington, Va.-based budget watchdog group.

The whole story is like that. In one paragraph it sounds like Bush wants to spend more money, and then a paragraph later he's the guy holding the line against a congressional pork fest. And a paragraph after that it's Congress that wants to cut back.

Weird. I have no idea what's going on. But if things go true to form, I'm sure they'll compromise by approving everyone's spending plans. And then tossing in some kind of sweetheart tax cut for a favored industry just to round things out.

Kevin Drum 12:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MODERATES AND CONSERVATIVES....Brendan Nyhan takes issue with David Broder's contention that George Bush won the election by "fighting John Kerry to a near-standoff among self-described moderates." Say again?

A near-standoff? Bush lost among moderates by nine points, comparable to his eight-point loss with moderate voters in 2000. But moderates went down from 50% of the electorate in 2000 to 45% in 2004, while conservatives went up from 29% to 34%. This change in the composition of the electorate was apparently not driven by "moral values" as most people think, but it was where Bush made most of his gains in going from losing the popular vote in 2000 to winning it by more than three million votes in 2004. The self-identified moderate vote is the wrong place for Broder to look for Bush's "real success."

I think that's right, but the electoral switch Brendan points to really deserves an exclamation point. We all know that conservatives have gained ground in America ever since Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, but the process apparently accelerated considerably after 9/11. Of the one-half or so of the country that typically thinks of itself as moderate, a full 5% of them decided to get off the fence this year and identify themselves as conservative.

That's a big switch, and it's hard to attribute such a sudden change to anything other than 9/11. However, while national security may have been the motivation, there's an even bigger potential danger sign here for liberals: once people change teams, they tend to adopt their new team's views on lots of issues, not just the one that caused the switch in the first place. That's bad news for liberal principles beyond just those associated with national security.

This demonstrates, again, that the big problem for liberals isn't George Bush. The big problem is that 51% of the country agrees with George Bush. We should stop worrying quite so much about Bush himself and worry a little more about shifting public opinion. After all, the next presidential election is only 48 months away.

Kevin Drum 2:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RED STATES AND BLUE STATES....EXPLAINED!....In my post yesterday about red states and blue states, one question I pondered was this: why were Gore states colored blue in 2000 election maps and Bush states red? After all, red is traditionally the color of lefty parties around the world, and in past elections network maps had usually colored Democratic states red.

In comments, Petey provides the answer:

Since the advent of color TV, there has been a formula to avoid charges of giving any party an advantage by painting it a "better" color. Here is the formula: the color of the incumbent party alternates every 4 years.

He seems to be quite correct. The table below shows how this formula has applied since 1976:







Blue = Ford

Red = Carter



Red = Carter

Blue = Reagan



Blue = Reagan

Red = Mondale



Red = Bush

Blue = Dukakis



Blue = Bush

Red = Clinton



Red = Clinton

Blue = Dole



Blue = Gore

Red = Bush



Red = Bush

Blue = Kerry

This fits all the available evidence, and also explains why Democrats have usually been colored red: it's a coincidence. In the six elections prior to 2000 every Democrat but one had been coded red, but that was just because of how the cycle of incumbency happened to work out during that period.

And as Petey points out in email, this raises an interesting question: what will happen in 2008? The formula will assign blue to the Republicans, but the red state/blue state divide has now become so entrenched it's hard to imagine anyone switching colors at this point. I guess in four years we'll find out just how anal the network mapping gurus really are.

POSTSCRIPT: If anyone has firsthand knowledge or knows someone with firsthand knowledge about when this formula was agreed on and how it came about, please email me. It would be interesting to nail this down once and for all.

Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 13, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

RED STATE, BLUE STATE....My friend Professor Marc just asked me where the terms "red state" and "blue state" came from. I provided the nickel explanation (it's derived from the electoral map of the 2000 election), but added that there were some oddities about the whole thing that I myself didn't understand.

So I hopped over to Nexis and did a search going back 20 years for every story that included both the phrase "red state" and "blue state." Here's what I found:

  • The first print usage I uncovered was by David Nyhan in the Boston Globe on October 15, 1992: "But when the anchormen turn to their electronic tote boards election night and the red states for Clinton start swamping the blue states for Bush, this will be a strange night for me."

  • Note that in Nyhan's column, he refers to red states as Democratic states and blue states as Republican states just the opposite of current usage. As the Washington Post explained a few days ago:

    In 1976, NBC identified states won by Gerald Ford in blue and Jimmy Carter's states in red. On election night in 1980, ABC News showed Ronald Reagan's march to the White House as a series of blue lights on a map, with Carter's states in red. Time magazine assigned red to the Democrats and blue to the Republicans in its election graphics in every election from 1988 to 2000. The Washington Post's election graphics for the 2000 election were Republican-blue, Democrat-red.

    Although there was never any kind of consensus on this, prior to 2000 it was more common to associate red with Democrats and blue with Republicans.

  • Astonishingly enough at least in the sources indexed by Nexis there is only one other reference to red and blue states in the U.S. print media for the entire rest of the decade (although the electoral maps themselves continued to be color coded, of course).

  • In the 2000 election, NBC, CBS, CNN, and USA Today all coded their maps blue for Gore and red for Bush (I couldn't find a reference for either ABC or Fox). Why the color switch from 1996, when Clinton states were generally colored red? Beats me. (UPDATE: Answer here!)

  • So how did red and blue then get cemented permanently into place? The Post article takes the following stab at explaining it:

    As the 2000 election became a 36-day recount debacle, the commentariat magically reached consensus on the proper colors. Newspapers began discussing the race in the larger, abstract context of red vs. blue. The deal may have been sealed when [David] Letterman suggested a week after the vote that a compromise would "make George W. Bush president of the red states and Al Gore head of the blue ones."

    Maybe. My guess is that it had more to do with the fact that most of the networks and it's the networks that really count for visual stuff like this, not the print media happened to color their maps the same way in 2000: blue for Gore, red for Bush. Letterman's comment got quoted a lot, but it's not clear that it really had much impact on the whole red/blue thing.

But now for the real question: how is it that red states and blue states became iconic? After all, previous elections also had electoral maps, but they didn't become cultural touchstones. Why did it happen this time? And who was the first person to use these terms as cultural shorthand, not merely as references to a map? I can't say for sure, but here are a few guesses:

  • The 2000 map was geographically more striking than in previous years. Bush won a huge contiguous region that included the South, Midwest, and Mountain States, and the starkness of the divide combined with the razor closeness of the "50-50 America" election made the map more memorable than in the past.

  • Because of the Florida recount fiasco, the electoral map was on television screens for over a month. Usually we see it for a day or two and then it's gone.

  • Letterman may have helped the red/blue dichotomy achieve its iconic cultural status, but as prime movers I'll nominate Mike Barnicle and Paul Begala. Shortly after the election, Barnicle held up the electoral map on MSNBC and described its swaths of color as representing "family values versus a sense of entitlement." A few days later Begala responded with a fiery column pointing out that:

    The state where an Army private who was thought to be gay was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat, and the state where neo-Nazi skinheads murdered two African-Americans because of their skin color, and the state where Bob Jones University spews its anti-Catholic bigotry: theyre all red too.

    All hell broke loose after that and red and blue quickly became entrenched as emblems of the "two Americas." Cathy Young, though dissenting from the two Americas thesis itself, described a bit more about its evolution in this Reason article from March 2001.

So there you have it. If anyone has further details to offer (for example, evidence of how ABC and Fox colored their 2000 maps), comments are open.

Kevin Drum 7:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF....Here's an interesting story from AP's Lindsey Tanner:

Some malpractice-overhaul advocates say an apology can help doctors avoid getting sued, especially when combined with an upfront settlement offer.

....Doctors' often-paternalistic relationship with patients is giving way to an understanding that ''it's OK to tell the patient the whole story," said Dr. Paul Barach, an anesthesiologist and patient safety researcher at the University of Miami. It is ''a huge sea change as far as our relationships with patients."

The hospitals in the University of Michigan Health System have been encouraging doctors since 2002 to apologize for mistakes. The system's annual attorney fees have since dropped from $3 million to $1 million, and malpractice lawsuits and notices of intent to sue have fallen from 262 filed in 2001 to about 130 per year, said Rick Boothman, a former trial attorney who launched the practice there.

Typically, of course, doctors are specifically instructed not to apologize for mistakes since that's an implict admission of guilt that could be used against them in court.

But my instinct is that Barach is right, and this is a self-defeating strategy. I suspect that most people are more than willing to accept that doctors are human beings who make human mistakes, but only if doctors start acting like human beings and treating their patients like intelligent adults and the medical/insurance industry starts admitting that mistreated patients really do deserve compensation. Although the actual damage done is obviously part of the story in malpractice cases, real rage seems to come into play only after victims have been ignored, shuffled around like case numbers, and generally treated like lepers who are obviously lying in hopes of an undeserved payout. Then they get mad, and that's when the lawyers start circling.

(For example, it's worth noting that in the infamous McDonald's coffee case, Stella Liebeck initially asked only for McDonald's to cover the cost of the skin grafts she needed after the scalding coffee spilled in her lap. She didn't get mad until they blew her off, and it was McDonald's' "callous" behavior that prompted the jury to award her a couple of million bucks.)

This is obviously not a comprehensive answer to America's malpractice problems, but it's a good start. And besides, I'll bet that acting like a human being and treating patients likewise has a whole bunch of other benefits too. It's gotta be worth a try.

Kevin Drum 3:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FUN WITH HOMONYMS....Matt Yglesias, whose homonym misspellings are indeed legendary, offers up this explanation:

I think you'll see if you look around that a large portion of my generation (i.e., those of us who learned to write after the dawn of the spell checker but before the dawn of the grammar checker) have this problem.

I find this theory deeply unconvincing, mainly because in my previous life I edited text from lots of older generation types who had problems with homonyms, while today I read blogs from plenty of younger generation types who don't. Admittedly, though, my test and control groups here are too small to draw any definitive conclusions.

If I wanted to start a red state/blue state war over this, I could suggest it has something to do with learning to read via phonics vs. whole language surely one of the most bizarre politicized disputes of all time but I have exactly zero evidence to back that up. In fact, I can't even think of any pseudo-plausible BS along those lines just to get people riled up over the idea.

So let's take a poll. How many people think Matt is onto something? That is, that the post-spell-check but pre-grammar-check population a very narrow demographic, by the way displays writing idiosyncracies that the rest of us don't?

In the meantime, for the homonym challenged, there's always the handy dandy Calpundit homonym cheat sheet....

Kevin Drum 1:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NO PROTESTING ALLOWED!....WE WON A MANDATE!....And so it comes to this: merely protesting the war is now enough to bring the Secret Service calling.

It seems that some high school students in Boulder are opposed to the war that's a shocker, I know, students opposed to war and planned to sing a Bob Dylan song at a student talent show. Dylan, if memory serves, was some kind of anti-war hippy himself.

Anyway, a few local parents and students apparently decided the Dylan song was being used to "promote an extreme leftist point of view" and that the lyrics to "Masters of War" were a direct threat to the president's life. So the Secret Service was called.

Delightful, isn't it?

On a side note, though, "Coalition of the Willing" is kind of a cool name for a band, don't you think? Way better than their first choice, "TaliBand."

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TWO MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT PRIVATE ACCOUNTS....A few days ago I posed a question about why private accounts are any better than payroll taxes as a way of funding Social Security. Assuming for the moment that the actual amount of money retirees get is the same in both cases, who cares where the money comes from?

Brad DeLong provides two answers, but for now I'm only interested in answer #1:

First, to the extent that any of these Clever Schemes are adopted and actually work, we boost national savings. We thus arrive at 2050 with a bigger pie to slice and divide between workers and retirees. That's probably a good thing.

Megan McArdle makes the same argument today I think. Basically, she says, savings are good and government spending is bad. So let's force people to save.

However, I still have two questions:

  1. The reality under this administration is that private accounts will be funded by increasing the federal deficit. Can it really be the case that if the government increases the deficit and then invests that deficit in the stock market, it's a net long term positive for the economy? That strikes me as....unlikely.

  2. Putting question #1 aside, isn't it still the case that private accounts are strictly a temporary economic boost? In 30 or 40 years time, after all, retirees will start drawing down their private accounts. At that point, the amount of money being drawn out by retirees will be about the same as the amount being invested by young people, and the net effect on national savings is zero.

    So all this extra invesment has a positive effect, but only for a few decades or so. And even during that period, this additional investment has to come from either (a) increasing taxes or (b) increasing the federal deficit, both of which have a negative effect. If you add these two together, are private accounts still a net positive?

There are all sorts of reasons to think private accounts are a bad idea, but there's no way to balance them against the economic benefits unless we know if there really are any economic benefits in the first place.

So I'm left still wondering: are there?

Kevin Drum 9:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WINNING IN THE RED STATES....Is it possible for Democrats to win office in red states? Even deep red states like Montana?

Yep. In fact, Democrat Brian Schweitzer not only became governor of Montana last week, he did it so resoundingly that his coattails allowed Montana Democrats to take the state legislature and four of five statewide offices. In a preview article from our December issue, David Sirota explains how he did it:

In addition to a winning personality and strong populist convictions, Schweitzer had an innovative, three-part political strategy, one that perfectly fit the current conditions in Montana, but which Democrats across the country could learn from. First, Schweitzer took advantage of public dissatisfaction with two decades of insular one-party rule in the state capital, casting himself as an outsider and a reformer. Second, he rallied small business, usually a solidly GOP constituency, to his side by opposing the deals Republicans had cut in Washington and Helena to favor large or out-of-state corporations over local entrepreneurs. Third, and most interesting of all, Schweitzer figured out how to win over one of the most important, reliably Republican, and symbolically significant groups of voters: hunters and fishermen.

The whole article is worth reading.

Kevin Drum 3:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERAL MEDIA BIAS....Bob Somerby notes that when Time magazine wrote a series of articles a couple of years ago about premillennial Christians and the Left Behind books, their findings sank without a trace:

Blubbering pseudo-cons will weep and moan, claiming this shows the mainstream press corps contempt for that old-time religion. But we would suggest that it shows something different. We would suggest that it reflects a decision made long agoa decision to avoid discussion of heartland religious views, especially views which might seem to be kooky. In our society, the beliefs of every other sector get discussed, dissected and challenged. But when Time presented these remarkable facts, mainstream pundits knew not to notice. Everyone elses views get critiquedexcept those of the heartland religious.

How's this for a coincidence: I was making much the same point to my mother just a few minutes ago on the phone. It's part of a broader problem that doesn't get much attention.

Whether or not the national press has a liberal bias in its actual reporting, it's indisputable that most of the reporters themselves are standard issue social liberals. Thus, while they may or may not approve of, say, radical environmentalists, they write about them anyway. Why? Because they're aware of them. They are, roughly speaking, part of their social circle. They are comprehensible. They make good copy.

For the most part, though, they don't write about radical Bible Belt Christians. Sure, there's an occasional piece when a judge smacks a two-ton monument of the Ten Commandments on his courthouse lawn, but that's about it. Why? I don't think it's so much a conscious decision, as Bob suggests, but rather that most reporters are barely aware they exist. Christian extremists are decidedly not part of their social circle, and writing about them is more akin to anthropology than reporting.

But there's a bit more to it than that. Lefty extremists actively crave attention. They organize marches in cities, they chain themselves to redwood trees, they toss buckets of blood on women in fur coats. They want the national press to write about them.

Bible Belt Christians, by contrast, don't. For the most part, they are an insular group, sending their newsletters to each others, attending each others' conferences, and mobilizing voters in their own churches.

The result of all this is that most Americans are well aware of lefty extremism, even though the actual number of lefty extremists is fairly small. And to a lot of people, they look pretty scary.

But most Americans aren't well aware of Christian extremism. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson occasionally show up on morning chat shows, and sometimes they slip up and say something scary, but not often. Thus, when something like this screed by Frank Pastore shows up in the LA Times, readers are shocked. What they don't realize is that within their own fire and brimstone circles, this kind of talk is commonplace among Bible Belt Christians. And there are way more of them than there are members of the Earth Liberation Front.

If more people knew about this really knew about it they'd find it scarier than a few isolated nutballs who drive nails into old growth trees. But they don't. And the reason they don't is because our media really does have a liberal bias. Unfortunately, it's not one that does liberals any favors.

Kevin Drum 2:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PARANOIA....Who are the real conspiracy theorists? Jon Chait says it's conservatives, and he's got a pretty good case to make.

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW PALESTINIAN LEADER....That didn't take long:

Hours after the death of Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leadership quickly filled its top posts on Thursday, trying to signal that the chaos and ambiguity that characterized his decades-long hold on the Palestinian national dream died with him.

....As Palestinians absorbed the news that the wily survivor had at last succumbed, the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization replaced Mr. Arafat as chairman with Mahmoud Abbas, a pragmatic negotiator and a critic of the intifada, the armed uprising against Israel.

Is that good news? I guess so. I hope so. I wish I knew more about it.

The big questions, of course, are (a) does he have any real influence over the various Palestinian terror groups, and (b) will Bush and Sharon be willing to work with him? He almost certainly has some nasty stuff in his past (who doesn't?), and it would be easy to use that as an excuse not to deal with him. I'd guess that if that quickly becomes a principal talking point from "well placed sources," it probably means nothing new is going to happen.

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November 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

EXIT POLL MADNESS....Should I pander to the masses? Or remain a responsible voice of calm and reason?

Ah, what the hell. Let's pander. A few days ago I promised that if any credible evidence of voter fraud came my way, I'd post about it. So here it is. I'll explain later why I don't actually believe there was widespread voter fraud this year, but the following analysis is credible, so I'm going to pass it along as promised.

The table below comes from a paper written by Steven Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania. The paper is called "The Unexplained Exit Poll Discrepancy" and it's about the now famous fact that the exit polls showed John Kerry leading in practically every battleground state but then losing in the final tally. Here's the key data:

What does this mean? Take a look at the top line for Colorado. The first colored column shows what the exit polls predicted: Bush would win by 1.8%. The second colored column shows the actual results: Bush won by 5.2%. The third colored column shows the difference between the two: Bush won by 3.4 percentage points more than the exit poll predicted.

In fact, Bush won 10 out of 11 battleground states by more than the exit polls predicted. The odds of this happening by chance are essentially zero.

Now, Freeman's paper corrects a couple of the problems I've seen in earlier efforts along these same lines. First, he uses final (raw) exit poll data, not early afternoon data. Second, he provides a levelheaded discussion of the various reasons on offer for why the exit polls might be off although in the end he finds them unconvincing.

However, Freeman doesn't allege voter fraud, and neither do I. There are several good reasons for this:

  • All Freeman demonstrates is that these results couldn't have happened simply by chance. However, they still might have been produced by systematic problems of some kind in the polling methodology.

  • Freeman knows this, so he then takes a look at possible sources of systematic error. He isn't persuaded that any of them stand up to scrutiny, but he also admits that there's just not enough data to say for sure. What's more, there might be some other source of error he's not aware of.

  • I've seen several indications that there really are some weird anomolies with the exit poll data. I mentioned one last night, and there's another one you can see right in the table above: the total national sample was about 13,000 voters, but the state level polls all claim to include about 2,000 voters. Obviously something is screwy there.

  • Finally, you have to posit a way in which the Bush campaign was able to rig the results in every single battleground state. Let's face it: it's a lot easier to think of ways in which the exit polls might be screwed up than to think up credible ways in which the Bushies could have pulled that off.

So why am I posting about this at all if I don't believe it? Mainly because I'm getting progressively more pissed off about the exit polls with every passing day. The folks who ran them have actually encouraged rumor mongering by refusing to publicly explain what happened to us benighted masses. So far, all they've done is write a confidential report that apparently didn't even acknowledge the systemic errors in the final results and instead laid the blame on those irresponsible bloggers who got everyone riled up by posting early results. Meanwhile, their defenders in the media were practically apoplectic about the gall of non-experts using data they can't possibly understand in order to advance their own bizarre conspiracy theories. Which would be fair enough if they'd step up to the plate and give us the benefit of their expertise.

But they haven't. They've declined to talk to reporters, they've released no serious findings of their own, and they haven't made their raw data available even to qualified researchers. Freeman's numbers might well be wrong, but there's no way for him to find out. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the experts are the ones who have created the vacuum in which rumors thrive.

So that's why I'm posting this: because I want to put some pressure on them to come out from their caves and tell us what they think and to debunk guys like Freeman if they can. After all, there's probably a perfectly plausible explanation for all this. In fact, I'm sure there is. But until they tell us what it is, the conspiracy theories aren't going to go away.

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By: Kevin Drum

ALBERTO GONZALES AND ABU GHRAIB....Does Alberto Gonzales deserve to be confirmed as Attorney General? Phil Carter says no: we deserve better than a man who approved the use of torture and masterminded the trashing of the Geneva Conventions.

Phil has an abridged version of the argument in Slate today. If you want the read the industrial strength version, it's in the Washington Monthly this month.

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By: Kevin Drum

COUNTING THE VOTE....From Begging to Differ:

This story has it all: double counted votes in some precincts, uncounted votes in other precincts, audits, recounts, late night working sessions, a lawsuit, counts starting and stopping, and perhaps finally today, a result.

No, it doesn't have anything to do with the national election, but as long as you're not from Charlotte and don't actually care about the results, it's kind of funny.

If you are from Charlotte, not so much, probably.

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By: Kevin Drum

ABORTION AND THE BIBLE....This is a little off the beaten track, but it's something I've been curious about for a while and it popped into my brain again while browsing through James Dobson's, um, nonpartisan message to the troops prior to election day. Here's what the message says about abortion:

The Bible views the unborn child as a human person who should be protected, since David said to God, "You knitted me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13; see also Psalm 51:5; 139:13; Luke 1:44), and strong penalties were imposed for endangering or harming the life of an unborn child (Exod. 21:22-23).

As it happens, the passages in Psalms and Luke have nothing to do with abortion, suggesting only that babies are formed in the womb (an uncontroversial statement) and that they are born in sin. But the Exodus passage does, and it's the one on which abortion opponents have long hung their hats. But years ago, when I went off to read it, here's what I found:

When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, etc.

Before anyone says it: yes, I know that arguing scripture with these folks is a mug's game. But still, this passage is pretty unambiguous, isn't it? If you kill an adult woman, that's murder and is punishable by death. But if you kill an unborn child, it's a far less serious crime and calls only for a fine. (And even the fine is optional if the family doesn't want to press the issue.)

So how do fundamentalists get away with quoting this as evidence that abortion is murder? It's literally the only passage in the Bible directly related to the death of an unborn child, and it very clearly states that it's not murder and shouldn't be treated like murder. In fact, if the family has no objection (and they wouldn't in the case of a voluntary abortion), then it calls for no punishment at all.

What theological mysteries am I missing here?

UPDATE: Via comments and email, it appears that the primary issue here is one of translation. I was quoting from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, since that's what I had at hand, but I gather that fundamentalists argue that the Hebrew word "yatsa" means premature birth, not miscarriage. Thus, if the baby is born prematurely but otherwise in good health, you get fined. If the baby is hurt, it's a life for a life.

For a variety of reasons this strikes me as an extremely strained interpretation, but apparently the original writers of Exodus were sloppy enough in defining their antecedents to open up a bit of daylight for abortion foes. And they ran with it.

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND THE BEAR....Masha Gessen writes from Moscow about Russian reaction to last week's election results:

With Bush's reelection, Russian politicians don't just seem relieved; they seem ecstatic. On November 3, Putin praised American voters for "not letting themselves be frightened" in making their choice. The speaker of the Russian parliament, Boris Gryzlov, joined Putin in congratulating the United States on a wise pick and added that he thought Russian-American relations would grow "ever closer" during Bush's second term.

....George W. Bush is a different story. In the last few weeks, Russian politicians have searched high and low to find commonalities between him and Putin. One has suggested that Bush is more attached to oil than Kerry, and that bodes well for keeping oil prices high and Russia happy. Another has said that it is a common enemy--international terrorism--that unites Bush and Putin. Izvestia, the highest-circulation broadsheet, published an editorial pointing out that Bush and Putin just plain like each other. What they all seem to be getting at is that the presidents are two of a kind.

Like peas in a pod....

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By: Kevin Drum

AT WAR....Via TalkLeft, here are some excerpts from Bob Jones' letter of congratulations to George Bush:

In your re-election, God has graciously granted Americathough she doesn't deserve ita reprieve from the agenda of paganism. You have been given a mandate.

....Don't equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ. Honor the Lord, and He will honor you.

....Undoubtedly, you will have opportunity to appoint many conservative judges and exercise forceful leadership with the Congress in passing legislation that is defined by biblical norm regarding the family, sexuality, sanctity of life, religious freedom, freedom of speech, and limited government. You have four yearsa brief time onlyto leave an imprint for righteousness upon this nation that brings with it the blessings of Almighty God.

Charming fellow, no?

Like I said before, some conservatives we can reason with, others we can't. They consider themselves in holy war against us, and there's nothing we can do except fight back. Needless to say, Bob Jones is one of the latter.

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By: Kevin Drum

VETERANS DAY....Today is Veterans Day. In related news, the Smithsonian has a new show that they say is "the most comprehensive exhibition of military conflicts in American history." The Washington Post has the story.

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By: Kevin Drum

ARAFAT'S DEATH....Will George Bush's second term be different from his first? Or just more of the same?

I'm part of the "more of the same" camp, myself. Actually, I guess I'm really part of the "even worse" camp, but given Bush's first term record, that's sort of a thin difference, isn't it?

Anyway, it looks like we're going to get an answer to that question sooner than we thought. The death of Yasser Arafat is certainly a golden opportunity to shift gears and get real about pushing for peace in the Middle East, and if Bush has any intention of demonstrating a new seriousness on this score, now's the time.

Will he take advantage of it? Or will it be more of the same?

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By: Kevin Drum

GEOLEPRODYNAMICS....Fafblog debunks the "theory" of relativity today.

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November 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE BUSH DEMOGRAPHICS....Rick Perlstein turns to an expert to figure out what demographic group really helped Bush win the election:

Pundits blow hot air. Political scientists crunch numbers. On his blog Polysigh, my favorite political scientist, Phil Klinkner, ran a simple exercise. Multiplying the turnout among a certain group by the percent who went for Bush yields a number electoral statisticians call "performance." Among heavy churchgoers, Bush's performance last time was 25 percent (turnout, 42 percent; percentage of vote, 59 percent). This time out it was also 25 percentno change. Slightly lower turnout (41 percent), slightly higher rate of vote (61 percent).

Where did the lion's share of the extra votes come from that gave George Bush his mighty, mighty mandate of 51 percent? "Two of those points," Klinkner said when reached by phone, "came solely from people making over a 100 grand." The people who won the election for himhis only significant improvement over his performance four years agowere rich people, voting for more right-wing class warfare.

It's true that people with incomes over $100,000 provided Bush with a lot more support than they did in 2000. However, they aren't the only ones. Using the same formula, here's a complete list of the groups in which Bush scored a performance improvement of more than 2% compared to 2000:

  • 5.1% among conservatives.

  • 3.5% among women.

  • 3.4% among urban residents.

  • 2.7% among those who think abortion should always be illegal.

  • 2.6% among those over 60.

  • 2.3% among those with incomes over $100,000.

However, a caveat: all of these figures have a sizeable margin of error attached to them, and it's also not clear how reliable the exit poll data is in the first place. In particular, PolySigh contributor Richard Skinner is dubious about Bush's supposed improvement among urban dwellers.

One other note: if the abortion number is correct, it's the only evidence I've seen so far that the "moral values" vote really did help Bush more this year than in 2000.

Kevin Drum 9:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

BE AFRAID! BE VERY...OH, NEVER MIND....What a surprise. One week after the election, having successfully freaked the bejeebus out of folks in the Red States who don't actually face any real threat of terrorism, the Bush administration has lowered the threat level from orange to yellow. Yes, that's right. Nothing to worry about anymore, nothing to look at here, go about your business, everything's back to normal.

Who said raising and lowering the threat levels was purely political? Pshaw.

Amy Sullivan 6:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NUCLEAR OPTION....Senate Republicans have been muttering recently about invoking the "nuclear option" to stop Democratic filibusters of judges in the Judiciary Committee. This involves asking the Senate parliamentarian to simply declare judicial filibusters against the rules, an action that would leave a smoking crater in longtime Senate rules and open up pretty much every Senate rule to change by fiat too.

How have things come to this pass in the self-styled greatest deliberative body in the world? Let's take a trip down memory lane.

When Democrats were in power and Republicans were in the minority, senatorial courtesy prevailed in judicial nominations. For decades, the rule was this: if both senators from a judge's home state objected to (or "blue slipped") a nominee, he was out. But when Republicans took control of the Senate during the Clinton presidency, these rules no longer looked so good to them:

  • In 1998, for no special reason, Orrin Hatch decided that only one senator needed to object to a nomination. This made it easier for Republicans to obstruct Bill Clinton's nominees.

  • In 2001, when one of their own became president, Hatch suddenly reversed course and decided that it should take two objections after all. That made it harder for Democrats to obstruct George Bush's nominees.

  • In early 2003, Hatch went even further: senatorial objections were merely advisory, he said. Even if both senators objected to a nomination, it would still go to the floor for a vote.

  • A few weeks later, yet another barrier was torn down: Hatch did away with a longtime rule that said at least one member of the minority had to agree in order to end discussion about a nomination and move it out of committee.

Nobody even pretended that these changes were guided by any kind of principle. Hatch was simply furious that Democrats dared to object to any of Bush's nominees, and he intended to put a stop to it even if he had to mow down every Senate rule in the process. It was at that point, with all the options they had granted to Republicans for years denied to them, that Democrats turned to the only one left: the filibuster.

Bottom line: Yes, Democrats are filibustering some of George Bush's judges, but they're doing it only because Republicans have relentlessly dismantled all the avenues of dissent they themselves took advantage of back when Democrats controlled the Senate. There's no principle involved in this, just a raw exercise of power.

Remember that the next time you hear one of them whining about the "unprecedented" use of the filibuster by Democrats. It wouldn't have come to this in the first place if it weren't for the unprecedented destruction of senatorial tradition ruthlessly engineered by Senate Republicans over the past six years.

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BAIT AND SWITCH....Does George Bush have a mandate? Even some conservatives are willing to admit that the idea is nonsense, but I'm not sure it matters that much anyway. All that really matters is what issues he's going to push and how many of them he can get passed.

But here's a remarkable thing. On the question of what issues he's going to push, here's what Bush has talked about so far:

  • Social Security privatization.

  • Tax reform.

  • Drilling for oil in ANWR.

Do you remember any of these being a major campaign issue? Me neither. Even Social Security, which at least got a passing mention, only got a passing mention. Take a look at the third debate, where Bush was directly asked about Social Security, and you'll see that he only managed to get around to a brief mention of private accounts after a full minute of blather about how nobody was going to have their checks taken away. The "ownership society," after a lot of hype from conservative pundits before the State of the Union address in January, barely showed up in the speech and was almost completely MIA during the campaign.

At a minimum, even if an election victory is a narrow one, a "mandate" is at least supposed to be something that the victor campaigned on. So if these are the things Bush feels most strongly about, why didn't he base his campaign on them? Was he, perhaps, afraid that if people knew what he really had in store they might decide they didn't like him so much after all?

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By: Kevin Drum

YOUNG REPUBLICANS....Remember that story about the College Republican National Committee and their, um, dodgy fundraising tactics? Like raising money mostly from senior citizens? And implying that the money was for the Bush/Cheney campaign? And spending almost none of it on actual political activities?

Well, the election may be over, but that doesn't mean the investigation of these upstanding young men and women can't continue. Charles Kuffner has an update. Refusing to talk to reporters appears to be their main strategy at the moment.

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By: Kevin Drum

IT'S THE WAR ON TERROR, STUPID....Noam Scheiber isn't buying Stan Greenberg's argument that John Kerry could have won if his economic message had been a little more compelling:

The flaw here is in believing you always get to determine what an election is going to be fundamentally about. Granted, the Bushies did a good job shifting the discussion toward security and values whenever possible. But I'm not sure they could have done it so successfully had the political landscape not been tilted that way anyway. In the same way, I doubt it would have helped Republicans to talk about security and values had the country just been through an economic stretch like the one we had between 1929 and 1932. In that case, polls might have shown voters vastly preferring Republicans on national security and values. Polls might even have shown voters to be deeply concerned about these issues. But when it came time to decide who to vote for, I doubt these issues would have had much of an effect.

This is a point that really ought to be front and center. The economy was fundamentally a wash: good enough to keep Bush from losing but bad enough to keep Kerry in the running. Kerry could have won if the economy had actually been worse, but I doubt he could have won just by talking differently about the economy that we actually had.

Ditto for the "moral values" voters: at best, Kerry might have picked up an extra point or two from these folks with a change in rhetoric, but that's about it. (Is it worth trying to pick up those points? Sure. But it's still just a couple of points.)

In other words, those are nits. If Democrats are going to engage in navel gazing, our gaze really ought to be directed toward the one topic we continue to avoid like the plague: becoming more credible on national security. That's where Kerry and the Dems lost the election. Like it or not and I can almost hear the outrage brewing already in the comment section over the mere fact that I'm mentioning this fighting terrorism is the major swing issue of the day, and perceived Democratic weakness toward terrorism is likely to remain our biggest electoral albatross for quite a while.

It's remarkable, really, that in the last week an awful lot of commenters have seemed blithely willing to recommend that Democrats appease the Christian right on things like abortion choice and gay rights, which are core issues for liberalism. At the same time, though, they're silent on the possibility of changing our tune on terrorism, which isn't. John Kerry made significant inroads when he spoke plainly about hunting down terrorists and killing them, as he did in the first debate, but he was never really willing to much further than that.

Why? Why didn't he make a bigger deal out of his plan to increase the size of the Army by 40,000 troops? Why didn't he make a bigger deal out of his desire to get tougher with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Why didn't he make a bigger deal about George Bush's unwillingness to confront the Arab world over their continued funding of radical madrassas?

Beats me. Those were all part of Kerry's official national security package, but you didn't hear much about them either on the campaign trail or in the debates. But none of them require any compromise with liberal principles and all of them would have been pretty popular.

This is what we should be talking about. For a start, try reading "War Torn: Why Democrats Can't Think Straight About National Security," by Heather Hurlburt. It's a couple of years old, but it still rings true.

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By: Kevin Drum


Is the Moonbat Left 20 times more worthy of denunciation than the Lunar Right?

I don't want to give away his answer to this question, but along the way he mentions Sister Souljah, Jimmy Carter, Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, Jerry Falwell, Howard Dean, John Kerry, and George Bush. It's a pretty good rant.

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By: Kevin Drum

DNC CHAIRMAN....Who are the candidates to be the next chairman of the Democratic party? dKos has a quick rundown of the likely prospects.

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By: Kevin Drum

ASHCROFT'S REPLACEMENT....Is Larry Thompson really the least bad choice to replace John Ashcroft as Attorney General? Maybe. But over at Body and Soul, Jeanne isn't happy about it:

....that the "best" choice we have is the man who came up with the idea of calling Anita Hill "delusional" and who signed off on sending Maher Arar to Syria to be tortured says something shameful and frightening about this country.

Or at least about the Bush administration, anyway.

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November 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PRIVATIZING SOCIAL SECURITY....Let's face it: there are few topics more eye glazing than Social Security reform. Still, we bloggers have to play the hands we're dealt, and George Bush apparently plans to make Social Security his signature issue in 2005. So Social Security it is.

Now, there are many things to say about Social Security privatization, but I want to focus on just one thing in this post, courtesy of Brad DeLong. Here's what Brad has to say today:

I can imagine private account plans that I would think are worth risking. I'm impressed enough by the large size of the equity premium to think that there are some $1,000 bills left on the table here that the Social Security system might as well try to sweep up. Propose a private accounts plan by which Social Security beneficiaries' private accounts are managed by the Treasury employee's Thrift Savings Plan, and according to which accounts cannot be tapped or pledged before retirement, and you could get me to sign on.

Brad is talking about something that's central to the idea of Social Security privatization. For some reason that no one really understands (though not for lack of trying), investment returns in the stock market are substantially higher than anyone thinks they rationally ought to be. So why not take advantage of it? Instead of just mindlessly transferring tax dollars from workers to retirees every year, why not invest money in the stock market, wait 40 years, and then withdraw huge sums to pay off retirees? There would be a messy transition period, of course, but once we got past it the miracle of compound interest would allow Social Security benefits to stay high even with a lower initial tax rate.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess at this point that I don't actually believe in the equity premium over the long term, for the same reason that I don't believe in perpetual motion machines. But I'm not an economist and Brad is. If he's persuaded there might be something to this, then maybe there really is.

But here's my question: even if the equity premium really exists, does it matter? When we discuss Social Security, we usually talk in terms of money-related numbers: tax rates, benefit levels, investment returns, etc. This is useful because numbers can be added and subtracted and fed into formulas that spit out other numbers. Very handy.

But in the end it's not really about money. It's about the fact that at any given point in time, there are a certain number of workers who produce stuff, and a certain amount of this stuff is turned over to the nonworking elderly. It's true that the elderly use money to buy this stuff, but it doesn't really matter where the money comes from. All that matters is that they're hoovering up a certain percentage of the goods and services that workers create. As the number of elderly increases, this means that individual workers are forced to give up a larger and larger percentage of the stuff they create.

So suppose the whole thing works swimmingly. The government invests payroll taxes in the stock market and gets spectacular returns. This money is turned over to retirees. Result: tax rates stay low, but the elderly have as much money to spend as ever.

Which in turn means that workers are still forking over the same amount of goods and services as ever. So what's the difference? Who cares whether the money comes from tax payments or from government mandated investment income? One way or another, workers are still being forced to give up the same percentage of the stuff they produce to retirees. And it's stuff, not money, that ultimately matters.

And so, in the end, I don't get it. Even if the whole privatization scheme works, who cares?

Can anyone explain this to me?

Kevin Drum 8:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HILLARY IN 2008?....Chattering about possible presidential nominees four years before an election is about as idle a conversation as you can have. And yet....I can't help myself. My readership is mostly liberal and partisan, and I'm curious what you all think.

Will Hillary run in 2008? Should she run? And can she win?

UPDATE: So far, the vote seems to be unanimous: No, no, and no. That's pretty interesting. She's obviously got her work cut out for her if she does plan to run.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE VALUES VOTE....Matt Yglesias makes a point today that I think is half right, so I want to riff on it for a bit and see if there's something concrete there that liberals can make use of. First, talking about the "moral values" voters, he says this:

The point is not that "values voters" of modest means inexplicably support a party that fails to represent their economic interests. I know plenty of liberals who do the same. It's called voting on principle, and there's nothing wrong with it.

I agree. There's more to life than money, and there's nothing either wrong or mysterious about voting for something you think is more important than money. Rich liberals do this every time they vote in favor of higher taxes.

But then Matt goes on to suggest that all those conservative "values voters" are chumps anyway. After all, what have Republicans done for them? Abortion is up under Bush, gay rights have expanded steadily for decades, the internet makes porn more widespread than ever, and the feminist movement reigns supreme.

There's a germ of an idea here, but it needs to be teased out. The abortion point is a good one, for example. Liberals are in favor of choice, not in favor of abortion per se, so why shouldn't we talk more often about policies that reduce the need for abortions while continuing to defend the right of choice itself? This won't impress the hardcore evangelicals, of course, but it might appeal to some of their more moderate neighbors. Ditto for porn.

Gay rights and feminisim are another thing entirely. Liberals are just fundamentally in favor of this stuff, and we shouldn't even think about trying to talk our way around it. If we lose votes for it, we lose votes for it.

Basically, then, I think Matt has a point worth thinking about, but we have to figure out which issues it applies to. Abortion and porn are good examples, and that's why master politician Bill Clinton talked about making abortion "safe, legal, and rare" and supported anti-porn measures like the V-chip. Neither of these things infringed on any liberal principles, but they did address some of the real-world concerns of those ordinary heartland voters we hear so much about.

Are there other issues like this, in which liberal principles can coexist easily with practical efforts to address real world jitters? It might be something worth talking about.

Kevin Drum 1:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RACIST DRUGS?....You'd think that a new heart drug that helps African-Americans would be unalloyed good news. And it is. But as with practically anything where race and money intersect, even good news like this seems to bring out the worst in us. First there's this:

Although many cardiologists Monday hailed the findings because blacks die from heart failure at twice the rate of whites, some geneticists were concerned, arguing that racial categories were an inappropriate way to guide medical treatment.

....[Ethicist Jonathan Kahn] said the label sent the wrong message in a society where blacks often received inadequate medical treatment. "It lends credence to the idea that blacks and whites are genetically different," he said. "And it's a short step from saying blacks are genetically different to saying they are genetically inferior."

Enough already! If there's a genetic difference, there's a genetic difference. If there isn't, there isn't. And the drug either works or it doesn't. But those are scientific question, not ethical ones. Sensitivity to past injustices is an honorable thing, but racial progress is doomed to eternal failure if we're unable to discuss even an arid topic like pharmaceutical efficacy without forever worrying about what the Klan is going to think of it.

But that's not all. The drug in question, BiDil, is just a combination of two cheap generic drugs, and apparently the racial labeling of the combination is what's really at stake here:

[Jay] Cohn holds a patent on using the combination to treat all races, but that patent expires in 2007. NitroMed has a patent on using it to treat blacks, and that patent is good until 2020, preventing anyone from bringing out a generic version of the combination pill before then. Physicians could, however, prescribe the two drugs individually to either blacks or whites. A dose of the generic drugs costs about 44 cents.

BiDil has not been tested in whites in conjunction with ACE inhibitors, and experts argued that it might be effective in them as well. But because the drug's patent for general use is set to expire, it seems unlikely that any company would fund such a trial.

Isn't that lovely? Maybe it works for whites too, but there's no money in it so no one's going to bother finding out. For blacks, there is enough money in it to make testing worthwhile, but in the end it turns out that BiDil is mostly a marketing gimmick that provides a way for NitroMed to charge them more for drugs that already exist. It's almost like the worst of both worlds, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 12:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KERRY IN 2008?....From the Washington Post today:

Democrat John F. Kerry plans to use his Senate seat and long lists of supporters to remain a major voice in American politics despite losing the presidential race last Tuesday, and he is assessing the feasibility of trying again in 2008, friends and aides said yesterday.

...."Sometimes God tests you," Kerry told the crowd at H20, a restaurant on the Potomac waterfront, according to an aide. "I'm a fighter, and I've come back before."

Well, maybe. But recent history is not kind to failed presidential candidates. How far back do we have to go to find a presidential loser who won his party's nomination again four years later? Let's see....

Al Gore? No.
Bob Dole? No.
George Bush Sr? No.
Michael Dukakis? No.
Walter Mondale? No.
Jimmy Carter? No.
Gerald Ford? No.
George McGovern? No.
Hubert Humphrey? No.
Barry Goldwater? No.
Richard Nixon? No. (Though he won it in 1968.)
Adlai Stevenson? Bingo!

You have to go all the way back to 1952 to find a losing candidate who was nominated again in the next election. What's more, even the ones who manage this feat usually just go down to defeat a second time when election day rolls around. In the last hundred years, only one person has ever come back from losing a presidential election to eventually become president: Richard Nixon. I don't think this is merely a coincidence, either.

Kerry is fighting some mighty long odds here....

Kevin Drum 2:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND THE ECONOMY....In my rough-and-ready exit poll analysis last night there was an interesting result that got buried at the bottom of a long post and was probably missed by a lot of people. So I'm going to give it a post of its own.

The table below shows opinions about the health of the economy for both Bush in 2004 and Clinton in 1996. (I chose 1996 because it also had an incumbent running, so the results are comparable.) For example, the top row shows that 4% of respondents in 2004 thought the economy was excellent, and 89% of them voted for Bush. By comparison, 4% of 1996 respondents also thought the economy was excellent, and 78% of them voted for Clinton.

National Economy

% Voters

% For Bush

% Voters

% For Clinton











Not Good










Here's the interesting result: in 1996, of the people who thought the economy was in good shape, a total of about 63% voted for Clinton.

In 2004, of the people who thought the economy was in good shape, an astonishing total of about 87% voted for Bush.

That's a huge difference, and what it shows is that George Bush was much more successful at taking credit for the economy than Clinton was and Clinton was no slouch in that department. As a result, although fewer people in 2004 thought the economy was doing well compared to 1996, Bush got far more total votes from that group than Clinton did.

I don't think this has anything to do with the campaign, either. Rather, it has to do with a steady four-year drumbeat from the Bush administration that their tax cuts were boosting the economy. Bush made absolutely sure that if the economy was doing well, people would think he was responsible.

It was a pretty high risk strategy, too, since it means people who thought the economy was doing poorly blamed Bush more than they blamed Clinton. The bottom line is that Bush's strategy made his support very, very sensitive to the state of the economy, and in the end, if the economy had been doing even a smidge worse than it was, he probably would have lost.

Kevin Drum 11:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PURPLE AMERICA, PART 2....In the previous post I suggested that "purple" election maps would be perceptually more accurate if every county that gave more than 70% of its votes to a candidate were solid red or solid blue, and the purple spectrum was used only for counties that gave between 30% and 70% of their vote to each candidate. My thought was that anything over 70% represents a pretty polarized place, and only counties in the middle band can really be considered to have a serious mix of Democrats and Republicans.

Several people responded to my request for a map colored this way (thanks, everyone!), and the map below from Ryan Lohbauer seemed like the best match to what I asked for. My guess is that this represents the regional polarization of American politics more accurately than either the plain red/blue map (which makes polarization seem worse than it is) or the bland purple map (which makes it seem better than it really is). Needless to say, you can decide for yourself by looking at both maps.

NOTE: As several people pointed out, this map still doesn't correct for the low population of red counties compared to blue counties. If you want to see a map that uses this color scheme and adjusts for county size, check out this page from Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman of the University of Michigan and scroll to the very bottom.

Kevin Drum 7:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PURPLE AMERICA?....The map below is the now well known "purple" map of the 2004 election. (This version is courtesy of Robert J. Vanderbei.) Rather than coloring each county red or blue, it shades them based on how strongly they voted for Bush or Kerry. The result is a soothing purple meant to show that America isn't really as divided as everyone thinks.

I'm not so sure. By using bright red only for 100% Bush counties and bright blue only for 100% Kerry counties, I think it artificially squeezes the vast majority of counties into a purpleness that doesn't really represent their political natures very well. From my point of view, any county that votes more than 70% for either candidate is pretty much a monoculture, and their coloring should reflect that.

So here's what I'd like to see: a map like this in which every county that voted 70% or more for one candidate or the other is colored solid red or blue, and the rest are spread along a spectrum that goes from 30% to 70%. As a psychological portrait, I think it would be more accurate than what we've got now.

Does anyone know how to do this? If so, email it to me and I'll post it.

Kevin Drum 3:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LAW ENFORCEMENT OR WAR?....Is the Bush administration stuck in that old fashioned mindset that says terrorism is primarily an intelligence and law enforcement problem? Ironically, Phil Carter thinks they are.

Kevin Drum 2:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ALTERNATIVE POLLING METHODOLOGIES....As it turns out, despite all the kvetching, the polls did a pretty decent job of predicting the outcome of the election this year. But is there a better (and cheaper) way of predicting the winner? Maybe:

  • The 7-Eleven coffee cup poll was right on the money. 51.08% of its customers bought coffee in a Bush cup while 48.92% bought coffee in a Kerry cup. "We sell a million cups of coffee every day, so our sample size was huge," said 7-Eleven's CEO.

  • I don't have a link for this, but Intrade claims that their political trading site was dead on. Their communications director, Mike Knesevitch, emails to say, "The George Bush re-election contract was the most heavily traded political contract in the world and it accurately predicted the exact number of electoral votes President George Bush would receive AND the outcome of all but one senate race!"

  • George Bush Halloween masks outsold Kerry masks 57%-43%. That's not as accurate as the coffee cup poll, but the Halloween mask people say their sales have correctly predicted that last six consecutive elections. "It hasn't failed us yet," said Daniel Haight, chief operating officer at Buyseasons.

  • TIPP, in addition to its normal polling, also asked voters who they thought would win. Bush led Kerry in this poll by at least ten points the entire year.

Coffee cups and Halloween masks may not seem very scientific, but at least they'd solve the problem of cell phone users and survey burnout. Something to keep in mind for 2008.

Kevin Drum 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GERRYMANDERING....KC Johnson points out today that the permanent calcification of the House of Representatives is now nearly complete: out of 435 seats, only six changed parties this year. But good news for Dems: they won those six seats 4-2! Yippee!

And there's more:

In only 12 other contests (CA 20, CO 4, CT 2, CT 4, IN 2, IN 8, MN 6, MO 3, NY 29, OR 5, SD AL, PA 6) did the winner prevail by less than 10 percentage points. (Two seats in Louisiana remain to be decided.) This outcome occurred at a time when a majority of voters believed that the country was on the wrong track and the country is mired in a war that (regardless of ones opinions on its merits) clearly has not gone as the administration promised.

Think about that: 95% of all House seats were won by margins of more than 10 points. And this is in the half of the legislature that the founding fathers intended to be most responsive to changes in national mood.

Here's an idea for Dems: a constitutional amendment to ban gerrymandering. It's big, it's simple, it could draw a lot of attention, and it would be tough for Republicans to make a principled case against it. Even if it were impossible to get passed, there's not much downside to being on the side of the angels on this.

Kevin Drum 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOW BUSH WON THE ELECTION....So what really made the difference in this election? Most of the attention has been on "moral values" and terrorism, and I was curious to see what the exit poll results showed. So I decided to take a look at the 2004 exit polls and compare them to the 2000 exit polls.

Details are below and there's a bonus issue at the end that might actually be the most important of all in Bush's victory. But first a caveat: this is just a suggestive, rough cut summary. I'm trying to get some idea of what happened, but I'm certainly not trying to pretend that anything I say here is conclusive. Serious analysts will be going through this stuff with a fine tooth comb later, but in the meantime take this for what it's worth.

A Few Highlights

First off, George Bush won 48% of the vote in 2000 and 51% this year, meaning his overall support increased by 3%. So what I'm looking for are areas where his support was significantly higher or lower than +3%. Here are the things that stood out:

  • Bush's support among women increased by 5%. This isn't an awful lot higher than his overall 3% gain, but I'm including it because women make up 54% of the voting population, which makes this important even if the gain is small.

  • Bush's support went up by 9 points among Latinos.

  • His support was up 7 points among those 60 and older. Apparently the Medicare boondoggle didn't hurt him much.

  • His support was up an astonishing 10 points among those with no high school education, a traditional Democratic stronghold.

  • His support was down 2 points among gays and lesbians. No surprise there.

  • Among those who think government should do more to solve problems, Bush's support was up 10 points. I'm not really sure what to make of this, but I guess it means that Bush really is perceived as a big government conservative.

  • Finally, his support was up by 10 points in urban areas and down by 2 points in rural communities, including a surprising 9 point decrease from residents of small towns. This goes against a whole bunch of conventional wisdom (including mine) about the growing urban/rural divide in America. If anything, it seems to have narrowed in this election.

So: support was up among Latinos, the elderly, and high school dropouts. Support was down in the gay community and in small towns. Trying to weave some kind of coherent story around this data is more than I can manage, I'm afraid.

Moral Values

22% of voters said "moral values" was their most important issue. Among these voters, 80% voted for Bush, while in 2000 voters who said "moral leadership" was a higher priority than managing government gave him 70% of their votes. Although this suggests that Bush made some inroads with this group, the 2000/2004 questions aren't really comparable enough to draw a conclusion. So, since this is the infamous "God, guns, and gays" vote, let's take a look at each of these individually:

  • God: Bush's Protestant base showed up to the polls in slightly lower proportion than in 2000, and their support increased by 3 points, the same as his overall increase in support.

    Regular churchgoers voted in about the same proportion as in 2000, and their support increased by 1 point. In other words, their relative support for Bush actually decreased a bit compared to other groups.

    Conclusion: religious voters supported Bush heavily, but no more so than in 2000. What's more, they didn't turn out any more strongly than any other group. Religious belief doesn't seem to have made much difference in the election.

    (The Washington Post has more on this today. As they say, Bush won 79% of the white evangelical vote, and evangelicals were instrumental in grass roots organizing for his campaign. However, it's not clear that they were any more instrumental than in 2000. In fact, what data there is suggests that evangelicals probably showed up in slightly lower proportion than in 2000.)

  • Guns: Gun owners came to the polls in substantially smaller proportion than in 2000, and their support for Bush increased only 2 points.

    Conclusion: the gun vote was a net negative for Bush this year compared to 2000.

  • Gays: There were no questions about gay rights in the 2000 exit poll, but Paul Freedman convincingly argues that gay marriage didn't make much difference this year, and Andrew Sullivan has some statistics that indicate the same thing.

    Conclusion: gay marriage might have made a difference, but the evidence seems to indicate that it was pretty slight at best.

Overall, despite the hype, the data seems to indicate that conservative moral value voters didn't have any more impact this year than any other year. In fact, if anything, maybe slightly less.


This is a much harder area to judge because terrorism wasn't an issue that was explored in the 2000 exit poll. But here's a suggestive comparison:

In 2000, 12% of voters said "world affairs" was their most important issue, and of those 54% voted for Bush.

This year, 19% of voters said terrorism was their most important issue, and of those 86% voted for Bush. 15% said Iraq was their most important issue, and of those 26% voted for Bush.

Add those together, and 34% of voters chose world affairs of some kind as their most important issue. Of those, 59% voted for Bush.

Conclusion: obviously, these two aren't directly comparable, but they suggest that terrorism was a pretty important issue. Compared to 2000, three times as many people thought world affairs was the most important issue in the election, and among those people, Bush gained 5 points of support. Multiply those two things together, and that's a lot of extra votes for Bush.

The Economy

18% of voters cited the economy as their most important issue, and 80% of them voted for Kerry. So that means the economy was a net negative for Bush, right?

Not so fast. Check this out: more people think the economy is doing well today than thought so in 2000. And among people who think the economy is in good shape, a stunning 87% voted for Bush. Among that same group in 2000, only 48% voted for the "incumbent," Al Gore. Bush apparently has done a great job of persuading people who think the economy is doing well that his policies were responsible.

Need more evidence? Among voters who say their family financial situation is better than before, 80% voted for Bush. In 2000, Gore won only 61% of their vote.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that only 32% of voters said their financial situation was better than before. In 2000, 50% of voters said that. So even though fewer people personally think they're doing better this year than thought so in 2000, more of them think the economy is in better shape. Go figure. And virtually all of those people voted for Bush.

Conclusion: despite the conventional wisdom that the economy was a good issue for Kerry, I think in the end it was probably a net positive for Bush. He managed to convince a lot of people that the economy was in good shape even if they personally weren't doing very well, and he convinced them that he was responsible. And those people voted for him in droves.


Based on this, my tentative conclusion is that the "moral values" vote is a red herring. It played no bigger a role this year than in 2000.

Terrorism played a bigger role, mostly by being a more important issue to a lot more people. Bush's actual level of support among people who based their vote primarily on world affairs increased only modestly.

And that good old mainstay the economy was the most important of all. Compared to 2000, fewer people personally think they're doing better but more people believe the economy is in good shape anyway. And Bush was overwhelmingly successful in convincing those people that his policies deserved the credit.

Interesting, no?

UPDATE: Just to make this absolutely clear: I'm not suggesting that "moral values" voters played no role in the election. I'm just skeptical that they played a bigger role than in 2000. In fact, I've been poking around a few other statistics since I wrote this, and I'm even more skeptical than I was last tonight.

There's no question that evangelical Christians organized heavily and turned out heavily for Bush, but they did that in 2000 too. Basically, Bush increased his total vote by about 20% from 2000 to 2004 (from 50 million to 59 million), and if Karl Rove managed to turn out those extra 4 million white evangelicals he kept talking about, it means the white evangelical vote increased by about....20%. Bottom line: it doesn't look like there's anything special about their turnout.

But I could be wrong, especially since the data is thin. If I come across any interesting contradictory figures, I'll let you know.

Kevin Drum 2:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

EXIT POLL FEVER....I guess I hit a nerve in my previous post about exit polls although not quite the one I expected. And since I'm about to write another post based on exit polling, I might as well clear the air about something beforehand:

Yes, I've received dozens of emails and read dozens of online articles suggesting that if this year's exit polls didn't match the official tallies, it's the official tallies that were wrong, not the exit polls. In other words, we wuz robbed!

And maybe we were. However, so far I haven't seen a single piece of hard evidence to back this up. Some of the articles are just warnings that Diebold machines without paper trails are a bad idea. (I agree.) Some are based on problems with early exit poll data, which is meaningless. Some rely on alleged oddities in individual counties. None of them acknowledge that exit polls always have a margin of error, or that they might also have suffered from some kind of systematic error this year.

Bottom line: if anyone has any serious evidence to back up their contention that Republicans fiddled with the ballot boxes, please send it to me. I'd genuinely like to see it. Without said evidence, however, there just isn't anywhere to go with this stuff. Sorry.

UPDATE: Via commenter Joel, professor Sam Wang of Princeton has a blog-like site with ongoing meta-analysis of the difference between the exit polls and the actual results. Read from the bottom up starting on November 2.

His conclusion: nothing looks seriously out of whack except possibly for Florida, and even there county level results mostly seem pretty easily explainable. For the most part, exit polls were off only by small amounts, and methodology problems seem the most likely explanation.

UPDATE 2: Jesse Lee points out that three congressmen are asking for an investigation of voting irregularities in several places. However, it's worth noting that "the congressmen emphasized that they were not seeking a nationwide recount and were not anticipating that an investigation would change the outcome of the election."

Kevin Drum 7:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXIT POLLS....Should early exit poll results be widely released on election day? This year's early results seemed to be more than normally off kilter, and that's rekindled debates over whether it's "responsible" for blogs and other web publications to make early results available to their readers. Here are five reasons why I think releasing early exit poll data is OK:

  1. The media does have access to exit poll information throughout the day, and it affects their coverage. It strikes me as both dishonest and unfair for media coverage to be biased by information they are deliberately withholding from their readers and viewers. Far better for them to explain up front the background data that's affecting their coverage and their commentary.

  2. There is no evidence that releasing early exit polls has any systematic effect on people's voting behavior. It might affect voting behavior, but I've never seen any actual confirmation of it.

  3. In lieu of evidence, there are two basic theories of exit poll behavior. Theory 1 suggests that if early exit polls favor Candidate A, then A's supporters are inspired and B's supporters are depressed. Thus, A's supporters dance off to the polls while B's sit at home and mope. However, Theory 2 is equally plausible and suggests exactly the opposite: A's supporters get smug and figure their vote isn't needed, while B's supporters panic and head off to the polls in droves.

    Thus, since there seems to be no evidence one way or the other, and both of these theories are equally plausible, all we can say is that releasing early exit polls might affect voting behavior one way or the other, but we don't know in which direction, by how much, or whether it actually happens at all. Isn't that a rather thin basis on which to rail against the evils of releasing early exit poll returns?

  4. In any case, the media do things all the time that affect voting behavior. It's practically their job. An especially apposite example is the drumbeat of headlines trumpeting the results of ordinary polls in the weeks leading up to the election. This almost certainly affects voting behavior, but nobody suggests it should be banned. Why are early exit poll results any different?

  5. Realistically, early exit polls are going to get leaked whether we like it or not. Given that that's the case, isn't the real problem that nobody knows where the early results on blogs and other websites come from? Or whether they're real?

    In fact, since there's really no way of turning back this tide, wouldn't we all be better off if responsible sites like CNN simply posted the official early results, complete with caveats, margins of error, and commentary from statisticians who can tell us exactly how much faith to put in them? At the very least that would ensure that we were getting the real deal, not some weird ginned up rumors, and it would come with a dash of cold water to boot.

Now, having said all this, there's still the question of whether this year's exit polls were wildly off the mark. If they were, then of course they need to be fixed. If they can't be fixed, they'll go away because nobody will be willing to pay for them anymore.

However, exit polls have a long history of sterling accuracy, and presumably this year's problems can be addressed. So I'll repeat the proposal I made a few days ago: early exit poll results should be available to people who actively want to see them. That means that network news shows should avoid forcing them onto everyone who turns on a TV during the day, but should make them available on the web to anyone who wants to see them.


Kevin Drum 4:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LOCAL RACES....Over at Preemptive Karma, Carla has some good news for Democrats: they may have gotten beaten at the national level this year, but they took back control of the Oregon Senate, and they did it by winning in some pretty conservative areas.

A fluke? Apparently not. Kos points to a Wall Street Journal article by John Fund suggesting that this wasn't an isolated case:

Of the country's 99 state legislative chambers, the GOP lost control of six and won only four from the Democrats. Republicans have apparently gone from having complete control of both chambers in 21 states to only dominating 17 states. Most of the GOP pickups involve the slow dissolution of Democratic dominance in the South. In Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma the Republicans will now control the state House for the first time in decades, or in the case of Georgia since Sherman's march to the sea in 1864.

But Republicans also lost ground in some traditional strongholds. Democrats now control both houses of the Colorado legislature for the first time since the 1950s. They also failed to win any seats at all in California, despite the campaigning and fundraising prowess of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Hawaii, that state's popular GOP governor, Linda Lingle, saw the voters ignore her appeals for a more cooperative legislature as unions picked off several Republican incumbents.

Bottom line: the Republican party continues to cement its hold on the South, but elsewhere in the country they are losing ground, not gaining it. And it's worth remembering that the Republican revolution itself got its start by winning local races, only later translating that into national gains.

What's good for the goose....

Kevin Drum 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RED STATE ELITISM....Michael Kinsley addresses the victorious red staters in the LA Times today:

It's true that people on my side of the divide want to live in a society where women are free to choose and where gay relationships have civil equality with straight ones. And you want to live in a society where the opposite is true. These are some of those conflicting values everyone is talking about. But at least my values...don't involve any direct imposition on you. We don't want to force you to have an abortion or to marry someone of the same sex, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities for us. Which is more arrogant?

We on my side of the great divide don't, for the most part, believe that our values are direct orders from God. We don't claim that they are immutable and beyond argument. We are, if anything, crippled by reason and open-mindedness, by a desire to persuade rather than insist. Which philosophy is more elitist? Which is more contemptuous of people who disagree?

There are multiple brands of "elitism," of course, and some of them do indeed apply to liberals. But still, he makes a good point, doesn't he?

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

YOU ARE BEING WATCHED....The Washington Post reports today on yet another reason to pay cash for everything.

Kevin Drum 1:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

YUCK....Losing the election was bad enough, but now USC is losing to Oregon State at halftime? What's up with that?

Hopefully this is just one of those early inaccurate exit polls and will be corrected shortly.

UPDATE: That's better. With all precincts reporting, the final tally is USC 28, OSU 20. All in fog so thick the announcers could barely call the game.

(And for those of you who follow USC football, yes, it does feel a little strange to be rooting for someone named Bush....)

Kevin Drum 11:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

LOOSE STINGERS... Thousands of Iraqi surface to air missiles are now missing, according to The New York Times. Note that we are hearing about this now, after the election, from unnamed government officials talking on Friday, so as to bury the news in the Saturday papers. This is hardly surprising, because the news is very, very worrying.

Shoulder-fired missiles are built to shoot down aircraft. You'll recall that the Afghan mujaheddin used American-built and CIA-supplied Stingers to devastating effect against Soviet helicopters. Terrorists have also twice used them to down civilian jetliners, once in 1993, when Abkhazian rebels in Georgia shot down a Russian airliner, killing 106 passengers; and once in 1983, when UNITA rebels in Angola claimed to have bought down another such aircraft, killing 130. The surface to air missiles now known to be missing in Iraq has led intelligence officials to triple their estimate of the number of such weapons floating around worldwide, according to the Times.

If some of these weapons fall into the hands of al Qaeda or other groups--a pretty safe bet--what are the chances that they might be used to shoot down civilian jets? The good news, as Soyoung Ho wrote last year in The Washington Monthly, is that it's not easy for someone without professional training to hit a moving jetliner, especially using the older variety of surface to air missiles that are the ones that tend to circulate on the black market. If you want to blow up a plane, it's easier to plant a bomb on the craft. The bad news is that increased airline security has made it harder to get bombs on planes, thus increasing the terrorists' incentive to try surface to air missiles. The other piece of bad news is that newer varieties of such weapons make the job easier; they have greater range, for instance, and are able to home in on the target and counter a pilot's evasive maneuvers. The U.S., France, Russia, and Japan manufacture these newer missiles, but Pakistan, North Korea, China, and Egypt have learned to make copies. The Times doesn't say which kind Iraq had. I sure hope it's the older ones.

Paul Glastris 6:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SOUTHERNERS ONLY NEED APPLY?....I sure hope that Democrats don't pay too much attention to "insiders" with advice like this:

Reeling from their party's loss in the presidential election, some key Democratic financiers and strategists say they have learned a clear lesson: Next time around, no Northeasterners need apply.

...."We have to be very careful about the kind of candidate that we nominate and where that candidate comes from," said Scott Falmlen, executive director of the Democratic Party in North Carolina, where [Michael] Easley won in a landslide Tuesday despite Kerry's lopsided loss there to President Bush. "This party has got to get in a position where it does not write off an entire section of the country."

That's a little rich coming from a guy who apparently wants to write off the presidential ambitions of every Democrat except those from the promised land of the South. What's more, it's bad advice for several reasons:

  • There are practically no Democratic governors or senators left in the South. We simply can't limit our choice every four years to a tiny handful of guys from Arkansas and Virginia.

  • For the foreseeable future, the South is lost to the Democratic party and we should stop wasting time moaning about it. Regionally speaking, the upper Midwest, the Ohio valley, the Mississippi river states, and the southwest should be our targets of choice.

  • Al Gore and Jimmy Carter were both from the South, and it didn't help them. Nominating a southerner is no panacea, and instead of pandering to a region that has no intention of supporting their candidates anyway, Democrats would be better served figuring out how to make candidates from their strongholds acceptable to more of the country.

Besides, take a look at the home states of the last seven men elected to the presidency: Texas, Arkansas, Texas, California, Georgia, California, Texas. Not a single one from farther north than the 34th parallel. For practical purposes, more than two-thirds of the country has been disenfranchised from the presidency, held hostage to the electoral desires of the deep South.

It's time to put a stop to that. Democrats do need to broaden their appeal, but they need to do it with a stronger vision and a stronger message, not by blindly nominating someone with the right accent.

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RED, BLUE, AND GRAY....Historian Ralph Luker notes that the electoral college map of the 2004 election rather eerily matches the electoral college map of the 1896 election.

Maybe. But non-historian Ken Layne points out that it rather eerily matches the map below from 1860. That is eerie!

(Am I violating my own advice to dial down the mockery? Yeah, maybe. You could probably sue me if it weren't a weekend. Anyway, I'm doing a helluva lot better than Ken!)

Kevin Drum 12:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BULGE....According the The Hill, "sources in the Secret Service" have told them that the infamous bulge underneath George Bush's coat is....

A bulletproof vest.

Really? What's more, he wears it "most of the time" when appearing in public which is odd since it doesn't ever seem to show up except during debates. Odder still, they say they didn't fess up to this earlier because they didn't want to compromise Bush's security on the campaign trail. So why tell us now? Is he planning on never appearing in public again?

Ah, the hell with it. I believe them. None of the other theories ever really made sense anyway.

Kevin Drum 12:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ECONOMIC UPDATE....The economy added 337,000 jobs in October, retail sales were up 4.1%, and oil prices have dropped $7 in the past week.

On the other hand, unemployment was up, retail strength was concentrated in the luxury sector, and the dollar is dropping.

Still, overall this is pretty decent news. Let's hope it keeps up.

Kevin Drum 6:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CULTURE WARS vs. REAL WARS....Matt Yglesias is right: this article by Paul Freedman in Slate is important. Basically, he says the whole "moral issues" debate is so much hot air:

Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their votes overwhelmingly to Bush....But these differences were no greater in 2004 than in 2000. If you're trying to explain why the president's vote share in 2004 is bigger than his vote share in 2000, values don't help.

If the morality gap doesn't explain Bush's re-election, what does? A good part of the answer lies in the terrorism gap. Nationally, 49 percent of voters said they trusted Bush but not Kerry to handle terrorism; only 31 percent trusted Kerry but not Bush.

....These differences hold up at the state level even when each state's past Bush vote is taken into account. When you control for that variable, a 10-point increase in the percentage of voters citing terrorism as the most important problem translates into a 3-point Bush gain. A 10-point increase in morality voters, on the other hand, has no effect.

My quickie reaction to this is that I think Freedman makes some good points, although I suspect cultural issues are more important than he's giving them credit for. After all, even if they haven't become any more important than they were in 2000, they're still important and Democrats need to figure out a way to reduce their impact.

Still, my instinct all along has been that terrorism is the key swing issue for centrist voters right now, and that closing the gap on national security issues is more important for Democrats than closing the gap on cultural issues. Freedman is definitely onto something.

Kevin Drum 6:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHRISTIAN EXTREMISM....Today in the LA Times, we are treated to the dulcet tones of local Christian talk-radio host Frank Pastore:

The left bewitches with its potions and elixirs, served daily in its strongholds of academe, Hollywood and old media. It vomits upon the morals, values and traditions we hold sacred: God, family and country. As we learned Tuesday, it is clear the left holds the majority of Americans, the majority of us, in contempt.

Read the whole thing. Really. I wish the Times and other mainstream big-city newspapers would publish this kind of thing more often. Christian extremists mostly talk amongst themselves, and it would help galvanize liberals to actually hear the way they talk more often.

Last night I wrote a post suggesting that there were some cultural conservatives we could reason with, and there were some we couldn't. This is an example of the latter. Our job isn't to compromise with these guys in any way, it's to persuade a majority of our fellow citizens to reject their brand of theocratic hatred. Publicizing their spittle flecked rantings is a good way to start.

Kevin Drum 2:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PRIVATIZATION SHELL GAME....It looks like Social Security privatization is now at the top of President Bush's agenda. We'll soon be flooded with lots of doubletalk about how this is going to be funded and what it means, but in the meantime here is Privatization for Dummies a simple look at what it costs and who pays for it. Trust me on this: no matter how much they try to baffle and confuse us about their plan, this is approximately how it will work:

  • Currently, the total Social Security tax is 12.4% of income (up to a maximum income of $87,000).

  • The most popular proposal is one that allows workers to shift 2 percentage points of their current Social Security contributions into private accounts.

  • In other words, for each $100 of income, you (and your employer) currently pay $12.40 to the government to fund Social Security. Privatization allows you to deduct $2 of this and move it into a private account. That $2 represents about 16% of your original $12.40 contribution.

  • In 2003, total net contributions to Social Security amounted to $533 billion.

  • 16% of $533 billion is $85 billion. Thus, contributions to the government will fall by about $85 billion per year and be invested instead in private account.

These contributions, of course, are used to pay benefits to current Social Security recipients. No one is proposing that these benefits should be cut.

Bottom line: taxes go down by $85 billion, spending stays the same, and we add another $85 billion each year to the federal deficit. Wahoo! Who cares about deficits anyway?

UPDATE: Modified to make the math clearer, I hope. But it's correct. Honest.

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAITING....So does anyone know why CNN and the networks still haven't called New Mexico and Iowa? Bush is ahead by 8,000 and 13,000 votes respectively in those states with 99% of the vote counted. There can't be enough absentee ballots etc. left to be counted to give Kerry a chance of winning, can there?

What's going on?

Kevin Drum 11:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

DIAGNOSIS... There's a lot of speculation out there that the Democrats' loss this week will spark a vicious new civil war between the party's left and center. While that could happen, so far I see no clear signs. Quite the opposite, in fact. Looking at the exit polls, progressives are suddenly talking about how they need to "frame" their ideas in the language of faith and morality. New Democrats, meanwhile, are no longer claiming that they have all the answers. Indeed, the DLC has written the most humble, honest, and persuasive assessment of what went wrong for Democrats and what to do next that I've come across so far. I'd be curious to see what some off our anti-DLC readers think about the piece. My guess is they won't find much to disagree with.

Paul Glastris 10:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

HELP WANTED... Here's an idea: Bill Clinton for DNC Chairman.

Paul Glastris 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RED STATE RESENTMENT....Tom Wolfe is one of the sharpest observers of American culture we have. Here's what he told the Guardian a few days ago about the Democrats' much discussed problems connecting with red state voters:

I think support for Bush is about not wanting to be led by East-coast pretensions. It is about not wanting to be led by people who are forever trying to force their twisted sense of morality onto us, which is a non-morality. That is constantly done, and there is real resentment. Support for Bush is about resentment in the so-called 'red states' a confusing term to Guardian readers, I agree which here means, literally, middle America.

I think there's an awful lot to be said for this. Hell, I'm a coastal blue-state liberal, and even I occasionally get tired of liberal hectoring. I half suspect that my entire Northern California readership would disown me if I ever fessed up publicly to the brand of car I drive. Who needs that kind of grief?

Now, needless to say, I don't agree with Wolfe that our sense of morality is "twisted," but I do agree that we probably lose a lot of support we don't need to lose because of a very real and often dripping condescension toward anyone we consider less enlightened than us.

Here's the thing: we're never going to win over the hard core evangelicals, the ones who want to ban abortion, teach creationism in biology classes, and recriminalize gay sex. What's more, we shouldn't try. Religious extremism conflicts with the core values of liberalism, and the only thing we can do is continue fighting these folks tooth and nail. No amount of "reaching out" is going to touch them.

But the fact is that we don't need to reach them anyway. We didn't lose the election by much, and there are plenty of red staters who aren't extremists. They're the ones who are uncomfortable with homosexuality, but understand that a steadily increasing acceptance of gay rights is probably inevitable. They don't want to ban abortion, but feel like it's common sense to require parental notification. And they're ready to agree that we need to do something about global warming, but that doesn't mean they take kindly to thinly veiled accusations that they're personally responsible for it just because they drive an SUV or eat a Big Mac.

In other words, they disagree with us, but not so much that they can't be brought around or persuaded to vote for us based on other issues. Too often, though, a visceral loathing of being lectured at by city folks wins out and they end up marking their ballots for people like George Bush.

So maybe we should knock it off. I know it's fun, but most of the time it's pointless and misguided and it costs us elections and prevents even modest progress on issues we care about. That's a high price to pay for a bit of fun.

And the best part is that it doesn't infringe on our core values at all. We don't all have to start quoting scripture, we just have to dial down the mockery a notch. Why give the Republicans bulletin board material, after all?

There's something else we could do that I think would infringe only modestly on our core values, and that's a renewed commitment to federalism. More about that in another post.

Kevin Drum 1:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

NOVEMBER SURPRISES....During the campaign, George Bush was miraculously able to stop time. But now that he's been safely reelected, time will start up once again and we might finally see a few of those things that have been on hold for the past year:

  • That CIA report Porter Goss successfully hid, the one that "names names."

  • The Valerie Plame indictments.

  • The Senate Intelligence Committee's second report, the one about political responsibility for prewar intelligence failures.

  • The invasion of Fallujah.

  • The resignations of several Supreme Court justices.

I'm sure I've missed a few things too....

Kevin Drum 8:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLOSE ELECTION....I'm not trying to minimize the tough electoral road ahead for Democrats, but even so I get awfully annoyed by analysis like this:

"Democrats face this terrible arithmetic in the Electoral College where if they don't carry any of the 11 Southern states [of the Old Confederacy] they need to win 70% of everything else," says Merle Black, an expert on Southern politics at Emory University.

No kidding. But try this on for size instead:

"Republicans face this terrible arithmetic in the Electoral College where if they don't carry any of the 13 Northeastern states they need to win two-thirds of everything else," says Kevin Drum, an expert on simplistic arithmetic at the Washington Monthly.

Note to the media: it was a close election, just like it was four years ago. There were only a dozen swing states, and Republicans had no more chance of winning in California, New York, and Illinois than Democrats did in Georgia, Alabama, and Wyoming. A trivial swing of a hundred thousand votes in half a dozen states and you'd be writing pretentious thumbsuckers about how cultural issues were losing their ability to attract votes for Republicans. So knock it off, OK?

And as for the culture wars, more on that later.

Kevin Drum 6:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SHOULD COLIN POWELL HAVE A BLOG?....Why is Foreign Policy magazine running an article about blogs? Because Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell argue that blogs are influencing more than just U.S. politics these days:

Political scandals are one thing, but can the blogosphere influence global politics as well?

....Faced with various domestic obstacles, bloggers inside [regimes where there is no thriving independent media sector] (or expatriates) can try to influence foreign blogs and the media through indirect effects at home. Political scientists Margaret Keck of Johns Hopkins University and Kathryn Sikkink of the University of Minnesota note that activists who are unable to change conditions in their own countries can leverage their power by taking their case to transnational networks of advocates, who in turn publicize abuses and lobby their governments. Keck and Sikkink call this a boomerang effect, because repression at home can lead to international pressure against the regime from abroad. Blogs can potentially play a role in the formation of such transnational networks.

Iran is a good example. The Iranian blogosphere has exploded. According to the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Educations Blog Census, Farsi is the fourth most widely used language among blogs worldwide. One service provider alone (Persian Blog) hosts some 60,000 active blogs. The weblogs allow young secular and religious Iranians to interact, partially taking the place of reformist newspapers that have been censored or shut down. Government efforts to impose filters on the Internet have been sporadic and only partially successful. Some reformist politicians have embraced blogs, including the president, who celebrated the number of Iranian bloggers at the World Summit on the Information Society, and Vice President Muhammad Ali Abtahi, who is a blogger himself. Elite Iranian blogs such as Editor: Myself have established links with the English-speaking blogosphere. When Sina Motallebi, a prominent Iranian blogger, was imprisoned for undermining national security through cultural activity, prominent Iranian bloggers were able to join forces with well-known English-language bloggers including Jeff Jarvis (BuzzMachine), Dan Gillmor (Silicon Valley), and Patrick Belton (OxBlog) to create an online coalition that attracted media coverage, leading to Motallebis release.

The whole article is worth reading.

Kevin Drum 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

COULD DELAY BE THE NEXT DASCHLE?....Although Tom DeLay's Texas redistricting plan succeeded in knocking off some veteran Democratic congressmen, he should be more than a little worried about the safety of his own seat in the next election. Democrats have already fixed on the fact that DeLay won reelection with a mere 55 percent of the vote. Compare that to the average 40 point margin of victory for all Texas congressional incumbents. DeLay has never had a real challenge at the polls since first coming to Congress in 1984. This relatively close call gives Democrats hope that they can knock him off in 2006.

Amy Sullivan 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TAX CUTS....Conservative economists have long argued that when we consider the impact of tax cuts, we should score them "dynamically." That is, since they believe that tax cuts stimulate economic growth, our estimates need to include not just the lost revenue from reducing the tax rate, but also the increased revenue caused by having a bigger economic pie to get our taxes from.

Brad DeLong is skeptical about this, and one of the reasons is that dynamic models assume that tax cuts are also accompanied by revenue cuts. That's obviously not the position of the modern Republican party, so to assess the dynamic potential of the Bush tax cuts we have to consider three possibilities:

  1. Recognize that there is a chance that the tax cut will be reversed. Perhaps once again, as in the early 1990s, an unwillingness to cut spending combined with mounting debt and debt servicing costs changes the complexion of politics. I would have said that the chances of this are high given the 7% of GDP long-run fiscal deficit that America appears to have, and the unwillingness of any politician to propose cuts in the growth rates of Medicare and Social Security spending. But the chances of this have dropped since Kerry reached his peak bubble value of 80% on the Iowa Electronic Markets Tuesday afternoon.

  2. Recognize that there is a chance that there will be a long period of rising debt and debt burdens accompanied by cutbacks in spending shares as various institutional mechanisms force the legislature to face and try to meet the government budget constraint. We know what George W. Bush thinks of the pay-as-you-go mechanisms that restrained Congressional action so effectively in the 1990s: he thinks they are a joke: "You know what pay-go means? It means you pay--and [Kerry] goes and spends!" I would say that the chances of this have also dropped since Tuesday afternoon.

  3. Last, there is the remaining possibility: that the government budget constraint itself will take its own non-policy steps to make sure that it is met, and generate an Argentina-style meltdown. By the principle that probabilities sum to one, I conclude that the chances of this have risen since Tuesday afternoon.

In other words: Maybe taxes will go back up. Maybe spending will be reined in. Or maybe the economy will melt down. But one way or another the numbers will (eventually) add up.

So, since George Bush seems hellbent against raising taxes, and no president or Congress in modern history and most certainly not this one has shown any sustained interest in reducing spending, that means the odds of the United States turning into a mini-Argentina have risen now that Bush has won reelection. That's a sobering thought for liberal hawks who voted for Bush because they figured his domestic policies, bad as they were, could always be reversed four years from now without too much harm being done to the country in the meantime. I sure hope they turn out to be right.

Kevin Drum 1:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELECTION NIGHT IN ORANGE COUNTY....No, Dana Rohrabacher is not my congressman, but if I moved a few miles down the road he would be. OC Weekly tells us how he celebrated Tuesday night:

In politics, there are few images funnier than Rohrabacher; nothingnot even an angry Bob Dornantops an apparently intoxicated Rohrabacher wearing a red-white-and-blue Uncle Sam hat and a drunks smile. He grabbed the podium with both hands and stared at the overflow crowd as if trying to focus. Before he hooted and danced around the stage, Rohrabacher screamed, "We just saved America!....Kick ass!....America is back! Bin Laden is history!"

....Rather than grab his next beer, Rohrabacher wobbled back to the podium.

"What does this election mean?" he yelled. "The people of the United States dont care if the people of Germany and France are behind us. We are totally leading the world to a tremendous tomorrow! It means were going to keep God in the pledge! People expect honest leadership, and....[he looked momentarily lost here] they know where they can go. George W. Bush is back to the White House! The people in Afghanistan are going to enjoy democracy! Its a peaceful world! Thank you for staying strong and giving hope to America! Orange County leads the way. We are leading the country!"

Just thought I'd share.

Kevin Drum 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CAMPAIGN 2004 POLL AWARDS....So which poll gets bragging rights this year for calling the race most accurately? The final popular vote went to Bush 51%-48%, and the only poll that called it right on the money was....

Pew Research! Congratulations, guys!

According to the final numbers posted over at RCP, honorable mentions go to CBS, TIPP, and GW/Battleground, which all indicated a Bush victory of 2-4%. Not bad.

But who gets the goat award? Newsweek gets an honorable mention for predicting a Bush win by 6%, but that's (barely) within the margin of error, so they get off easy. Marist predicted a Kerry win by 1%, which isn't within the margin of error. But the grand prize goes to....

Fox News! They predicted Kerry would win by two points, 48%-46%, a stunning five percentage points off the actual result.

And Gallup? They got a lot grief during the election, and in the end they called it a tie, 49%-49%. That undecided formula they used didn't work out so well.

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXIT POLLS....I talked to a magazine writer today who asked me who I thought was right: the networks for not publicizing early exit poll numbers or blogs for publicizing them. I told her I thought they were both right.

Basically, I think exit poll numbers are interesting data, and anyone who's interested should have access to them. That's especially true since the media has access to them all day long, and it annoys me when their coverage is so obviously driven by something they won't tell us about. So if blogs make exit polls accessible to political junkies and other people who want to see them, that's great.

At the same time, television and radio are mass mediums, and it seems likely that early exit poll results can affect election turnout if large numbers of people see them. What's more, if the networks decide to air exit poll results, you're pretty much forced to hear about them unless you choose to simply not watch the news at all hardly a likely proposition on election day.

Roughly speaking, then, I think the best solution is for TV and radio to refrain from publicizing early exit poll results, while the internet should make them available to people who actively want to see them. That's about what happens now, and the only improvement would be for sites like CNN to post the official results along with enough data to judge how seriously to take them instead of having blogs publish whatever rumors and reports of rumors they happen to get via email. I haven't really heard any credible arguments against doing this.

UPDATE: And speaking of exit polls, I'm still curious about my question from last night: why is everyone complaining about how inaccurate they were? In fact, the final exit poll results were almost spot on.

It's true that many of the early results were off, but those were based on small samples and were skewed toward early voters. I don't know if we'll ever know for sure, but it's quite plausible that Kerry supporters jammed the polls in the morning, and the early exit results accurately reflected this.

Or am I missing something here?

Kevin Drum 1:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE CONSERVATIVE "PRESS"....This is bizarre. Here is Michael Ledeen's version of a "great newspaper story":

Yesterday afternoon in Rome, my buddy Giuliano Ferrara the editor of the wonderful "il Foglio" pondered his front page for Wednesday. He didn't know anything about the electoral outcome since it was late morning here and we were still voting and there weren't even exit polls.

What to do? Well, he could duck the whole question, but, as he told his readers, that would have been professionally cowardly since this was the biggest story of our generation. So he went for it, and this morning in Rome that is to say, at one in the morning our time, even before Michael Barone and his guys at Fox had awarded Ohio to Bush "il Foglio" emerged with a nine-column headline in bright red:

WHY GEORGE W. BUSH WON THE ELECTIONS Clear victory of the president who cuts taxes and wages war.

That's a great newspaper story? That instead of reporting the truth there were no results at press time Ferrara just made up a headline based on what he hoped would happen?

Is this the conservative ideal of how the press should operate?

UPDATE: In comments, Ledeen adds some crucial context:

If he had been wrong, as he noted in a box on the front page, his readers would have had a ball, and he would have looked an idiot. If, as it happened, he was right, he could claim prescience.

He accompanied his headline with a photo of the 1948 headline "Dewey Beats Truman," so he knew what he was doing.

That does make a difference. As long as his readers clearly knew what he was doing, it really is sort of an amusing newspaper story.

Kevin Drum 1:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AL-QAQAA UPDATE....The latest on al-Qaqaa from Mark Mazzetti of the Los Angeles Times:

In the weeks after the fall of Baghdad, Iraqi looters loaded powerful explosives into pickup trucks and drove the material off the Al Qaqaa ammunition site, according to a group of U.S. Army reservists and National Guardsmen who said they witnessed the looting.

...."We were running from one side of the compound to the other side, trying to kick people out," said one senior noncommissioned officer who was at the site in late April 2003. "On our last day there, there were at least 100 vehicles waiting at the site for us to leave" so that they could come in and loot munitions.

"It was complete chaos. It was looting like L.A. during the Rodney King riots," another officer said.

But please don't suggest that we didn't have enough troops in Iraq. Why, that's just crazy talk.

Kevin Drum 12:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TIME FOR ANOTHER ELECTION!....Who should be the next Democratic leader in the Senate? Here are the five most frequently discussed contenders:

  1. Harry Reid

  2. Dick Durbin

  3. Hillary Rodham Clinton

  4. John Kerry

  5. Christopher Dodd

Cast your vote now! Who would you like to see leading the Democrats in the upper house?

Kevin Drum 10:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MANDATE....I hate to say this, but I hope liberals quit whining about George Bush's "mandate." It may be a narrow one, but of course he won a mandate. We've all been saying for months now that this election was a referendum on the incumbent, and the incumbent won the electoral college, won the popular vote by nearly 4 million votes, picked up four Senate seats, tossed out the Democratic leader in the Senate, and picked up a few more House seats for good measure. If the results had gone the other way, we'd be talking about them as a clear repudiation of Bush and everything he stood for.

Needless to say, this doesn't mean we should just mope around and let the Republican party run the country unopposed. At the same time, though, it doesn't help to be in denial: the fact is that Bush did win a convincing victory, and he did it because more Americans agreed with his vision for the country than agreed with ours. Our job now is to try to change that, not to pretend that it never happened.

UPDATE: The comment section is its usual rollicking self, which is fine. However, let's not get hung up on semantics: I called it a "narrow" mandate, not a sweeping mandate, and if your only objection is to the word itself, I don't mind if you choose another one. But one way or another, Bush did convince a decisive majority of Americans that his vision was better than ours.

Having said that, though, I'll repeat something I said a few days ago: I wouldn't be at all surprised if Bush makes the same mistake Newt Gingrich did in 1994 and interprets this as a mandate for radical conservative change. It wasn't, and if he overreaches I imagine he'll meet the same fate Gingrich did.

Kevin Drum 10:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

SLOW DOWN THERE....This, with apologies to Andrew, is hooey. "What we're seeing," writes Andrew Sullivan, "is a huge fundamentalist Christian revival in this country, a religious movement that is now explicitly political as well."

Hate to point this out (no, actually, I don't--I've been saying this for a while now), but the "huge fundamentalist Christian revival" took place about thirty years ago, not last month, and it has always been explictly political. If I may condense a few decades of history into one sentence, the perfect storm that led to what we now call the Christian Right was this combination:
Angry reaction by conservative evangelicals to court rulings on school prayer, Bible-reading in public schools, and abortion motivating them to enter the political realm for the first time
Outrage among Catholics, who had previously kept kind of quiet while focusing on assimilating amid anti-Catholicism, after Roe v. Wade, mobilizing them into a politically active force
The realization by Republican strategists that they need to form a cohesive electoral block and that their best bet for winning the South was partnering with white church leaders, since those institutions were the last acceptable bastion of racism
Rock-solid coalition of Christian Right and Republican Party.

And as a result, for a good twenty years now, people have assumed that if you're religious, you're a Republican and that if you're a Democrat, you can't possibly be religious. We know that isn't true. What's more, John Kerry's campaign (particularly in the last stretch of October) made great strides toward knocking down that mistaken belief. But unfortunately, it's going to take more time until perceptions match reality.

I gotta say, it doesn't help much when exit polls and sloppy reporting use terms like "moral values" and "moral issues" as shorthand for very narrow, divisive issues like abortion and gay marriage, feeding into twenty years of Republican rhetoric. Opposition to the war in Iraq is a moral issue. The alleviation of poverty is a moral issue. Concern about abortion is a moral value, yes, but you can stay at the level of empty rhetoric about a "culture of life" or you can talk about how to actually reduce abortion rates, which is what most people care about more. (Did you hear once during this election season that abortion rates have risen under W. after they fell dramatically during Clinton's eight years in office?)

"Religious" does not mean Republican. And "moral" does not mean conservative. There's going to be a lot of discussion about all of this over the coming weeks and months, and it's incredibly important to make sure we're neither sloppy about our terms nor overly broad in how we characterize "the faithful."

Amy Sullivan 5:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT'S NEXT....Lots of email and blog posts today tinged with deep despair. "What are we going to do now?"

Well, I don't know. The lefties will say we need to stop trying to be Republican Lites, the DNCers will say we need to move to the center, the New Republic will say we need to get serious about national security, Amy Sullivan will say we need to pay more attention to religion, George Lakoff will say we need better issue framing, the Washington Monthly editors will say we need a more potent vision, etc. etc. I'm not sure who's right, but we'll figure it out.

But one thing not to do is hide under the blankets and give up. We lost an election, that's all. There will be another one in a few years, and if we persuade a few more people that we're right, we'll win it. Tomorrow would be a good day to start doing that persuading.

Kevin Drum 4:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POST-ELECTION CAT BLOGGING....I know I said I wasn't going to bring back regular catblogging, but we could all use some cheering up today, couldn't we? And cats always seem to take political news so serenely. We could learn something from them.

So today is super catblogging day, with extra bonus cats! You all recognize Inkblot and Jasmine, of course, but we also have a couple of special guests today. On the bottom left is William, my mother's new Orange kitten (get it? William of Orange? Hah!), and on the right is Professor Marc's cat, Grayson. You may now all zen out on cat pictures for the rest of the day.

Kevin Drum 2:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

DEMS NEED A BLUE-STATE LEADER....I have to admit to being slightly stunned this morning. So my comments are more stream-of-consciousness than well-thought-out analysis and I will do my best to keep them far from the inevitable Democratic piling-on that I so despise.

I think Democrats need to say out loud now what many have been whispering (or blogging) for a while. I adore my former boss Tom Daschle and--objectivity be damned--am heartbroken today about his loss. But it is clear that Senate Democrats simply cannot afford to have a leader who hails from a hardcore red state. It puts both the leader and the party in an untenable position. With reelection in mind, Daschle didn't have the luxury of standing firm on the energy bill or in pushing Bush harder over Iraq policy. Even so, he stepped to the plate to play hardball with Republicans by essentially shutting down all conference committees this year and was quickly branded an obstructionist. He couldn't act completely with Democrats' interests in mind, nor could he keep his political reputation squeaky clean to please constituents who just want someone bringing home the bacon.

It's a tricky balance. Democrats can't choose a leader so liberal that they simply feed into the "Ted-Kennedy-tax-and-spend" stereotype. But a red-stater who risks tough reelection fights cannot afford to be as completely committed to the party's agenda as they to be.

Which is why Dems would do well to add a name like Dick Durbin to the Harry Reids being batted around right now.

Amy Sullivan 12:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MOST IMPORTANT EVENT....RECONSIDERED....Can I change my mind about the most important event of the campaign? Since George Bush ended up winning, the "most important event" title ought to be something that helped him, not something that helped John Kerry.

With that in mind, I'll plump for the Massachusett's Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage. The result was nearly a dozen initiatives across the country to ban gay marriage and a perfect wedge issue for Republicans. For the second election in a row, it looks like the president was chosen by the courts.

Kevin Drum 12:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH UNLEASHED?....I half agree with Matt Yglesias:

I would caution anyone against deluding themselves into believing that a second Bush term won't be so bad. With a majority of the popular vote and expanded margins in the House and Senate, we're going to see Bush Unleashed something that will probably be much crazier than what we've seen over the past four years.

Actually, I guess I completely agree, but with a caveat. George Bush is going to try to unleash a radical second term agenda, and he might even succeed at passing a bit of it although I'm not sure I'd put money on it. After all, tax cuts are relatively easy and 9/11 made Iraq possible, but the rest of his agenda is going to be a lot harder. Like Newt Gingrich four years ago, I suspect he's going to find out that he doesn't quite have the mandate for radical conservatism that he thinks he does.

Of course, it's up to us to make sure he finds that out.

Kevin Drum 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANOTHER WIN FOR ARNOLD....I hate to say this, but one of the big winners last night was none other than the Governator. He campaigned for several controversial ballot measures here in California, and it looks like they've all gone his way. What's more, the one place he campaigned with President Bush was in Ohio, which turned out to be the key battleground everyone thought it would be. Was his last-minute appearance in Columbus worth an extra hundred thousand votes? No one can say for sure, but it sure didn't hurt.

Bottom line: we can expect Arnold to be even more insufferable than ever. Of course, whether that will help him with the concrete problem of dredging up an extra $7 billion to make up for last year's budget tap dance remains to be seen....

Kevin Drum 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BREAKING NEWS....Kerry has conceded.

Kevin Drum 11:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BEFORE THE BLOODLETTING....I know the Ohio provisionals are yet to be counted, but it looks to me like George Bush won. This is obviously a pretty devastating loss for liberals, made worse by the fact that we can expect no quarter from the Bush White House over the next four years, close election or not. It's going to be tough, discouraging sledding.

But while there will be plenty of time for some valuable and needed soul searching over the next months and years, I have a few miscellaneous thoughts before the bloodletting starts:

  • I hope Democrats resist the urge to lash out at John Kerry. After all, the conventional wisdom said that a liberal senator from Massachusetts would get swamped, but in fact the election was razor close. It all came down to a swing of 1% of the vote in one state.

  • Did I say 1% of the vote in one state? Does that sound familiar? That's two nailbiters in a row for "Landslide Karl," not exactly the stuff of political legend. On the other hand, he did do it with George Bush as a candidate, and I guess that counts for something.

  • The senate is almost more frustrating than the presidency. In a way the results weren't unexpected, since there are more red states than blue and Republicans are bound to pick up more and more of those seats over time. But just as in 2002, the Dems lost almost all the close races. Bunning won in Kentucky by a swing of one point, Martinez won in Florida by a point, Thune won in South Dakota by a point, and Vitter won in Louisiana by a point. Salazar in Colorado was the only Democrat to win a close election.

    Among other things, Dems really need to figure out how to eke out a few more votes in close elections.

  • I sure hope all the liberal energy that came together this year doesn't dissipate. After all, the real problem has never been George Bush, the problem has been that a bare majority of Americans agree with George Bush. That's not an academic distinction, either: just as movement conservatives built up their machine in the ashes of Barry Goldwater's loss in 1964, liberals need to continue building a long-term machine dedicated to changing popular opinion. And it's hardly a herculean task: a switch of only 3 or 4 points in public opinion is a virtual landslide, and if we can pull it off it means that guys like George Bush can't get elected anymore, even if they are the kind of people you'd like to have a beer with. It can be done.

    But it takes money, energy, and coordination. Despite last night's loss, liberals did a pretty good of pulling themselves together this year. If we keep it up for another four there's no reason we can't turn things around.

Oh, and one more thing: screw the youth vote. That sure didn't work out well, did it?

UPDATE: A note to the humorless conservative brigade descending on this post: that last line was a joke. Lighten up, guys you won.

Kevin Drum 11:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ROVE-AN-GELICALS....So, um, I guess that Karl Rove's 4 million evangelicals existed after all....

Kevin Drum 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXIT POLLS....The CNN guys were blathering on a few minutes ago about how the exit polls were screwy once again this year, and wondering whether they could ever be trusted again. And it's true that some of the early exit polls were off by several percentage points.

But those were early exit polls, and everyone knows they have a fairly high margin of error. So I just made a cursory check of the final exit polls and compared them to the final vote and guess what? They were pretty close: within one point for the national vote (which had an MOE of about 1%) and within a couple of points for the state polls (which had an MOE of 2-4% depending on the state). In other words, they were all within the statistical margin of error.

So what's the problem? Sampling error is irreducible, so there's no way the exit polls could have been any better than they were. What's all the griping about?

And now I'm off to bed. See you in the morning.

Kevin Drum 4:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PROVISIONAL BALLOT WATCH....Last I heard, the Ohio secretary of state estimated that they would end up with about 175,000 provisional ballots. At best for Kerry making some fairly heroic assumptions about the bulk of the provisionals being the result of Republican challenges and so forth they might split in his favor 65%-35%. That would break down to 113,000 for Kerry vs. 61,000 for Bush, a difference of 52,000 votes.

In other words, Kerry needs to be within about 50,000 votes in order for the provisional ballots to have any chance of tipping Ohio in his direction. Right now, he's behind by 140,000 with 99% of the precincts reporting, so getting within 50,000 seems like a rather forlorn hope.

Now, these numbers might be wrong. Maybe there are more provisional ballots. Maybe they'll break even more sharply in Kerry's favor. Maybe once the regular count is finished he'll be closer than 140,000. But that's a lot maybes, and it's pretty unlikely they're all going to happen.

In other words, it doesn't look like the provisional ballots are going to save Kerry. I know that conclusion won't be popular with my readers, but that's the way I see it. We'll know more by Wednesday morning.

Kevin Drum 3:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A COUNTRY TRAPPED IN AMBER?....Based on how the final few states are looking at the moment, the most remarkable thing about this presidential election is how nearly identical it is to 2000. Right now, it looks like no more than two or three states will flip from red to blue or vice versa.

As I said the other day, a difference of one or two percentage points makes a big objective difference, since one guy wins and the other doesn't, but it means almost nothing about the direction of the country. We're almost exactly where we were four years ago.

Which, really, is an amazing thing. You'd think an event like 9/11 would act as a catalyst that blows apart existing political dynamics and realigns the electorate, but instead it seems to have cemented it into place. Not only are we at the same place we were four years ago, but the divisions are actually more entrenched than ever.

It hardly seems possible that this can last forever, but if 9/11 didn't realign the electorate, what will?

Kevin Drum 2:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

GOD BLESS PETER JENNINGS....If you're still watching television, switch over to ABC News. Peter Jennings is stubbornly (and, I believe--taking a look at the margin and the ballots still outstanding--correctly) holding off calling Ohio for either candidate. When Kerry campaign correspondent Dean Reynolds went off the reservation and said, in essence, well, everyone else is calling Ohio for Bush, Jennings chided him and reminded viewers that there was no reason to rush.

This is just a shot in the dark, but is it perhaps that ABC has no cable presence and doesn't feel the same kind of pressure to be first or keep up with the competitors. Whatever the reason, it's nice to see someone insist on waiting until all of the votes have been counted. Reynolds, on the other hand, contributed to the Bush spin by responding to a question about provisional ballots with "That sounds like a long stretch...it has the whiff of a legal challenge."

Update: Okay, CNN and CBS are holding off as well. But I'm still sticking with ABC. After spending most of the evening flipping between hyper anchors and shouting panelists, I find Peter's even tones calming.

Amy Sullivan 2:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PROVISIONAL BALLOTS IN OHIO....CNN just reported that there are 200,000 provisional ballots in Ohio. So if anyone wins by less than 100,000 or so, we won't know the winner until the provisionals are counted. And who knows how long that could take?

UPDATE: Apparently the answer is 10-11 days.

Kevin Drum 1:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 2, 2004
By: Amy Sullivan

WHIPLASH....Is it just me, or are the networks repeating their 2000 pattern of pushing the "Kerry's going to win" storyline before switching late in the evening to "Bush has the momentum"? Lest we forget, it was that change in coverage that the Republicans used to jumpstart their "We wuz robbed" campaign in the days immediately after election day.

Amy Sullivan 11:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

DASCHLE'S STILL ALIVE IN SODAK....This was always going to be a nail-biter. The difference between the totals for John Thune and Tom Daschle right now is 1,000 votes. And it's definitely worth noting that at the moment, that doesn't include any of the results from the reservations. None. Again, hold your breath.

Amy Sullivan 11:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LAWYERS CONVERGING ON OHIO....It sounds like Ohio is about to become ground zero for the legal profession of America. I think we're about to find out how many lawyers can dance on the head of a ballot marker.

However, I still think Wisconsin is a dark horse candidate for "Florida of 2004"....

Kevin Drum 11:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

WAITING IN MICHIGAN....We're hearing it repeated over and over on tv, but it's worth yet another reminder. The preliminary vote totals can vary wildly from final tallies based on which precincts are reporting early. In Michigan, for example, Bush currently has a slight edge over Kerry, but only 3 percent of the precincts in Wayne County have been counted--that's where Detroit is, and turnout was reportedly much higher than normal there today--and none of the precincts in Washtenaw--home of the Berkeley of the East, Ann Arbor--are included in that result. So hold your breath, count to ten (actually, just keep on counting), and settle in for the night.

Amy Sullivan 10:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

WELL, IT'S A THEORY....It's not a good theory, but it's a theory. On CNN, Larry King was just asked what's the deal with Ralph Nader and he replied, "Well, I know he had a stroke. He had a stroke a few years back. He'd never wanted to run for office before."

I report, you decide. It's as good an explanation as any, I suppose.

Amy Sullivan 10:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

META-META-BLOGGING....What do I think about the mainstream media's newfound ritual of asking bloggers what they think about the election results? Here's what I told Tricia Bishop of the Baltimore Sun this afternoon:

"In a way it's the ultimate in navel gazing," Drum said. "The bloggers all read the media and the media call bloggers to find out what they're reading."

It really does seem like that sometimes.

Kevin Drum 10:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BATTLEGROUND UPDATE....If the exit poll information is to be believed, Kerry will win both Minnesota and Michigan fairly handily. Wisconsin and Florida are dead heats.

Kevin Drum 9:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

R.I.P. RALPH NADER....While we're waiting for all the real news to roll in, I'd just like to take this opportunity to point to one piece of unalloyed good news for everyone: it looks like Ralph Nader will end up with less than 1% of the vote. Happy days.

Kevin Drum 8:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

RELIGIOUS BACKLASH....My friends Ayelish McGarvey and Sarah Wildman have a pair of interesting posts over at Tapped providing some evidence for what I've been arguing for some time: All of Bush's often-brilliant religious rhetoric and outreach can't paper over the fact that four years of his administration have yielded little in the way of results for the religious voters he's been courting.

Ayelish shares a fascinating email from a conservative religious leader who rips into Bush for basically being a fake evangelical. Why does this matter? Well, for one thing, those 4 million missing evangelicals Karl Rove is always talking about just don't exist. And even if they did, Bush's actions over the past four years have done little to excite Christian conservatives. I know the conventional wisdom among most liberals is that Bush has done a ton to pander to his base. But look at it from their perspective. They've just had four years with an evangelical in the White House, evangelicals running the House and the Senate, a relatively sympathetic Supreme Court, and John Ashcroft at DoJ. And what have they gotten? Bush came out in favor of civil unions last week, developed a stem cell compromise that fell far short of what Christian conservatives wanted, and his faith-based initiative has turned out to be an empty sham. It's not enough to turn them into John Kerry voters, but it may be enough to convince them to stay home.

And as Sarah points out, Muslims--a political community that lent 80% of its support to Bush in 2000--are leaning, well, heavily (I'd say 93% is heavy) to Kerry this time around. Both candidates made a gamble during this election and held off on courting Muslims for fear that their opponents would find some way to tie their contacts to individuals connected with terrorist activity. But Bush's administration went even further, pursuing policies that actively targeted (and therefore alienated) Muslims.

You'll be hearing more from me over the next few days on how a number of the religious outreach strategies that worked so well in 2000 for Bush have backfired in this election. The biggest reason is that actions really do matter more than words. Voters aren't stupid. You may be able to fool them for a campaign season; four years of an administration is a different game entirely. We'll know more as religion data comes out of the exit poll numbers. But my prediction is that Kerry does significantly better among religious constituencies that Bush expected to sweep.

Amy Sullivan 8:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OHIO....The final exit polls have Kerry beating Bush in Ohio 52%-48%.

And Kerry appears to be winning Pennsylvania 54%-45%.

Looks like Coburn has won the Senate race in Oklahoma, though....

Kevin Drum 8:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PROJECTIONS....Zogby is calling it for Kerry in the electoral college 311-213. (But he also projects Bush the popular vote winner. Poetic justice?)

Via email, apparently Republican pollster Frank Luntz also thinks Kerry is too far ahead in the exit polls for Bush to catch up.

Kevin Drum 7:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KENTUCKY SENATE RESULTS....WKYT in Kentucky is reporting results for Fayette County already, and they show Bush ahead by 7 points with 90% of the precincts reporting. State polls have generally given Bush a lead of about 15 points, which means you probably need to add about 8 points to Fayette's numbers to get a picture of how the entire state is doing. In other words, Bush is winning handily. No surprise.

However, the same results show Republican Jim Bunning losing to Daniel Mongiardo by 17 points in the Senate race, and even if you add 8 points Mongiardo is still well ahead. Obviously this is pretty iffy stuff, but it looks like Kentucky might end up as a Dem pickup in the Senate.

UPDATE: Nope, Bunning held on by the skin of his teeth. That's a drag for the Dems.

Kevin Drum 7:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PRETTY CLEAN ELECTION (SO FAR)....Here's some good news: as near as I can tell from scannng the web, surfing the news channels, and reading email from folks like PFAW, this year's election is looking pretty clean. There are a few problems with voting equipment, but not many; the Republican challengers aren't actually challenging very many voters; and dirty tricks from both sides are fairly minimal.

Now, there's no question some of this stuff is happening, and it's good that people are paying attention to it, but overall it doesn't look much worse than any other recent presidential election. (So far!)

So: after a brutal, divisive, and polarizing campaign that's now over a year old, we're still able to hold a clean, peaceful election that's attracted record turnout. What's more, a lot of those voters are willing to wait hours to vote, no one is dropping out of line, and the mood in the lines seems almost more festive than anything else.

That's pretty cool.

(And if you haven't voted yet, go do it! Regardless of which party you belong to, go vote!)

Kevin Drum 6:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HIGH TURNOUT WATCH....CNN just showed an aerial shot of a polling place in (I think) Fulton County, Georgia. It must have been nearly a thousand people long.


Kevin Drum 6:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOG TRAFFIC....Quick note: a lot of blogs are hard to reach today. I don't think it's a DOS attack or anything like that, it's just very heavy traffic. Mine is running about double its highest ever, for example.

So if you can't get through, just try, try again.

Kevin Drum 5:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

VIVA...KERRY?....We're already hearing that turnout in Hispanic precincts is far higher than in 2000. I don't know if that's because there are simply more Hispanics in the U.S. than there were four years ago or if it's a result of focused voter registration efforts in Hispanic communities or if it is a reflection of the more general way that intimidation tactics seem to have driven up turnout among minorities.

But what we're learning now is that the Hispanic precincts in Florida at least are breaking in very different ways than they did in 2000. Check out these numbers:

Hispanic FL vote in 2000: 35% for Gore, 65% for Bush
Hispanic FL vote in 2004: 46% for Kerry, 53% for Bush

Amy Sullivan 4:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXIT POLLS....The morning exit poll numbers are pretty favorable to Kerry:

	 AZ  CO  LA  PA  OH  FL  MI  NM  MN  WI  IA  NH
Kerry	 45  48  42  60  52  51  51  50  58  52  49  57
Bush	 55  51  57  40  48  48  47  48  40  43  49  41

Now, it may be that Democrats are just heavily motivated to get out and vote early this year, thus skewing the results, but on the other hand, Bush is ahead in the states where you'd expect him to be ahead. What's more, I remember being told during the primaries not to trust morning exit poll information, but most of the time they turned out to be pretty accurate.

So....cautious optimism seems called for from Kerry supporters, especially when you combine this with his seemingly big lead in the early voting. If this stuff holds up, it's going to be a big win for Kerry.

(But get out there and vote anyway!)

Kevin Drum 3:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A VIEW FROM THE RIGHT....Panic at The Corner:

CRIMINEY! [Jonah Goldberg]
I went out for a brief lunch with missus and I come back to discover things are going south? What the...? From what I'm hearing, Florida's an uphill climb right now and New Hampshire's a lost cause. Trying to nail things down.

That's music to my ears.

(Now get out and vote, OK?)

Kevin Drum 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CAMPAIGN UPDATE....Chris Suellentrop writes about the mood of the campaign teams in Slate:

Kerry will need to win clearly and convincingly at the ballot box in order to unseat Bush, and for what it's worth, most reporters seem to think that he's going to do it. The Kerry campaign staff is confident, and it appears to be genuine, rather than bluster.

....By Monday evening, reporters from news organizations that have colleagues traveling with Bush started saying that the Bush folks have clammed up, or that they seem unusually tight.

That seems about right. I still think it's going to be pretty close, but I'm a conventional wisdom guy, and the conventional wisdom says that (a) high turnouts help Democrats and (b) undecided voters break for the challenger. Both of these things work in Kerry's favor, and because of that I think he'll win tonight.

Kevin Drum 2:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KILLING TIME....The Guardian has a 2004 election quiz on their site today. I got only 33 out of 40 correct. Hopefully my readers can do better.

Kevin Drum 1:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELECTION DAY TURNOUT REPORT....Considering that I live in a suburban Republican precinct in Orange County, this doesn't mean much, but I just got back from voting and it took about five minutes. No problems.

On the other hand, the line was the longest I've ever seen, even though we also had more voting booths than I've ever seen. That's not saying much, since usually there's no line at all here, but there you have it. My own personal data point.

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BIZARRO WORLD UPDATE....Over at Red State they're complaining that Democrats are engaged in election day intimidation. Intimidation of....

Republican poll watchers.

No, really. You can't make this stuff up.

Kevin Drum 11:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRONTLINE REPORT....I am reliably informed by diverse sources that in many locations the line to vote is very long, while in other places it's surprisingly short. I'll keep you updated if this changes during the day.

Kevin Drum 11:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXIT POLL PROBLEMS?....Andrew Sullivan has a good point:

Doesn't such heavy early voting somewhat undermine the exit polls? If, in some areas, like Florida, there has been extensive early voting, and most of it skewed Democrat, wouldn't that make the exit polls look more pro-Bush than the votes might actually be?

I wonder if the networks are taking that into account? They probably are, since (despite what bloggers sometimes think) they aren't idiots. But it would be nice to know.

Kevin Drum 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

AMONG THE THUGS... So, it seems the GOP has won the first legal battle of the 2004 election. This morning, a federal appeals court overturned a federal district court decision blocking voter "challenges" in Ohio. Now, thousands of Republican lawyers will descend on mostly-minority precincts in an apparent attempt to guard against fraudulent voters but with the clear intent of slowing down the lines and suppressing the vote.

By the way, the district court ban was reached by a two-judge panel--one Democrat and one Republican voting together. The appeals court decision overturning the ban was reached by a three-judge panel--with two Republicans voting against one Democrat.

Yeah, it's outrageous, and sickeningly familiar. But does anyone share my sense that this time it may backfire on the GOP?

UPDATE: Apparently, two can play at that game. Via Josh Marshall, a Democratic federal district court judge in South Dakota early this morning issued a temporary restraining order barring GOP operatives from, among other things, writing down the license numbers of the cars bringing Native Americans to polling places.

Paul Glastris 9:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DER TAG....Go vote! Today's the day!

Kevin Drum 7:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A PEEK INSIDE THE CONSERVATIVE MIND....Conservative bloggers have been busy lately convincing themselves that if John Kerry wins, it will be due solely to wait for it the drumbeat of support he's gotten from the mainstream media. Yes, you read right. We're talking about the same mainstream media that's been consumed with flip flops, straddling, prolix prose, and Swift boats for the past six months but that's also had the temerity to accurately report that things aren't going so well in Iraq. I guess the next step for these guys is to start blogging about the grassy knoll and Area 51.

Anyway, Henry Farrell, in a mere few sentences, has about the best (and creepiest) post I've seen about this yet. Go read.

Kevin Drum 1:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CAMPAIGN TURNING POINTS....A few days ago the New York Times asked a bunch of bloggers to cast their vote for the most important event of the campaign. The results were published on their op-ed page today, and to my surprise I was the only one who chose the first presidential debate. This struck me as a no-brainer: it was pretty clearly the event that kicked John Kerry out of the doldrums and started his steady rise in the polls. Here's what everyone else said:

  • Greg Djerejian: Kerry's poor treatment of Iyad Allawi during his U.S. visit in September.

  • Ana Marie Cox: Bush making the pronunciation of "Lambeau Field" a campaign issue.

  • Mickey Kaus: Bush's failure to make hay with Kerry's vote against the 1991 Gulf War.

  • Lorie Byrd: Kerry's poor performance at the Democratic convention.

  • Joanne Jacobs: The Beslan massacre in September.

  • Ann Althouse: Kerry's irritable reply in April to a guy who wanted to know his plan for Iraq.

  • Brad DeLong: The failure of last year's effort by moderate Republicans to persuade Bush to replace Dick Cheney.

  • Kevin Drum: Bush's poor performance in the first debate.

  • David Adesnik: David Kay's report to Congress in October 2003 that his team had not uncovered any WMDs.

  • John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson: The 60 Minutes Killian memo fiasco.

  • Glenn Reynolds: The admission in July by Newsweek's Evan Thomas that the press wants Kerry to win.

  • Tom Burka: Bush's abandonment of his commitment to a manned mission to Mars.

Three observations. First, every single Kerry supporter thought the key event was one that helped Kerry. Every single Bush supporter chose an event that hurt Kerry.

Second, for the media bias foks out there: of the ten serious answers, four were from Kerry supporters and six were from Bush supporters. (On the other hand, the humor brigade was 100% behind Kerry.)

Third, not one single person highlighted something positive done by either candidate. Of the ten serious answers, five were devoted to something one of the candidates did poorly and five were devoted to some event outside the control of the campaigns. The only replies that even hinted at something positive were mine (I said Kerry "looked calm and presidential during the first debate," although most of my answer was devoted to Bush's poor performance) and Joanne Jacobs' (who obliquely praised Bush by saying Beslan convinced her we needed "a stubborn, single-minded president").

I guess that's been the campaign in a nutshell, hasn't it? Like they say, even if you can't find a candidate you want to vote for, you can always find one to vote against....

Kevin Drum 12:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 1, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CHINA SPEAKS UP....China has apparently decided that the best thing it can do on the day before the U.S. presidential election is to issue a blistering critique of George Bush's foreign policy.

That's just damn peculiar. What on earth do they hope to gain by this?

Kevin Drum 10:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

FINAL PRE-ELECTION THOUGHTS....I'm not what you'd call an optimist. Most of my friends and family would describe me as fairly cynical. If you flip through our family photos, you're more likely to find images of me smirking than smiling. And I've been disillusioned with the political process ever since John Hoffmeyer won the student council presidency by ten votes in sixth grade and my request for a recount was denied.

So it has surprised no one more than me that I've been fairly upbeat throughout this entire election season. Last fall, when most Democrats were busy moaning about how Bush was going to win on the strength of Iraq alone, I tried to point out that Iraq wasn't going to help him a heck of a lot if it continued to go badly. The moaning got louder when Bush signed Medicare reform, but it seemed to me that if seniors didn't like the law (and they don't), it wouldn't be a winner for the president. And the moaning reached shrill heights when Saddam Hussein was captured--"we're doomed!"--but Americans historically have short memories and a year is a pretty long time to coast on a successful spiderhole nab.

Then came the primaries. "We're beating each other up....The party will be hopelessly divided....We're doomed!" whimpered Democrats. I thought it was a good sign that Democrats managed to field ten candidates, at least four of whom could actually be good presidents.

In September, after a month of attacks from Swift Boat veterans and one of the nastiest Republican conventions in memory sank Kerry's poll numbers, the moaning resumed. My colleagues declared the election over, my boyfriend braced for a certain Bush victory, and despite myself, I chirped, "There's still plenty of time left! We haven't had the debates yet. This is just a blip!"

So now, as it's become trendy for liberal political types to predict that even if Kerry wins, he'll be a sub-par president, I'm going to extend this unusual run of optimism even more. If elected, John Kerry will be a perfectly fine president. Maybe even better than that. He'll have real and daunting challenges to deal with, there's no question about it. This isn't going to be an easy run for anyone. But why all the wailing about how horrible he'll be? Some complain that he's a micro-manager, he can't make up his mind, he'll never get anything done. Sound like anyone else you know...cough, cough, Bill Clinton? And although the Clinton-Gore legacy is somewhat rightly revered in Democratic circles, there were an awful lot of wasted opportunities during those eight years. Surely Kerry could manage to shepherd through at least as many far-reaching programs as they did.

Maybe this is all just a giant lowering-of-the-expectations trick by liberals. To me, it sounds like too-cool-for-school cynicism, and for now--maybe just for now--I'm not falling for that.

But the real reason I'm optimistic about the outcome of this election? Lawn signs in Plymouth, Michigan.

Over the past few months, my mom has been calling with increasing frequency after her evening walks to update me on the lawn sign situation in my hometown. When I was growing up there, Plymouth was a Republican bastion, the type of place where I had doors slammed in my face when I walked door-to-door as a young Democratic campaign volunteer. Now, however, Mom has been documenting a 3 to 1, sometimes even 4 to 1 tilt in favor of Kerry/Edwards lawn signs.

As a good social scientist, I tried to convince her that this was not an accurate measure of the political tilt of the town, that demographics had changed quite a bit over the past few years, and, finally (and obnoxiously) that her sample size was just too small.

Three weeks ago, the page one story on The Wall Street Journal had the dateline "Plymouth, Michigan," the headline "Folks on Adams Street are Showing Signs of a Close Election," and 1200 words entirely about lawn signs in Plymouth. Always listen to your mother.

I hope you're right, Mom. I think you are.

Amy Sullivan 7:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GETTING OUT THE VOTE....How much better is the ground operation in swing states this year compared to 2000? This Washington Post story gives the answer: it's like a 747 compared to a DC-3. Here are a few representative figures:

  • The Republican budget for voter mobilization is $125 million, triple what it was in 2000.

  • The Democratic budget for voter mobilization is $60 million, double what it was in 2000. In addition, ACT is spending about $100 million for Kerry-friendly voter operations.

  • Democrats have about 250,000 volunteers, compared with 90,000 four years ago.

  • Four years ago, Bush employed 22 paid staff members in Florida. This year, he has 500 on the payroll. In Ohio, Democrats had 10 field offices and 40 staff members. This year, Democrats have 57 field offices in the state and 270 paid employees.

It makes you wish political parties could run the country as well as they run campaigns, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 6:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EARLY VOTING....Over at Tapped, Garance Franke-Ruta has an interesting rundown of early voting. There are two big takeaways:

  • Lots of people are voting early. In Florida, Iowa, and Tennessee, about a third of all registered voters have already voted.

  • The early voters are breaking pretty heavily for Kerry: 51%-43% in Florida and 52%-41% in Iowa.

Garance is trying to figure out whether this strong preference for Kerry is a result of Kerry supporters disproportionately voting early or whether it genuinely shows a preference for Kerry among the entire electorate. There's not enough data to say for sure, but my guess is that it's a bit of both.

That is, due to both the availability of early voting and the closeness of the 2000 race, overall turnout is going to be substantially higher this year than usual, and that favors Kerry. At the same time, memories of Florida combined with news of Republican efforts to suppress voting have probably motivated Kerry voters to vote early in greater numbers than Bush voters due to their distrust of the voting process. (This jibes with the Economist poll last week showing that 90% of Republicans think the election will be fair while only a third of Democrats feel the same way.)

I suspect that the Republican machine has seriously miscalculated this year. Their plan to challenge large numbers of voters on election day may have seemed like a good idea six months ago, but in the end it's gotten so much publicity that the net result has been to piss off Democrats and make them even more motivated than usual to make sure their votes are counted. Early voting is a good way to do that.

At least, I hope that's what happening. It would be poetic justice.

Kevin Drum 3:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IS OKLAHOMA A SWING STATE?....Kos has his Senate predictions here (bottom line: he sees a net Dem pickup of one seat). But here's what he says about the Oklahoma race: "I see a margin of victory in the hundreds, with Democrat Brad Carson pulling it off."

That got me thinking. All the talk has been about endless litigation in the case of a close presidential race, but what about the Senate? Might we see a repeat of Florida, but in a super close race that decides who controls the Senate? Is it time to start boning up on Oklahoma election law?

Kevin Drum 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SMOKING BANS....Charles Kuffner reports today that corporations are increasingly refusing to hire smokers. That is, they don't just ban smoking in their buildings, or while on the job, but flat out refuse to hire anyone who smokes. Details are here.

Is this a slippery slope toward a corporate state in which our employers control everything we do? Or a reasonable response to increased healthcare costs and potential bad PR from hiring smokers? Discuss.

Kevin Drum 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SAFIRE AND CBS....I know this isn't a very important issue, but since William Safire keeps bringing it up I want to throw a question out to the crowd. Here is Safire again about CBS' alleged nefarious intentions in planning to break the al-Qaqaa story on the Sunday before the election:

CBS originally admitted intending to break its surprise accusations about our troops' failure to secure the ammo on "60 Minutes" on Oct. 31, last night, only 36 hours before polls opened. Journalists call that hyping device a "keeper" holding a story for the moment when it causes the most damage which the victim cannot refute until after Election Day, by which time it's too late....The Times, to its ethical credit, refused to go along with CBS's planned last-minute ambush and instead front-paged its article one week ago.

That's not right, is it? This story did far more damage to Bush by being released a week ago rather than last night. If it had first surfaced on Sunday, it would just barely be generating some buzz today, and by the time it started picking up some steam the election would already be in progress. In fact, it's a truism among campaign professionals that mudslinging negative attacks need to take place at least several days before an election to have any effect.

Right? Or am I totally off base on this?

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

WITH DEMS LIKE THIS....I know that it's tough to run as a Democrat in South Dakota, really I do. So when Stephanie Herseth voted in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment this summer, I understood. Ditto when she went after (and received) the NRA's endorsement by voting to lift the D.C. gun ban (Stephanie lives in a nicer neighborhood than I do...) But now she has vowed that, if elected, she would vote to return Bush to the White House if the whole thing ends in a tie and is thrown to the House of Representatives for resolution.

Come on. Yes, I know her justification is that the state will back Bush and she feels she should accurately reflect the will of her constituents. But there should be a limit to the things you're willing to say in order to get elected. She's been given the red carpet treatment by the Dem leadership so far because they want so desperately to keep that House seat. Comments like this, however, are not going over well with the Daschle alums I've talked to and may make for a lonely first term in office if she wins. Some of my friends have worked their tails off to get her into office twice in six months, and anyone who cares about the Democrats' chances of taking back the House is pulling for Herseth, but this isn't exactly the stuff that warms Dems' hearts in the days before a national election.

Amy Sullivan 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATISM....Today in the LA Times, Ron Brownstein writes on the same theme that I did last night: even if George Bush manages to squeak out a victory tomorrow, it will represent not a resurgence of movement conservatism, but its last gasp:

"If he wins, he will have squeezed every ounce that he could have gotten out of his base," said Tony Fabrizio, the pollster for GOP nominee Bob Dole in 1996.

Any win in this environment would count as a political achievement. But a victory based primarily on further consolidating conservatives (especially religiously observant social conservatives) would be very different from what Bush initially set out to accomplish.

"Karl Rove used to talk about William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt," said Yale University political scientist Stephen Skowronek. "These were presidents who expanded the party base. I think that was the aspiration [for Bush]. They saw compassionate conservatism as the ideology of a governing party that was going to take its base and expand it. And I think that has failed."

I think it's worse than that, since Bush is going to lose tomorrow, not win narrowly. In the end, even with the cresting wave of the war on terror helping them along, there still isn't a majority of Americans willing to buy into the apocalyptic, siege-mentality conservatism of Bush, Karl Rove, and Tom DeLay. And just as Bill Clinton reinvented the Democratic party by moving it toward the center and shaving off the rough edges, Republicans are going to realize that they have to do the same. Compassionate conservatism real compassionate conservatism really is the future of the Republican party.

Kevin Drum 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

R.I.P. MOVEMENT CONSERVATISM, 1964-2004....I'm going to begin my navel gazing early. A couple of days from now everyone will be musing about what the election results "really mean," and I'd like to go on record right now as saying, "not much." (This assumes that the election is close, of course if it's a landslide, then all bets are off.)

Before the outraged comments start flowing in, here's what I mean. Obviously it matters a lot in objective terms whether George Bush gets 49% of the vote or 51%, but in terms of the mood of the country at this moment in time it doesn't mean a thing. Even the difference between 48% and 52% doesn't really mean much in the short term.

However, looking at the slightly longer term, I think this election does have a larger meaning: it marks the beginning of the end for movement conservatism. This election and the previous one demonstrate this pretty vividly. In 2000, George Bush eked out a razor-thin victory thanks to the idiosyncrasies of the electoral college, but to do even that well he had to run as the squishiest sort of moderate conservative. Four years later he's dropped the mask and is running as an honest-to-God Reagan conservative but win or lose, it's going to be a squeaker again despite having the most favorable environment imaginable for a conservative tough guy. If movement conservatives can't pull down big numbers for their guy this year, then they just can't do it.

There are also two big demographic trends working against the movement folks:

  • They're losing ground on social issues. As older generations die off and younger ones take their place, it's getting harder and harder to get people excited about the usual movement warhorses of gays, abortion, prayer, and so forth. This trend is probably unstoppable.

  • Within a few years like it or not we're going to have to fix Social Security and Medicare. And the political reality like it or not is that both these programs are going to be fully funded, not cut in any substantial way. And that in turn like it or not means that taxes are going to go up.

    This is going to spell the end of the Grover Norquist/Stephen Moore tax jihadist wing of the conservative movement. Electoral self preservation will force both Democrats and Republicans to agree to raise taxes fairly sharply in order to cover the Bush deficit and properly fund old age entitlements, and when that finally happens tax cuts will pretty much disappear as a killer partisan issue.

Movement conservatism had a good run, and in Ronald Reagan they reached their high point. But they haven't had a winning candidate for 20 years, and even with 9/11 as a tailwind they won't be able to manage a convincing victory this year and most likely will go down to outright defeat. In another decade, they'll be a footnote to history.

Kevin Drum 1:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KERRY'S MOMENTUM....From Donkey Rising:

No Republican in the modern era has won a presidential election without carrying the independent vote. In the 2000 election, despite losing the national popular vote, George Bush led Al Gore by a narrow margin among independent voters. However, according to the final, supersized Gallup Poll, John Kerry now has an 8 point lead over George Bush among independent voters. In fact, Kerry led Bush among independents in all four Gallup polls this month--by an average of 6 points. This is one more piece of evidence that George Bush's situation is extremely dire.

That sounds right to me. I still think it's going to be very tight, but all the momentum seems to be on Kerry's side right now.

Kevin Drum 12:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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