Political Animal


October 30, 2014 5:57 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

I’m always a little emotionally drained after writing, however briefly, about the South and race. But it’s just amazing to me how quickly and willfully people forget extremely important things.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Glenn Greenwald & others at The Intercept explain Matt Taibbi’s departure from First Look Media with unusual candor.

* Mitch McConnell now saying sure he’d be happy to use reconciliation and its 51-vote threshold to kill or disable Obamacare.

* Charlie Pierce writes long, eloquent argument against any presidential field—including the Democratic field for 2016—ever being “cleared.”

* At Ten Miles Square, Ramesh Ponnuru predicts some really bad intra-GOP infighting if the party falls short of its November 4 expectations.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer looks at the implications of long-standing state reductions in support for higher education.

And in non-political news:

* Some areas hit by Sandy two years ago are still slowly recovering.

That’s it for Thursday. We’ll close with Jefferson Airplane’s famous post-Woodstock appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, performing “We Can Be Together” and “Volunteers” and uttering the first recorded “MF” on broadcast television. I remember watching this show live. At one point in the “talk” segment Stephen Stills started attacking oil companies by name, and Cavett quipped “thank you for naming all our sponsors.” Good times.


October 30, 2014 5:11 PM No Coincidences in Mississippi

Jamelle Bouie read Sarah Varney’s important piece at Politico Magazine about the disastrous non-implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Mississippi, and at Slate made the obvious connections that somehow aren’t so obvious to conservatives who bridle at any suggestion that there’s an iota of racism in their ranks. He summed it up very succinctly:

Mississippi has poor social outcomes and a threadbare safety net. It also has—and has long had—the largest black population in the country. And it’s where slavery was very lucrative, and Jim Crow most vicious. This is not a coincidence….
For nearly a 100 years, Mississippi was a white supremacist police state. Of course this made a mark on its culture. Of course these ideas of exclusion—and specifically, of racial hostility to outside interference and public goods—are still embedded in the structure of its politics.
Today, Mississippi is politically polarized along racial lines. Whites are Republicans, blacks are Democrats, and the former controls state politics. Public investment isn’t just disdained, it’s attacked as racially suspect. “The Republican Party has never been the food stamp party, or the party of pork until desperation set in with Thad Cochran’s re-election bid,” said state Sen. Angela Hill during the Mississippi Senate Republican primary, in reference to Sen. Cochran’s outreach to black voters. The state is harshly carceral—jailing more people per capita than almost anywhere in the country, the majority of them black—and has a huge number of all-white private schools while the public school system is largely segregated.
You can understand all of this in terms of ordinary conservatism—and many people do—but this is a particularly strong conservatism shaped by a particularly brutal racial history. It’s a small-government philosophy that has its roots in the pro-slavery thought of John C. Calhoun, emerged as resistance to Reconstruction, resurfaced in the fight against civil rights, and is now mostly ideological, if attenuated—but not separate—from its roots.

To think otherwise—to think that the white people of Mississippi just happened to stumble on a political philosophy that produced the closest possible outcomes and social and economic arrangements to Jim Crow—is to express an extraordinarily low opinion of the power of history. You might as well think the post-Civil War “black codes” designed to reduce former slaves to the condition closest to their former bondage had nothing to do with slavery, because after all the South had accepted (at bayonet’s edge, of course) emancipation. Subjective racism isn’t really the point here; plenty of good people of good will have embraced terrible political causes in the course of human history. But you can’t expect people to look at a place like Mississippi and unsee the threads that tie together generations of white conservatism, and unthink the judgment that once again “state’s rights” and “sovereignty” mean powerlessness, poverty, sickness and even an early grave for a big portion of the population.

October 30, 2014 3:37 PM Can the Tough Guy Kill ‘Em At the Pizza Ranch?

In a meditation today on Chris Christie’s famously unfriendly demeanor, Paul Waldman makes a distinction that really could matter if the New Jersey Guv does decide to run for president:

[W]hat separates Christie from someone like Representative Don Young of Alaska, who has a strong case to win biggest jerk in Congress, a title for which there is no shortage of competition? The key lies in who find themselves targets of Christie’s outbursts. Don Young grabs, threatens, or insults pretty much anybody who gets in his way. But Christie usually has some kind of substantive policy disagreement with the person he’s lashing out at. Most of us would think that’s not nearly enough justification for behavior that looks a lot like simple bullying (particularly given the power imbalance between Christie and whoever he’s yelling at), but it does allow him to claim that he’s not just an asshole, he’s an asshole with purpose. If you stand up at a town meeting and ask him an impertinent question about something like the state budget, he’ll shout you down (to the cheers of his supporters)….
But you know where you don’t get too many chances to show what a tough guy you are? Iowa. Campaigning for the caucuses is an interminable process of trooping from living room to senior center to VFW hall, meeting people in small groups, looking them in the eye and asking them for their votes. Christie is a pretty good retail politician, so it isn’t that he can’t perform in those settings. But being tough just isn’t part of that show, and if the biggest part of Christie’s appeal is that he can talk like an extra from Goodfellas when somebody challenges him, he isn’t going to get very far.

That makes sense. You may recall that the last two GOP presidential candidates who made a living baiting liberals were Rudy Giuliani in 2008 and Newt Gingrich in 2012. Neither of them did real well in Iowa. And Christie starts in a real hole there anyway: the first Bloomberg/Register poll of likely 2016 Caucus-goers showed Christie running eighth at 6%, but more importantly, with far worse approval/disapproval ratings (39/45) than any other prospective candidate.

If Chris Christie does run for president, he should definitely skip Iowa. He’s not likely to do well there, and the last thing he needs is to risk blowing up at some RTL activist at a Pizza Ranch in Sioux City.

October 30, 2014 2:45 PM The Last Big Economic Signal of the Cycle

For Democrats, it’s a shame voter perceptions of the economy are apparently formed months in advance of elections, barring huge events. The final big official “signal” of how the economy is doing is reasonably positive and better than expected: GDP rose at an estimated 3.5% in the third quarter, following a 4.6% jump in the second quarter.

As WaPo’s Matt O’Brien points out, the current growth level is “mediocre” once you take out the noise and look at it over time. But at a time when Americans are rating the economy (at least in WaPo’s own polling) as no better than it was four years ago, any kind of sustained growth should be good and surprising news.

October 30, 2014 2:33 PM Lunch Buffet

Congrats to the San Francisco Giants for their third World Series win in five years. Most of my neighbors are very happy, but a special sympathetic shout-out to my church friends the Heckmans, from Kansas City, along with WaMo’s great friend and associate Blue Girl.

Here are some post-season midday news/views treats:

* Man, that Lindsey Graham is really a card, ain’t he? Yuk Yuk.

* Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball does a “no-tossups” projection of House races, and predicts GOP gain of net 9 seats.

* Scott Brown adds polio and whooping cough to Ebola as diseases that may come pouring over our “unsecured” borders.

* TNR’s Jonathan Cohn argues the kind of health measures that have saved seven Ebola patients in US could work wonders if applied in West Africa.

* Five-term Boston mayor Thomas Menino dies at 71.

And in non-political news:

* Theater owners ban wearable cameras at the movies.

As we break for lunch, here’s Grace with the Airplane performing one of my favorite JA songs, “Crown of Creation,” on the Smothers Brothers show in 1968. Slick is in blackface, reportedly in an act of solidarity with African-American Communist activist Angela Davis.

October 30, 2014 1:07 PM Will Anyone Challenge HRC in Iowa?

CNN’s Peter Hamby has a piece today on the possibility that Hillary Clinton “could end up alone in Iowa” in 2016. And for the most part it’s another survey of the landscape to weigh the possibility of anyone taking on the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But Hamby does take an Iowa-centric approach to the question, which means that while he adjudges Elizabeth Warren as far and away the most formidable (if still unlikely) challenger to Clinton, he notes Martin O’Malley is the only one taking the kind of preliminary steps necessary to setting up an organization in the First-in-the-Nation Caucus State. And that’s no small matter:

“We have this mythology that you can go to Iowa and New Hampshire and knock a few doors and ultimate you too can be a serious presidential candidate,” [Iowa Democratic activist Kurt] Meyer said. “Maybe Eugene McCarthy could do that. I think that the schedule and political life has gotten to the point today where you aren’t a serious candidate unless you go through the hoops of raising money and creating an organization. I think O’Malley probably comes the closest to it, but I don’t see who else.”

Even O’Malley has just scratched the surface, since the kind of dues-paying he’s done—fundraising and staff help for local Iowa candidates—is just the ante for a very long game.

What Hamby doesn’t explicitly ask but you have to wonder about is whether a candidate who does decide to challenge HRC—or at least prepare for a challenge—would be wise to skip Iowa. Yes, it defies the stereotype of the lonely, unnoticed underdog trudging from potluck to firehouse chili cookoff across Iowa and gradually building a viable campaign that would be impossible in media-intensive states. But the truth is Iowa is expensive—in every kind of resource. Lest we forget, the state nearly bankrupted HRC in 2008, and she ran third.

Now nobody in Iowa is going to publicly entertain that strategy as making any sense, because presidential nomination contests are major economic development projects for the state, and particularly important to the state parties and the armies of activists who drift towards Iowa for employment and experience. What O’Malley’s been doing makes a lot of sense as a hedge tactic in case HRC doesn’t run at all; he’d have a big head start in Iowa if that happened. But if, say, you’re Bernie Sanders, saving the money and time for next-door New Hampshire is the obvious thing to do. So it’s entirely possible Clinton will have Iowa to herself—but will still have to win the nomination later.

October 30, 2014 12:16 PM Who Fears What

Kevin Drum (continued best wishes and prayers for his health!) draws our attention today to a Chapman University report on Things People Fear. There’s some fun if fairly predictable findings about the particular fears of self-identified Democrats (personal safety, pollution and man-made disasters) and Republicans (today’s youth, the government and immigrants). Beyond that, though, the study suggests a very strong correlation between high levels of fear and three factors: low education levels and high consumption of Talk TV or True Crime TV.

Huh. I’m overeducated and hardly ever watch Talk TV or True Crime TV. And although I wouldn’t call myself especially fearful, I do have reasonably active fears about my personal future (fear of failure, in fact, has always been my chief source of motivation, intense enough to make me a serious workaholic), pollution (and climate change), and for reasons I can’t fathom, clowns (which according to the Champan study seem to rank relatively high on the national fear-o-meter). Actually I don’t so much fear clowns as I actively dislike them.

There’s a decent chance my fear of government will increase after November 4, and then reach pathological levels two years later—along with the fear of war and environmental disaster. But the hostility to clowns is probably a constant.

What do you fear or loathe? Feel free to express yourself in the comment thread. It is, after all, the eve of Halloween.

October 30, 2014 11:42 AM No Visible “Enthusiasm” At McConnell Rally

We’re at that stage of the election cycle when the redundancy and cynicism of campaigns really begins to grate on those forced to pay a lot of attention to them—e.g., reporters. Clearly MSNBC’s excellent Irin Carmon reached the limit of her endurance during a rally for Mitch McConnell in Kentucky where it sure sounds like everybody was going through the motions and hoping for next Tuesday to arrive:

The event featuring Sen. Mitch McConnell was billed as a “Restore America Rally.” As rallies went, it had the rough feeling of a Quaker worship meeting. As campaign events went, the candidate’s name was hardly mentioned.
McConnell spoke halfway through the gathering and left without taking questions or staying to see co-headliner Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. His speech was not lofty. “There’s only one change that can happen this year and that’s to change the Senate,” he said.
“Where are our students?” asked one of the opening speakers, by way of rallying the young people. Two hands — one of which appeared to belong to an elementary school-age boy — went up.
Ambivalence about McConnell himself was the subtext — the main point at the rally was the need to beat the Democrats. Matt Bevin, who had challenged McConnell from the right in the primary, spoke about the importance of the race, mentioning McConnell’s opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes. He declined, however, to actually endorse McConnell, or even say his name….
Enthusiasm matters in an election, but it isn’t everything.

Indeed, if “enthusiasm” is the deciding factor in Kentucky, Mitch is in real trouble. But we’ve known that all along. He’s survived all this time by driving up the negatives of opponents and making himself acceptable—and inevitable. It would be nice to see that strategy fail for once.

October 30, 2014 11:15 AM Jerry, Can You Spare A Dime or Some Time For Democrats?

I’ve haven’t written much about politics here in California this cycle, in part because the statewide races are relatively sleepy. But there’s actually a lot on the line, beginning with the effort of Democrats to hang onto supermajorities in both state legislative chambers, which still matters in a state with supermajority requirements for new revenue measures.

And even though neither of the state’s U.S. Senate seats is up this year, there are by most accounts six competitive U.S. House races, three of them rated as tossups by Cook Political Report.

That makes it all the more curious that Gov. Jerry Brown is sitting on a large war chest, spending virtually nothing on his own campaign (he’s held consistent 15-20 point leads over Republican Neel Kashkari), and only loosening the purse strings a bit on behalf of ballot initiatives he supports, per this report last week from WaPo’s Reid Wilson:

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is confident he will be reelected to an unprecedented fourth term in office. He is so convinced by poll numbers showing him leading the race that he’s spending more of his money on advertisements for two ballot measures than on his own campaign.
Brown’s campaign reported spending more than $3.3 million on advertisements for Propositions 1 and 2, measures placed on November’s ballot by the state legislature. Campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state’s office shows Brown has spent only $500,000 on consultants, office space, insurance and other necessities on his own behalf — and he hasn’t run a single television advertisement this year….
Kashkari has far outspent Brown on television. Data compiled by the Center for Public Integrity shows he’s aired more than $2 million in TV ads. Earlier this week, Kashkari donated an additional $1 million to his own campaign, despite the public polling data.
Brown could easily swamp Kashkari: Filings show he’s got more than $20 million in the bank. But he said last week that he has no plans to spend that money. Instead, he told the Los Angeles Times that he plans to use his war chest to fund ballot measures in future, to mitigate any loss of power he might experience as he heads into what’s likely to be his final term in office.

On top of his miserliness, Brown’s taking time off during the final week of the campaign to attend the 50th reunion of his Yale Law School class. That’s in Connecticut, doncha know. Maybe Brown will lend a hand to embattled Democratic governor Dan Malloy.

Brown rarely if ever behaves conventionally, but you still have to wonder if there will be recriminations if Democrats undershoot expectations in California next Tuesday. It’s certainly too late for him to have a sudden burst of charity; not only has advertising time been bought up, but California’s a heavy vote-by-mail state (69% in the June primary) where a lot of votes have already been cast.

October 30, 2014 10:28 AM Odds of Overtime

Having spent months handicapping individual Senate races and the probability of each party controlling the chamber, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight is now giving odds on when we’ll know the results:

There’s a 25 or 30 percent chance of a big, sweeping win for Republicans. There’s a 10 or 15 percent chance the Democrats retain the Senate with surprising ease. And there’s a 60 percent chance that we’ll be sweating out the races on a state-by-state basis, possibly for weeks to come.

The “sweat” comes from probable runoffs in LA and GA (though Nate thinks the odds of David Perdue winning without a runoff have gone up a bit in the last few days), the tightening of the race in slow-counting Alaska (where contests decided by less than 5 percent of the vote—a 70% probability at present—generally aren’t resolved until at least a couple of days), and the high probability of one or two close races somewhere else going into “Recountland.” Add in the continuing possibility of Greg Orman winning in Kansas and then refusing to choose a party caucus until January, and the 60% overtime odds seem reasonable enough. That will be another variable everyone will be trying to calculate when the exit polls start leaking out late Tuesday afternoon or early evening.

October 30, 2014 9:07 AM High-Stakes Elections

In the final week before a midterm election in which national media coverage has focused very heavily on the battle for control of the U.S. Senate, millions of Americans will be deciding whether or not to vote. Many will decide not to on various grounds, including the idea that it really doesn’t matter who wins, because (a) there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties (a hardy perennial attitude that long pre-existed the centrist heresies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and the rise of a Tea Party convinced the GOP had sold out its conservative principles), or (b) the “stakes” aren’t high, either because of the location of the voter or the sense national politics won’t significantly change regardless of any feasible outcome.

This very last argument is taken on forcefully today by TNR’s Alec MacGillis, who reminds us that even if you believe a Republican Senate won’t materially change the dynamics in Washington, there are many state elections with more tangible—indeed, life and death—stakes. His example is Maine, where an unlikely Tea Partyish Republican governor, Paul LePage, is wreaking havoc with the social safety net, and is in reasonably good position to secure another term as governor because Eliot Cutler, the same indie candidate that enabled him to win with 38% of the vote in 2010, is again on the ballot (though he was just abandoned yesterday by Sen. Angus King, his most prominent supporter, who’s now backing Democrat Mike Michaud).

Alec’s right, of course; there are many fateful and highly competitive state races concluding next Tuesday, especially for governorships. Several (GA, FL, KS, WI) involve challenges to Republican governors who have rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. In another, AR, a extraordinarily delicate compromise allowing a Medicaid expansion under a GOP legislature and Democratic governor could easily become undone by GOP gains. And even in states where health care policy isn’t an issue, many other extremely vital decisions are at stake. Just one example: if CO, Republican Bob Beauprez wants to reduce both state and local controls over oil and gas drilling because “Never in the history of man have we harvested natural resources better, more efficiently, safer.” As noted here yesterday, Colorado’s a state where the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature could flip D to R, particularly if turnout is low.

If you can’t find any reason to vote, you’re probably not looking very closely.

October 30, 2014 8:00 AM Daylight Video

It’s Grace Slick’s 75th birthday, mirabile dictu. Here’s a particularly well-recorded Jefferson Airplane performance of “Eskimo Blue Day” at the Family Dog in 1970.

October 29, 2014 5:53 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Six days from now, we’ll be trolling for early exit polls. Let’s hope the nightmare of 2002, when the exits crashed, does not return (in any respect!).

Here are some remains of the day:

* GOPers high-fiving each other over Harvard Institute of Politics survey indicating “certain to vote” millennial voters prefer a Republican Congress. I’m waiting for some methodological analysis before taking it all that seriously.

* Hillary Clinton jumps into Iowa Senate race and bops Joni Ernst for dodging editorial boards.

* At the Atlantic, David Graham games out the end of the federal litigation on marriage equality.

* At Ten Miles Square, Keith Humphreys reports U.S. prison finally begin to reduce capacity after years of expansions.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer reports on an experiment with paying teachers like small business executives. It worked, but isn’t, he says, something that will happen nationally.

And in non-political news:

* 13-foot, 765 pound gator captured by hunters. Not at all an omen for this Saturday’s Georgia-Florida game.

That’s it for Wednesday. We’ll close with Lazy Lester performing one of his hits, “Sugar Coated Love,” performed at Antone’s Record Shop in Austin in 2011.


October 29, 2014 5:14 PM Forecasting the Elections of January 6

It’s been known for a good while that the Senate race in Georgia could well fail to produce the required majority winner, producing a rare January 6 runoff (separate from a December 6 runoff for state offices, which is when the governor’s race could be decided). But other than a general assumption that Republicans have an advantage in low-turnout “special” elections, there really hasn’t been a whole lot of serious discussion of what might happen in such a runoff—until Josh Katz’s piece for The Upshot in an update of its Senate forecasting model:

One approach would be to look at previous runoffs in Georgia, an approach that doesn’t give much comfort to the Nunn campaign. Georgia has had five previous statewide runoff elections. There were two in both 1992 and 2008 — each time for senator and for public service commissioner — and one in 2006 for public service commissioner. In all five of those elections, the Democrat lost.

You could make the argument, of course, that in 1992 Democratic Sen. Wyche Fowler was an overconfident incumbent who had spent a lot of time alienating swing voters and that in 2008, Democrat Jim Martin was an underfinanced and little-known challenger to Sen. Saxby Chambliss who barely made the runoff on the strength of the Obama surge in African-American voters. And control of the Senate wasn’t a factor in either race.

If it is this time, all bets could be off as we’d see the mother of all mobilization efforts on both sides.

In the end Katz throws his hands up:

With so many variables working to dilute and degrade the data we would use to forecast a January runoff, we think it’s not unreasonable to treat the runoff forecast with zero information, and assign each candidate an even chance.
October 29, 2014 4:36 PM Fairly Stable State Legislative Map

It occurred to me that I haven’t written in a good long while about what’s going on in the battle for control of state legislatures. But fortunately, Governing’s Louis Jacobsen had an update of his unique race ratings just last week. The landscape is a lot like that of the U.S. House, and for a lot of the same reasons: Republicans will benefit from turnout patterns and redistricting, but their gains will be limited by Democratic under-exposure (when you’ve recently lost a lot of seats, there are far fewer marginal seats to lose).

Jacobsen shows a total of 18 chambers at some risk of changing party control, 11 from D to R and 7 from R to D. The biggest disruption could occur in Colorado, where Democrats control the governorship and both legislative chambers; all three are up in the air at the moment, with a shift to all-mail voting creating a lot of uncertainty. Republicans could gain total control in Arkansas by winning the governorship and hanging onto the House. Democrats hope finally to gain control of the New York Senate. And there will be some states where big shifts short of a change of control could be significant: e.g., in California, where Democrats are in danger of losing a supermajority in the Senate, and in North Carolina, where the backlash against a GOP legislature could give Democrats significant gains in both chambers.

As always on and after election night, beware of assessments of shifts in total state legislative seats, since those are wildly overinfluenced by the 400-seat New Hampshire House, where Republicans are very likely to make significant gains. And keep in mind that closely divided legislative chambers are often subject to party-switching and coalition-making, which means that what happens on November 4 may not “stick.”

Political Animal Archive