Political Animal


August 28, 2014 2:12 PM Lunch Buffet

As the comment thread at Daylight Video reflected, rock music aficianados have always had mixed feelings about Iggy Pop and his amazingly extended career. But for me, he’ll always be associated with the early 80s’ heyday of the Atlanta punk/new wave music scene, mainly because of his frequent performances at the 688 Club (Iggy performed there a solid week when the place first opened; they kept his spray-painted song list on the stage wall for years). Cf. this great 2008 article on the long-closed but fondly remembered 688.

Here are some more conventional midday news/views items:

* At Vox Max Fisher explains why no one, including Ukrainians, wants to call the Russian invasion of Ukraine a “Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

* New EPIC/MRA poll in Michigan gives Democrat Mark Schauer his first lead over Gov. Rick Snyder since the spring of 2013.

* New Franklin & Marshall poll of PA shows no movement in governor’s race since June; Wolf still leading Corbett by 25 points.

* Nice question posed by Chuck Todd to Reince Priebus, wondering if women think GOP has “too many crazy white guys who have crazy theories about my reproductive system.” Reince changed the subject.

* TPM’s Catherine Thompson evaluates Bob McDonnell’s novel “crazy wife defense” in his corruption trial.

And in non-political news:

* Joan Rivers stops breathing after outpatient surgery, rushed to hospital; is now in stable condition.

As we break for lunch, here’s Iggy performing “Knocking ‘Em Down in the City.”

August 28, 2014 1:40 PM College Ratings and the Tyrant Obama

In the new issue of the Washington Monthly, Laura Colarusso and Jon Marcus make a very important point about the politics of the Obama administration’s proposed college ratings system: the timing is making it an exhibit in the GOP effort to demonize executive actions as an unconstitutional overreach. So opponents of the rating system on more immediate grounds—say, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), who fear some of their members won’t look good in any system where net cost and economic benefits are weighed and compared—are getting themselves some unexpectedly strong GOP help.

A second argument made against the ratings shows how complicated the issue has become: they won’t be based on accurate student data, particularly with respect to post-college earnings. But the same higher ed lobbyists who oppose ratings have opposed allowing the “student unit record keeping” that could make them more accurate. And there’s competing sentiment in Congress to variously mandate (a Wyden-Rubio bill) or ban (threats from Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep Virginia Foxx) student unit records.

So, say Collarusso and Marcus, here’s where we stand with the ratings due this fall:

If Washington were a rational place, the political path forward for reform advocates would be obvious. First, they could take advantage of the fractures among the Big Six and push some version of the Wyden-Rubio bill through Congress. Then, with the underlying federal data problems fixed, the administration could implement a rating system with confidence that the best arguments against it—and perhaps at least some of the political resistance to it—would have disappeared.
Washington, however, is far from rational these days. Despite growing support for student unit records, almost no one thinks legislation allowing it will pass in the foreseeable future, especially in the GOP-controlled House. At the same time, despite growing opposition to the rating system, almost no one thinks that the efforts by Lamar Alexander and others to bar the Obama administration from using existing federal funds to build it will pass. Even if they did, Obama could veto them.
So the administration is expected to use its power and put forth a proposed new rating this fall, but one that, in recognition of the data limitations, is less clear and definitive than reformers wanted or opponents feared. The administration is gambling that once the rating system is up and running, the higher ed lobby will decide that improving it makes more sense than continuing to fight it, thus hastening the day when a student unit record bill can pass Congress.
The danger is that the inevitable imperfections in the rating system will be used by opponents as evidence that the federal government doesn’t know what it’s doing and shouldn’t be in the business of regulating colleges, thus making passage of a student unit record bill less likely. Which of these scenarios proves true only time will tell.

It probably won’t help if the promulgation of the ratings gets caught up in a political and media firestorm involving wild overreactions to “executive overreaching.” But that’s looking more and more unvavoidable. You can certainly expect the overpaid executives of bad, overpriced, semi-fraudulent colleges to join in full cry the campaign against the Tyrant Obama.

August 28, 2014 12:26 PM Barack the Barbarian Returns From the Links

As anticipatory hysteria among Republicans grows concerning likely executive action by the president on immigration policy, it’s interesting to see how rapidly the image of Obama as a checked-out golfer not bothering to show up for work has been replaced by the specter of Barack the Barbarian, the brooding Third World despot seizing the moment to tear down the borders so his dusky brethren can permanently despoil the land in exchange for votes. It would almost be funny if those projecting both images weren’t so deadly serious about it all.

Us old folks are reminded of the similarly disconnected way Republicans talked about Bill Clinton. He was dangerously liberal—particularly under the influence of his Red Queen, the radical feminist Hillary—but was never so dangerous as when he was “stealing Republican ideas” (as my friend Will Marshall responded, “you can’t steal from an empty wallet,” but whatever). In both cases, the phenomenon has less to do with the object of this self-contradictory rage than with an ideological cosmology in which The Enemy is both depraved and devious—in a word, satanic. As is so often the case, the lurid nightmares of the Christian Right have had an influence far beyond its core audience.

August 28, 2014 11:42 AM MittMania Finally Breaks Out in Iowa

Today’s strangest news involves a new USAT/Suffolk poll of likely 2016 Iowa Caucus-goers that listed Mitt Romney as a candidate right along with everybody else. Mitt got 35%, and nobody else broke double digits.

Dave Weigel provided the best reaction I’ve seen so far:

Honestly, it feels a little cruel for the voters who gave Romney only 25 percent of the caucus vote, and second place, for two consecutive election cycles, to come off like they’ve got Romneyphilia.

I’d say that understates it. Iowa totally screwed up Romney’s 2008 strategy, giving a caucus win to Mike Huckabee despite something like a six-gazillion-to-one financial advantage for the Mittster. And though Romney did marginally better there in 2012, Iowa turned Rick Santorum from a ridiculed Capital L Loser into a viable candidate who gave Mitt a more serious scare than anyone else. If Romney is actually thinking about running again (which I very seriously doubt), he might well figure this poll is a trick by Iowans to lure him back into the state so they can help crush his dreams one more time.

But laughable as this poll is, should we follow Weigel’s inclination of treating it as an example of the utter meaninglessness of “too early” polling? Now I’m prejudiced here: I strongly believe all data is worth having so long as it’s placed in the proper context; I’m never inclined to set some arbitrary date before which any information is somehow “too early.” But matter of fact, I do think there’s some value in the USAT/Suffolk poll, even if you agree it does not mean Mitt should start picking his cabinet.

We should already understand that early polls are heavily affected by name ID, so of course Mitt has more of that than anybody else; that’s what nearly a trillion dollars in paid ads (plus the negative ads from Obama, plus all the “earned media”) during a presidential general election will do for you. But what the poll really dramatizes that’s worth knowing is that this could be the most wide-open GOP presidential contest since, oh, maybe 1944. Take Mitt out, and only two candidates reach double digits. Nobody’s in the position Romney had at this point or soon after in the 2012 cycle; Rudy Guiliani had in 2008; Bush had in 2000; Dole had in 1996; Poppy had in 1988; Reagan had in 1980; Ford had in 1976; Nixon had in 1968; Goldwater (after Rocky’s remarriage) had in 1964…. okay, you get my drift. Democrats have been in this position before, and there were constant stories about the “seven dwarfs” in 1988 or the candidates who chose not to run in 1992. There’s not even a non-candidate I can think of whose entry into the race would transform it, as it was supposed Mitch Daniels or Jeb Bush would have in 2012.

So laugh all you want at 2014 MittMania in Iowa. It’s a negative reflection of a party with a real leadership problem.

August 28, 2014 10:08 AM Those “Libertarian Kids” Already At the GOP Punchbowl

Leave it to the intrepid Alan Abramowitz to identify the one underlying claim of the “libertarian moment” hypothesis that hasn’t already been demolished—and then take a baseball bat to it. At Sabato’s Crystal Ball today, Abramowitz first debunks the idea that “libertarian” is the most common ideological tendency among under-30 voters. But then addresses the idea there’s much of any electoral gold in appealing to “young libertarians” (which he defines as voters who are conservative on social welfare issues but liberal on gay rights issues):

[T]he vast majority of young libertarians in 2012 were already voting for Republican candidates: 76% of younger libertarians, along with 82% of older libertarians, reported voting for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. In addition, young libertarians overwhelmingly identified with the Republican Party and favored Republican House and Senate candidates by wide margins. Among libertarians under the age of 30, those who identified with or leaned toward the Republican Party outnumbered those who identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party by 74% to 17%. Of these young libertarians, 75% reported voting for a Republican House candidate in 2012 and 81% reported voting for a Republican Senate candidate.

So the claim that the GOP can expand its vote and overcome the deadly demographic trends that appear to doom its future by rebranding itself as “libertarian” is sorta like the earlier belief the Tea Party Movement represented some new and powerful constituency outside but potentially aligned with the GOP: it’s largely an illusion. Just as the Tea People are mostly yesterday’s movement conservative ultras dressed up in tricorner hats (and calling themselves “independents” because they’ve never ever felt the GOP was conservative enough), the “young libertarians” being invited to the party are already right there at the punchbowl. Rediscovering them doesn’t give them additional votes.

August 28, 2014 9:39 AM 30 Days Til the Apocalypse?

Buried in a Tumulty/Costa overview of the politics of executive action on immigration policy is this intriguing nugget:

The White House also is feeling pressure from Hispanic groups and other advocates of immigration liberalization, who are weary of being told that they must be patient. On Wednesday, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) met with more than two dozen like-minded activists in the office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was Obama’s first White House chief of staff.
“We’re preparing and want to make sure it happens,” Gutierrez said. “I’m more optimistic than ever that the president will be broad and generous with his decision.”
He said Obama “is going to determine his legacy with the immigrant community in the next 30 days.”

“30 days,” eh? It would be very interesting to know if Gutierrez chose that time frame as a suggestion, or as a reflection of reliable information he’s received. If the former is the case, It’s also not clear if he’s demanding a decision be made or announced within 30 days.

You certainly don’t get the sense from Tumulty and Costa that the White House is engaged in any hand-wringing on the subject. Yes, red-state Democratic Senate candidates have for the most part pre-distanced themselves from executive action. But more generally, it’s Republicans who seem to be freaking out:

Some see the potential for an almost Machiavellian turn of events.
“A cynic would say this is a trap carefully laid by the White House,” said Vin Weber, a well-connected Republican former congressman from Minnesota.
David Winston, a longtime pollster for House Republicans, said: “By doing something like this, the president would incite some Republican members, hoping to change the story line. But whether it changes the story depends on the discipline of the Republican side to make sure that disagreements that exist within the conference do not overwhelm what the conference is trying to achieve overall.”

Good thing John Boehner and his sidekick Eric Cantor have such an impeccable record of keeping House Republicans in line. Oh, wait.

August 28, 2014 8:48 AM Daylight Video

For absolutely no reason other than awakening in a surly mood, let’s have some Iggy Pop music, beginning with “Raw Power.”

August 27, 2014 6:23 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Not happy to realize accessing SEC Network via Comcast in California involves big upgrade package. Ain’t happening in our household. Shouldn’t be expensive to watch hours of Paul Finebaum and Tim Tebow.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Tom Edsall writes scathingly of “poverty capitalism,” his term for world of privatized government services poor folk have to pay for.

* The Upshot offers update with nifty charts on rapidly dropping Medicare spending growth rates.

* WaPo’s Matea Gold reports the Mark Pryor pro-Obamacare ad that created such a stir last week hasn’t inspired any imitators yet.

* At Ten Miles Square, Keith Humpheys wonders if it will soon be acceptable for respectable Europeans to question the wisdom of the Euro.

* At College Guide, Andre Perry compares images of black kids in Ferguson and in Little League World Series, and suggests both lack the element of basic humanity.

And in non-political news:

* SoCal flooding spreads thanks to Hurricane Marie. How’s about some mild, steady rain, please?

That’s it for Hump Day. Let’s close with one more J.B. Lenoir tune: “Slow Down.”


August 27, 2014 5:39 PM Empowering Captain Ahab To Shut Down the Federal Government

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but yesterday, as part of his 180 degree turn on the topic, Sen. Marco Rubio was said to be “hinting” that Republicans might just, oh, shut down the government or something if Barack Obama took major executive action to expand (or even maintain) DACA. Today Rubio’s new ally on immigration policy, Steve King of Iowa, was more explicit, per a report from the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich:

Congressman Steve King said today the threat of another government shutdown could be Republicans’ leverage to pass border security and immigration legislation this fall.
Congress must act before the end of September to either approve a budget or continue spending at current levels to avoid a government shutdown. House Speaker John Boehner has said he expects action on a short-term continuing resolution next month.
King, R-Kiron, said “all bets are off” on a continuing resolution if President Barack Obama follows through with reported plans to deal with immigration issues without Congress.
“If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear …,” King said. “I think the public would be mobilized and galvanized and that changes the dynamic of any continuing resolution and how we might deal with that….”
Even if Obama does not act unilaterally on immigration reform, King says he believes the continuing resolution is still a bargaining chip for GOP priorities. “When we hear some of our leaders say there will be no government shutdown, that’s the political equivalent of saying there will be no boots on the ground,” he said.

Now the congressional leadership probably won’t like this kind of talk. But like Rubio himself, they’ve pretty much delegated immigration policy to Steve King. So they can’t really complain if Captain Ahab thinks every conceivable issue in Washington is subordinate to bringing down the white whale.

August 27, 2014 5:21 PM Look Out Cleveland!

There’s always a sick temptation among political writers to experience a bit of schadenfreude at really big political disasters. Last night I was among those chuckling with a distinct lack of Christian charity at the plight of AZ Attorney General Tom Horne, the dude who got busted after a fender bender while fleeing an illicit assignation under the eyes of FBI investigators. And now there’s the smoking ruin of Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald’s once-bright gubernatorial campaign. WaPo’s Aaron Blake sums up his plunge into the darkness in just one sentence:

First was the poor fundraising, then a report that he was found by police in a car at 4:30 a.m. with a woman who was not his wife — and that he didn’t have a driver’s license for a decade — and finally nearly all of his top campaign staff deserting him.

Yep, it’s never a good sign when the staff up and quits ten weeks before Election Day.

To his credit, FitzGerald seems focused not on self-justification but on minimizing the damage to the rest of the Ohio Democratic ticket. Guess it’s hard to take yourself too seriously when you’ve been exposed as a 46 year-old man who’s been driving around with a learner’s license for a decade (I can relate: at a similar age I was advised by DC DMV to apply for a learner’s license because the license I lost in a mugging had never been entered into DC DMV computers).

Speaking of taking oneself too seriously: John Kasich’s lucky break with FitzGerald, says WaPo’s Blake, may boost the odds of a 2016 presidential campaign. He shouldn’t push his luck.

August 27, 2014 4:13 PM 2020 Vision

As most progressives agonize over the fruits of the 2010 GOP landslide and its impact on the future via redistricting and a constricted Democratic bench, TNR’s Brian Beutler is looking ahead. As he points out, the next pre-redistricting cycle, in 2020, will very likely be on much better Democratic turf (hard to imagine one worse than 2010, actually), beginning with the fact that it’s a presidential rather than a midterm election.

But then Beutler veers into googooism, suggesting that, somehow, Democrats trade redistricting “vengence” for the leverage to force Republicans into a national system that will make redistricting nonpartisan forever and ever:

The details would be complex, but the basic offer would be simple: Either agree to mutual, permanent disarmament, and make one of the country’s many undemocratic processes more democratic, or enjoy the wilderness for a decade.

Sounds good, and I’m all for the sentiment, believe me; I used to rage about gerrymandering with every other breath. But having also spent a big chunk of my adult life staring at various schemes to do what Brian’s talking about, I’m reasonably sure it’s just not possible, at least with the kind of precision that lends itself to a national proposal. To make a very long story short, “independent” redistricting bodies are rarely independent (even the random membership the new system in California ensures has yet to meet any sort of test of time); “fair” or “pro-competitive” mapping schemes don’t really work unless you’re in a state with exquisite partisan balance; and no system can account for between-redistricting demographic changes, which are often very, very large. That doesn’t mean reducing partisan gerrymandering in any given state isn’t a worthy goal, but there’s not an available “national” solution, and there also isn’t an obvious way to implement one without some highly contingent “triggering” system that would be more confusing than the status quo.

Beutler seems to fear an endlessly and mindlessly extended cycle of redistricting folly. But that’s not exactly what we are experiencing in any event. Oldsters may remember than a decade ago the CW was that the 1992-94 redistricting process had created a GOP lock on the House that could not be broken. It lasted all the way until 2006. That’s mainly because Republicans got greedy in many states and maximized their short-term gains at the risk of exposing their incumbents to disaster if the political climate (or demographics) changed significantly. They learned an important lesson, and in the latest cycle focused more on bolstering incumbents than on maximizing gains. It’s worked out for them well so far, but the decade is young. It’s not all just about “winning or losing” the redistricting battle; as Grantland Rice would say, it’s also about how you play the game.

UPDATE: Yes, the original version of this post attributed the piece I was talking about to Danny Vinik. Sorry about that, Danny and Brian.

August 27, 2014 2:55 PM Getting Down To the Lick-Log

If you wonder why I spend so much time (as compared, at least, to other bloggers) shooting down the more asinine “wave” and “enthusiasm gap” theories about this and other elections, it’s in no small part because I believe most of the factors that determine most electoral contests will be discoverable by competent public opinion research before the deal goes down. Yes, there will be too-close-to-call races; no poll is perfect; there’s a reasonably wide range of competence levels among pollsters, and sometimes no way to predict who’s going to be off in which cycle.

In any event, we’re getting to the point in the cycle where “likely voter” polls are beginning to replace or at least supplement registered-voter (or “all adults”) polls. Different pollsters have different likely voter “screens,” all defensible, none infallible. But the key thing to realize is that LV polls should reflect all the subjective reasoning for voting or non-voting people love to talk about as “enthusiasm” or even “excitement.” So when you see an LV poll, you might want to be sure to take the mental thumb off the scales for the party you assume has the mythical “momentum.”

I mention this in the context of a new Marquette Law School survey showing Democrat Mary Burke leading Gov. Scott Walker 48.6% to 46.5% among likely November voters. Walker has a 3.4% lead among registered voters, which would probably indicate that in this one state Democrats may enjoy an “enthusiasm” advantage.

It should be noted that Marquette’s likely voter screen is based on whether respondents say they are relatively “certain” they will be voting in November. I personally think that’s more defensible than those who measure likelihood to vote by past voting behavior or by how “excited” they are about voting this year. But however you feel about that, it’s indisputable that a highly reputable pollster with a likely voter screen is showing Walker in serious trouble. The assumption a lot of observers have that polls consistently understate Republican performance because they don’t factor in “enthusiasm” is simply irrational in this case. Walker could still win, of course, but there’s zero reason to think he’ll be saved by a “wave” or some other ghostly phenomenon that cannot be refuted because it cannot be demonstrated, either.

We’re finally getting down to the lick-log of the midterm cycle, and it’s time to dispense with blue-skying and pre-spinning by either party.

August 27, 2014 1:57 PM Lunch Buffet

Seems my humorous little post the other day suggesting and soliciting names of people who should be banned from Meet the Press panels drew the attention of some of our more witless and angry friends on the Right, who have turned me into a Totalitarian Beast. Good for WaMo traffic, though.

Here are some midday news/views treats:

* HuffPost’s Sam Stein gets audio of Joni Ernst crediting Koch network donors for lifting her out of nowhere. Ernst really is a political time bomb; election day can’t arrive soon enough for her.

* Interesting Bloomberg piece on the sheer number of likely new GOP House members who openly disrespect John Boehner.

* At the Prospect, Arthur Goldhammer offers the backstory on this week’s Socialist meltdown in France.

* Interesting reaction from Atlanta Journal-Constitution to WaMo’s College Rankings, noting Georgia’s winners and losers.

* At Ten Miles Square, Martin Longman looks at the possibility of an indie candidate in Kansas gaining effective control of the U.S. Senate.

And in non-political news:

* Something else I missed by stupidly following AZ-01 returns half the night: last episode of Chelsea Lately.

As we break for lunch, here’s more J.B. Lenoir, with “Talk To Your Daughter.”

August 27, 2014 1:19 PM Accessing OJT

For my money, the economic problem this country has always been slowest to address or even much talk about is how to get people onto a sustainable career ladder. U.S. businesses simply won’t invest in training their employees any more. Government training programs mostly suck, and the ones that don’t are chronically underfunded. Educational credentials are more expensive and less effective than ever in getting that critical first “real job.” And when the economy goes south, all these systemic problems turn especially toxic, and a whole generation is in danger of being damaged if not left adrift.

In the new issue of the Washington Monthly, the New America Foundation’s Kevin Carey addresses all of these problems and discusses a new institution—the skills training “boot camp”—illustrates what’s wrong with the old system and how it might be improved.

Kevin’s explanation of the current crisis is succinct and painfully accurate:

The resulting “no skills, no job; no job, no skills” dilemma for students only grew worse after the 2008 financial calamity. Every year, hundreds of thousands of undergraduates emerge from garden-variety colleges and universities lacking the selective admissions policies that send signals of cognitive ability and elite acculturation to the job market. In past recessions, college grads eventually found their way into the good parts of the labor market, albeit with some permanent scars to their long-term earnings potential. But this was the worst recession in living memory, and for many it came with new and unwanted baggage: debt. As late as the 1990s, most undergraduates finished college debt free. Now, nearly 70 percent leave owing close to $30,000 per year. For a substantial minority, the numbers are much worse.
Colleges, as it happens, have a solution: even more college, at a steep, debt-financed price. Media attention to the huge amounts of outstanding student loan debt often glosses over the fact that graduate school borrowing makes up a substantial chunk of the $1.2 trillion outstanding balance. From 2008 to 2012, the median combined undergraduate and graduate debt of people graduating with master’s degrees jumped from $44,000 to $57,600.
Universities see master’s degree programs as largely unregulated cash cows that help shore up their bottom line. Selective institutions monetize their brand names by offering expensive one-year “professional” or “executive” master’s degrees with lax admissions criteria that don’t have to be publicly disclosed. Enrolled students can defer paying off their undergraduate loans. This amounts to doubling down on the risky proposition that, armed only with academic credentials, they can break into the job market with enough success to pay even bigger loans back. Rising loan default rates suggest that many of them have been wrong.

I won’t go into Kevin’s detailed discussion of skills “boot camps.” The basic idea is a way to give people the job-specific training companies no longer offer and colleges never did, and also a way to demonstrate their aptitude and work ethics. It’s sort of like pre-employment OJT. “Boot camps” have quickly caught on in a few high-demand fields, but are spreading to others. The most important thing about them, though, may simply be their demonstration of what people pursuing and offering entry-level jobs actually appear to want and need. Given what we spend publicly and privately on career preparation resources that just don’t work, that’s a pretty big deal.

August 27, 2014 12:15 PM “You Really Have No Idea, Do You?”

One of the things I do to limit my time and preserve my sanity is to strictly ration any exposure to political talk on TV. That includes the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, unfortunately. But I do watch clips now and then, and I agree with TPM’s Catherine Thompson that last night Jon Stewart delivered “the rant on Ferguson you’ve been waiting for.” It’s mostly aimed at Fox coverage of the events in Ferguson, including one Hannity segment that left Stewart mumbling: “You really have no idea, do you?” But it offers the most effective response yet to the “only racists talk about race” underpinning of much of the conservative commentary on racial episodes that has become second nature of late.

Do watch it all:

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