Ten Miles Square


April 18, 2014 11:03 AM Will Jeb Bush Get Stopped at the Border?

By Richard Skinner

A lot of the punditry commenting on Jeb Bush’s flirtation with a presidential run has focused on his views on immigration. But where do Republicans actually stand on immigration? Nate Silver argues that Republicans actually have fairly centrist views on immigration. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, traditionally a stalwart of the GOP, has pushed hard for comprehensive immigration legislation Large donors, who seem eager for Jeb to enter the race, generally back immigration reform. Of all the leading Republican presidential possibilities, only Ted Cruz wholeheartedly embraces a hard line on immigration - and I doubt strongly that he will be the nominee. Being “soft-liners” on immigration didn’t keep George W. Bush or John McCain from winning their party’s presidential nomination.

On the other hand, House Republicans have seemed pretty opposed to a “path to citizenship.” (Or would they rather just not vote on the issue?) The 2012 Republican platform denounces “amnesty,” calls for stricter workplace enforcement, and does not mention any form of a DREAM Act. Marco Rubio’s presidential prospects took a beating last year when he took the lead on immigration legislation, similar to what happened to John McCain in 2007. Even if Republicans overall hold moderate views on immigration, perhaps those who hold more restrictionist views care about the issue more strongly. (There’s enough variation in polling on immigration to make one suspect that many citizens don’t have real views about it). Polls show that Republicans - especially conservative Republicans - have more hardline opinions relative to other voters. To put it another way, while most Republicans may not be immigration “hawks,” most immigration “hawks” are Republicans.

But what constitutes an immigration “hawk?” There we run into a problem. If I want to know who is “pro-life,” I can ask the National Right to Life Committee. If I want to know who is “pro-gun,” I can ask the National Rifle Association. But there’s no large, respected organization that backs a more restrictionist approach to immigration. The two best known groups both have extremist baggage, leading most politicians to avoid being associated with them. The nation’s most vocal immigration “hawks” have been radio talk show hosts, who have a professional interest in being as provocative and strident as possible. There are no set standards for deciding who has acceptable views on immigration.

The immigration issue could also hurt Jeb Bush if it keeps him from winning support from key constituencies. He’s unlikely to win support from Tea Party activists, but he does have a warm relationship with social conservatives. Many evangelical leaders back immigration reform, but it’s not clear that their followers share those views.

So I have trouble reading the politics of the GOP on immigration. I’m guessing that, while it is not irrelevant, it is not a litmus-test issue like abortion or gun control. But I just don’t know.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

April 18, 2014 8:58 AM Love Soundbites? Thank the Election of 1908

By Seth Masket

We can point to several presidential elections as pivotal ones — 1960 saw the first televised presidential debate, 1952 saw the first widespread TV advertising, etc. But 1908 may top them all.

That year, NPR reports, both major party presidential candidates, William Howard Taft (R) and William Jennings Byran (D), recorded a series of short speeches on wax cylinders produced by Thomas Edison’s National Phonograph Company. These cylinders were then sent around the country so that, for the first time, large numbers of voters could hear the voices of the candidates even when the candidates were nowhere near their state. Better still, a penny arcade in New York reportedly dressed up two mannequins to look like Taft and Bryan and played the recordings sequentially to simulate a presidential debate for visitors.

So the election of 1908 isn’t necessarily the cause of modern soundbites or the reason that the lengthy campaign speeches of the 19th century were supplanted by quick punchy ads in the 20th century. But they’re all part of the same trend. The speeches that were sent out by cylinder were short because the medium was limited and expensive to use. Same with TV ads. What makes 1908 an important turning point is that it reflects the challenges of a truly mass campaign. Candidates could previously travel by rail to much of the nation and give detailed speeches, but they still couldn’t hope to be heard by as many voters as wax cylinders, radio, television, or the Internet would ultimately reach. To really put the candidates in touch with the voters, communication had to be shortened and simplified.

(h/t John Dickerson)

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

April 17, 2014 9:04 PM How Presidential Nominees Are Really Picked

By Jonathan Bernstein

One more important point about presidential nominations.

To say that “the party decides” doesn’t necessarily mean that it will choose another Mitt Romney, John McCain or Bob Dole over more conservative options. It just means that party actors — politicians, campaign and governing professionals, formal party organization officials and staff, activists and donors, party-aligned interest groups and media - will be making the decision. Not (for the most part at least) rank-and-file voters in the caucuses and primaries and not the (“neutral”) media. Nor is the nomination the random result of a convoluted process (as it probably was to a large extent in the immediate aftermath of reform, most notably in 1976 on the Democratic side).

Party actors may disagree over all sorts of issues. The nomination process is how they resolve those differences, either by reaching agreements or, sometimes, by fighting it out.

We hear a lot about a Republican “establishment,” and we’ve been hearing about a “donor class.” I don’t know what those are. The shorthand doesn’t describe real groups within the party. It’s more helpful to think about policy preferences and interests. For example, there is a split on immigration, and we can track how different groups line up. We also can think about groups and their priorities: Christian conservatives, a large group within the Republican Party, care most about abortion and a few other social issues, and their size and strength give them a veto in those areas, but not in others.

Another important split in parties is between those who care primarily about winning, and those who have other principal motivations. Typically, politicians, campaign and governing professionals, and formal party officials and staff, tend to focus on winning above all. Activists and party-aligned interest groups may have other priorities. One of the things ailing the Republican Party is that for many party actors the conservative marketplace warps that traditional split by separating financial incentives from victory in elections .

This isn’t to say that the people who support the more moderate candidate will always win. Those with other priorities are “party,” too. They might prevail, perhaps at the cost of the more ideologically extreme candidate agreeing to run on less extreme platform. And it’s not as if we’re looking at huge policy differences between, say, Chris Christie on one side, and Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee on the other. Even “Tail Gunner” Ted Cruz isn’t ideologically very different from mainstream conservatives. That’s not his trouble.

Rand Paul is the only otherwise viable candidate who really is different. He isn’t going to win, at least not unless the party changes radically. But the rest? It depends on the outcome of a process of coordination and competition within the party. That process includes the party actors’ decision whether to coalesce around the most conservative candidate who has a chance of winning in November or the conservative candidate with the best chance of winning.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

April 17, 2014 2:39 PM How the Right Stopped Believing in Democracy

By Martin Longman

With the sole (glaring) exception of their success in making abortions inconvenient, the conservative movement is clearly losing the culture war, and losing it badly. So, we should expect to hear more and more talk about how the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are much more about protecting the rights of (political) minorities than they are about representative government. It goes along with the right’s unflinching campaign to shrink the electorate while they freak out about the tyranny of insurance-provided contraception.

For George Will, there is a fundamental schism between conservatives who think liberty comes before democracy and progressives who think “a process, democracy” is the core of a free society.

Mr. Will uses a quote by Justice Stephen Breyer that the Constitution is about “one word, democracy” to suggest that the whole progressive movement feels the same way. What’s closer to the truth is that progressives feel much more strongly than conservatives that an elected majority ought to be able to enact an agenda without being filibustered to death. On what (political) minority rights should be constitutionally-protected there are obviously some differences, but there’s broad agreement on what kind of laws the Constitution forbids. What’s novel is the conservatives’ sudden insistence that the owners of large privately-held corporations should be able to dictate what is and is not covered in their employer-provided heath insurance plans. What’s novel is the idea that Catholic institutions like hospitals and universities should likewise be able to avoid any regulatory scheme that can be interpreted as crossing their church’s dogmatic beliefs. What’s novel is the idea that ranchers can use the assistance of armed militias to avoid paying grazing fees to the federal government.

That last example stems from a recurring spasmodic hostility to the federal government that crops up intermittently throughout our country’s history. But the former two are rearguard responses to a culture that is moving on without the right’s acquiescence. So, the more “traditionally” religious are asserting themselves as an oppressed minority and calling on the founding documents for protection. As part of that, they aren’t limiting themselves to heralding the wisdom and inerrancy of those documents but are going one further and actively diminishing the legitimacy of majority rule. And that fits right in with their efforts to limit the franchise and their obstructive behavior in Congress. Stuck in the minority for the foreseeable future, the right no longer believes in majority rule.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

April 17, 2014 11:02 AM Catch of the Day: Ted Cruz’s 1979 Groundhog Day

By Jonathan Bernstein

For movement conservatives, it’s always 1979. Catch of the Day to Mike Konczal for noting Tail Gunner Ted’s latest:

Senator Ted Cruz’s speech crystallized just how disconnected the Republican worldview is today. “Where we are right now is eerily, uncannily, like the late 1970s,” he said. “You had Jimmy Carter in the White House and you had the same failed economic policies. Out-of-control spending, taxes, and regulation produced the exact same misery and stagnation. You had the same feckless foreign policy and the same naiveté making the world a much more dangerous place.”

As Konczal notes, “where we are right now” doesn’t bear any resemblance to the Carter era. It takes a great deal of either ignorance or myopia to believe our economic situation is anything like the high inflation environment of the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Jerry Ford, Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Or perhaps it just requires a great lack of interest in any public policy beyond cutting taxes for the rich. The post-policy Republican Party doesn’t care what Reagan actually did, or what circumstances made the particular mix of the early 1980s relatively successful. Finding that out would require taking into account all kinds of off-message details, including (as Steve Benen notes) the tax increases under Reagan. Not to mention that Reagan’s successful fight against inflation involved inducing a deep recession. Does Cruz think that’s the best medicine for this economy?

It’s much easier to conclude that it’s always (mythical) 1979: Hyperinflation is about to break out or is already here, and the correct response is to cut taxes and programs that Republicans don’t like, while talking a great deal about budget deficits.
So: Nice catch!

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

April 17, 2014 8:53 AM Ukraine: Who Are You Gonna Believe?

By Mark Kleiman

For reasons I can only partly fathom, some progressive pundits (though, I’m happy to say, no progressive politicians) have decided to accept a career secret policeman as the authoritative source of information about human rights in Ukraine. For balance, here are the views of a career human-rights advocate, based on the report of the professional staff of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Short version: Yanukovych’s Bikram security police were practicing torture with impunity before he fled the country; the armed anti-government activity in the West came only after months of official misconduct; human rights problems have declined since the change of regime, except in Russian-ruled Crimea, where there are now systematic violations; there has not been systematic right-wing nationalist violence; the Jewish community is not threatened; and pro-Russian forces are deliberately spreading misinformation with the goal of terrifying the Russian-speaking population in the East into thinking that their rights are under attack.

There’s a strange analogy between left-wing denialism about what Russia is up to in Ukraine and right-wing denialism about global warming. In each case, distaste for the possible policy implications of recognizing facts (worsened relations with Russia, environmental controls and energy taxes) leads to refusal to acknowledge the facts. It’s possible to argue that the U.S. should exercise restraint in responding to Russian aggression. It’s plain silly to pretend that Russian aggression isn’t happening.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

April 16, 2014 8:51 AM The Fetishization of Elite University Admission

By Keith Humphreys

A friend of mine who served on a local school board attended multiple meetings in which parents complained about the way GPA and class rankings were calculated for high school students in AP courses. After hours of passionate discussion driven by a very small number of parents, he lost his temper and said “We have thousands of kids in our district and I am sick of spending all our time debating whether the few of them who want to go to Princeton are going to end up at Dartmouth instead”.

I thought of my friend when I read the recent New York Times story with the doleful title Best, Brightest and Rejected. My university’s very low rate of acceptance is the kick-off point for the article, which mentions the case of Mr. Isaac Madrid. Isaac does not understand why he didn’t get in to Stanford. Tragically enough, the story informs us, he will instead have to go to Yale.

Yale! Congratulations to Isaac and family! The NYT photo makes Isaac look pensive and maybe a little sad, when it ought to show him jumping up and down with joy because he is a no doubt amazing young person who is heading off to a world-class university.

Stanford University is a great place to get an education and I am lucky to be a professor here. But no one’s life chances break down into two mutually exclusive options: Stanford admission vs. Chronic unemployment and homelessness. Whether it’s intentional or not, the extraordinary amount of focus NYT and other prominent media outlets give to the importance of getting into ONE PARTICULAR ELITE UNIVERSITY (Usually Harvard or Stanford) distorts the perspective of many young people and their parents. I would not have believed it until I got here and saw it up close, but there really are parents with great kids heading off to great schools who consider their children not being admitted to Stanford a disaster, a crime against humanity, or both.

I think the media could do a public service by focusing coverage of university admissions more proportionately on the kinds of institutions that most people attend (e.g., my alma mater). As part of that, I would hope they could bring alive for anxious parents and young people the reality that there are lots of terrific places to get a college education and that most of the successful and fulfilled people in the country did not attend the handful of small, private institutions whose admissions are the subject of outsized media attention.

[Cross-Posted at The Reality-Based Community]

April 16, 2014 8:47 AM The New Range War: A Query

By Mark Kleiman

Has a single “conservative” pundit or politician condemned the practice of pointing loaded weapons at law enforcement officials carrying out a valid court order?


Not that I’ve seen, so far. Just lots of pap about how “sympathetic” we should be to someone who prefers to use resources he doesn’t own without paying for them and who does not recognize the existence of the United States of America.

And that’s why I usually put “conservative” in scare quotes when referring to the currently dominant faction of the Red Team. There are real conservatives, just as there’s real medical marijuana. But Sean Hannity has about as much to do with actual conservatism as kush doctors offering recommendations to all comers at $35 a throw and dispensaries with bikini-clad beckoners outside have to do with actual medicine.

The difference between the left and the right in American politics is that the lunatic left is a marginal phenomenon; on the right, the lunatic fringe is the mainstream. I hope the genunine conservatives out there will do something to take their good name back from the snipers and the cheerleaders for snipers.

[Cross-Posted at The Reality-Based Community]

April 15, 2014 9:13 PM Obamacare Haters Aren’t Mysterious

By Jonathan Bernstein

Paul Krugman is puzzled:

The Affordable Care Act is one of the great comeback stories of public policy: after a terrible start, it has dramatically exceeded expectations. But hardly anyone seems to know that…. Over the weekend I had dinner in NYC with some very smart, sophisticated people; yes, all of them liberals. And almost everyone in the group was under the impression that Obamacare is still going badly — they wanted me to tell them whether it could still be turned around…. [H]ere we have smart, pro-reform people living in a state where reform is going really well. And they don’t know it!

Krugman attributes this knowledge gap to a media bias against Obamacare. But that part of it is simply a function of media norms. The website fiasco in October was a much more dramatic and unexpected - newsy - story than the fixes in November, or the signup surges in December and March.

The main explanation (sorry to beat this drum again) is more basic: The law is designed to do poorly in polling, at least once Republicans put up a united front against it.

After all, I suspect that few of Krugman’s “smart sophisticated … liberals” signed up on the exchanges; odds are that most or all of them had employer-linked insurance (or, if they were older, Medicare). Even if some of them were in the exchanges, his dinner partners probably hadn’t been uninsured, and probably hadn’t qualified for subsidies. In other words, they probably had no personal experience with the exchanges. And even if if they did, they aren’t the kind of people who were big winners in that part of the law.

They might have noticed if they benefited from the closing of the Medicare doughnut hole or took advantage of free preventative-care doctor visits. Some might have post-college kids who were able to stay on their insurance. On the other hand, those who were in the private insurance market, employer-linked or not, probably have had their premiums go up over the last few years. Even if that increase wasn’t historically high, individuals have a hard time assessing that sort of thing and it’s a lot easier for them to assume that any increase is related to the Affordable Care Act.

I’m guessing that those in Krugman’s crowd who signed up for the exchanges at least knew that getting insurance through “New York State of Health,” means the ACA (I still would love to see a study of how many in the exchanges know that they have “Obamacare”). On the other hand, being in New York, or another state where the website was functional, might have made members of this group less likely to follow the news of the improvements at Healthcare.gov.

For most of us, Obamacare isn’t that visible, and the benefits often are the least visible part. The biggest winners are probably those on expanded Medicaid, and I’m confident many of them don’t know they were helped by Obamacare. Don’t expect it to get better; it’s going to be less and less likely that people will identify the benefits they are receiving with “Obamacare.” In five years, plenty of those in the exchanges won’t realize that under the old system they would have had a pre-existing condition that would have barred them from being insured. Even if they realize that such a restriction once existed, they almost certainly won’t realize that their minor medical condition would have qualified.

Given all that, once Republican opposition guaranteed that the ACA would be controversial it was likely that it would poll badly, even if it worked well — and even if it worked so well it couldn’t be repealed.

This isn’t the result of media bias, or the administration’s failure to win the spin; and it’s not even a sign that the law isn’t working as intended. It’s just the logical outcome of the way the law is set up.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

April 15, 2014 5:11 PM “The Luck in the Head”

By Henry Farrell

A new collection of Ian Miller’s art is out today. When I was in my early twenties, I was mildly obsessed by Miller’s graphic novel collaboration with M. John Harrison, The Luck in the Head, to the point that a few years ago, when I could finally afford to, I bought a couple of the originals, including the ‘Procession of the Mammy’ shown above (reproduction isn’t wonderful; it’s far sharper and not nearly as drenched with red in real life).

I thought about this graphic novel, and the Harrison short story it built on a lot last year, when Margaret Thatcher died. Neil Gaiman describes in his introduction to Harrison’s work how:

For me, the first experience of reading Viriconium Nights and In Viriconium was a revelation. I was a young man when I first encountered them, half a lifetime ago, and I remember the first experience of Harrison’s prose, as clear as mountain-water and as cold. The stories tangle in my head with the time that I first read them – the Thatcher Years in England seem already to be retreating into myth. They were larger-than-life times when we were living them, and there’s more than a tang of the London I remember informing the city in these tales, and something of the decaying brassiness of Thatcher herself in the rotting malevolence of Mammy Vooley (indeed, when Harrison retold the story of “The Luck in the Head” in graphic novel form, illustrated by Ian Miller, Mammy Vooley was explicitly drawn as an avatar of Margaret Thatcher).

He doesn’t mention (but then it’s an aside) how Harrison and Miller’s collaboration captures the contrast between Thatcher’s role as emblem and her frailty as a human being. In the picture, she’s already become a kind of ritual object, carted around to no particular purpose beyond display. Like the teapots that are the helmets of her supporters, she’s been superannuated and put to new uses, in ways that are both ludicrous and sinister. Another panel shows her after the procession, without her wig, shaven-headed, exhausted and empty, pushed along in a bath-chair by a lackey wearing a fish-head mask (a reference both to Miller’s art – he likes to draw fish – and to an incident in Harrison’s short novel In Viriconium). Miller and Harrison depict Thatcherism not as the revolution it believed itself to be, but as an aftermath where the symbols have been emptied of all meaning. Put another way, the senescent Thatcher depicted by Miller and Harrison’s Mammy Vooley represents less a foretelling of Thatcher’s own decline, than the decay of the movement that she represented (a decay which was already present in its moment of full flowering).

[Cross-posted at Crooked Timber]

Ten Miles Square Archive