The Future of the Republican Party is as Important to Democrats as the Future of the Democratic Party

Some partisan Dems (of which I’m a charter member) are hoping that Palin’s influence waxes rather than wanes, on the theory that the more she mesmerizes her party, the better it is for long-term Democratic interests, since she can only take the Republicans into enhanced irrelevance.

I’m all for that.

But I worry about the implications for the long-term health of political life in this country.

Republicans have sullied political life for the last 15 years (or more) with their Machiavellian power grabs and this has been *very* bad for the country. With Dems in control, wouldn’t it be much better to have reasonable Republicans advocating policies that actually made logical sense (even if we disagreed with them)? Wouldn’t that ultimately be better for the country as a whole?

I fear for a Democratic party that thinks it has all the best answers and doesn’t need an opposition party to help it hone its message and policies into something even better than it starts out as. The whole Clinton/Obama primary battle should be Exhibit A in why credible competition is much more healthy for long-term political interests.

My Predictions for the Election

I have two scenarios in my head, the “Obama wins by not much” and the “Obama by a landslide.”

In the first scenario, I’d see Kerry states (252) plus Iowa (7), New Mexico (5), Colorado (9), Nevada (5) and Virginia (13), for a total of 291. Likely he’ll get one or more of Missouri, North Carolina and Florida, which could add 11, 15 or 27, respectively (for a total of 302, 306 or 318. Ohio I also see as a tossup, which would add 20 or not (322, 326 or 338). So, most likely I think the results will be about 330 electoral votes in this scenario. Popular vote would be 52/46/2. In this scenario, Senate would get the three safe takeovers (Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico) plus Alaska, Oregon and New Hampshire. North Carolina is a toss-up, so it’s either 6 or 7 pickups. In regard to house seats, I see pickups in this scenario of 20-25.

For the landslide scenario, I see popular vote of 58/40/2, and the electoral map giving every state mentioned above (364) to Obama, plus Indiana (11), North Dakota (3) and Montana (3) for a total of 381. If it’s a really big landslide, I’d say Alaska (3) will go (the latest poll puts it a few points difference between Obama/McCain), along with Arizona (5), South Dakota (3), Mississippi (6) and West Virginia (5) for 408. For the Senate, I then see all the Dem pickups winning, which would mean that Dole and Coleman both lose, plus McConnell in KY, Chambliss in GA and Wicker in MS, which gives you 10 pickups in the Senate. In that scenario, I’d see 40-50 pickups in the House (just a wild guess, as I don’t even know if that’s possible).

So, my two scenarios:

  Pessimistic Landslide
Pop. Vote 52/46/2 58/40/2
EV 322-38 408
Senate 6-7 10
House 25-30 49-50

I would be surprised to see more than one aspect of the optimistic scenario come true, but not surprised it one of them comes close, though the higher the popular vote total, the more likely it becomes. I expect something in between the two scenarios, but probably closer to the pessimistic than the optimistic.

Debate Reaction

The pundits I saw last night on the TV machine (as our beloved Rachel Maddow calls it) all seemed to see the thing as a tie. I didn’t. I thought McCain clearly won.


In my mind, McCain went into the debate as a crazily unreliable batshit insane guy who is all over the map on everything. But he was completely coherent in all of his foreign policy-related comments, and not just coherent in a Republican sense, but coherent in a reality-based community sense. I disagree with him, but he was clear and was not struggling at all to make his points. He may very well have been heavily prepped, but the prep just made his answers deeper, rather than bubbling to the surface, Palin-like, in a tumble of non sequiturs.

Yes, he told a string of lies about Obama’s record, but that’s what Republicans do these days.

But for me, he regained a level of respectability that he had lost in the past two weeks of flailing over the economic crisis. Whether or not the undecided voters see it that way, I can’t say.

Obama, on the other hand, seemed to me a lot like Kerry. He had the facts and he had coherent answers, but he just wasn’t direct enough in his answers.

And $deity spare us the awful “talk to each other” format. It may have looked really great on The West Wing, but when your debators are not actors delivering pre-scripted lines, it maybe doesn’t work so well.

What I’d like to see is a debate that is fact checked in real time, maybe with a single moderator and a panel of bloggers with computers researching every claim, so they could provide documentation on the lies to the moderator so he/she could call the candidates on them. In this debate, Obama might have been called on 2 or 3 misrepresentations at most, while McCain would have been called on at least a dozen outright lies and myriad other misrepresentations.

Of course, it will never happen.

Scott Adams — Still Dumb as a Post

Scott Adams paid out of his own pocket to do a survey of economists on Obama’s and McCain’s economic policies. While the survey decisively picks Obama’s policies over McCain’s on 9 out of 13 of the issues (6 by >50%, 3 by plurality). McCain is chosen as superior on only one issue (international trade), and beats Obama on only one other issue (waste in government), but even on that issue gets less support than “neither will make a difference.”

So, the poll is pretty darned clear in picking Obama’s policies as vastly superior to McCain’s in almost every respect — it really isn’t even close.

What is Adams’ take-away? That 48% of the respondents were Democrats. His conclusion? They are partisans, so their answers have no merit at all. This is despite the fact that independents (27%) plus Republicans (17%) plus Libertarians (3%) add up to 47% of the survey respondents, which, statistically speaking, exactly balances the Dems in the sample. If the survey numbers entirely stem from party ID, then it must show that the group of non-Democrats agree with Obama’s positions a significant portion of the time. And on 4 issues, McCain can’t even retain the 20% of his own partisans (presumably, Republicans + Libertarians) and on 1 other, can’t exceed his partisans (i.e., reaching only 20% support).

There are statistical tests that can be done to see if partisanship skews the survey results, and Adams himself is forced to admit (in a followup post) that there was a rather large degree of party-line crossing on several of the issues considered.

Adams seems completely unable to conceive of the idea that economists might support the Democrats more than Republicans because the Democrats over the past 25 years have not pushed a whole succession of batshit-crazy economic ideas as the basis for their governing philosophy. Republicans TELL LIES about the economy (for example “reductions in capital gains taxes always increase revenues”). They still subscribe to the completely discredited supply-side economics. They still think there’s no such thing as a bad tax cut (or a good tax increase). They have shown themselves irresponsible in governing, racking up record deficits and mis-spending what funds are available inefficiently.

In other words, if you look at the way Republicans act once they are in power, they implement economic policies that no economist but a partisan hack would consider good. Is it, then, surprising that most economists would not rationally pick the party that has been promoting economically sensible policies over the one that talks economic nonsense?

This is not something Adams seems able to imagine, since he lives in that disconnected fantasy world where, Nader-like, there is no difference between the two parties. In fact, there are long-term massive objective differences between the two parties on facts and on support of widely-accepted best practices in the field of economics.

But Adams got an answer he didn’t like (he wanted a tie or a McCain win) and must explain it away with accusations of bias. In doing so he plugs into all the right-wing memes about academic political bias, as well as subscribing to a strong current of anti-intellectualism, this latter despite the fact that he paid a lot of money to consult with experts.

Scott Adams is simply a moron.

If you’ve been paying attention, though, you already knew that.

Addendum: Adams has the honesty to post a comment by an economist that explains the party ID differences thus:

In general, I suspect the economists who favor Obama tend to have a greater relative weight on equity vs. efficiency compared to economists who favor McCain. Both groups might agree that both efficiency and equity are important, but they disagree PHILOSOPHICALLY (outside of their training as economists) on the relative importance of these two social values.

A preference for equity over efficiency would likely make these economists vote Democratic, since the history of the Democratic party’s economic policies has been almost entirely a succession of efforts to improve economic equity.

Poll Freakout

Well, everybody in the progressive/Democratic side of the blogosphere and media is freaking out over all the polls that have swung massively for McCain in the last few days. These swings actually are significant, since the crosstabs in most of them really do reflect major changes.

But I really think everyone should really chill, and for two reasons:

  1. The assumption that people choose on likability/issues first and then determine the candidate they favor is backwards. That is, most people assume that now that McCain is getting more votes, it’s because people have changed their minds and now favor his position and like him better. But the way it really works is people choose the candidate first (for nebulous reasons, some having to do with issues, some with personality and optics) and then harmonize their answers on “favor on health care” and “favor on change” to match their top-of-the-ticket choice. In other words, these things are not independent at all. And the swing is just a matter of enthusiasm and lack of familiarity. People really want to like McCain and a choice like Palin (which is wearing awfully thin for me — if I see that smarmy, arrogant, self-satisfied “lipstick” sound bite one more time I think I’ll scream) just makes them want to like him more. For now, they are warm and rosy about him. But when we get to the debates, the rubber will meet the road and we’ll find out how completely different the two candidates really are in regard to where they want to take the country (I’ve no doubts about Obama’s ability to put across his policies and control the framing of McCain’s platform, despite all the hand-wringing about Obama not being so strong in debates).
  2. I much prefer my candidate being behind at this point in the race. It’s better to have to scrap and come from behind than it is to get self-satisfied and cautious. Obama is going to have to come out as a fighter, as someone who is passionate. Passion is what he’s lacked, and the polls are going to force him to make the commitment that will the win hearts and minds of those who still have doubts about him.

So, I’m not so very worried. There’s plenty of time for Palin to self-destruct. There’s plenty of time for it to become obvious how unserious the Republicans are in their campaign, with their constant spouting of lies betraying their basic contempt for the American electorate. As long as Obama’s surrogates keep hammering home the message that McCain really cannot possibly be an agent of change (or, of any kind of change that people would want), and keep harping on the fact that it’s Republicans who have screwed everything up, then I think things will turn out OK.

If they don’t, I think it will be the fault of the traditional media for simply not doing their job and pointing out what an awful candidate McCain and Palin are in terms of their lack of interest in truthfulness. I sure wish they’d give them the Al Gore treatment, except this time it would be well-deserved.

Last of all, we have to keep in mind the principle that drives Nate Silver’s, i.e., that the polls whose questions run “If the election were held today…” are simply false. The election is not today, and what people say about their choice now (when forced to choose) does not necessarily determine to any large degree what choice they will make in November. In other words, we just don’t know what will happen because the polls actually don’t mean what they are always presented to mean. And, besides, the top-line national polls simply don’t mean a damned thing, given that the popular vote doesn’t determine the winner. The Electoral College math has tightened, yes, but it’s still Obama’s game to lose.

All in all, we simply don’t know enough to panic yet. And I still feel more comfortable with Obama tied or behind at this point.


I had a dream last night. You will conclude after you hear about it that I’m a very strange person, indeed.

The dream takes place at the Republican National Convention (didn’t I tell you I was weird?), and an RNC delegate who is holding forth for the TV cameras on Barack Obama says “Obama is gay.” Immediately, a Democrat (who happens to be standing nearby) punches the RNC delegate in the stomach, and says “You can say whatever you want, but don’t tell lies.”

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if every time a Republican lied to the media somebody was there to punch them in the stomach? It would certainly cut down on the number of Republicans who have a habit of spreading falsehoods in the media.

Alternatively, it could be handled like this:

Campbell Brown impersonates an actual journalist

I’d sure like to see much more of that kind of thing from our tradional media outlets!

Wisconsin Debate Reactions

Dean is done.

It seemed obvious to me that Kerry has grown substantially over the course of the debates — he really does do a much more persuasive job of explaining himself. Edwards was absolutely amazing, in my opinion — he hit several of them right out of the ballpark. He’s the candidate that I can get excited about.

But Dean, well, he just didn’t rise to the occasion. He seemed limp, unexcited about what he was saying. He gave the same answers he’s been giving in debates since December. The only answer of interest was his very first one where he very artfully turned an invitation to beat up on Kerry over special interests into a very strong attack on Bush.

I don’t know if Edwards picks up any support with these kinds of performances. For me, it really does make me optimistic that there is someone running who is inspiring and can grow as a candidate. It does appear to me that he’s stolen a lot from Dean, especially the “I’ll tell you the hard truth” trope, which he used in regard to the question of whether jobs never returning once they’ve gone overseas, and on the question of his portion of personal responsibility for the war due to his vote for it.

Kerry dodged this last rather poorly, in my opinion, in a fashion that made Edwards’ upfront admission refreshing and winning.

Kerry’s got the nomination, I’m sure, and that’s really too bad, given that he’s just not a very good campaigner. But I’m not sure he’s any weaker than Al Gore was (and I was an enthusiastic supporter of Gore). If Edwards becomes his running mate, I truly think it’s a very strong ticket.

But, oh how I regret that Dean flamed out. In retrospect, I think it’s clear he wasn’t all that strong a candidate, though he was saying all the right things. I was never too happy with where he comes down on certain positions (gun control, death penalty), but those differences with my positions seemed to me to enhance his electability, as most voters are well to the right of me on these issues. I hope Dean has a role in the party from here on out.

I hope the Democratic Party has learned its lesson from Dean and his campaign, that timidity and calculation lose you more votes than they win.

The Power of the Media

Salon’s War Room has a listing today that refers to a Philadelphia Inquirer article on the subject of Bush’s “falling stature as commander-in-chief,” and the degree to which voters have shifted to the point where they even trust the lackluster John Kerry more than Bush (marginally, at least) on handling national security.

I can’t help but think “what took you so long?” for one, but then I ask “what has caused the change?” And I can only conclude that the public has shifted away from Bush only when the media has begun concentrating attention on opponents of Bush, as exemplified by the candidates in the Democratic nomination race.

But it’s not like there has been much of anything new raised by the candidates covered in the campaign coverage, to be honest. It’s just that the message of Bush’s failure as president is getting out to the public because the media is now reporting on positions other than just those the Bush administration approves, that is, the positions of people who believe the Bush administration to be an ongoing catastrophe for our country.

In the recent past, an opposition point of view was nowhere to be found in the major media outlets, but now, just because the national media are covering the Democratic candidates, the opposition message is getting play on nearly every newscast. And, shock of shocks, public opinion on Bush has shifted drastically away from the heights it climbed to after the capture of Saddam in December.

It takes so little, it seems to me, to make a huge difference, even in the face of hugely positive events for the administration. And it all comes down to the judgment of the news media about what is worthy of coverage and what is not.

For me, this is a terribly sobering thought, as such easy gains are far too easy to lose.

But more sobering still is the thought that this irresponsible pack of incompetent journalists who populate our national media have so much power to shape the course of public opinion.

Special Interests, Kerry, Dean and Bush

WNYC radio’s morning talk show, hosted by the superb Brian Lehrer, had as a guest today the author of the book, “The Buying of the President 2004″, Charles Lewis. The book examines the money behind all the Presidential campaigns through the first half of 2003. There’s an update to those figures on’s website that gives the figures through the end of the 3rd quarter. I did a bit of analysis of the numbers for the top 10 contributors as a percentage of total donations, and using data from for examining PAC contributions as a percentage of total contributions. The results of both comparisons are found here in this little chart:
  Total Raised Top 10 Total % Jan. 31st Total PAC $ PAC %
Bush/Cheney 85,211,717 4,556,870 5.35% 131,774,275 2,071,704 1.57%
Kerry 20,043,633 1,385,707 6.91% 28,209,341 73,784 0.26%
Edwards 14,512,399 2,852,175 19.65% 14,453,092 0 0.00%
Gephardt 13,666,916 2,359,080 17.26% 16,607,735 414,451 2.50%
Dean 25,385,268 235,575 0.93% 41,264,772 22,965 0.06%
Lieberman 11,779,354 762,396 6.47% 13,823,407 211,070 1.53%
Kucinich 3,401,710 408,384 12.01% 6,227,898 16,000 0.26%
Braun 341,669 351,364 102.84% 492,284 30,273 6.15%
Sharpton 283,714 141,900 50.02% 433,142 3,200 0.74%
Clark 3,491,108 45,700 1.31% 13,699,256 37,700 0.28%
TOTALS: 178,117,488 13,099,151 7.35% 266,985,202 2,881,147 1.08%
MEAN: 6,407,278 609,718 9.52% 9,923,329 10,602 0.11%

In regard to special interest money, there is simply no comparison between Kerry and Dean. Dean really does have an argument here, in that his top 10 donors are an order of magnitude smaller in comparison to Kerry. Of course, it’s not really fair to compare the small candidates who haven’t raised much, and Clark’s numbers don’t really mean anything as he hadn’t actually started his campaign during the period covered there.

But between Kerry and Dean, there’s a pretty clear difference.

And between Kerry and Bush, there’s no difference.

That is the point Dean has been making, and it’s a good one.

The right-hand part of the table, from, shows PAC money related to the whole. Overall, in all cases, these are relatively small percentages, but this is because the numbers for individual contributions are not directly comparable. PACs can’t donate more than $5K. Corporations can’t, either. How, then were the previous numbers arrived at? Well, what the survey does is look at the employers of individual donors, because most companies coordinate donations by their employees to particular candidates. This is how the numbers for the top 10 donors could be so much higher than the numbers for the PACs, because those top 10 numbers represent aggregation of multiple donations from individuals who work for those organizations.

So, it’s important to realize that the numbers for individual contributions, while in the high 90th percentile of the total, actually can hide large contributions from organizations.

Notice that the PAC numbers for Bush/Cheney are only a bit less than 1/3 of the percentage of contributions from the top 10 contributors. That means that PAC money is still a significant amount.

And the story for Dean is still that he is an order of magnitude below Kerry (though Kerry is also an order of magnitude lower than Bush/Cheney). Interestingly, Edwards has reported receiving no PAC money at all (according to his website, he does not accept money from either lobbyists of PACs), but he’s also the viable candidate with the highest percentage of his total contributions coming from his top 10 donors.

The point is that there really are significant differences here, seen within the political system these candidates are working within. One can complain about the political system itself, but I don’t know that it’s fair to condemn all of them for the rules imposed upon them. Given that it’s quite clear that there’s a wide range of approaches to raising money within that political system, the fact that everyone accepts money from so-called special interests does not mean that the special interests control the actions of the candidates to the same degree.

Indeed, there are clearly very large differences between the candidates in exactly how beholden they are to organizations that donate large amounts of money.

And that was Howard Dean’s point about Kerry — he’s vulnerable to charges of the same kind of corruption by money that we see in the Bush administration.

Dean is Angry Even When He’s Smiling!

ABC’s The Note is about the only media outlet I’ve seen that seems to get that Dean’s shouting on Monday night was done with a huge grin, with excitement, with joy. It occurs to me that if Dean had been a surprise 3rd-place finisher (i.e., he’d been trailing Kerry, Edwards and Gephardt in the polls), this would have been seen as a hugely positive speech.

While I question the wisdom of Dean’s choosing to speak in this fashion to a national audience, if you put it in that different context, the whole myth of “Dean’s anger” shows up as the threadbare, braindead media trope that it truly is. The media should be ashamed — they’ve killed the candidate who is responsible for changing the terms of the debate for all the candidates. If the Democratic nominee wins in November, even if it’s not Dean, it will be Dean who is responsible for having turned all the mainstream candidates from fearful, afraid-of-Bush campaigns into fired-up organizations that understand they have to go after Bush on every single issue.

If Bush is turned out of office, it’s because of Howard Dean.