I’m reluctant to get partisan, but …

I’m reluctant to take a partisan position on the failure of the economic bailout. But there is one aspect of the Republicans’ performance yesterday that is indefensible.

First, I don’t know enough about economics to evaluate this particular plan:  whether it was really necessary, whether this was the right solution to the crisis.

Second, the pain doesn’t fall out along partisan lines. Voters could shrug and say, It was a lot of fat cats on Wall Street who took a bath yesterday, but that would be naive. The Dow Jones lost $1.2 trillion dollars in a single day. Everyone is going to feel the pain of that loss. Particularly Americans who are approaching retirement, if their retirement savings are invested in the stock market.

Third:  from the beginning, I haven’t liked the way the politics were playing out. Voters need to be especially sceptical of government in times of crisis. It’s too easy for the President to say, There’s a crisis; you’ll have to give us a blank cheque; just trust us. And that’s exactly what President Bush did. Not only did he ask for $700 billion dollars in taxpayers’ money:  he also wanted the treasury secretary to have absolute discretion over the spending of that money. No review of any decision; no accountability. Voters (and Democrats) were quite right to reject such an obvious power grab.

The original plan had been revised, but it isn’t clear to me whether yesterday’s plan adequately protected taxpayers. So maybe there were good reasons for House Republicans and many Democrats to vote Nay.

But I have one criticism to level at the Republicans. I think the excuse they offered for their No vote was indefensible.

Nancy Pelosi made a speech that was sharply critical of the Republicans. She said, essentially, what Barack Obama had said during the debate. The economic crisis didn’t arise overnight; the last eight years of Republican government created the conditions for it.

When the vote failed, and the bailout didn’t happen, Republicans blamed Pelosi. They whined, She made a partisan speech, and some of our members were offended enough to vote against the deal.

Grow up. The House isn’t a kindergarten sandbox.

There were two legitimate explanations for opposing the bill. First, maybe you decided it wasn’t good for the country. Second, maybe voters in your district were overwhelmingly opposed to it. No one can fault you for standing up for your country or for voters.

But to whine, “Nancy Pelosi said a bad thing” — that just doesn’t cut it. It’s mockworthy, as Representative Barney Frank immediately recognized.

p.s. I’m also not much impressed by John McCain’s statement yesterday. In two consecutive sentences he said (I paraphrase), “The failure of the bailout is the fault of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, who acted in a partisan fashion”; then, “Now is not the time to fix the blame, now is the time to fix the problem.”

The first sentence fixes the blame on Barack Obama. The second sentence says this isn’t the time to fix the blame.

You would never contradict your own values, would you, John?

Registered voters in swing states

Barack Obama is running the best-organized campaign that Democrats have seen for many, many years. One of the key indicators is the number of new voters registered.

Remember how close Florida was in 2000 (the infamous “hanging chad” election)? Sometimes, registering just a few thousand more voters can make a big difference in the electoral college totals.

Obama’s team doesn’t just craft impressive speeches. They also work hard on the elements of a campaign where there is no glory. The stuff that doesn’t make for great footage on CNN:  so, no matter how important it actually is, the public pays no attention to it.

Talking Points Memo has an informative post on voter registration in seven battleground states. For greater convenience, I’m going to summarize the key data points in a table. Here’s how TPM introduces the data:

In a development that could have a significant impact on the presidential race, the rise in registered Democrats has far outpaced Republican registration in many key swing states, giving Dems a clear registration advantage in a lot of them, while wiping away one-time GOP registration advantages in a couple others. …

Of the dozen or so most closely contested states in this election, seven of the secretaries’ offices keep tallies of their registration numbers, broken down by party.

Here’s the data from those seven states:

party increase in registration who has more registered voters
Nevada Republicans 55,563 Democrats by 76,053
Democrats 136,047
Florida Republicans 392 Democrats by 498,124
Democrats 130,632
Pennsylvania Republicans decrease of 205,441 Democrats by 1,136,387
Democrats 350,738
North Carolina Republicans 48,894 Democrats by 762,643
Democrats 132,194
Colorado Republicans decrease of 89,535 Republicans by 73,634
Democrats 13,403
New Mexico Republicans 20,587 Democrats by 202,590
Democrats 28,309
New Hampshire Republicans 1,338 Republicans by 4,891
Democrats 34,451

TPM interprets:

The upshot: Of those seven states, four have seen big spikes in Dem registration while GOP registration has gone up by significantly less or has dropped.

In a fifth state, the number of Dems has gone up by a modest amount while the number of Republicans has fallen sharply. Dems now lead in registration numbers in all five of those states, in some by significant margins.

Meanwhile, in the sixth and seventh states, Dem gains and GOP losses have effectively erased the GOP’s once sizable registration edge.

We can’t attribute all of these gains to Obama’s masterful ground organization. Remember that there was a tremendous amount of interest in the Democratic primaries, and a lot of voters registered in order to vote for Hillary Clinton. This is one of the benefits accruing to Obama from the long, dramatic Democratic primary. (I assume that most of the Clinton supporters will vote for Obama.)

Moreover, voters are very disappointed in the Republican party right now, so you wouldn’t expect to see a lot of voters newly registered as Republicans.

But, as I explained in a recent post, it is also true that Obama has placed a lot of emphasis on out-organizing the Republicans. So a lot of the credit goes to him and his highly-skilled, professional team. And all those volunteers working without receiving any time in the limelight.

In a very close election, the number of newly registered voters could provide the decisive margin between victory and defeat. Whether campaigns pay attention to this stuff is a measure of their professionalism.

Obama’s job interview

Two quick responses to last night’s debate between McCain and Obama. I’ll use a couple of live-blogging quotes from Andrew Sullivan to introduce my points.

What strikes me about Obama is his forcefulness. He doesn’t sound academic or pointy-headed. He seems decisive and executive.

That observation is key. If voters share Sullivan’s perception on that point, I think you’ll see an Obama bump in the polls.

Most voters would really, really like to vote for the Democratic candidate in this election. The Republican record these past eight years has been abysmal. The country is in a mess, and the economic crisis has underscored that reality in a very big way.

Voters want to vote Democrat, but one big question mark has persistently hung over Obama’s head:  Is this guy up to the job? That’s a gateway question for voters. It matters far more than any policy differences between the two candidates.

Therefore, the debate was primarily a job interview for Obama. If undecided voters perceived him as “forceful … decisive and executive,” I expect the polls will break in his direction.

Second point:

It strikes me as a mistake for McCain to end the debate on his commitment to staying in Iraq indefinitely. Obama’s emphasis on the broader global conflict and our broader responsibilities will reach more people.

Again, Sullivan underscores a key issue.

McCain wore the Iraq war all night. In part, Obama pinned it on him; in part, McCain volunteered to wear it. McCain wanted to talk about the surge, which I can understand. He also wanted to depict a timeline for withdrawal as a defeat; one which would have catastrophic consequences for American security.

That was a serious tactical mistake.

There were various points at which one candidate or the other “scored”, like a boxer landing a jab. That doesn’t matter nearly as much as the dominant impression the debate leaves in people’s minds. And the impression McCain left was, I view foreign policy through the lens of the war in Iraq.

Babbling incoherently

The real story tonight is the economic crisis, Paulson’s proposed $700 billion bailout, and McCain suspending his campaign in order to posture as some sort of action hero. I certainly want to write about that twisted tale, but tonight I don’t have time to do it justice.

The other story that’s roiling the blogosphere is less important, but much simpler to capture in a post. I refer to Sarah Palin’s interview with Katie Couric.

Palin babbles incoherently, to the point where I’m actually feeling sorry for her humiliation.

There’s another, equally bad excerpt from the Couric interview here.

It’s obvious what’s going on. Republican experts have been tutoring Palin for four weeks now, filling her head full of important facts. (Remember this post?) Palin can’t keep any of it straight in her head; it comes out in this interview like an audio tape that has been cut into strips and then spliced together again in a random order. Health care reform / job creation / tax relief / reduced spending —

trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today

— none of which has anything to do with the question Couric asked.

Actually this is an important story, because Palin could be “a heartbeat away from the presidency” as of January 20. This is John McCain’s pick for Vice President?! It’s utterly indefensible.

“Where is the Where?”

A stirring post on the McLean’s blog today, composed almost entirely of a speech given by Ken Dryden today:

From these first 13 days, it is clear that Mr. Harper has decided this election is about him. He’s saying to Canadians: I’m a leader.  I know what I want – I’m decisive – I deliver.  And that, he says, is leadership.  And in uncertain economic and global times, he says, Canadians need that and want that.  But what Mr. Harper confuses is the posture of leadership, and the substance of leadership.  Leadership is .  .  . leading – getting others to follow.  But critically, fundamentally, leadership is direction.  It is going  .  .  . somewhere.  The question is “where”?  Leadership matters because the “where” matters, and it’s the job of a Prime Minister to know better than anyone else what the best “where” is.  For the country.  For your life and my life.  That’s real leadership.

As a golfer, I can hit the ball a long way.  The problem is I can’t hit it in the right direction.  And a ball hit – decisively, competently – in the wrong direction is a ball that goes further and further and further into the woods.  History is filled with leaders who have competently, decisively gone in the wrong direction with disastrous results.

Where is Mr. Harper’s “where”?

He doesn’t seem to want to talk about that.  In making this election all about him, he is doing his best to make this election about nothing.  It’s his “Seinfeld campaign.”  But in 2008, how can that be?  This is a time when the cost of carbon economically and environmentally is forcing the world’s countries to re-imagine the future.  To reward the constructive and punish the destructive.  To act.  To change.  To create the hard-won possibilities to compete in the economy ahead.

The full speech is one of the most eloquent I’ve heard coming out of the Canadian political front of late, which is all the more impressive because Mr. Dryden is best known in Canada for being a Montreal Canadiens goaltender. As a Liberal MP, though, he’s continued in the path he laid out for himself as one of the truly intellectual athletes out there, and he’s constantly used the spotlight well. The speech is well worth the read.

It would appear that this rant encapsulates one of the most prominent aspects of the ongoing election in Canada. It has broken down into a mediafest, with parties basing their entire platforms on one-liners. With the Conservatives, Harper is the epitome of “Leadership”. For the Liberals, it’s the “Green Shift”. The NDP, too, has had reasonable success at rebuilding their image of late with a new campaign stating “We Need a New Kind of Strong”. Of the so-called “major parties”, only the Bloc Quebecois and Green Party have been relatively innocuous on the media front — and neither is really a “power house” to begin with.

But amidst the furious media frenzy, a lot is being lost, and that’s precisely what Dryden’s trying to draw attention to. Harper may put forth the notion that he’s confident and powerful, but the question is where are we going? Though the marketing for each party is great, the same question seems to stun each leader when confronted with the need for an actual plan.

The irony is, neither Dryden nor any of his Liberal compatriots seem to be offering anything more substantial than Harper, really. Dion’s focus on the environment rings more of “ploy” than anything else, and beyond the one idea of fixing the environment — hardly an original notion — the Liberals seem every bit as hesitant to push a real agenda as the other parties. What it boils down to is that the Conservatives believe in minimalist government, the Liberals are scrambling to find any sort of image, the NDP’s union ideals lost any real meaning as minimum wage climbed as high as $8.75, and the Bloc are founded on radical Quebec seperatist ideals. Only the Green Party seems to have an established plan for governance, and even they are working largey from a theoretical framework. Most people point out (correctly) that the idealistic suggestions made by the Greens will have to be grounded eventually, regardless of whether they are genuinely as good as they would have Canadians believe.

The heavy debating has yet to get underway. Surely the leaders will begin to push their platforms a bit more when the big arguments get rolling. But thus far, this is looking like the least substantial election in a long time.

Racing against the race factor

This week, there has been considerable back-and-forth over the race factor in the presidential campaign:  i.e., whether some voters (even Democratic voters) will refuse to vote for a black candidate.

Everyone accepts the fact that there are racists out there. Next you have to ask how many of the racists won’t vote, and how many would never vote for a Democrat under any circumstances. The deep south, for example, is already solidly Republican.

Moreover, white racism will be offset, to some extent, by black voters who are very enthusiastic about Obama’s candidacy. African Americans may turn out to the polls in larger numbers than they have in past elections, and vote overwhelmingly Democrat.

In any event, researchers are searching for a way to measure the impact of the race factor. John Judis discusses one such effort, which I will summarize in the form of a table:

demographic group
– or –
statement testing views on race
% of white Democrats who agree with statement % who will vote for Obama
white Democrats 71%
white Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton 59%
“Italians, Irish, Jews and other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up; blacks should do the same without special favors.” 42% 61%
“It’s really a matter of some people just not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder, they could just be as well off as whites.” 28% 56%
“Generations of slavery have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.” 28% disagree 61%

It’s hard for me to believe that 28% of respondents disagreed with that last statement, but anyhow ….

What emerges from the data is this:  respondents who have less progressive views on race are less likely to vote for Barack Obama. The first row, showing that 71% of white Democrats support Obama, functions as our baseline. The bottom three rows are all significantly lower than the baseline percentage.

It’s a kind of “Well, duh!” result — it shows only what you would expect to find.

The data also suggests a correlation between what I’m calling less progressive views on race and support for Hillary Clinton during the primaries. (Compare row one, 71%, with row two, 59%. Row two jibes instead with the next three rows — 61%, 56%, 61%.)

Again I say, “Well, duh!” At least in the Appalachian region, there was clear evidence that a significant percentage of white Democrats preferred Hillary in part due to racism.

Is John McCain a Republican?


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