Negative Interest

Archive for October 2011

A world without the Tea Party?

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Dave Weigel’s Slate column today imagines an alternate history where Rick Santelli never took to the floor of the CME Group and called for a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest the Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan. I just find it impossible to consider in this day and age that any president could govern from the left of center without sparking a backlash from the right. It happened with Johnson, it happened with Carter, it happened with Clinton, and I think a lot of people fooled themselves into thinking that Obama’s victory in 2008 marked the “death of conservatism.”

In Weigel’s alternative universe, Democrats are able to pass their cap and trade bill. Consider me unconvinced. The major thing that would remain unchanged in this world without an entity known as the Tea Party is the defining story of the first Obama term – it’s the filibuster, stupid. Were Democrats spooked by Tea Party opposition? Sure, but that didn’t stop them from passing health care reform or financial reform. Cap and trade died, as all things seem to die these days, because it couldn’t reach 60 votes in the Senate.

There is a reasonable contention that fear of a primary challenge made some Senators (like Lindsay Graham) turn from supporters to opponents of cap and trade. But there were other factors at play, as the New York Times explored in 2010:

Why did cap and trade die? The short answer is that it was done in by the weak economy, the Wall Street meltdown, determined industry opposition and its own complexity.

The idea began as a middle-of-the-road Republican plan to unleash the market to reduce power plant pollution and spur innovation. But when lawmakers tried to apply the concept to the far more pervasive problem of carbon dioxide emissions, it ran into gale-force opposition from the oil industry, conservative groups that portrayed it as an economy-killing tax and lawmakers terrified that it would become a bonanza for Wall Street traders and Enron-style manipulators.

“Economywide cap and trade died of what amounts to natural causes in Washington,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, who has been promoting the idea for more than two decades. “The term itself became too polarizing and too paralyzing in the effort to win over conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans to try to do something about climate change and our oil dependency.”

Cap and trade, of course, has its origins in the Republican Party, when, under George H.W. Bush, it was implemented to combat acid rain. So did the individual mandate, supported by both the Heritage Foundation and Newt Gingrich. But you don’t have to look to the Tea Party to explain why Republicans supported both of those things in the early 1990s and oppose them now.

Barack Obama took office with huge approval ratings and a message that the Republican Party and traditional partisan politics had led the country into a disaster. Republicans made a strategical decision to force Obama, whenever possible, to try to pass his agenda through partisan channels, through the ugly process of political deal-making, to make everything a bare-knuckle fight. This helped undermine Obama’s image as a post-partisan healer of national wounds, as a new kind of politician, as a beacon of “hope” and “change.” Obama came into office promising to seek bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems, and Republicans found that the easiest way to undermine him was to force him to pass every major piece of legislation along party lines. The Tea Party provided Republicans with a useful means through which to channel opposition to Obama, but they didn’t really need that excuse.


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October 31, 2011 at 10:29 pm

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Oh boy

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From a fairly weird new 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair survey:

Only 43% of Democrats would choose FDR?

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October 31, 2011 at 9:37 pm

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Herman Cain’s position on student loans

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October 31, 2011 at 8:55 pm

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Seth Masket on Westen

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Another take on the Drew Westen piece from political scientist Seth Masket, who addresses the same “‘read’ the emotions of the electorate” paragraph that I did:

This is classic post hoc reasoning that doesn’t even belong in an undergraduate essay in an intro-level class, no less on the Sunday op/ed pages. The reasoning goes: Mondale ran, Mondale lost, therefore Mondale was lacking some important qualities [insert whatever qualities you like in people]. One major factor that is being ignored here, of course, is the economy. Mondale ran against a popular incumbent during an enormous economic boom. Are we to believe that Bill Clinton would have defeated Reagan in 1984?

Another point: Did Nixon “read the emotions of the electorate” in 1968? Did he “articulate a vision and a set of values”? Or did he just happen to run in a year when the incumbent party’s candidate was suffering from his association with a slowing economy and a deeply unpopular war?

Yet another point: Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000! No, that certainly doesn’t make him president, but nor does it demonstrate that the voters rejected him due to his purported inabilities to read emotions or articulate visions.

Still another point: Yes, Ronald Reagan possessed some excellent public speaking skills, but that didn’t help him when the economy was floundering during his first term. His approval ratings dropped into the 30s in 1983. Maybe in all the economic turmoil, he briefly forgot how to read emotions and articulate visions.

Indeed. With Jonathan Bernstein writing for the Washington Post and John Sides and Monkey Cage company recently added to the American Prospect, I’d say it’s about time somebody gave this guy a bigger platform.

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October 31, 2011 at 8:25 pm

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The Mad Hatter

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This is one of the craziest things I’ve read all week, on a former Toronto birthday party venue called The Mad Hatter. Some choice quotes:

Former partygoers recall those afternoons as replete with bodily endangerment, ritual humiliation and untold health-code violations, all presided over by a bunch of vaguely sociopathic teenagers. They were the most outrageous, most envied, most startlingly fun birthday parties a generation of kids ever attended.

“It was raw brick, it was unfinished foam. And parents were never allowed down there, right? Which is crazy. Like, please drop off your children and no, you can’t actually come into the premises to even look around.”—Matt Brown, 35

“When the birthday cake came, they smashed it in my face and I didn’t know that was going to happen. It sucked. It really sucked. It just made me feel stupid.”—Efrim Menuck (Godspeed You Black Emperor!/Thee Silver Mt. Zion), 41

“The hot-dog room was my nightmare. There was just a table and they’d throw the food down like we were animals, and then you’d get to throw it at each other. All of the condiments, too. There was no method.”—Miriam Verberg, 34

“In retrospect, I ‘believe how totally dangerous they were—the shopping-cart bumper cars. One person would push a shopping cart while another kid sat in it…very treacherous. At my party we just went through a random door—I don’t think we were being supervised by anyone—and we ended up in the mall’s underground parking lot, so we were smashing into each other and smashing into cars.”—Erin Oke

“You wonder, ‘Could that really have been what it was like?’ I think when you reach the age of 16, you begin to realize that it was just petrifyingly dangerous. It should not have legally existed for as long as it did. Like, how long did it exist? Two decades? That makes literally no sense to me. I’m stunned nobody was killed. I’m stunned no one was sued.”—Matt Brown

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October 31, 2011 at 8:03 pm

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Should kids be allowed to vote?

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Kevin Drum on the “Kids Vote” initiative:

You can count me among the vast throng that thinks, in general, that this is a silly question. Kids can’t vote for the same reason they can’t do lots of things: because millions of years of human history informs us that children aren’t capable of looking out for themselves. They need adult supervision. We make the same judgment toward others who are deemed unable to look after themselves — the mentally ill, elderly people suffering from dementia, etc. — so this is hardly something unique to children.

The mentally ill and elderly people suffering from dementia are not denied the right to vote. Needing adult supervision is not the minimum requirement for disenfranchising an individual. Even most felons can vote. Opponents of lowering (or abolishing) the voting age should choose a different line of argument than the one presented by Drum.

For the record, I’m with Jonathan Bernstein when he writes:

I’m at this point in favor of a lower voting age, and haven’t heard a winning argument against going down somewhere around 14 give or take a couple of years; I’m intrigued, but not entirely sold, on vote-from-birth. And I’d either abolish completely the minimum age for holding office or set it at the voting age.

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October 31, 2011 at 7:42 pm

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Someone at the Times has it in for political scientists

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What other explanation could there be for running yet another column by Drew Westen, sending poor Jonathan Bernstein and John Sides into fits of despair? Bernstein and Sides cover most of the not-so-good stuff (Bernstein corrects basic facts about the Affordable Care Act timeline and Sides corrects facts about voting, partisan identities, and public opinion), but it takes a village to fully correct the nonsense Westen continues to peddle.

Here is Westen (a psychologist) explaining the psychology behind modern conservatism:

Conservatism is by its nature concerned with preserving tradition, and with tradition comes a greater emphasis on obedience and hierarchy. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” rolls off the lips of many of my fellow Georgians, but it’s not among the top proverbs in Manhattan. Because of their attitude toward authority and hierarchy, Republicans in Congress are more likely to follow their leaders (although the tea in the Tea Party has added some libertarian spices for which some Republican leaders are still trying to develop a taste). This aptitude for synchronized swimming can lead to Olympic victories, but also to Pyrrhic ones.

Sides handles the “more likely to follow their leaders” claim (“Democrats in Congress are as unified if not more unified than Republicans in Congress.  See here or here“). But is Westen really willing to claim that the defining hallmarks of conservatism at this point are obedience to authority and hierarchy? The Republican Party is in the midst of a three-year tantrum aimed against authority. You have Kathleen Parker, a non-smoker, celebrating Herman Cain’s smoking ad as a rebellion against regulatory bureaucracy and the nanny state. Michele Bachmann introducing the “Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act.” Mitt Romney and Rick Perry’s greatest respective weaknesses in the GOP primary come from instituting a mandate to purchase health insurance and instituting a mandate for girls to receive the HPV vaccine.

Republicans aren’t even necessarily obedient to their own leaders. 54 House Republicans bucked GOP leadership to vote against the continuing resolution in March. 48 Republicans voted against leadership on the September continuing resolution because it adhered to the spending agreement already approved during debt-ceiling negotiations and not the Paul Ryan budget. There is obvious tension between the insurgent crowd and the leadership in the House. If Republicans were in a position to pass legislation without the threat of a filibuster or a veto, those tensions would have a more obvious effect on the final make up of legislation.

Westen makes some other curiously sweeping claims. There’s this, for instance:

It is deeply ironic that the Republican Party, long the party of privilege, has become the party that champions the view that anyone — from an exterminator (Tom DeLay, former House majority leader) to the owner of a pizza joint (Bobby Schilling, freshman congressman from Illinois) — has what it takes to run a country.

I thought that could use a little revising. Here goes:

It is deeply ironic that the Republican Party, long the party of business, has become the party that champions the view that anyone — from a former business owner (Tom DeLay, former House majority leader) to a former business owner (Bobby Schilling, freshman congressman from Illinois) — has what it takes to run a country.

That reads a bit more smoothly, doesn’t it? Westen also plays the “Democrats are too focused on intellect” card:

Democrats, in contrast, are too likely to view intellect as both necessary (which it is) and sufficient (which it is not) for high office. They have repeatedly presented the American people with candidates — Hubert H. Humphrey, Walter F. Mondale, Michael S. Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry — with more than enough gray matter to be the world’s chief executive but not enough of the other skills that matter to the American people.

Bill Clinton famously reinvented the Democratic playbook, a “New Democrat” who could correct the failures of the Carter/Mondale/Dukakis mold of out-of-touch liberals. He could, as Westen puts it, “‘read’ the emotions of the electorate and speak to those emotions in a compelling way.” But let’s look at the vote tallies. Bill Clinton won the election with just 43% of the vote. Of the five candidates Westen mentioned – five candidates with “not enough of the other skills that matter to the American people” – only Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale received less than 43% of the vote (Humphrey with 42.7% and Mondale with 40.6%). Dukakis, the epitome of a weak Democratic candidate, received 45.7% of the vote. Al Gore, the epitome of technocratic neoliberalism, received 48.4%. John Kerry, the epitome of effete, elite Northeastern liberalism, received 48.3% of the vote.

Of course, anyone with a familiarity with political science research (or anyone who regularly reads Bernstein or Sides) knows that their are other factors determining the outcomes of presidential elections besides a politician’s ability to “‘read’ the electorate” and “the ability to articulate a vision and a set of values.” I wish the New York Times would leave its political coverage with more political science analysis and less psychoanalysis.

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October 31, 2011 at 6:52 pm

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