Pretty please

A new convention in (old) Jersey politics.

My parents taught me and my siblings the card game Happy Families with the rule that if you forget to say “please” asking for a card, you revoke and lose your turn.

The rule now applies to elections in Jersey:

I’m not going to read much into this. Politicians are chameleons and any of the current crop of US Presidential hopefuls, with the possible exceptions of Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich, would adapt to the meme easily enough. It’s still a pleasing convention that helps keep the public discourse civilised, and reminds candidates that it’s a favour they are asking of us.

There are some well-known candidates for electoral office whom it’s hard to imagine saying “please”: Julius Caesar, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, V.I. Lenin, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler come to mind. (Spot the odd man out; answer below the jump.) Could you amend this 1932 poster

to read I don’t think so. Anything that makes life a bit more difficult for such men is worth it.

Continue reading “Pretty please”

New Model, Old Coalition

Fervent Obama supporters face a basic problem that we’ve yet to come to terms with: we were fervent about different things. We were a standard political coalition that was fooled into thinking ourselves a movement.

What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian? Someone who knocks on your door for no particular reason.

I thought of that joke when reading James’ recent comment alluding to his (excellent) post from 2008 about how Obama’s grassroots movement was like the New Model Army. In both cases the movement’s unprecedented breadth and power, once unleashed, was fearsome in battle—but one couldn’t ride that Army into power and expect anything less than revolution. As James put it: “What [Obama] won’t be able to do is shelve his sweeping promises and govern from the technocratic, establishment centre like Bill Clinton. He will have to be a great reforming president or fail.”

I think this is half right, in the way the joke implies. Obama for America had the tone of a movement: it relied on faith- and hope-based rather than instrumentalist motivations, adopted the cadences of the Civil Rights movement (much against Obama’s own personal inclinations), built a pretty successful ethos of fellowship and organization for their own sakes, and yes, could be very moralistic. But while the movement’s tone expressed zealotry, its purpose had no trace of Puritan precision.

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On Wisconsin!

On Tuesday I’ll drive from Chicago up to Sauk City, Wisconsin, to do voter protection, that is, pollwatching while holding a law degree.  Wisconsin historically has offered exceptionally inclusive voter access, including in-precinct same-day registration.  But one of the many delightful consequences of the Republican takeover of the state is a photo-i.d. law which isn’t supposed to take effect til the first of the year but is unclear enough to make for messy election days–precisely what the sponsors intended.  So I’ll go up there and do what I can to make sure everybody can vote, and hope that the selfsame “everybody” will throw the anti-collective-bargaining rascals out.

(Last weekend at the Bughouse Square debates–the Newberry Library’s annual effort to restore the fine art of soapbox speaking–the central topic was public-sector collective bargaining.   The young man speaking in opposition wore a Solidarity t-shirt as he argued that “public employee collective bargaining inserts needless conflict between citizen and citizen.”  Does he realize that Solidarity was a public-sector union?)

I’m going to Wisconsin because it’s a political situation about which I can do something–contra the whole debt-ceiling mess, about which I can do absolutely nothing.  I disagree with my colleagues on the left who think the President got backed into a corner on the debt ceiling because he’s weak.  He got backed into a corner because he’s actually trying to govern and the people he’s dealing with are not.

When the President was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, skeptics wondered what he could possibly have done to deserve it.  It seemed pretty straightforward to me: his election meant the restoration of constitutional government in the world’s only superpower.  What could be more essential to peace?

Unfortunately, the Constitution had been damaged more than most of us realized, and merely electing a President didn’t guarantee its restoration–not when anti-government idealogues control the legislature and the judiciary.   All the finger-pointing on the left ignores the extent to which the right is engaging in the deliberate destruction of our governmental system.

The idea that people who hate government are controlling ours is actually more frightening than the notion that the President somehow betrayed us by averting a default.  The scary thing is, he did as much as he could.

One candidate’s progressive economic plan

One candidate’s populist response to the economic crisis…..

In response to economic pain in the heartland, which candidate proposed

…support for a federal job training program, safeguards for collective bargaining, a higher minimum wage, and better protection for people who lost their jobs or could not afford adequate medical care.**

Which candidate’s record included:

EDUCATION…established a new university, 14 junior colleges, 15 trade schools and raised teachers’ salaries.
INDUSTRY…100,000 new jobs. Highest total employment and lowest unemployment in state’s history… .
ROADBUILDING…invested over $549 million in the greatest 4 year roadbuilding performance in [state] history —
without any hint of graft corruption or swindles.
WELFARE…record high help to the aged, the handicapped, mentally and physically ill… .
AGRICULTURE…greatly increased agricultural research, land fertilization, crop yield, and farm income.
LABOR Issued executive order incorporating minimum union wage rates in all state contracts. Increased Workmen’s and Unemployment Compensation benefits 37%. Promoted and passed legislation that reduced firemen’s work week… and substantially increased retirement pensions.

Continue reading “One candidate’s progressive economic plan”

Scientifically worthless but encouraging turnout data

Lots of voters at my student/yuppie polling place this morning.

When I go to my polling station on San Vicente Avenue in Brentwood (a largely yuppie-and-student area) I usually feel that I should whisper my name to the person checking voters in, so as not to disturb the reverent silence. This morning, there was a crowd, and the officials told me they were way ahead of any normal pace.

If this is just a Prop. 19 effect, maybe the measure has a chance after all. If it’s more general – if Democrats nationally have decided to wake up and smell the tea – then maybe I’m reporting some good news.

Predictions-are-dangerous-especially-about-the-future Dep’t

The polling for Tuesday looks grim, and it’s probably right. But it might be wrong. So brace yourself for a bad night, but don’t despair.

It is a wise saying of that wily bureaucrat Samuel Pepys that “we should be most slow to believe what we most wish should be true.”

Consequently, I’m not putting much stock in the theory that the under-sampling of cellphone-only users (who tend to skew young, and therefore Democratic) will pull our chestnuts out of the fire on Tuesday. It seems to me that, in the House at least, the most likely outcome is a pretty bad stomping. Still, the cellphone bias is there. Moreover, we don’t actually know that the younger voters who flocked to the polls in ’08 will stay home in droves this year, but most of them are excluded by “likely voter” models. And it looks as if the Dems kept some powder dry for a last-minute push, whose effects even current polling misses.
So a half-decent outcome would be a surprise, but not a complete shock. With InTrade offering an effective 12:1 for anyone willing to bet on the Dems holding the House, a small flutter wouldn’t be utterly imprudent.

But of course guessing outcomes is purely recreational activity; the work between now and Tuesday is turning out the vote. If – as likely – the Republicans win, it will be because Democrats don’t vote. So it’s really up to us.

Let’s Get Behind Chris Coons

Chris Coons isn’t just the Democratic nominee for US Senate in Delaware; he’s a superb candidate in his own right, and a great way to defeat the Tea Party. Let’s help him out.

In Delaware, the winner is….

….wingnut right-wing crazy Christine O’Donnell, fresh from endorsements by Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint, whose most high-profile political position is her suggestion that the government should ban masturbation.  (UPDATE: a couple of readers object to this, pointing out that she has never explicitly said this.  Okay; they have a point.  So: she has spoken out against masturbation and said “abstinence is not enough”; she said that age-appropriate sex education would teach children that strangers with candy are “not so creepy”; she helped market The Passion of the Christ; she thinks that stem cell research is human cloning; and she repeatedly made anti-gay slurs against Castle and questioned his sexuality.  That’s bad enough).

In this election cycle, one GOP Senate nominee (Joe Miller) thinks unemployment insurance is unconstitutional; another thinks that major parts of the Civil Rights Act are unconstitutional (Rand Paul); and a third thinks that citizens should resort to “Second Amendment remedies” if they don’t like the federal government and sponsored a bill based upon the ideas of L. Ron Hubbard (Sharron Angle).  And they all are mainstream in comparison to Christine O’Donnell.

Fortunately for the country, Delaware is still a blue state, and the Democrats have an outstanding candidate: New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, about whom I have blogged before.  I’ve known him for 20 years.  He is extremely intelligent, dynamic, and committed to public service.  (He also has a wicked sense of humor that he will probably keep concealed on the campaign trail, unfortunately).

When he announced for this race, no one gave Chris much of a chance; Mike Castle has it in the bag, they said.  But they didn’t count on the GOP’s immolation at the hands of its Frankenstein Tea Party. 

Chris hasn’t gotten much help from the national Democratic Party.  That will change, of course, but we should make sure we don’t blow this great opportunity to get a great Senator.  Help out Chris here.

The parties and the midterms: numbers still matter, not just zeal.

Republicans still outdo Democrats in voter enthusiasm. But that’s still largely offset by the fact that there are fewer of them overall.

A couple of months ago, I noted (based on a Research 2000/Daily Kos poll) that although Republicans were more likely to turn out in the midterms, that was balanced by the fact that there were fewer Republicans than Democrats.  Multiply likelihood of voting by number of partisans, and the GOP advantage was only one point.

That’s still the case.  According to the Gallup/USA Today poll—not to be compared to the other one, which had different questions and a different sample; I’m just making a general point—69 percent of Republican voters are enthusiastic about voting, only 57 percent of Democrats.  (I get those numbers from Nate Silver, who I assume subscribes to a fuller version of the Gallup poll than USA Today is showing.) But only 28 percent of the sample self-identify as Republicans; 32 percent are Democrats.  If we assume that only enthusiasts will vote and multiply it out, the poll predicts that Republicans will send 19 percent of registered voters to the polls in November—and Democrats, 18 percent.

Nate argues that what matters is the ratio of turnout levels, not the cardinal gap.  True. But in using for his example a hypothetical electorate of “50 Republicans and 50 Democrats,” he obscures a crucial point. Democrats have more trouble motivating our base because it’s less homogeneous, and its less homogeneous because the Democratic party is larger. We don’t need to have the same intensity that they have in order to win.  Conversely, the Democrats’ Party ID has gone down as our intensity has gone up.  For better or for worse, we’re becoming somewhat more like the other guys.

Again, a one-point disadvantage is nothing to crow about.  Independents are still very wobbly.  And I wish the party ID gap were even larger (though it has been in some other recent polls).  This will be a very, very tough election.  But let’s not panic for the wrong reasons.  The Republicans won’t win by bringing to the picnic more crabapples than we have apples.

Bedwetting

A Democratic pro gives advice on the November elections:

No bed-wetting. This will be a tough election for our party and for many Republican incumbents as well. Instead of fearing what may happen, let’s prove that we have more than just the brains to govern — that we have the guts to govern. Let’s fight like hell, not because we want to preserve our status, but because we sincerely believe too many everyday Americans will continue to lose if Republicans and special interests win.

What is encouraging is that this is not coming from Zasloff, Sullivan, Drum, Klein, Yglesias, Chait or any other fine citizen of Blue Blogistan, but Obama’s campaign wizard David Plouffe.

Now if it were President Obama or Senator Reid in that beer commercial