Tag Archives: Michael Barone

Searching For The Spanish Word For “Optics…”

Maureen Dowd in NYT:

Her critics used to paint her as a scary Marxist. Now they cast her as a spoiled princess.

During the campaign, she was caricatured on the cover of The New Yorker as a fist-bumping, gun-toting Black Panther. Now she’s mocked by a New York Daily News blogger as a jet-setting, free-spending Marie Antoinette. (On Spain’s Costa del Sol with Sasha on her husband’s 49th birthday, she did, in effect, say let him eat cake — alone.)

Michelle Obama is the most popular figure in the administration, but last week she had her first brush with getting brushed back in the press.

Some of the women anchoring news shows on MSNBC debated whether the first lady was being “mean” to her husband by deserting him on his birthday for a girls’ getaway to Spain, and whether it was sort of sad, as one put it, that the president, drowning in troubles, had to go to Chicago to find friends (including Oprah) to celebrate with.

Andrea Tantaros, a Fox contributor and former Republican operative, wrote a harsh Daily News blog post calling the first lady a “material girl” for going on a glitzy vacation at a luxury resort in Marbella with a cavalcade of Secret Service agents, friends, children and staff, even as “most of the country is pinching pennies and downsizing summer sojourns — or forgoing them altogether.”

In politics and pop culture, optics are all. And Michelle’s optics sent a message that likely made some in the White House and the Democratic Party wince.

Mickey Kaus:

So Michelle Obama vacations in Spain with her daughter and an expensive posse, leaving her husband alone on his birthday and undermining his party’s political chances (bad recession ‘optics’). This is the sort of story on which I suspect there are three levels of perception:

1. Unsophisticated: Jeez, they must have had some kind of fight. She’s pissed! This is a big ‘screw you.’

2. Sophisticated and well informed: At their level everyone is too smart and experienced to let any kind of spat affect state affairs. These things get planned out well ahead of time by staff. Only the unsophisticated jump to conclusions on the basis of crude external appearances.

3. Real Insider: Jeez, they must have had some kind of fight. She’s pissed! This is a big ‘screw you.’

Ed Morrissey:

Hey, who wouldn’t want a quarter-million-dollar, taxpayer-paid Spanish vacation? Some people just feel compelled to rain on parades, however, and the First Lady’s extravagant Spanish holiday provides a pretty big target. It’s no surprise to see a Republican strategist blast the Obamas for playing Marie Antoinette by spending almost $250,000 on a vacation outside of the US, but it’s not just Republicans scratching their heads at the “tone deaf” nature of such a high-profile outing during economic stagnation.

Michael Barone at The Examiner:

I must admit I was puzzled to learn that the First Lady was headed to Marbella this time of year. Isn’t it awfully hot on the Mediterranean in August? I gather that the hotel she and friends are staying at is isolated and luxurious, but Marbella itself — at least when I drove quickly through it in the summer of 1997 — is pretty tacky, with signs (“BANGERS AND MASH” “MAN U ON CABLE”) suggesting it’s full of downscale British tourists.

Jeannie DeAngelis:

Michelle having made what most would agree to be the wrong choice about where to be on her husband’s 49th birthday seems to be a family trait.  Maybe the First Lady was merely emulating a pattern Barack has repeatedly set forth as precedent:  Never be where you should be.  Exercise iconoclast attitudes and stun the world by doing the inappropriate

Take for instance the Spain-over-birthday attitude the President exhibited by observing a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House in lieu of attending Ground Zero ceremonies in New York City on September 11, 2009, choosing to send Joe Biden in his stead.

Didn’t Barack Obama also spend free time vacationing, golfing, going to baseball games and entertaining a Beatle instead of addressing the crisis of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico? A few days after the Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion, instead of meeting with BP executives, Obama chose to eat barbeque with Michelle in Ashville, NC

Obama campaigned for Senate Majority leader Harry Reid in Las Vegas, not far from a southern border state under siege. The President, who flew to Copenhagen to pick up an unearned Nobel Peace Prize, chose to prosecute Arizona even before personally assessing the illegal war on the border Arizonans struggle against daily.

Suddenly Michelle’s ill-timed trip to Marbella pales in comparison.

Megan McArdle:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Michelle Obama vacationing in Spain; they have the money, so why not?  But I agree with Doug Mataconis that, while there’s nothing actually wrong with it, it’s really quite unbelievably politically stupid.  When we’re in the middle of the worst recession in living memory, it’s not a good idea to take a luxury vacation that most of your countrymen could never possibly afford in the best of times, at considerable taxpayer expense for the security, in a foreign country.  Whether or not people should resent it, they will, and his party’s already in big enough trouble without reinforcing the Red State sense that this administration is full of out-of-touch elites.  I’m astonished that Obama’s advisors gave this trip the green light.

Nick Gillespie at Reason:

Sure, the First Lady’s vacation is at most a symbolic activity (symbolic of what, exactly, is unclear, especially because the State Department had to hustle to remove warnings from its website that “racist prejudices could lead to the arrest of Afro-Americans who travel to Spain” before Mrs. Obama touched down). But the fact is that all politics is symbolic and pretty much any way you cut it, this trip is a symbol that something is rotten in DC and especially among the political class.

Way, way back in 2004, when the future was brighter than a brand-spanking new tube of Gleem toothpaste, the accomplished doctor-wife of insurgent candidate Howard Dean got it right when she pulled a Dennis Thatcher and refused to be a public player in her spouse’s campaign. That gesture of refusal took us back to the thrilling days of yore, when monarchs were deposed and limited-government, small-R republicanism was first created, a moment when originally stingy-with-the-public-purse-strings folks like Oliver Cromwell pledged not to live like kings on the public teat (boy, did that ever go wrong). Cromwell and his New Model Army, after all, had taken down a ruler who flaunted his tax-enabled excess via a court that was truly out of control (sadly, it took but a few years for Cromwell to get on that bandwagon himself). But there, for a brief, shining moment, was an idea that rulers should live like the people they govern because, after all, they weren’t any different. And the last thing you wanted was a partner who ran up the credit cards like Mary Todd Lincoln or sniffed about letting the little people eat cake.

Lynn Sweet at Politics Daily:

Michelle Obama returned to Washington on Sunday from five days on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, taking a mother-daughter trip with Sasha, 9, that stirred controversy. A White House source told me, however, that Mrs. Obama traveled to Spain to help a grieving friend deal with the death of her father.

[…]

One of the women is a longtime Obama friend, Anita Blanchard, an obstetrician who delivered Sasha and big sister Malia, 12. Her husband is Marty Nesbitt, a close Obama friend and treasurer of Obama’s presidential campaign fund.
A White House source told me the Mrs. Obama was not able to attend the funeral for Blanchard’s father at the beginning of July. Blanchard, who was taking her daughter on a promised trip to Spain, asked the first lady and Sasha to come to Spain with her. (Malia is at overnight camp.) “She felt it was important as a dear friend to do this,” I was told.
Mrs. Obama and her friends paid for their hotel rooms and other personal expenses. All first ladies, however, get 24-hour security and transportation on military aircraft. When Mrs. Obama flies on personal business, she pays what amounts to a first-class fare, but taxpayers pick up most of the overhead costs for the plane and security.
A reason Mrs. Obama stayed at the ritzy Villa Padierna in Marbella was security, I was told. Agents were able to secure the lush resort and a nearby beach.
UPDATE: Hanna Rosin and Ann Friedman at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #2: Byron York at The Washington Examiner

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The Day After The Primaries And We’re In The Bathroom

Ben Smith at Politico:

A senior White House official just called me with a very pointed message for the administration’s sometime allies in organized labor, who invested heavily in beating Blanche Lincoln, Obama’s candidate, in Arkansas.

“Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise,” the official said. “If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November.”

Lincoln relied heavily both on Obama’s endorsement, which she advertised relentlessly on radio and in the mail, and on the backing of former President Bill Clinton, who backed her to the hilt.

Lincoln foe Bill Halter had the unstinting support of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME and other major unions. And labor officials Tuesday evening were already working to spin the narrow loss of their candidate, Bill Halter, as a moral victory, but the cost in money and in the goodwill of the White House may be a steep price to pay for a near miss.

Marc Ambinder:

Did President Obama agree with the senior White House officials who expressed significant frustration to Ben Smith and me about labor’s $10 million decision to try and beat Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. Here’s what Robert Gibbs said in today’s briefing.  See the bolded portion. Seems the answer is: kinda of, yes.

Robert, back to Arkansas for just a second.  A senior White House official called reporters last night and said after the results were known, “Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet in a pointless exercise.” Is it the official word from the White House on the results of the Arkansas primary?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t think that the President would necessarily agree with that characterization made by somebody here.  I think we would certainly agree that we are likely to have very close elections in very many places throughout the country in November.  And while the President might not have agreed with the exact characterization, I think that whether or not that money might have been better spent in the fall on closer elections between somebody — between people who cared about an agenda that benefited working families and those that didn’t, that money might come in more handy then.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

Big Labor cost Lincoln a lot of time and money, but it also facilitated the message that she’s an independent advocate of Arkansas’ interest in Congress. It allowed her to portray herself as a foe of special interests. It elicited Bill Clinton’s message speaking at a rally for Lincoln that Lincoln used in her television advertisements: “This is about using you and manipulating your votes.” He ought to know.

An Obama administration honcho — I would guess Rahm Emanuel — called Ben Smith last night to make this pointed observation: “Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise,” the honcho said. “If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November.”

Whatever the merits of the first part of the observation, I doubt that money is going to be much of a problem for Democrats in November. And the hefty gentleman featured in the Times photograph remains available for deployment elsewhere.

AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale responded to the Obama administration honcho’s statement with the observation that “labor isn’t an arm of the Democratic Party.” It may not be the arm; it’s more like the fist.

Michael Barone at The Washington Examiner:

Blanche Lincoln’s (narrow) victory leaves the unions’ strategy in ruins. They can’t credibly threaten any Democratic incumbent who opposes card check with political defeat. Some, in states less anti-union than Arkansas, might be vulnerable to a challenge like Halter’s; but others won’t. And in some states or districts there won’t be an opportunistic challenger like Halter willing to go along with the strategy and well enough established to be a serious primary challenger. Give the unions credit for daring, and for putting their money (or the money of their members) on the line. They’re playing for high stakes—for the ability to plunder the private sector for dues money as they have successfully plundered the public sector (i.e., taxpayers) for dues money in states with strong public employee unions like New York, New Jersey and California. They just came up a little bit short.

Obviously this is a case of a divergence of interest between the unions (which want to deter any Democrat from opposing card check) and the Obama administration political strategists (who want to maximize the number of Democrats elected no matter what their position on substantive issues). Which brings to mind the old saying about honor among thieves. When you’re trying, in different ways, to plunder a once productive private sector economy, you won’t always agree on how to do so. As you watch the videotape of Blanche Lincoln’s rather shrewd victory speech, you might want to keep that in mind.

I simply refuse to see how it was a bad decision to support Halter. Lincoln is just a horrible candidate who is most likely going to lose in November anyway, was notoriously and openly hostile to just about everything important to the Democratic base, and the netroots were able to find a good solid candidate to attempt to primary her. If ever there was a case to primary someone, this was it- there was quite literally nothing to lose and everything to gain.

And Halter came very, very close to beating her. I just fail to see why anyone should be embarrassed, or feel foolish or demoralized. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you always lose if you never try. Rather than mocking the attempt or getting some schadenfreude because people you don’t like on the internet feel bad today, you should get off your ass and make sure this sort of action, primarying bad politicians, becomes more rather than less common.

Justin Elliott at Talking Points Memo:

Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle earlier in her career spoke out strongly against fluoride, the substance known alternately for improving dental health and as a Communist plot to undermine Western democracy.

Angle, the tea party favorite who is taking on Sen. Harry Reid, tends to be skeptical of government programs, and her opposition to fluoridation of municipal water supplies back in the late 1990s is no exception.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in April 1999 that the state assembly, of which Angle was a member, voted 26-16 for a bill that required fluoridation in two counties including the cities of Reno and Las Vegas. Angle was a strong opponent of the measure. The paper reported (via Nexis):

Before the vote, Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, R-Reno, sought to postpone the vote so she could add an amendment to block fluoridation in Washoe County. The Washoe County Commission in 1992 rejected fluoridation, and Angle said the Legislature should not approve fluoridation in her county without a vote of its people.

David Gibson at Mother Jones:

She may have never advocated bartering for health care with chickens, as her opponent Sue Lowden did, but Angle already has some issues. Beyond embracing the Tea Party, she’s also reached out to the Oath Keepers, the fringe patriot group whose core membership of cops and soldiers are gearing up to resist the Obama administration’s anticipated slide toward outright tyranny.

Back in April, Angle told TPM‘s Evan McMorris-Santoro that she was a member of the Oath Keepers. This Monday, Angle’s husband Ted told TPM‘s McMorris-Santoro and Justin Elliott that “We support what the organization stands for” and that he and his wife “desire” to join it. Oath Keeper founder Steward Rhodes said that candidate Angle had paid a visit to the group’s Southern Nevada chapter last fall.

For the full scoop on the Oath Keepers and what they stand for, check out the in-depth investigation MoJo published about them this spring. In it, Justine Sharrock profiles Pvt. 1st Class Lee Pray, a young soldier who joined the group to prepare for the day when he might have to turn against his commander-in-chief to resist martial law and the mass detention of American citizens. Pray told Sharrock that he’d been recruiting buddies, running drills, and stashing weapons—just in case. Like all Oath Keepers, he’s sworn to disobey any orders he considers unconstiutional or illegal.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

This is a prime pick-up opportunity for the GOP. The incumbent, Harry Reid, is wildly unpopular in the state, and his defeat would be a prized pelt for the Republicans. Almost any warm body could beat him in a walk. But Angle appears to be a genuine lunatic:

* Inflammatory rhetoric: In an interview last month with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Angle had this to say about gun laws: “What is a little bit disconcerting and concerning is the inability for sporting goods stores to keep ammunition in stock,” she told the newspaper. “That tells me the nation is arming. What are they arming for if it isn’t that they are so distrustful of their government? They’re afraid they’ll have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways. That’s why I look at this as almost an imperative. If we don’t win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?”

* Abolishing wide swaths of the federal government: Angle believes the U.S. Education Department should be abolished, as she explains on her campaign Web site: “Sharron Angle believes that the Federal Department of Education should be eliminated. The Department of Education is unconstitutional and should not be involved in education, at any level.” Angle went further in an interview with a Nevada online publication, writing that she favored the termination of the Energy Department, the EPA and much of the IRS tax code; complete elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

How crazy is Angle? Glenn Beck — Glenn Beck! — warned against her. She is at least somewhat tied to the militia movement. Moreover, she has undergone little scrutiny, and it’s a good bet that more will produce of further radical views. Her nomination is just a staggering failure of the party establishment.

David Weigel:

The response of conservatives who helped push Angle to victory? Bring it on.

“You could characterize the mood around here as one big yawn,” said Mike Connolly, spokesman for the Club for Growth, which spent more than $400,000 on TV ads for Angle. “We know Sharron Angle pretty well. A lot of folks around here have worked with her. We’ve endorsed her in the past. This tactic is neither new nor surprising.”

Asked about a 1999 article in which Angle criticized water flouridation, something Democrats are passing around today to define the candidate as a kook out of “Dr. Strangelove,” Connolly expressed only a little surprise.

“I hadn’t heard the flouride thing before,” he said, “but this is what they have, this is what their campaign is going to be — digging around in things she’s said and taking them out of context. And the polls haven’t moved for Harry Reid. He’s been a dead man walking, politically, for months.”

Sal Russo, whose Tea Party Express endorsed Angle when no one was taking her campaign seriously, compared Reid’s strategy to the strategy Gov. Pat Brown (D-Ca.) used against Ronald Reagan in 1966, when the actor was making his first bid for office.

“Brown helped Reagan behind the scenes by spreading around damaging information about George Christopher, the mayor of San Francisco, who Brown thought was going to a bigger threat in the general election,” Russo said. “He learned that you should be careful what you wish for.”

Russo said that TPE knew that Angle’s record and statements would be combed over by Reid, because “Reid can’t win if the election’s about him.” But he argued that the blah nature of the first attacks on Angle proved that Democrats weren’t ready for her.

“They had multiple volumes of books on Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian,” said Russo. “They probably had a sheet of paper on Angle. That’s why you’re seeing stale stuff, because I don’t think they were ready for her.”

I’m hearing the same from other Republicans. The Reid assault on Angle was telegraphed weeks ago — Rand Paul primed the pump for reporters to look for “crazy” candidates, so if she avoids brand new gaffes this week, they’re not sweating it.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

And as expected, I’ve had an exponentially larger number of e-mails from readers offering responses, by proxy, to the Nevadans who intimated they were leaning toward Reid — most of which can be summed “are you %@#$ing nuts???”

A few thoughts. One, the Reid-leaning NRO readers are quite obviously outspoken outliers — so we shouldn’t think there are too many of them. Two, it’s the morning after, and if they were rooting for Lowden or Tarkanian they’re obviously still a little disappointed and perhaps not thinking clearly. Three — and some people have asked me this — what’s so wrong with Sharron Angle? Well, Greg Sargent and Paul Kane lay out Harry Reid’s plans to paint Angle as somewhere between Rand Paul and Orly Taitz.

Look, I wish Sue Lowden had won. Why? Because Harry Reid was weak and she could have beaten him. Sharron Angle probably (probably) cannot. I’ve maintained that the biggest lesson from the Obamacare debacle in the Senate is that party affiliation matters, far more than actual ideology, in determining the fate of the Obama agenda. To those who say they’d rather have 40 Jim DeMints in the Senate than 50 Lindsey Grahams or 60 Susan Collinses, I say this: If you held everything else in the Obamacare debate constant and flipped the Ds to Rs next to the names of Landrieu, Specter, and Nelson — there wouldn’t be an Obamacare. Simple as that.

UPDATE: Bill Scher and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #2: On Angle’s appearance on Fox and Friends:

Steve Benen

David Weigel

UPDATE #3: More on Angle: Robert Costa at National Review

More Weigel

Greg Sargent

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Rainy Days, Nicknames, And Arkansas Democratic Politics

This post will be updated later, obviously.

Politico:

Just four states go to the polls Tuesday, but together they cast a long shadow.

It’s the biggest single-day primary so far in 2010, and the outcomes in a handful of key races will provide the clearest indication yet of the depth and intensity of the anti-incumbent fever that is shaping the midterm elections.

The most closely watched battles will be in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter is in serious danger of losing the seat he has held for three decades to two-term Rep. Joe Sestak, and in Arkansas, where Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln is seeking to fend off Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

Kentucky’s GOP Senate race is expected to provide a measure of grassroots conservative populist strength — not to mention anti-establishment sentiment — with party favorite Secretary of State Trey Grayson playing the unexpected role of underdog in his matchup against tea party-backed physician Rand Paul.

The western Pennsylvania-based special election for the seat of the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha, meanwhile, will provide a crucial barometer of the popularity of President Barack Obama’s ambitious Democratic agenda.

And that’s not all. The primary-day agenda also includes a slate of notable House primaries in Pennsylvania, while in Arkansas, where three of the state’s four congressmen are not seeking reelection, voters will select nominees in three open-seat races.

When it comes to politics, the media always prefer a big meta- story that includes controversy, consequences, and implications. It’s so much easier on the headline writers. So for Tuesday’s primaries, they’d like to see any of the following stories: “Unions Assert Muscle.” Or “Incumbents Thrown Overboard.” Or perhaps “Tea Party Wins Big,” and even “Obama Rebuked.”

It’s more likely to be some murkier mix. But even before the results are in, some trends and lessons are clearly evident.

• “I can win” is not a good message. Neither is “He can win.”

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter did something unheard of for a politician. He told the truth. He admitted the obvious when he switched parties. He didn’t say the party had left him. He didn’t say it was a matter of principle. He said the polls suggested he was more likely to get reelected if he became a Democrat. So he did. You could hear the subsequent collective groan from the political-consultant community. Specter may as well have printed bumper stickers that said, “It’s not about you. It’s about me.”

And then Team Obama did the same thing by endorsing Specter with a “He can win” strategy and message. Threw principle out the window because they thought Specter had a better shot to beat the Republican nominee Pat Toomey.

But now it appears Specter may be upset in the primary by Rep. Joe Sestak. Oops. Good chance Specter will pay the price for making the race about his hopes rather than the voters’.

Greg Sargent:

A quick report from the field in Pennsylvania.

Voter turnout is light in virtually all parts of the state, particularly in Philadelphia, the office of the Secretary of State confirms, developments that are likely to favor Joe Sestak.

Arlen Specter needs high turnout because his supporters are thought to be less enthusiastic, while Sestak’s are more motivated. Specter particularly is counting on high turnout in Philly.

But Charlie Young, a spokesman for the Secretary of State, says turnout in the state, where the weather is bad today, is low.

“It’s relatively light, with some higher concentrations out in the areas that have the special election for Murtha’s seat,” he says, referring to the battle for Pennsylvania’s 12th district in the southwestern part of the state.

Philadelphia’s turnout, he says, is even lighter. “There are no lines anywhere,” he says.

This is born out by an official with a major union backing Specter, who says union hands doing get-out-the-vote work are reporting back that “turnout is abysmal.”

“People aren’t fired up about Specter,” the official conceded. “It’s low statewide, and then in Philly it especially sucks.”

Marc Ambinder:

Democrats and Republicans say their early canvassing returns in Pennsylvania’s 12th CD show a very tight race, and that makes Republicans more anxious than Democrats. Democrats say they’re hitting their targets.

And they’re still sending out memos pointing to Republicans who say that the race ought to be a GOP win — something the Democrats would NOT do if they weren’t seeing the numbers. Remember, both parties have sophisticated boiler room operations and have volunteers checking voter lists in sample precincts … and they feed this data into a computer and out pops various projections of turnout.

Across Pennsylvania, it’s raining. Turnout, according to Democrats, is “abysmal” in Philadelphia, which is difficult news for Sen. Arlen Specter. Right now, Mayor Michael Nutter and Governor Ed Rendell are doing the TV/Radio rounds to try and open the floodgates.

At this point, both sides believe that Blanche Lincoln won’t have enough votes to avoid a run-off in Arkansas. The AP seems to be doing a better job of finding Bill Halter voters to quote, but that could be a function of their activist disposition. Lincoln has historically had a good, if understated ground game. But labor has imported a massive one.

No one is seeing anything in Kentucky that would change minds about the expected outcome on the Republican side of the ledger.

Adam Sorensen at Swampland at Time:

As you probably know, Trey Grayson is running for Senate in Kentucky. What you might not know is that “Trey” isn’t actually his name. It’s just a handle given to the third in a line of Charles Merwin Graysons. Far from frowning on pseudonymous politicians, the Bluegrass State allows candidates to designate a nickname to run on the official ballot.

Our colleague Feifei Sun points me in the direction of the down-ballot candidate rolls and the fabulous treasure trove of monikers therein. The nicknames run the gamut from zoological — Dale “Frog” Ford for sheriff, Steve “Farm Dog” Farmer for magistrate, William “Turkey” Thomason for mayor and Shawn “Squid” Rye for county commissioner — to culinary — Jerry “Peanuts” Gaines for sheriff, TP “Puddin” Scott for magistrate, Eddie “Popcorn” Brown for constable and Jeff “Buttermilk” Mountjoy for jailer — and the outright bizarre — John “Hermanator” Kirk for sheriff, Ancel “Hard Rock” Smith for assemblyman and, perhaps tragically, Mike “Need Kidney” Sittason for surveyor.

UPDATE #2: Sestak wins. Allah Pundit

UPDATE #3: Jonathan Martin & Charles Mahtesian in Politico

Steve Benen

Jules Crittenden

Atrios

Marc Ambinder

Daniel Larison

Glen Bolger

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

UPDATE #4: Nate Silver

Michael Barone at The Washington Examiner

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2010 Is Equal To Or Greater Than 1994

Patrick Ruffini at The Next Right:

I might be setting myself for a healthy serving of crow on November 3rd, but I get a distinct feeling that the GOP may be headed toward to a seat gain in the House of epic proportions — somewhere over 50 seats and well above the historical high point for recent wave elections (the 50-55 seats we experienced in elections like 1946 and 1994).

All in all, I don’t think a 70 seat gain is out of the question.

I’ll admit that a lot of this is prediction is pure gut. I probably sounded crazy when I said Marco Rubio kinda had a shot against Crist a year ago, and that Scott Brown kinda had a shot against Coakley, but if anything I wished I’d been even bolder in those predictions given the roller-coaster volatility of this political environment.

Not all elections are created equal. In most elections, most incumbents have an impregnable advantage and elections are fought between the 40-yard-lines.

This is not one of those elections.

It’s true that people are pissed, etc. etc. It’s true that Republicans benefit from an enthusiasm gap, etc. etc. But when you see numbers like dissatisfied independents lining up 66 to 13 percent behind the Republican candidate for Congress, and Republicans leading by 20 among very enthusiastic voters, all the momentum — not most of it — is in one direction. That last bastion of political stability — incumbent advantage — is inoperative in this political environment as incumbency has been become tantamount to a four letter word. Just 49 percent would re-elect their Congressman, compared to 40 percent who would throw the bum out. That’s significant. Usually, people want to throw Congress over the ledge while toasting their Congressman.

Andrew Sullivan:

Just begging for that Von Hoffmann Award are we, Patrick? So much can happen between now and then. This is a volatile electorate and a core part of the Democratic base – Hispanics – have just been put on notice by the GOP.

Michael Barone at The Examiner:

Lest you write off his projection that a 70-seat Republican gain (which would leave Republicans with a 248-187 majority, larger than any they have won since 1928) keep in mind that Ruffini was one of the very first to predict that Marco Rubio could become the leader in the Florida Senate race and that Scott Brown had a very real chance to win in Massachusetts. Here I should add the usual caveats about how opinion can change and the balance of enthusiasm could change even faster. But the Democrats’ current tactic of prioritizing legislation to weaken Republicans’ standings (among all voters on financial regulation, among Hispanics on immigration, among young voters on cap-and-trade and the environment) doesn’t really address their current problem, which is that the Democrats’ standing among voters is at a record low and that they’re getting pasted in polls despite the fact that the Republicans’ standing among voters is not particularly high.

Ruffini seems to be thinking along the same lines as Democrat William Galston who, as I noted in a blogpost earlier this morning, believes that the Democrats’ political prioritizing could “turn all-but-certain Democratic losses into a rout of historic proportions.” Historic indeed: not even David Broder has a living memory of the 1928 election.

Peter Wehner at Commentary:

Democrats should read this, and weep. The midterm elections may not be as bad as Ruffini predicts — but they will very, very bad. Virtually every bit of polling data points to an epic loss by Democrats.

Mr. Obama may indeed be a political miracle worker — but for Republicans, not Democrats.

James Joyner:

Even in a “normal” year, we’d expect a lot of Republican gains.  First, it’s an off-year election and the president’s party almost always loses seats.  Second, there are a bunch of Democrats holding seats that were specifically drawn to elect Republicans.

The main thing holding me back from jumping on Patrick’s bandwagon here is that we don’t have a Newt Gingrich this year.  Further, there’s no pro-Republican wave to ride.  So, essentially, he’s counting on the GOP to pick up 70 seats — a full 16 percent of all the seats and 28 percent of the seats currently held by Democrats — on the virtue of sheer anger at the status quo.

Again, I’ll emphasize that I didn’t predict the magnitude of 1994 or 2006, either.  I tend to be overly conservative in my estimates of outcomes, taking the steady state as the default position absent compelling polling data to the contrary.    And even I think the Republicans have an outside chance — but just an outside chance — of taking back both the House and Senate.   But 70 seats?  With this gang leading the charge?  I’ll believe it when I see it.

Daniel Larison:

Four years ago, a presidential party in the sixth year of a deeply unpopular President’s administration lost just 30 seats. This year, the presidential party is coming off of two elections in which they won over 50% of the vote, and we are headed into the first midterm election during the administration of a President whose RCP average approval rating is currently 48%. It would be extremely odd for a presidential party to lose more than 30 seats with Presidential approval that high, especially when that average rating has never dipped below 46% since inauguration. Indeed, it has remained remarkably stable over the last five months. In 1993-94, Clinton’s Gallup approval rating dropped into the mid-30s on occasion before recovering to 46% by the time of the election, and Obama’s Gallup approval rating currently stands at 51% and has never dropped below 45%. If that 51% rating were to hold, the average loss for a presidential party with a presidential approval rating of 50-59% is 12 seats. Obviouly, economic weakness and political issues specific to this Congress are going to make things worse for the Democrats than that, but it is still something of a reach under these circumstances to project a 30-seat loss, to say nothing of 50 or the absurd 70.

My view is that a 30-seat prediction is at least reasonable, but Republican gains of more than 25 seats still seem unlikely. Depending on how toss-up seats fall, my guess is that Democrats will lose between 18-23 House seats and probably five seats in the Senate. It is difficult to find the actual districts where this 40-seat takeover is going to happen. Yes, things could change, we could continue to have a recovery without any decrease in unemployment, and the majority could foolishly pursue an immigration bill this year that could seriously harm them. It is also possible that enough voters will remember how the Republicans governed when they were in power and recoil from them as the year goes on much as people in Britain have started recoiling from Labour as polling day approaches.

Republican pundits and analysts who have been enthusing over the impending mega-victory they are going to win have already made sure that they will lose the expectations game. Not content with aggressive predictions of winning control of the House, which has already potentially set them up for the appearance of failure, some have been pushing the expectations of Republican gains beyond what any modern American political party can possibly deliver under present circumstances. Between Marco Rubio’s “single greatest pushback in American history” hype, increasingly unrealistic claims about Democratic weakness, and wild predictions of unprecedented postwar midterm gains, anything short of a resounding Republican triumph will be seen as a missed opportunity at best and a disaster at worst.

Something Ruffini does not address in his post is the extent to the which the public continues to blame Bush for both deficit and economic woes. That doesn’t mean that Democrats can rely on anti-Bush sentiment for a third straight election, but it has to weaken the appeal of the GOP when the party’s prominent figures continue to try to rehabilitate and praise Bush and effectively reinforce the identification between the current party and the Bush era. According to the new ABC/Post poll, the GOP itself continues to have very poor favorability ratings, its Congressional leadership loses in match-ups against Obama on most issues, and it continues to trail Democrats on being trusted to handle “the main problems” the country faces. Even in the generic ballot, respondents have been moving back to the Democrats (a three-point GOP lead has turned into a five-point deficit since February in the ABC poll), and the generic ballot average now gives Republicans just a 1-point advantage. Perhaps I am missing something, but this does not seem to have the makings of an unprecedentedly large Republican blowout win. Instead, it looks like things are shaping up for a modest and perhaps even below-average performance for the non-presidential party.

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Bailouts Now, Bailouts Never, Bailouts Later, Bailouts Forever

C.S. McCoy at Redstate:

The Dems will be able to tap into voter anger at the banks and will argue that they’re preventing the next crisis, all while framing Republicans as the bankster’s evil cronies.  Conservatives, of course, know better.  Each financial reform bill coming down the pipeline adds more layers to the existing bureaucracy.  We can expect higher bank fees, decreased and more expensive access to credit for individuals and businesses of all sizes, and of course, a future crisis brought on by an unforeseen side-effect of the proposed legislation.

Real reform involves fixing the perverse incentive structures in the current system.  The moral hazard created by various Federal Reserve initiatives, aspects of the FDIC, and whatever goodies are offered up by whatever Goldman Sachs alum-turned-bureaucrat is in a position of power at a given time each contributed to the financial crisis.  And of course, let’s not forget Freddie, Fannie, affirmative-action lending, and similar pieces of legislation that set the housing market on a one-way path to bubble city.

Unfortunately, given the political realities in DC, there may not be much that conservatives can do to transform the current bills into positive legislation.  At this point, we must focus instead on minimizing not only the economic consequences but also the political damage that we could very well incur should we appear to be on the wrong side of the fight over financial reform.  This issue could very well blunt some of our momentum going into November, and given the importance of retaking the House to prevent funding of various health care initiatives, fighting the tax increases that the Dems will offer up to conquer mounting deficits, and controlling the narrative for the 2012 election, that is simply a chance we cannot take.

This fight has been framed terribly for Republicans.  The Democratic aide in the above quote has it exactly right.  Already this battle has been described as the consumer vs Wall Street bankers, and we’re poised to appear to be fighting on the side of one of the least popular groups in America.  Fortunately, one thing more unpopular than Wall Street is bailing out Wall Street.  And fortunately (from a political standpoint), each of the proposed bills has a mechanism to entrench the Federal bailout trough.  Republicans must play up this aspect of the legislation to have any hope of turning this fight into a win.

And we need to start by referring to it simply as the “Bailout Bill.”  “Financial Reform” has a positive connotation, when none is deserved for the proposed bills.  Additionally, “Bailout Bill” does a considerably better job actually describing the legislation.  Regardless of whether or not one has been following this debate, does the term “Financial Reform” actually make it clear what the bill entails?  No, but the term “Bailout Bill” makes it quite clear.  Let’s face it, the Republican leadership in the Senate isn’t exactly the most charismatic bunch.  Do we really want to see them on TV droning on about the intricacies of what’s wrong with the “Financial Reform” legislation?  No, the typical viewer most likely neither cares nor is knowledgeable enough to accurately assess Mitch McConnell’s criticisms.  Boehner, Pence, and Ryan would do a better job, but nevertheless, the topic isn’t particularly engaging.  The term “Bailout Bill” delivers the message to the viewer in a clear and concise manner.

On top of that, it throws the Dems’ attempts to appear to be combating “special interests” right back in their faces.  Regardless of your opinion of Ron Paul, he brought up a great point this weekend when he referred to Obama as a “corporatist” (although the other part of his statement was wrong…Obama has shown both corporatist and socialist tendencies).  We need to harp on about how this “Bailout Bill” will forever put taxpayers on the hook for Wall Street’s misdeeds.  The public already knows that Democrats have been handing out goodies to special interests: auto companies, big Pharma, unions, and even the insurance companies.  Let’s hammer it home.  The Dems of course will respond that Wall Street will actually be the ones paying for the bailouts since special taxes on the banks will go into a bailout trust fund.  This may be true, but it requires that the public trust that these funds won’t get looted in the future, something with which Washington doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record (see: social security).  Additionally, as seen during the health care debate, the more that proponents of the legislation have to defend its complex and unpopular components, the more difficulty they will have selling the entire package.

Brian Beutler at TPM:

About a week or two. That’s how long Republicans have to decide how they ultimately want to play their hand on financial regulatory reform. According to numerous Democratic aides and key senators, the GOP will either have to join forces with Democrats on a bill that hews very much to the White House’s demands, or they’ll have to do their best to block a bill that enjoys wide popularity. But as much as Democrats want to change the rules that govern Wall Street quickly and smoothly, they also love the politics of moving the bill forward without GOP support and letting Republicans publicly justify their decision to protect hated financial institutions from the regulations they oppose.

“We are ready to go forward. The bill’s ready…if I have to go it alone, I’ll go it alone…. I’m ready to go to the floor tomorrow if they want.” said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd last night, after a brief meeting with his counterpart, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL).

Aides go further, admitting that they’d relish the prospect of putting Republicans on the side of big banks in opposition to reg reform.

In stark contrast to their approach to the year-long fight over health care reform, Democrats now say broad bipartisan agreement isn’t worth it if it sucks up too much time, and needlessly weakens the bill.

“Having an agreement that at the end of the day would largely have no teeth…would be a sham,” DSCC chair Robert Menendez told reporters yesterday, off the Senate floor. “If you just want bipartisanship for a figleaf, I think that would be a huge mistake on a policy basis, and a huge political mistake as well.”

“This is not going to be a repetition of the health care [debate],” Dodd said last night. “That was one of the biggest mistakes ever made, in my view–people waiting around, praying and hoping, day to day, that someone might show up and be supportive of the view.”

Christopher Buckley at The Daily Beast:

Senator McConnell, whose facial opacity amounts to a kind of poker-face magnificence, sallied forth to the microphones outside the White House to denounce the bill as a means of perpetuating federal bailouts of too-big financial institutions. The bill’s defenders rushed to the same microphones to proclaim that in fact, it does the exact opposite. There’s rather a lot of… swing between those two positions. The two top headlines Wednesday on Realclearpolitics.com were a study in Washington yin and yang:

“Financial Reform Bill Ends Bailouts.” Sen. Dodd

“Dodd Bill Institutionalizes Wall Street Bailouts.” Sen. McConnell

Perhaps between now and the November elections, one of these interpretations will emerge as the true one. In the meantime, as Bette Davis used to say, fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy summer and fall.

Edmund L. Andrews at Wall Street Pit:

When Mitch McConnell charged that the Senate Democrats’ bill to reform financial regulation would lead to “more bailouts” for Wall Street, I could almost imagine how GOP word-smiths had racked their brains for ways to spin the effort.

Here was a bill aimed at clamping down on the rapacious mortgages and wanton risk-taking by Wall Street firms that nearly destroyed the financial system and led to huge bailouts. It would be hard to find groups that are more detested by voters — including populist Tea Partiers and End-the-Fed supporters of Ron Paul — than big banks and Wall Street.

GOP leaders know exactly why they oppose the bill: it’s a Democratic bill. Full-stop. But will that fly with ordinary voters? Do red-state conservatives hate derivatives regulation even more than they hate Wall Street greed, trillion-dollar bailouts and all the bad things that led to the epic meltdown? Doubtful.

That’s why McConnell’s attack was so clever. He appeared to be on the ramparts fighting Wall Street rather than helping Wall Street firms avoid all the things they hate: a consumer protection agency, regulated trading for credit default swaps and new levies on the banks to pay for past and future calamities.

Is McConnell right? Let’s nip this in the bud.

It is true that the Senate bill would require financial institutions to put up $50 billion to deal with possible future meltdowns. It is also true that federal regulators would have new “resolution authority” to shut down failing institutions in an orderly way.

But those are very different things from pre-authorizing future bailouts. The recent bailouts kept zombie banks and AIG alive, because both the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve correctly feared that their collapse would set of a chain-reaction of failure. The bailouts were necessary because the government didn’t have the authority to shut the companies down in a orderly way.

One big example: Fed and Treasury officials didn’t have the legal power to force creditors of AIG and others to take haircuts. They had two stark alternatives: push the companies bankruptcy, let them default on hundreds of billions worth of obligations and let the chips fall where they may; or prop them up, bail out the creditors and hope taxpayers would get their money back after the crisis.

The new resolution authority would give the government new powers to take over and shut down failing giants. That is quite different from bailing out a bank and keeping it alive.

James Gattuso at Heritage:

President Obama met today with members of Congress to jawbone them on the pending financial reform bill. A key part of his message: “we must end taxpayer bailouts.” Few statements are less controversial than that. Nobody wants to see more bailouts.

But wait a second. Doesn’t the very legislation he’s plumping for — and which will soon be voted on in the Senate — itself provides for bailouts. When asked that by a reporter just before the meeting, the President hedged, saying only “…I am absolutely confident that the bill that emerges is going to be a bill that prevents bailouts. That’s the goal.”

Well, that goal, as it turns out, only survives up to page 134 of the 1,334 page Senate bill. On that page begins a section entitled “Funding for Orderly Liquidation.” The text reads that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the designated federal receiver for failing financial firms, “may make available…funds for the orderly liquidation of [a] covered financial institution.”

Where are those funds to come from? Well, on page 272 the bill creates an “Orderly Resolution Fund” within the U.S. Treasury. The target size of this fund? Fifty billlion dollars.

That sure looks like a bailout fund. Yet, the bill’s supporters deny it. Elizabeth Warren, a leading proponent of the plan, calls the idea that it perpetuates bailouts “just nuts.”

The argument is that no funds could be provided to to compensate a firm’s shareholders. They would be forced to bear the cost of a firm’s failure, so it’s true they they aren’t being bailed out. But the failing firm’s other creditors would be eligible for a cash bailout. The situation is much like the scheme implemented for AIG in 2008, in which the largest beneficiaries weren’t stockholders, but rather other creditors, including foreign firms such as Deutsche Bank. Hardly a model to be emulated.

The second line of defense is that, bailout or not, the funds are to come from fees on big banks, not from taxes. But that’s a distinction without a difference — whether it’s called a fee or a tax, the effect is the same. And the fact that it will be paid by “big banks” is hardly cause for relief. Like other taxes, these would certainly be passed on to consumers, who would ultimately pay the tab.

Peter Wallison at American Enterprise Institute:

Does the bill, as McConnell has said, provide for permanent bailouts? Yes, again without question. The administration and the Democrats, especially Dodd, seem wounded by this suggestion. To them it seems obvious that this can’t be true. Why, they protest, the bill says that these firms have to be wound down, not bailed out. But why then is there a $50 billion fund set up to assist this wind down? In his statement yesterday on the Senate floor, in which he said the opposition had used “falsehoods” to oppose his bill, Dodd said: “And middle class families on Main Street won’t have to pay a penny: the largest Wall Street firms will have to put up money for a $50 billion fund to cover the costs of liquidating the failed financial firm.” The costs of liquidating the failed financial firm? What might those costs be?

The answer is that the $50 billion will be used to pay off the creditors, so that the market’s fear of a general collapse will be allayed. Remember, the theory under which the administration and Dodd are operating is that the failure of one of these large companies will cause a systemic breakdown or instability in the economy. The way to avoid that is to assure the market—in other words the creditors—that they will be paid. Otherwise, they will run from the failing company, and every other company similarly situated. That act—paying off the creditors when the government takes over a failing firm—is a bailout. It doesn’t matter that the management lose their jobs, or that the shareholders get nothing. When the creditors are aware that they will get a better deal with the failure of a large company than they will get with a small one that goes the ordinary route to bankruptcy, that is a bailout. And the signal it sends to the market is the most dangerous part of this bailout, because it tells the market that creditors will be taking less risk when they lend to small companies than if they lend to large ones, and this—as noted above—will simply provide the credit advantages to large companies that will not be available to small companies. Again, like too big to fail, this will distort and suppress competition in financial markets.

Michael Barone at Human Events

Ezra Klein:

In negotiations stretching from the spring of 2009 to February of 2010, Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) worked together to agree on financial-regulation bill. Their work produced the resolution authority section of Dodd’s legislation, which is to say, the section that attempts to avoid future bailouts. After that, Corker continued to work with Dodd on other elements of the bill. So after Sen. Mitch McConnell said that the legislation ensures “endless taxpayer-funded bailouts for big Wall Street banks,” I called Corker to get his perspective. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity.

Was Sen. Mitch McConnell correct? Is the Dodd bill, as currently written, a permanent bailout?

I’ve cautioned against hyperbole. But the fact is that the bill as it now is written allows numerous loopholes that allow a situation where you could have bailouts in perpetuity. It’s a fair statement. This all happened after Mark [Warner] and I finished our work but my negotiations with Dodd ceased. Treasury and FDIC became involved and there are provisions that have been added that change the effect of our work. It can be fixed pretty easily. And everyone already knows how to fix it. To be fair, every administration wants unto themselves as much flexibility and freedom as they can get. What we need to do is take some of that back.

I think it would be useful for us to get very concrete here. So what is a “bailout,” exactly?

A bailout is when the government comes to the aid of a company after the company begins to fail. The government comes in and creates mechanism for its survival.

My understanding is that the bill’s resolution authority mandates that a company gets liquidated if it has to tap into the $50 billion resolution fund. Shareholders get wiped out. Management gets wiped out. The company gets taken apart. Am I wrong in any of that?

That’s exactly right. What you’ve just said is true. But there are a ton of technical things that have to do with the FDIC’s ability to guarantee indebtedness, the ability of the Federal Reserve to do things that act like a bailout. I have a list of 14 items that we’re sharing with Treasury that we want them to look at. And by the way, I think they’re very willing to look at them.

I hope what you get out of this is that Mark and I have no issue. But there’s some bankruptcy court language that’s not in here. There are some issues regarding judicial review of the FDIC’s activities. Some of these things, if you read the language, the FDIC could have the ability to inject equity into the company. They want something called incidental powers. Unless things are clearly defined, they can cause problems. The biggest issue is narrowing what the Fed is able to do, what the FDIC is trying to give itself in order to create flexibility.

It sounds like what you’re saying is that the issue here is not a philosophical dispute between the two parties, but technical changes to make sure the language of the law accords with its intent.

That’s exactly right. Let me give you another example. The way the language is written right now, the resolution process could be used on an auto company. We want this clearly, solely to apply to financial institutions. That’s just one example of a definition type of thing that has to be dealt with. But I think the rhetoric has been overheated, and I’ve cautioned against it. Little words mean a lot here. And I think we’re better off discussing this issue on the substance. And there are other things, too. The bill does not adequately deal with one of the basic causes of this crisis, which was that underwriting was really bad. Now, we have to end any discussion of companies being too big to fail. But there are other important issues.

Matthew Yglesias:

Sheila Bair explains that the regulatory reform bill will end bailouts and that Mitch McConnell and others who say it institutionalizes them are lying:

Would this bill perpetuate bailouts?
SHEILA BAIR: The status quo is bailouts. That’s what we have now. If you don’t do anything, you are going to keep having bailouts. Bankruptcy doesn’t work — we saw that with Lehman Brothers.

But does this bill stop them from happening?
BAIR: It makes them impossible and it should. We worked really hard to squeeze bailout language out of this bill. The construct is you can’t bail out an individual institution — you just can’t do it.

In a true liquidity crisis, the FDIC and the Fed can provide systemwide support in terms of liquidity support — lending and debt guarantees — but even then, a default would trigger resolution or bankruptcy.

As I said this morning, there are some questions as to whether the process the Dodd bill sets up is genuinely 100 percent airtight. But there can be no denying that it makes bailouts less likely. Some conservatives are trying to outline alternative approaches to this goal, but what McConnell and John Boehner have on the table is a policy of make believe—don’t regulate banks, let Wall Street run wild, pretend there won’t be bailouts, then when the casino goes bust show up with a bailout.

Steve Benen:

To prevent the bill from moving forward towards a vote, all 41 Senate Republicans would have to unanimously agree to filibuster the motion to proceed. (In other words, the GOP would refuse to allow the debate to even get underway.) As of yesterday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not yet have commitments from all 41 members of his caucus.

Today [Friday the 16th], that changed.

Every member of the Senate Republican Caucus has signed a letter, delivered to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, expressing opposition to the Democrats’ financial regulatory reform bill, which they all claim will lead to more Wall Street bailouts.

“We are united in our opposition to the partisan legislation reported by the Senate Banking Committee,” the letter reads. “As currently constructed, this bill allows for endless taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street and establishes new and unlimited regulatory powers that will stifle small businesses and community banks.”

The Republican caucus was not specific about the path ahead. Indeed, the GOP’s letter did not even specifically vow to block the motion to proceed, but rather, simply articulated the caucus’ collective “opposition.” It stands to reason, though, that the point of the letter is that Republicans are prepared to block the vote and the debate on bringing some safeguards to the industry that caused the economic disaster.

It’s worth remembering that Senate Democrats, by and large, didn’t really expect it to come to this. Given Wall Street’s scandalous recklessness, and the public’s disgust for irresponsible misconduct in the financial industry, Dems thought it would be politically suicidal for Republicans to reject reform efforts.

As of this afternoon, it appears Republicans are prepared to link arms and take their chances, fighting to protect Wall Street from accountability.

UPDATE: PolitiFact

Andrew Sullivan

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Filed under Economics, Legislation Pending, The Crisis

The Ron Paul Revolution: 2012 Edition

Rasmussen:

Pit maverick Republican Congressman Ron Paul against President Obama in a hypothetical 2012 election match-up, and the race is – virtually dead even.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of likely voters finds Obama with 42% support and Paul with 41% of the vote. Eleven percent (11%) prefer some other candidate, and six percent (6%) are undecided.

Ask the Political Class, though, and it’s a blowout. While 58% of Mainstream voters favor Paul, 95% of the Political Class vote for Obama.

But Republican voters also have decidedly mixed feelings about Paul, who has been an outspoken critic of the party establishment.

Obama earns 79% support from Democrats, but Paul gets just 66% of GOP votes. Voters not affiliated with either major party give Paul a 47% to 28% edge over the president.

Nate Silver:

But as regular readers of this website will know, the person conducting the poll can have a profound impact on its results. Rasmussen, in particular, has had a substantial Republican-leaning house effect thus far this year. Perhaps they will turn out to be right (although their idea of trying to apply a “likely voter” model 2.5 years in advance of an election is dubious). But it would be wrong to take a Rasmussen poll (or any other) at face value without taking into account this context.

Instead, I’ve compiled all polls conducted since July of last year(**) that test Obama against a Republican opponent. For this exercise, I use the Real Clear Politics rule of only using one poll from each firm for each matchup (the most recent). I then adjust the polls for house effects using a simplified variation of our standard method; both Presidential approval polls and the numbers from these 2012 matchups are used to calibrate the house effect. The results for each matchup that have been surveyed by at least two different pollsters are compiled below:

After adjustment for house effects, Obama’s lead over Paul is not 1 point but more like 10. This result is closer to that obtained by a PPP poll in November, which had Obama ahead 46-38 against Paul (PPP’s 2012 polls have also had a very slight Republican-leaning house effect.)

Michael Barone at The Washington Examiner:

Will Ron Paul be the Republican nominee? No, although his son Rand Paul may very well win the Republican nomination for Senate next month in Kentucky. And he runs far worse than Republicans do in Rasmussen’s generic ballot question, in which Republicans lead Democrats by a whopping 45%-36%. Rasmussen’s tight likely voters screen tends to produce a more Republican sample than do most other pollsters, who at this stage of the cycle tend to look at registered voters or all adults. Still, the specter of the incumbent president leading a fringe figure by Ron Paul by a statistically insignificant 1% is pretty amazing.

Note to Barone: Fringe is a relative term. If this many voters are willing to support a presidential candidate, you might want to find a different word to describe him.

James Joyner:

In yet another silly poll sampling attitudes toward a mythical presidential matchup two years away, Rasmassen finds that Ron Paul is in a dead heat with President Barack Obama.

[…]

Meh. My strong guess is that most people have no idea who Ron Paul is.  But they won’t tell Rasmussen

mistermix:

Rasmussen just excreted a poll showing that Ron Paul and Obama are neck-and-neck in a hypothetical matchup. How about a peek at the toplines:

1* Do you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable impression of Ron Paul?
10% Very favorable
29% Somewhat favorable
18% Somewhat unfavorable
12% Very unfavorable
32% Not sure

About 1/3 of the respondents don’t know what to think about Paul. Yet many of those probably picked between him and the President. Then we have this gem:

4* Does Ron Paul share the values of most Republican voters throughout the nation?
19% Yes
27% No
54% Not sure

Up next: Rasmussen reports on Americans’ favorite characters on TV shows they’ve never watched, with bonus research asking the question, “How’s the Food at that Restaurant Where You’ve Never Eaten?”.

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Jim Manzi, On The Edge

Conor Friedersdorf at Sully’s place last December:

In National Affairs, a new magazine run by the estimable Yuval Levin, entrepreneur Jim Manzi presents a manifesto of sorts for bringing about the continued prosperity of the United States. The whole article is worth a read, so I am not going to excerpt it, though I am going to return to narrow points in later posts. Like Grand New Party, the thoughtful product of Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat, Mr. Manzi’s piece suggests a framework for understanding the challenges that America faces — thank goodness another serious voice is getting us beyond bromides about liberty and tyranny — the trade-offs we must resolve in our public policy, and specific policy proposals for those persuaded by what precedes them. I hope it gets the attention it deserves, including thoughtful responses from across the political spectrum.

And should it reach folks making policy within the Obama Administration and the current Congress, I hope it lays bare for them how negligent they are in grappling with grave challenges that have gone ignored for too long already.

Jim Manzi at National Affairs (can’t excerpt it all, so be sure to read the whole thing to understand the commentary below):

Most great powers throughout history would have reacted to such circumstances by seizing direct, long-term control over as much of the globe as possible. Instead, the United States established itself as first among equals in a loose coalition of nations that came to be known as the Free World. It also established a set of political and economic institutions and programs — the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Marshall Plan, the Bretton Woods system, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and so forth — that encouraged rapid economic development within this coalition. Combined with the policy of containment toward the Soviet Union, this approach to geopolitics turned out to have huge strategic benefits for America.

Indeed, the fact that this strategy worked in the decades after World War II is precisely our problem today. The wealth-creation engine of the post-war world was designed in America, but available to other nations too — and so in time those that had more advanced economies before the war (predominantly Western Europe and Japan) re-industrialized to the point that, by the 1970s, they began to challenge America’s position. This revived competition, along with the oil shocks of the ’70s, dramatically changed the global circumstances that had allowed the United States to have it all: high rates of economic and wage growth along with a high degree of economic equality.

Ronald Reagan’s solution to the ’70s crisis proceeded from two ­diagnoses. The first was that macroeconomic pump-priming was merely creating inflation, not growth. The second was that America’s economy had large untapped potential for growth, but that this potential went ­unrealized because of the restrictions on markets intended to promote social harmony as part of the post-war economic consensus. These included everything from price controls to government encouragement of private-sector unionization to zealous anti-trust enforcement. ­Reagan’s strategy, therefore, was to promote sound money plus ­deregulation. He succeeded, and America re-emerged as the acknowledged global economic leader. Economic output per person is now 20 to 25% higher in the U.S. than in Japan and the major European economies, and America’s economy dominates the world in size and prestige.

But it is important to see that this robust growth means only that America has not lost ground in global economic competition, not that it has gained much. From 1980 through today, America’s share of global output has been constant at about 21%. Europe’s share, meanwhile, has been collapsing in the face of global competition — going from a little less than 40% of global production in the 1970s to about 25% today. Opting for social democracy instead of innovative capitalism, Europe has ceded this share to China (predominantly), India, and the rest of the developing world. The economic rise of the Asian heartland is the central geopolitical fact of our era, and it is safe to assume that economic and strategic competition will only increase further over the next several decades.

It is common to think of the post-war global economy as a baseline of normalcy to which we wish to return. But it seems more accurate to see that era as an anomaly: the apogee of relative global economic dominance by the West, and by the United States within the Western coalition. The hard truth is that the economic world of 1955 is gone, and even if we wanted it back — short of emerging from another global war unscathed with the rest of the world a smoking heap of rubble — we could not have it.

Yet the strategy of giving up and opting out of this international economic competition in order to focus on quality of life is simply not feasible for the United States. Europeans can get away with it only because they benefit from the external military protection America provides; we, however, have no similar guardian to turn to. We do not live in a Kantian world of perpetual commercial peace. Were America to retreat from global competition, sooner or later those who oppose our values would become strong enough to take away our wealth and freedom.

More Friedersdorf at Sully’s place:

What frustrates me is that, among many of the folks who style themselves immigrant advocates or pro-immigration, there is an utter refusal to articulate specific, workable views about what the limits should be, let alone to abide enforcing limits that are duly signed into law. One pernicious effect is that restrictionists are the only game in town for folks who want to enforce some limits on immigration, hence the rise of demagogues like Joe Arapaio, who are able to cast their extra-legal racial profiling as a defense of American sovereignty, rather than the assault on even legal Latino immigrants that it frequently ends up being.

Even the ill-conceived, so-called comprehensive immigration reform championed by George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy, legislation that would’ve institutionalized a second class of non-citizen guest workers at the mercy of their employers, wouldn’t have resolved questions about limits and enforcement, except temporarily. What foolishness to imagine that short term boon was worth violating what ought to be a foundational aspect of any immigration regime: that the newcomers are welcomed as full citizens with the same rights as everyone else, an obvious enough arrangement if from them one expects commensurate loyalty.

So what does Mr. Manzi recommend?

…we should reconceptualize immigration as recruiting. Assimilating immigrants is a demonstrated core capability of America’s political economy — and it is one we should take advantage of. A robust-yet-reasonable amount of immigration is healthy for America. It is a continuing source of vitality — and, in combination with birth rates around the replacement level, creates a sustainable rate of overall ­population growth and age-demographic balance. But unfortunately, the manner in which we have actually handled immigration since the 1970s has yielded large-scale legal and illegal immigration of a low-skilled population from Latin America. It is hard to imagine a more damaging way to expose the fault lines of America’s political economy: We have chosen a strategy that provides low-wage gardeners and nannies for the elite, low-cost home improvement and fresh produce for the middle class, and fierce wage competition for the working class.

Instead, we should think of immigration as an opportunity to improve our stock of human capital. Once we have re-established control of our southern border, and as we preserve our commitment to political asylum, we should also set up recruiting offices looking for the best possible talent everywhere: from Mexico City to Beijing to Helsinki to Calcutta. Australia and Canada have demonstrated the practicality of skills-based immigration policies for many years. We should improve upon their example by using testing and other methods to apply a basic tenet of all human capital-intensive organizations managing for the long term: Always pick talent over skill. It would be great for America as a whole to have, say, 500,000 smart, motivated people move here each year with the intention of becoming citizens.

This is an imperfect foundation for a system of immigration, to be sure, but I am hard pressed to articulate anything better, and it offers substantial upsides that are absent from the present approach.

Arnold Kling:

His essay dwells on the theme that economic innovation threatens social cohesion, a theme that can be found in Schumpeter, Fukuyama, Brink Lindsey, and no doubt many others.

I find the issue interesting, but I find that I have little to say. I think that I know what economic innovation is, what its benefits are, and some of the conditions that foster and impede it. Book 1 (with Nick Schulz) reflects my thinking there.

But I do not know exactly what we mean by social cohesion. I mean, if you have a civil war, that would seem to represent a loss of cohesion, and clearly civil wars are very bad things. But beyond that, the concept has a vague, “I know it when I see it” connotation.

I think libertarians need to take a stand on the topic of social cohesion. If we do not think it is important, we have to say why. If we think that it is best promoted by libertarian means, we should say how. Serious people like James Manzi worry about social cohesion, so I think we owe them a response.

Jim Manzi responds at The American Scene:

In other words, I never defined social cohesion well. Here is my working definition (that I should have made clear in the piece, and will do in the book): the widespread and irrational willingness and propensity to sometimes and to some extent sacrifice narrowly-defined rational self-interest to the needs of a greater collective, and the expectation that others will do the same. In general, in a capitalist democracy this does not mean the expectation that everyone (or even most people) will become martyrs to the Greater Good, but more that they will pursue narrow self-interest within the written and unwritten rules of the society which tend to channel self-interest “as if by an invisible hand” to the good of the society as a whole over time.

David Brooks gives the article a Sidney award in NYT here

Steve Pearlstein in WaPo

Ross Douthat in NYT:

Social democracy has its benefits, but global competitiveness isn’t one of them. As Jim Manzi points out, in an essay on “Keeping America’s Edge” in the latest issue of National Affairs, “from 1980 through today, America’s share of global output has been constant at about 21 percent. Europe’s share, meanwhile, has been collapsing in the face of global competition — going from a little less than 40 percent of global production in the 1970s to about 25 percent today.”

If we hope to avoid a similar plunge, the Obama-era tilt toward government intervention needs to be balanced, and soon, by a new growth-oriented agenda. This will require more than the rote invocations of Reaganism that too many Republican politicians have fallen back on, however. The age of sweeping tax cuts financed by deficit spending is over. The policies of the 1980s will not keep America competitive in the 2010s. Our challenges are new, and we must think and act anew.

Manzi’s National Affairs essay, a tour d’horizon of our socioeconomic situation, provides a solid place to start. He proposes a fourfold agenda: Unwind the partnerships forged between Big Business and Big Government in the wake of the 2008 crash; seek financial regulations that “contain busts,” by segregating high-risk transactions from lower-risk enterprises; deregulate the public school system, to let a thousand charter schools and start-ups bloom; and shift our immigration policy away from low-skilled immigration, and toward the recruitment of high-skilled émigrés from around the globe.

To this list, I would add tax reform and entitlement reform. The former should broaden the tax base while cutting taxes on work, childrearing and investment. The latter should means-test both Social Security and Medicare, reducing both programs’ spending on well-off retirees rather than questing fruitlessly for their privatization.

This is a right-of-center agenda, broadly speaking, but it’s also one that you could imagine attracting bipartisan support, even in the current polarized environment.

Reihan Salam:

A friend objected to this passage, arguing that U.S. population growth over that period accounts for the difference. Population growth does account for some of the difference, but it doesn’t eliminate the growth gap. This is despite the fact that the U.S. economy should have performed less well on this front according to the Solow-Swan model of convergence. For the most advanced and productive economy, further productivity gains are necessarily more “expensive” because they reflect the cost of experimentation designed to push beyond existing best practices. Many of those experiments will fail. This is the essence of entrepreneurship. Other economies can “follow-the-leader” by learning from its mistakes and apply domestic savings to the practices and technologies that emerge from the Darwinian competition that defines a competitive, entrepreneurial economy.

That is, European productivity growth should have been much higher than U.S. levels, according to the logic of conditional convergence. It was not, however. The real mystery is why Europe has been underperforming. One assumes that labor market rigidities are part of the problem, but there’s room for disagreement.
As for the higher productivity per worker hour in France, it is to some extent an artifact of lower rates of labor force participation — if we excluded more young workers, low-skill immigrants, and part-timers from the workforce, we’d presumably have much higher productivity per worker hour.
The post-1981 increase in work effort in the U.S. has, as economist Edward Prescott has noted, came primarily from high earners in response to lower marginal tax rates at the top. Before then, Europeans tended to work longer hours than Americans. As Casey Mulligan always says, incentives matter.

Michael Barone at Real Clear Politics:

Manzi notes that the behavioral revolution of the 1960s and 1970s produced hugely higher divorce and out-of-wedlock childbirth rates. Then, in the past two decades, the rates of divorce and unmarried parenthood have fallen back to 1950s levels among college graduates. But they have remained high, or even increased, among non-college graduates, which we may take as a reasonable proxy for the underhalf.

It’s clear that there’s a high correlation between lifestyle patterns and economic performance. Almost no one who graduates from high school, gets married and stays married, and gets a job falls into poverty. Many who do not do these things do.

Conservative public policy reforms in the 1990s significantly reduced bad behaviors. Tough policing, pioneered by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and widely copied, vastly reduced violent crime. Work-oriented welfare reform pioneered by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and widely copied, vastly reduced welfare dependency. Economic and job growth in the 1990s and 2000s surely owes much to these policy successes.

But more is plainly needed. One possible area is education, where 1990s reforms and the Bush education law have encountered strong institutional resistance from teachers’ unions and education schools. Manzi, citing models in Sweden and the Netherlands, calls for “the creation of a real marketplace among ever more deregulated publicly financed schools — a market in which funding follows students, and far broader discretion is permitted to those who actually teach and manage in our schools.”

Democrats are prevented by their teacher union paymasters from pursuing such goals seriously — witness their battle to kill a small school voucher program in the District of Columbia. Republicans could do much better, starting at the state level and daring the Obama administration to stop them in Washington.

Another possibility is pro-family tax reform. The post-World War II tax regime, with its big dependent deductions, produced the equivalent of a generous children’s allowance for married parents. Republicans should try to tilt tax policy in the same direction again.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

The weakness of Manzi’s essay is that it does almost nothing to establish its key premise that President Obama’s agenda will stifle growth. Almost all the work of establishing this point comes in this section:

From 1980 through today, America’s share of global output has been constant at about 21%. Europe’s share, meanwhile, has been collapsing in the face of global competition — going from a little less than 40% of global production in the 1970s to about 25% today. Opting for social democracy instead of innovative capitalism, Europe has ceded this share to China (predominantly), India, and the rest of the developing world.

If you read that passage quickly, or even very slowly and repeatedly, you probably think Manzi is saying that, since Ronald Reagan took office, United States has enjoyed dramatically faster economic growth than European social democracies. (Ross Douthat, citing this passage, reaches that conclusion.) In fact, Manzi isn’t showing that at all.

First of all, let’s note that while he concludes with a swipe at “social democracy,” Manzi is comparing a unit he calls “Europe.” I emailed Manzi, and he explained that “Europe” includes, well, all of Europe — not just social democratic western Europe but eastern Europe, the Ukraine, and Russia, which are not social democracies by any means.

Second, Manzi has an odd description of timing in his first sentence that, even after several readings, I didn’t notice until somebody else pointed it out to me. He cites America’s economic growth since 1980, but counts Europe starting in “the 1970s.” What is the 1970s? Over email, he specified that he meant 1973. So he’s comparing The U.S. since 1980 with Europe since 1973 — which is, to put it mildly, a very unusual way to construct a comparison. Of course, this causes the 1973-1980 economic slowdown to be counted against Europe but not the United States.

And third, Manzi cites total share of of world GDP, which is a measure of population growth along with rising wealth. And, since 1980, the population of the United Stated has grown 35%, compared with 7% in the European Union and 0.7% in Russia. But of course, merely adding more people does not make your population better off. The more common measure of living standards in GDP per capita.

So, let’s look at a straight-up measure. How did the United States perform in comparison with European social democracies? Well, since 1980, the original 15 members of the European Union saw their real per capita income grow by 58%. Real per capita GDP in the United States grew by… 63%. And that measure actually overstates the difference. The European Union does not include Switzerland, Norway or Iceland — three countries that clearly qualify as European social democracies. Those three countries had 71% growth in per capita GDP since 1980 — thanks to Isha Vij of the Center for American Progress for pointing this out to me — which, if added to the EU 15, would bring the growth record of the United States and the social democracies even closer to parity.

Manzi responds:

Mr. Chait has two basic criticisms of these sentences, as I see it. He asserts that:

1. While technically accurate, the statements present the data in a misleading way because (i) I am comparing a period starting in the 1970s with one starting in 1980, and (ii) I quote a GDP figure for all of Europe, and then proceed to describe Europe “opting for social democracy”, which implies that this should have referred only to Western Europe.

2. I discuss total GDP, rather than GDP per capita, which is a better measure of prosperity.

Let me take these one at a time.

1. I used the word Europe as per its dictionary definition. I apologize for any confusion the wording might have created; as always, such confusion is the fault of the author, not the reader. I don’t think, however, the statement is misleading. The basic conclusion that Europe has ceded enormous global GDP share, while the U.S. has retained close to constant GDP share, holds for any reasonable geographic definition of Europe, for any time periods beginning in the 1970s or 1980, and when using any data source that I investigated for comparing currencies.

I’ll start with the change in U.S and European shares of global GDP, using Mr. Chait’s preferred (and entirely reasonable) definitions: a common start date of 1980, and the EU15 as a proxy for Western Europe. According to the US Economic Research Service Macroeconomic Dataset; GDP Shares by Country and Region Data Table; 11/4/09 update, the U.S. share of global GDP was 26.2% in 1980, and grew very slightly to 26.7% in 2009. This is a net share change of +2% (1 – 26.7/26.2) for the U.S. over this period. Germany, as another example, had a global share of 8.2% in 1980, which declined to 5.85% in 2009. This is a net share change of -29% for Germany over this period.

According to this data source, the net share changes from 1980 to 2009 are:

U.S. +2%

EU15 -22%
Of which,
Germany -29%
France -20%
Italy -32%

Now I’ll show almost the same analysis with a different data source – the OECD Publication The World Economy: Historical Statistics – that only has data through 2006. (In general, these calculations show slightly worse performance for both the U.S. and Europe as compared to the rest of the world, but almost identical U.S. vs. Europe performance). This table will show the change in share of global GDP between 1980 and 2006 for a core group of 12 European economies identified by the publication, plus each of the “big three” continental social democracies individually, plus the U.S.

Net share changes from 1980 to 2006 are:

U.S. -7%

Euro 12 -29%
Of which,
Germany -37%
France -28%
Italy -34%

However you slice it, the same observation holds true: European countries as a whole, and especially the major “social market” economies of Germany, France and Italy, have lost 20% – 30% of their share of global GDP versus the U.S.

2. Exactly as Mr. Chait indicates, GDP per capita would be a far better measure of prosperity – which is why I used that metric when discussing relative prosperity earlier in the piece. I used total GDP in the paragraph in question for the reasons I stated in the article. This was a description of the loss of European economic power to Asia. Ultimately, absolute size of an economy matters, because economic clout represents the latent capacity for military and cultural power. Not all large, successful economies become military powers, but many do. And per capita wealth will not protect a society from a large, aggressive military power. As an extreme illustration, annual GDP per capita is more than $40,000 in Hong Kong and more than $30,000 in Taiwan, but this did not allow Hong Kong to remain independent of PRC China, which has annual GDP per capita of about $6,000, and would not allow Taiwan to do so without the presence of the U.S Navy.

UPDATE: Reihan Salam:

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic suggests that Jim Manzi wasn’t comparing apples to apples in his National Affairs essay. Jim responds directly, and convincingly, here, but I have some additional thoughts.

First, we’re dealing with counterfactuals and ideas that are difficult to soundbite. The real mystery, as I suggested below, is why Europe didn’t grow much faster than it did relative to the U.S., which, by virtue of being the economic leader, should have experienced slower productivity growth than economies that were simply applying its lessons to their own economies — applying high savings rates to implementing techniques that had proven successful in a competitive environment.

I’d go further. The United States had a number of handicaps relative to Europe over this period, including the burden of very high defense expenditures and a tax system that focuses on income rather than consumption, unlike the more efficient (and more regressive) tax systems that predominate in Europe. Also, our educational system — not exactly the most neoliberal feature of the U.S. economy — failed miserably to yield the productivity gains we saw across other domains of the economy. Our human capital advantage, which was enormous for most of the 20th century, eroded and eventually vanished.

Moreover, the U.S. did a far better job of creating an inclusive labor market, which absorbed workers from throughout the developing world but particularly from neighboring Mexico, where more-skilled individuals tended to stay in-country or migrate to large cities while large numbers of less-skilled migrated to the U.S. There are costs and benefits to this strategy, and it may be productivity-enhancing due to the match between increased work effort among more-skilled Americans and the use of less-skilled to outsource household labor, e.g., child care, preparation of meals, etc. But it could also have proven a drag on productivity per worker hour.

Given these challenges, why did the U.S. experience relatively robust productivity growth? One argument — which I believe — is that we unleashed the entrepreneurial energy of Americans in such a way that we overcame these challenges. Had we also pursued aggressive education reform and tax reform and entitlement reform, and if the USSR decided to go under a decade early or Europe decided to bear a fair share of the defense burden, it seems plausible that the U.S. productivity growth edge would have been even higher.

Matthew Yglesias:

There are three main differences in living standards between the United States and Europe. One is that the US has long been somewhat wealthier than the biggest European countries, dating back to the 19th century. Two is that the US is much less egalitarian than Europe—a bigger share of European output is in the hands of the poor and the middle class, and a smaller share in the hands of the rich. The third is that Americans work more than most western Europeans:

Hours_Worked 1

These last two show us what I think is the real meaning of social democracy for a developed country—you get more equality and more vacation, with no real impact on the rate of growth. There’s a case to be made that less vacation and better televisions are a better deal than more vacation and worse televisions (the two things I like to do on vacation are go to Europe and watch TV, so I have mixed feelings about this) and there’s a tradition of philosophical argument which holds that the failure of modern mixed economies to be sufficiently solicitous of the interests of the wealthy is a major source of injustice. But though some level of income inequality would seem to be necessary to achieve economic growth, within the range that actual developed countries exist at there’s no evidence that inegalitarian policies boost growth.

UPDATE: Justin Fox at Time

Reihan Salam

Ross Douthat

UPDATE #2: Jim Manzi responds

UPDATE #3: Chait responds

Manzi responds to Chait

PEG at TAS

UPDATE #4: Paul Krugman

UPDATE #5: Manzi responds to Krugman

Noah Millman at TAS

UPDATE #6: Krugman’s column today

Tyler Cowen

Matt Y. on Cowen

UPDATE #7: Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #8: More Manzi

More Krugman

More Salam

UPDATE #9: Gail Collins and David Brooks at NYT

Ross Douthat

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