Saturday, May 09, 2015

Kentucky hates them some Christian Laettner

By Richard Barry

Hey Kentucky, can't forget me, can you?

I thought I'd check in on this year's governor's races. There are three. Bobby Jindal is term-limited in Louisiana, making that an open seat, which could make it a competitive race given how unpopular Jindal has become. Probably not.  Phil Bryant is the Republican incumbent in Mississippi, and will win reelection assuming something really odd doesn't happen. It's Mississippi. 

The race to watch, though, is Kentucky. Incumbent Democratic Governor Steve Beshear is term-limited. 

Jennifer Duffy at the Cook Political Report writes this about the hopefuls:
Democrats have settled on Attorney General Jay Conway as their nominee, but he is going to have to wait until the May 19 primary to learn which candidate he will face in November. Republicans are hosting a four-way contest featuring businessman and 2014 U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin, state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, businessman and former Louisville Councilman Hal Heiner, and former state Supreme Court Justice Will Scott.

Every indication is it will be competitive.

Okay, we'll pay attention, but here's the thing about the Kentucky race that caught my eye. 

According to a story that appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader, during a debate on a Kentucky sports radio station, "James Comer claimed that Hal Heiner was paying people from his past to tell lies about him to the media." To accentuate the point, Comer referred to Heiner as "the Christian Laettner of Kentucky politics."

Here's the backstory, courtesy of Sports Illustrated
Laettner is reviled in [Kentucky] for sinking a game-winning buzzer-beater for Duke against Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight, knocking out the Wildcats and sending the Blue Devils to the Final Four.

If you are from Kentucky, or are a Duke fan or a very dedicated college hoops fanatic, you might know that.

I still don't quite grasp how claiming a political opponent engaging in dirty tricks is anything like getting your buck kicked fair and square by a star player, but I guess hate is hate.

Through the wonders of YouTube, here is the shot that made Christian Laettner one of the most reviled figures in the history of the proud state of Kentucky. Those folks must be some serious roundball fans.  

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Austerity, ideology, and the UK elections

By Frank Moraes

It’s hard to get too upset about this last week’s elections in the United Kingdom. The truth is that the UK still has a decent welfare state and the Tories aren’t nearly as crazy as our own Republicans. (There are indications that it is getting worse, though.) But I find the whole thing interesting. It’s especially notable that what happened in the UK is the same thing that happened in Israel: the people have become more polarized. The Conservative Party won the election outright, but not because people stopped being liberal. Its gains came from the destruction of the centrist Liberal Democrats.

It’s actually remarkable. In 2010, the Conservative Party got 306 seats and the Liberal Democrats got 57 seats. So the coalition got 363 seats or 56% (they got 59.4% of the popular vote). This time, the Conservative Party got 330 seats but the Liberal Democrats got only 8 seats. So the coalition got 338 seats or 52% (just 44.8% of the popular vote). So all that really happened was that a large part of the Liberal Democrats moved to the Conservative Party — but over half went somewhere else completely. This does not bode well for the Conservative Party. And again, it is just like what happened to Likud in Israel — it hangs onto power because all the conservative minded people jumped to its defense. But where does that lead? After all, the Conservative Party may have won 51% of the seats, but it only won 37% of the vote.[1]

Read more »

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If the appearance of wrong-doing were the point, we'd throw them all out

By Richard Barry

This week has brought the long awaited and dramatically overhyped publication of Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich — a title that reads like a negative campaign ad!

First, let me state my conclusion: Comparing known and undisputed facts with the innuendo-laced suggestion that the book reveals Bill and/or Hillary Clinton performed even one wrongful act leads me to conclude that this project is a politically motivated con.
And this:
Clinton Cash proved two things we already knew: that Bill and Hillary Clinton raise a lot of money, and that Hillary Clinton was secretary of State. What Schweizer-as-Holmes fails to prove, and House Republicans-as-Javert have failed to prove throughout their inquisitions against Clinton, is that anything wrong was done.
Any suggestion that this book proves even one act of wrongdoing is an outright con. It does not.

Yes, there is a lot of money in politics among both Republicans and Democrats. The existence of these massive sums doesn't prove malfeasance, though it certainly should make us nervous. We should, absolutely, investigate any instances in which there might be a direct quid pro quo. 

The Koch brothers are very wealthy. They will make large sums of money available to certain Republican candidates. If there is ever a hint that this money is used to buy political favours, I hope there will be a thorough investigation. 

I don't like the relationship of extreme wealth to politics any more than any other small "d" democrat should, but it is now the lay of the land. Suggesting that Hillary and Bill Clinton are playing by a different set of rules with absolutely no proof is just a partisan game. 

Even Schweizer, as Budowsky notes, admits that "there is a need to begin more investigations to see whether any wrongful acts were committed, which he admits his own investigation failed to prove." So, yes, Budowsky concludes, "Everything discussed in the book should be objectively reported by serious media, including the fact that it proves no wrongdoing."


Money buys all kinds of things in politics that I wish did not exist, like privileged access to decision-makers. As there does not appear to be a smoking gun or,  as I call it, a direct quid pro quo in the Clinton case, let's move on, even as we recognize that all sides are likely influenced by the money they receive in all sorts of ways that are not per se "non-illegal."

I suspect anyone who could imagine voting for Hillary Clinton already has, and those who could never imagine doing so never will.

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Friday, May 08, 2015

Is Hillary Clinton ready to defend herself against the inevitable social media onslaught?

By Richard Barry

Dylan Byers is saying what a lot of people are saying, which is that this presidential election is Hillary Clinton's to lose.

He does some compelling Electoral College math suggesting an extremely strong starting position for Mrs. Clinton as he notes the difficulty Republicans will have "shifting the map" given how poorly some of the GOP's entrenched positions play in states they would have to win to be competitive.

But all is not lost for the GOP, Byers argues, if one of two things happens:

1. The Republicans build an Obama 2008-level narrative around their nominee, significantly broadening their candidate's appeal to independents and Democrats. 

2. Some legitimate controversy, historic stumble, unconscionable error or jaw-dropping gaffe completely reorients the way voters view Hillary Clinton.

Byers adds that E-mail-Gate or Clinton Foundation-Gate are not going to be her downfall, though something else could arise.

As for scenario number one, it's not going to happen. The GOP hasn't got that kind of candidate in the contest. 

So, it's scenario number two. Hillary Clinton has to defeat herself, which, Byers writes, is not inconceivable given the current climate.

First he writes that the "national media have never been more primed to take down Hillary Clinton." The way they have gone after the Clinton Foundation story and the e-mail business, while stories not likely to be fatal, indicate how hard they will pursue leads of any sort.  That could be important.

But his second point I find more interesting.
[The] media environment is radically different from the 1990s or even the 2000s. The power and volume of social media means that controversies can be both disseminated and elevated to unprecedented levels. In today's media environment, nothing with even a whiff of gunpowder comes across the transom without blowing up, because blowing stuff up is what the media do. Or, as Daniel Henninger notes in today's Wall Street Journal, the "electronic elements have reached critical mass ... [and] the new political media that will drive the 2016 presidential contest are like the surface of the oceans — huge, always moving, unpredictable and potentially destructive."

The unprecedented "power and volume of social media," and I would add the sums of money that will be available to add fuel are on point. Each year these factors become exponentially more important. Because of Hillary Clinton's profile going in, she could be badly damaged by so much that she does or says or that comes out because of the ability of social media to disseminate and elevate, perhaps far in excess of the damage it would have caused in previous election cycles. 

The higher the profile, the easier the target, and Mrs. Clinton's profile couldn't be higher. And, let's face it, the Clinton's are aways good copy. 

There is an unknown here, maybe something qualitatively different than we've seen up to this point. I'm not sure it signals a problem for Hillary Clinton of the sort that could lead her demise, but it should make "Team Hillary" nervous. 

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We are not going to stop loving political polling

In noting how badly pre-election polls underestimated the Conservatives' performance in the U.K. general election and overestimated Labour's result, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight writes that "it's becoming harder to find an election  in which polls did all that well."

He sites four other recent examples of polling problems: underestimating the size of the "no" side in the Scottish independence referendum; underestimating the GOP's performance in 2014 U.S. Senate races; badly underestimating Likud's performance in recent Israeli legislative elections; and underestimating Obama's performance in the 2012 general election by about three points nationwide. Silver points out that if that error went the other way, Romney would have won the popular vote and perhaps also the Electoral College.

Silver suggests some possible reasons for the problem:
Voters are becoming harder to contact, especially on landline telephones. Online polls have become commonplace, but some eschew probability sampling, historically the bedrock of polling methodology. And in the U.S., some pollsters have been caught withholding results when they differ from other surveys, “herding” toward a false consensus about a race instead of behaving independently.

This is not the first time we have heard concerns raised about the accuracy of polling, but we continue to rely on them somewhat uncritically and base our analysis on what we think they tell us.  

Well, public polling companies aren't going to go out of business anytime soon, but when a politician finds himself or herself on the lousy end of a survey, maybe we shouldn't laugh when she or he says that the only poll that counts is the one held on Election Day.

Having said that, I love polls and will continue to treat them like Gospel truth because they give us so much to talk and write about, and isn't that the point?

And besides, who likes going into Election Day not knowing the likely outcome? Way too nerve-racking.

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Mike Huckabee: Man of the people

By Richard Barry

Yesterday I noted that Mike Huckabee is setting himself up as the only likely Republican presidential hopeful ready to aggressively protect entitlements like Medicare  and Social Security, contrary to conservative orthodoxy that looks at anything the government does (with the exception of invading other countries) with suspicion.

Now it's on to criticizing international trade deals, the kind of thing you would expect of labour unions and leftists like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

As reported by The Week:

In an MSNBC interview, 2016 Republican presidential candidate and ordained Baptist minister Mike Huckabee used some salty language to argue against fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

"I’d like to think the U.S. government would stand up for the U.S. workers rather than let them take it in the backside and somehow just have to tough it out," Huckabee said.

A Republican is worried about a trade deal that could adversely impact the wages of American?  Okay.

In one sense this isn't that surprising. There has long been a tension in the Republican Party between big-monied eastern elites and middle American populists. In the strange coalition that makes up the party, eastern elites vote Republican to protect their economic interests, their privilege, and many middle American populists vote Republican as an expression of their own powerlessness.

If you think about it, it's almost surprising it took a Republican presidential candidate so long to start moving in this direction. The government is trying to screw the little guy out of entitlements which he paid for. The government is negatioting a trade deal that could lower wages for the working class. And the government is telling people they have to accept changes in the social fabric of the country that make them nervous, to put it gently.

It's not entirely consistent if you take conservative ideology as a package, but consistency is over-rated in politics if you can find a way to play to people's fears.

It will be very interesting to see how this line plays out in the debates.


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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Can Jeb Bush win by outlasting his rivals?

By Richard Barry

A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with a big early lead in the Iowa Republican Caucus with 21 percent of likely GOP caucus participants, followed by Paul and Rubio, each with 13 percent, then Cruz at 12 percent and Huckabee at 11. Then Ben Carson at 7 percent followed by Jeb Bush at 5. No other candidate is above 3 percent and 6 percent are undecided.

That's right, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is in seventh place with 5 percent.

This is my favourite result:

Bush tops the list at 25 percent, followed by New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie with 20 percent, when likely Republican Caucus participants are asked if there is any candidate they would definitely not support.

Luckily this is all a part of Jeb Bush's master plan, or so Bush advisor Mike Murphy would have you believe. 

In an analysis in The Washington Post, Matea Gold and Robert Costa report these comments in a meeting Murphy had with potential Bush donors: 

[Murphy] dismissed buzz-fueled candidates who rise fast early only to flame out once the primaries begin. Murphy ridiculed the early spate of presidential polls — many of which show Bush lagging, particularly in Iowa — as “noise meters.” And he insisted that the Bush team is patiently playing a long game, one that will not be upended by the actions of his rivals.

As Gold and Costa remind us, this is a similar approach that worked for Mitt Romney, who saw a number of his rivals briefly lead in the polls only to fade shortly after tasting success.

The clear difference is that this is not 2012, particularly in terms of the strength of the opponents Bush must face, some of whom will be able to raise serious money from their own super-PACs. 

And there is Bush's ability to anger conservative activists due in part to his stand on issues like immigration and education reform, and perhaps also from the sense that he is from on older way of doing things that values compromise and old fashioned politicking.

I'm still putting my money on Jeb to at least win the GOP nomination, I just thought I'd run through a few reasons he's going to have a tough time. 

Can Jeb Bush win the nomination if he remains very unpopular with conservative activists? And is it possible to win with a long-game strategy with so much quality competition?

My answer is still yes because in that long-game Jeb is still really only running against Walker and Rubio, and I don't think Walker has the political performance chops, and I can't get my head around Rubio as the nominee. Rubio just seems too insubstantial to me. 

Last man standing. 


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WTF Mike?

By Richard Barry

And that's the name of that tune

Ever since we first heard Tea Partiers express the view that government should keep its hands off their Medicare, we knew there was some serious cognitive dissonance going on in the conservative movement.

If you think about it, though, people rarely have difficulty with their own entitlements, which they are sure they deserve. It's always the other guy's entitlements that ought to be cut back or abolished.

Mike Huckabee is smart enough to figure that out and said so to supporters as he launched his campaign on Tuesday to join the growing field of Republican presidential candidates. As the New York Times reports, he declared himself "the guardian of so-called entitlement programs, warning, 'Let them end their own congressional pensions, not your Social Security!'"

But his pledge to fend off any tinkering with the popular Social Security and Medicare programs put him at odds with his Republican opponents, exposing growing fault lines in the party over an issue that has long been considered a political third rail.

At the core of Republican concerns about the programs is a traditional distrust of big-government largess, coupled with growing fears about their long-term insolvency. Yet the party’s base of white — and often older — voters includes many blue-collar conservatives who mistrust the government but depend on its programs for older Americans.

Sounding a bit like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, Huckabee "said in a video announcing his candidacy, 'Washington has done enough lying and stealing. I’ll never rob seniors of what our government promised them and even forced them to pay for.'"

Progressives might think that government is the vehicle that allows us to pool our resources to everyone's mutual benefit. And though Huckabee seems intent on perverting that notion to suggest entitlement programs are nothing more than what the government owes individuals who have "paid in," to a particular system, he is still reminding folks that government has an important role to play. He is reminding people that it isn't the bigness of government per se that ought to worry, but in whose interest government acts when it acts on our behalf.

Making more conservative voters aware of government's role in delivering Social Security and Medicare may not make them raving socialists, but it could help to challenge some of the libertarian rhetoric that informs so much of the debate on the GOP side these days.

Thanks, Mike.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Let it not be said that I'm incapable of going for the cheap laugh

By Richard Barry

The Independent today reported that "a Conservative candidate has urged campaigners 'always' to proofread their leaflets after one of his leaflets accidentally urged people to vote on 'erection day.'"

A British Conservative MP by the name of James Duddridge who "was Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East in the last parliament and is re-standing at the election, posted a picture of a leaflet on his Twitter account."

It's funny, but I would not want to be the person responsible. 

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You want debates? We'll have debates

By Richard Barry

Ooh, frosty.

The Democratic National Committee announced on Tuesday that there will be six officially-sanctioned debates as part of the party's presidential nomination process. It's not many, but considering how thin the field is and that the outcome is hardly in doubt, it will do. 
"We’ve always believed that we would have a competitive primary process, and that debates would be an important part of that process,” said DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “Our debate schedule will not only give Democratic voters multiple opportunities to size up the candidates for the nomination side-by-side, but will give all Americans a chance to see a unified Democratic vision of economic opportunity and progress – no matter whom our nominee may be.”

In addition to Mrs. Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders is in and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb,  former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley are thinking about it.

Six debates should be enough for the Democratic Party to show that there is to be no coronation, but not so many to cause real damage to the eventual nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Chris Cillizza is exactly right when he notes that "Clinton and her team want to make sure you and everyone else knows that she is not taking this nomination for granted," even if she has every right to.

What better way to show that she is willing to fight for the every vote than to stand on a debate stage six times with the other candidates? That leveling process is a net good thing for Clinton in a way it wouldn't be for virtually any other candidate. While this would be seen as "punching down" for most well-known candidates, Clinton badly needs to avoid the appearance of a coronation, and a bunch of debates is a very good way to do that.

Then there is the fact that Clintonworld would like some positive media coverage during the primary and some credit for winning it.

Clinton is, if the 2008 campaign is any evidence, a skilled and poised debater who will likely perform well in the six showdowns to come. Her debate performances will then provide a storyline that isn't about her e-mail server, the Clinton Foundation or how much she or her husband were paid to give speeches. Clinton and her top aides abhor process stories, but a series of pieces about her ability and agility on the debate stage would be the sort of process-y story they would welcome with open arms.

Cillizza adds something I said a few weeks ago, which is that Clinton may be an experienced politician but she's likely rusty as hell and "needs practice before the three highly watched and highly meaningful general election debates against the GOP nominee."

It's all good, Clinton lovers. Relax. You should be happy with this, especially if you recall that Clinton and Obama met more than two dozen times in 2008.

And if you're planning your date book into 2016, take note that there will be debates in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. And by then it should be over. 

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With no political experience, would Carly Fiorina hire Carly Fiorina for president?

By Richard Barry

As expected, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina announced her candidacy for president yesterday. She is the first declared female candidate to seek the Republican Party nomination.

In an interview on "Good Morning America," she explained why she thinks she is well qualified for the job saying,  "I think I'm the best person for the job because I understand how the economy actually works. I understand the world; who's in it."

Ms. Fiorina has never held public office, though she did try, having lost to Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010. But, what the heck, she's allowed to run. It's a free country.
"If you're tired of the sound bites, the vitriol, the pettiness, the egos, the corruption; if you believe that it's time to declare the end of identity politics; if you believe that it's time to declare the end of lowered expectations; if you believe that it's time for citizens to stand up to the political class and say enough, then join us," Fiorina says. 

Fiorina is also setting herself up as the anti-Hillary. 
"She has not been transparent about a whole set of things that matter," Fiorina said on ABC, ticking off Benghazi, Clinton's use of personal emails at the State Department as well as foreign donations that the Clinton Foundation has received.

She added that Clinton is "clearly not trustworthy."

Carly Fiorina is not going to win the Republican nomination and is likely only running to raise her profile because profile is currency. Maybe if Jeb Bush becomes president she gets a Cabinet post or perhaps there is a chair at Fox News waiting for her.

In any case, there are two observations I would make. The first is that business experience alone does not qualify an individual for the presidency. There is so much more to it: the ability to inspire, coalition building, negotiation skills, just to name a few essentials.  To say, "I have run a company, made a lot of money for my shareholders, so I can run a country" is nonsense.

In fact, a community organizer who understands how to manage the divergent interests at play in any given locale probably understands politics a lot better than a business executive.

The other is the suggestion that Fiorina's candidacy will be a problem for Hillary Clinton by taking that whole first woman president thing off the table. See above. Carly Fiorina is not going to win her party's nomination. By the time Hillary Clinton runs against Jeb, or Scott, or Marco, the fact that she's a woman will be a big deal and Fiorina will have been long forgotten.


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Monday, May 04, 2015

What it means to be a minority according to Rand Paul

A recent quote by Rand Paul went like this:
“Bias because of color, because you’re Jewish, or because you’re an Evangelical Christian, or because you teach your kids at home. You can be a minority for a variety of reasons.”

Well, sure. But Evangelical Christians and home schoolers? What about super rich white guys? How many of those are realistically out there, at least as a percentage of the population? Poor bastards.


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