Monday, December 29, 2008

The Disproportionate Response

Virtually every time Israel takes action in Gaza or the West Bank, it is heavily criticized for "over reacting." Every time, in response, I think of the same dialogue from the West Wing, season 1:

President Bartlet: What is the value of a proportional response?

Admiral Fitzwallace: I'm sorry?

B: What is the virtue of a proportional response? Why is it good? They hit an airplane, so we hit a transmitter, right? That's a proportional response.

F: Sir, in the case of Pericles...

B: They hit our barracks, so we hit two transmitters?

F: That's roughly it, sir.

B: It's what we do. I mean this is what we do.

Chief of Staff McGerry: Yes sir, it's what we do. It's what we've always done.

B: Well if it's what we do, if it's what we've always done, don't they know we're going to do it?

M: Sir, if you would turn your attention to Pericle One.

B: I have turned my attention to Pericles one. Its two ammo dumps, an abandoned railroad bridge and a Syrian intelligence agency.

F: Those are four high rated military targets, sir.

B: But they know we are going to do that, they know we are going to do that. Those areas have been abandoned for days. We know that from the satellites. We have the intelligence. They did that, so we do this. It's the cost of doing business, it's been factored in, right? Am I right or am I missing somethhing here?

F: No sir, you're right sir.

B: Then I ask again, what is the virtue of a proportional response?

F: It isn't virtuous Mr. President, it's all there is sir.

B: It is not all there is.

F: Pardon me, Mr. President, just what else is there?

B: A disproportionate response. Let the word ring forth from this time and this place, you kill an American, any American, we don't come back with a proportional response, we come back with total disaster!

Unnamed General: Are you suggesting we carpet bomb Damascus?

B: General, I am suggesting that you and Admiral Fitzwallace and Secretary Hutchinson and the rest of the national security team take the next sixty minutes and put together a U.S. response scenario that doesn't make me think we are just docking somebody's damn allowance.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Reformers Only Mornin' Glories

In today's Washington Post, Richard Cohen has a great op-ed in which he expresses his dismay over the Obama campaign throwing Jim Johnson, its former VP vetter, overboard:
It is abundantly clear that Johnson got home loans from Countrywide Financial, the company that Obama and others have blamed for contributing to the subprime mortgage debacle. It is not abundantly clear, however, that Johnson did anything wrong. The Wall Street Journal, which has done the major reporting on this story, said that some of Johnson's loans were "at lower-than-average interest rates" and that he got other kinds of considerations.

If Johnson were being contemplated for banking commissioner or something similar, this might be a problem. But he has instead been asked to vet Obama's vice presidential candidates. Only if one of them is connected with Countrywide Financial can I see a difficulty. That is not about to happen.

No matter. Others pounced on the story, finding Johnson very guilty association – inferentially indebted to the reviled Countrywide. Soon the GOP took up the cry that Johnson must go, and, after a moment's hesitation, he did. The Obama campaign thus showed a talent for retreat and, in the process, lost the services of someone who broke no law, greased no palm and has a reputation in Washington for integrity and sound judgment. That's why Obama had turned to him.

The Bush administration has done much to debase the coinage of experience. George Bush's inner circle – Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld above all – was rich in experience and poor in judgment. But it was not experience that led the Bushies astray. It was ideology, and that, of course, can addle the judgment of the experienced and the inexperienced alike. If the lesson we take from the debacle of Iraq is that experience does not matter, than we have lost the war twice over.

The departure of Jim Johnson is a bad omen. Already, the McCain campaign has purged itself of lobbyists, as if just being one is proof of corruption – or as if all lobbyists are the same and, on account of what they do, irredeemably slimy. The Obama campaign has pledged to be just as clean. But what matters are the judgment and integrity of the candidate, not whether an adviser once got a bargain mortgage from a notorious lending institution or was once a lobbyist. This search for virgins will not result in a clean government, but one, instead, that lacks the past to plan the future.

I couldn't agree more with the point Cohen makes. Being an insider isn't inherently a bad thing. Obama clearly agrees with this, as his top advisers are David Plouffe and David Axelrod, whose firm, AKP&D Media, boasts a client list including the DNC, DCCC, and numerous presidential campaigns, senators, congressman, governors and other assorted elected officials.

Similarly, lobbyists aren't inherently evil either. While she was pilloried last summer for refusing to follow Barack Obama and John Edwards in barring lobbyists from contributing to her campaign, Hillary Clinton was exactly right when she argued that "You know, a lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans. They actually do. They represent nurses. They represent, you know, social workers. They represent, yes, they represent corporations. They employ a lot of people."

When I was in college, I was represented by lobbyists employed by my alma mater; as a union member, I'm currently represented by lobbyists working for my union; and as a New Yorker, I'm represented by New York City's lobbyists in Albany and Washington, D.C. There are, of course, many lobbies with which I disagree, but to demonize all lobbyists, or all "political insiders," is misguided. They should be judged based on what they are actually advocating for, not merely for the fact that they are advocating for something.

U.S. News's Michael Barone points out something important that most people tend to overlook - the right to lobby is a fundamental Constitutional right:

Behind this stigmatization of lobbyists is the notion that the failure to produce legislation in the public interest stems from the existence of lobbyists. Which is obviously nonsense. We couldn't abolish lobbying without repealing the First Amendment, which gives all of us, even those who are paid to do it, the right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances." And the government could not sensibly do business without lobbyists.

It is a simple fact of life that when Congress writes laws and the executive branch writes regulations that channel vast flows of money –and laws and regulations that have vast moral implications –citizens affected by those words are going to try to make sure they're written the way they want. They're going to hire the best people they can find to do so. They want lobbyists with connections –and with expertise. They can help lawmakers understand how the words they write will affect "real Americans."

That's why I was pleased to see Clinton defend lobbying not only for those whom her Democratic audience considers good interests (nurses, social workers) but for those they don't (corporations). Implicitly, she's rejected the distinction made by the head of the Humane Society of the United States, who recently contrasted "special interest lobbyists" (presumably those working for profit-making interests) with "socially responsible lobbyists" (those working for nonprofits). But even lobbyists for nonprofits have a monetary motive: to keep their (often six-figure) salaries flowing in.

Yes, K Street is not perfect. Old, entrenched interests tend to be well represented. New and growing industries and morally motivated companies that are unorganized tend to be underrepresented. The high-tech industry figured it could get along without much representation in Washington until Microsoft got slapped with an antitrust suit a decade ago. Now it hires lobbyists in droves.

Not much of this will change in a McCain or Obama administrations… Both candidates are proposing healthcare, carbon emission, and tax changes, legislation that will – and should – face heavy lobbying. Which is fine. Such laws will have enormous ramifications, and everyone who wants to should chime in. Even – if I can uses that dreaded word again – lobbyists.

All of which explains why I'm repeatedly infuriated by both McCain and Obama's disingenuous demagoguery on these issues. Both of them would rather avoid the appearance of impropriety than have an honest discussion with the American people about the role insiders and lobbyists play in politics. Rather than admit that, yes, they are politicians, with all that entails, they would rather jettison allies and aides as needed in order to pretend that they are "purer" than their peers and don't subscribe to politics-as-usual,

I find it particularly ironic that both Barone's and Cohen's columns were inspired by Obama's treatment of Jim Johnson, because there was a far better reason not to use him as a VP vetter: a track record of failure.

Just as experience and connections don't guarantee bad results, nor do they guarantee success either. Those who argue that Johnson was qualified rest their case on his two claims to fame: he managed Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign, and he was in charge of vetting potential VP's for John Kerry in 2004, yet both of which ended poorly for Democrats. Johnson led Mondale into his 49-state routing by Ronald Reagan (Reagan amassed 525 electoral college votes, to Mondale's 13); and he led John Kerry to choose John Edwards as his running mate, which he would later regret, as detailed by both Time and the New York Times.

For all of the talk of Obama's vaunted judgment, choosing Jim Johnson was a poor choice, just not for the reasons repeated incessantly by the press.

Lastly, the discussion of "insiders" reminds me of an essay by the inimitable George Washington Plunkitt. While he characteristically overstated his case, Plunkitt was on to something about the necessary role of those who make a career in politics when he wrote the following (from Plunkitt of Tammany Hall):

The fact is that a reformer can't last in politics. He can make a show for a while, but he always comes down like a rocket. Politics is as much a regular business as the grocery or the dry-goods or the drug business. You've got to be trained up to it or you're sure to fail. Suppose a man who knew nothing about the grocery trade suddenly went into the business and tried to conduct it according to his own ideas. Wouldn't he make a mess of it? He might make a splurge for a while, as long as his money lasted, but his store would soon be empty. It's just the same with a reformer. He hasn't been brought up in the difficult business of politics and he makes a mess of it every time.

I've been studyin' the political game for forty-five years, and I don't know it all yet. I'm learnin' somethin' all the time. How, then, can you expect what they call "business men" to turn into politics all at once and make a success of it? It is just as if I went up to Columbia University and started to teach Greek. They usually last about as long in politics as I would last at Columbia.

You can't begin too early in politics if you want to succeed at the game. I began several years before I could vote, and so did every successful leader in Tammany Hall. When I was twelve years old I made myself useful around the district headquarters and did work at all the polls on election day. Later on, I hustled about gettin' out voters who had jags on or who were too lazy to come to the polls. There's a hundred ways that boys can help, and they get an experience that's the first real step in statesmanship. Show me a boy that hustles for the organization on election day, and I'll show you a comin' statesman.

That's the a, b, c of politics. It ain't easy to work to get up to q and z. you have to give nearly all your time and attention to it. Of course, you may have some business or occupation on the side, but the great business of your life must be politics if you want to succeed in it…

Do you understand now, why it is that a reformer goes down and out in the first or second round, while a politician answers to the gong every time? It is because the one has gone into the fight without trainin', while the other trains all the time and knows every fine point of the game.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Team of Rivals '08?

As I previously argued, Secretary of Health and Human Services seems like a logical consolation prize for Barack Obama to offer Hillary Clinton:
There is, however, one cabinet position for which Clinton seems both well-qualified and well-suited: Secretary of Health and Human Services. As a member of the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions since 2001, she is familiar with many of the issues dealt with by the Department of Health and Human Services. Given her intense and long-standing advocacy on behalf of health care reform and children's issues in particular, this seems an ideal appointment for her. Whether she would prefer it to being a senator, however, is anyone's guess.
It now looks like Obama and his advisers may have come to the same conclusion. According to The Daily Telegraph,

Senior figures in the Obama camp have told Democrat colleagues that the offer to Mrs Clinton of a cabinet post as health secretary or to steer new legislation through the Senate will be a central element of their peace overtures to the New York senator...

Another Democrat who has discussed strategy with friends in the Obama inner circle said that Mr Obama was openly considering asking Mrs Clinton to join his cabinet, alongside two other former presidential rivals: John Edwards, who is seen as a likely attorney general; and Joe Biden, who is a leading contender to become Secretary of State.

To my knowledge, this is the first time anyone associated with the Obama campaign has floated the idea of Secretary Clinton.

Two weeks ago, Obama explained why he might make such an offer. At a town hall in Florida, he was asked if he would consider an unspecified person as a running mate, "even if his or her spouse is an occasional pain in the butt." After laughing and pointing out that the primary campaign wasn't over yet, Obama answered in more detail:
I'm a practical guy. One of my heroes is Abraham Lincoln. A while back, there was a wonderful book written by Doris Kearns Goodwin called "Team of Rivals," in which she talked about how Lincoln basically pulled all the people he'd been running against into his Cabinet. Because whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was, "How can we get the country through this time of crisis?" I think that has to be the approach one takes to the vice president and the Cabinet.
Two weeks before the Florida town hall, Andrew Sullivan, a rabid Clinton-hater, begrudgingly raised the possibility of a "Hate-Filled Dream Ticket" by referencing Goodwin's book and noting that giving Clinton a prominent role in the Obama administration would bolster, not detract, from his message of unity:
His model should be Abraham Lincoln. What Lincoln did, as Doris Kearns Goodwin explained in her brilliant book, "Team of Rivals," was to bring his most bitter opponents into his cabinet in order to maintain national and party unity at a time of crisis. Obama - who is a green legislator from Illinois, just as Lincoln was - could signal to his own supporters in picking Clinton that he isn't capitulating to old politics, he is demonstrating his capacity to reach out and engage and co-opt his rivals and opponents. Done deftly, picking Clinton could even resonate with Obama's supporters as a statesmanlike gesture, a sign of the kind of reconciliation he wants for his own party for the fall. It is consonant with his core message: that he can unfiy the country in a way few other politicians can. It would even help heal the gulf that has opened up between the Clintons and black voters in this campaign. It's win-win all round.
Notably, Lincoln's Team of Rivals was not an effort to bring the entire country together, but rather to mend the rifts within his own party at a time when it was greatly divided - his Cabinet did not include any of his opponents in the general election: John Bell, John Breckenridge, and Stephen Douglas. (Fortunately for him, Lincoln never had to deal with the religion of "High Broderism" and its zealous, misguided calls for bipartisanship.)

Every one of Lincoln's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, however, was drafted into his Cabinet. Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron became Lincoln's Secretary of War, New York Senator William Seward became Lincoln's Secretary of State, Ohio Governor Salmon Chase became Lincoln's Treasury Secretary (and was later nominated by Lincoln to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), and Edward Bates became Lincoln's Attorney General.

A century later, Lyndon Johnson eloquently explained why co-opting your adversaries in this manner made eminent political sense. When asked why he kept J. Edgar Hoover in charge of the FBI, Johnson told the NY Times that "It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What is Hillary's End-Game?

With just three primaries left, it is abundantly clear at this point that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for president, yet Hillary has shown no signs that she plans to leave the race any time soon. On the assumptions that she is aware that the race is effectively over, and that she does, in fact, have some reason for remaining in the race other than spite and/or denial, the question becomes, what is she looking to gain? In the extended entry, I discuss what the competing theories are, and how realistic they seem to be.

Running again in 2012: Not gonna happen. Running again in 2012 is a bigger risk for her than running in 2008 was: she's up for reelection in 2012. Running again means giving up her senate seat, whereas in 2008, she's not out of a job after the Democratic Convention. That said, if she chooses to run again, it may mean running a primary against President Obama, wherein she has no argument against him assuming he's done a decent job. Her best arguments, "He is unelectable" or "I've got more experience" are no longer viable claims. If Obama loses in 2008, she has, at minimum, four major hurdles to overcome:

1) Obama proved that she can be beaten in the Democratic primary. If she runs again, whoever challengers her has a ready-made blueprint for how to win;

2) There would presumably be another front-runner, as whoever Obama chooses as his VP nominee becomes his heir apparent in 2012;

3) With Bill out of office for 12 years, and her defeat in 2008, the "Clinton Machine" is dead. She won't be able to rely on a dream team of top consultants, operatives, and fundraisers (for all the good that did her this time around anyway); and

4) Most importantly, half the party will hold her accountable for Obama's loss. Not only will she need to convince Democrats that she's the best candidate (again), but also to forgive her for bloodying up Obama and clearing the way for President McCain.

Obama "assumes" Clinton's campaign debt: As far as I can tell, this theory started when Tim Russert pulled it out of his ass the night of the Indiana & North Carolina primaries. The next day, Huffington Post reported on "the near certainty that the Obama campaign would agree to pay back the $11.4 million she has loaned her own bid, along with an estimated $10 million to $15 million in unpaid campaign expenses."

There are two factors that make this implausible. First, politically, it's a non-starter. The optics of Obama giving the Clintons tens of millions of dollars to drop out of the race would be disastrous for him. Given that a large part of the Clinton's debt is to themselves, this would amount to a multi-million dollar bribe, and would significantly impact his ability to campaign as a new kind of politician who is above making such deals.

Furthermore, the Obama campaign has prided itself on fundraising from its vaunted small-donor base. These donors, presumably, give in small amounts precisely because they cannot give more, and would be incensed at the notion that the money that they believed was going to help Obama would instead go to someone they have actively opposed for the last several months. As Josh Marshall succinctly argued, "That's not what people gave their money for."

Second, however, is the fact that it is literally not an option. According to federal election law, the Obama campaign would be limited to donating $2,000 to the Clinton campaign. What Obama could offer to do would be to ask his supporters to donate money to the Clintons, in order to retire their campaign debt. Given the oft-noted animosity that many of Obama's ardent supporters feel towards the Clintons, that the Clinton's debt is largely to themselves, and that they aren't exactly hurting for money, I doubt Obama supporters feel compelled to help Hillary out.

Clinton for Governor: This theory took off when Newsweek's Jonathan Alter suggested that Hillary accept the Governor's Mansion in place of the White House. No compelling reason is given, however, for why she would either want to be governor or make a good governor. Nor has Clinton herself shown any interest in leaving Washington for Albany. Even if she chose to do so, she would likely have to run against the sitting governor, David Paterson, who has said that he plans to run for reelection in 2010. Besides, does she really want her next career move to be a challenge to an incumbent governor, who, like Obama, happens to be a popular, black, Ivy-league educated lawyer and former professor?

Clinton for Majority Leader: Three problems: Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, and Chuck Schumer. As with running for governor, Clinton's first problem is that someone else already has the job, and they probably want to keep it. While it might make a tempting consolation prize if it were vacant, Harry Reid's been in the Senate for over 20 years, and has been one of its top-ranking Democrats since 1999. He's paid his dues and is unlikely to give up the position he's worked toward for so long.

If Reid were to step aside for some reason, Clinton would still have to out-maneuver Durbin and Schumer, who, in addition to sharing a house in DC, are the second- and third-ranking Democrats in the Senate. As the senior senator from Illinois, Durbin also happens to be one of Obama's earliest and most influential supporters, something a President Obama would take into account in deciding how to weigh in on choosing a new Majority Leader.

Schumer, New York's senior senator, is in his second term as chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. In 2006, he helped unseat 6 Republican incumbents, giving Democrats control of the senate, and he is likely to help seat several more Democratic senators in this election cycle. Presumably, all of these new Democratic senators would maintain some level of gratitude for Schumer's DSCC leadership, and would be hesitant to cross him by supporting Clinton in a contested race for majority leader.

Clinton for Cabinet Position in Obama Administration: Of the Big 4 (Defense, Justice, State and Treasury), I have trouble seeing her as being particularly interested in either Secretary of the Treasury, or Attorney General, based on the issues she focused on as both First Lady and as a sitting senator, so I'll assume that she isn't.

She might be interested in Secretary of State or Defense, given her campaign's focus on her foreign policy credentials, and her service on the Senate's Armed Services Committee, yet I don't see these appointments as particularly plausible. Simply put, there is no subject on which she and Obama are more divided than foreign affairs. Most prominently, they've fought over Iraq, Iran, and basic philosophies of negotiation with foreign leaders. Such disagreements would seem to rule her out for either position.

There is, however, one cabinet position for which Clinton seems both well-qualified and well-suited: Secretary of Health and Human Services. As a member of the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions since 2001, she is familiar with many of the issues dealt with by the Department of Health and Human Services. Given her intense and long-standing advocacy on behalf of health care reform and children's issues in particular, this seems an ideal appointment for her. Whether she would prefer it to being a senator, however, is anyone's guess.

This leaves me with what I think are the most likely, and most interesting, possibilities for Hillary might be hoping for: Vice President, and Supreme Court Justice.

When it comes to choosing a running mate, there is a strong argument to be made against choosing Clinton, that it is incongruous with his message of moving past partisanship and old political wars. But the negatives, in my view, pale in comparison to the benefits. Though I hate to quote him, Andrew Sullivan makes a compelling case for what he terms the "Hate-Filled Dream Ticket."

The conservative white voters that Clinton has amazingly managed to attract could be combined with the massive infusion of new young votes, internet money, and African-American enthusiasm to create a potential tsunami in the election. Instead of having to pick between the first black president and the first woman president, the Democrats could offer voters both: the first black president and first female vice-president. Worries about Obama's relative youth and lack of Washington experience would be allayed by the presence of the Clintons. The toxicity of the Clinton baggage could be balanced by the hope Obama has inspired.

The Clintons could be deployed to shore up support in some of the Reagan Democrat states, while Obama wins over enough independents to carry the Mountain West and the upper Midwest. California, Ohio, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania could be secured…

And yet I can also see that the new politics Obama represents has provoked a ferocious backlash from the established political class; and his weakness (as well as his appeal) as a candidate is his reluctance to engage in the kind of street-fighting that politics can sometimes — and must sometimes — become. By picking Clinton as a vice-president, he would be pulling a classic American manoeuvre — getting a surrogate to do the dirty pugilism of the campaign, while using his own extraordinary skills to provide a unifying and uplifting overall theme. Picking Clinton would also defuse genuine concerns among older voters that he is just too green to be entrusted with presidential power just yet…

There's also a way for Obama to explain this choice in a way that does not violate — and in fact strengthens — his core message. His model in this should be Abraham Lincoln. What Lincoln did, as Doris Kearns Goodwin explained in her brilliant book, "Team Of Rivals," was to bring his most bitter opponents into his cabinet in order to maintain national and party unity at a time of crisis. Obama — who is a green legislator from Illinois, just as Lincoln was — could signal to his own supporters in picking Clinton that he isn't capitulating to old politics, he is demonstrating his capacity to reach out and engage and co-opt his rivals and opponents. Done deftly, picking Clinton could even resonate with Obama's supporters as a statesmanlike gesture, a sign of the kind of reconciliation he wants to achieve at home and abroad and energize his own party for the fall. It is consonant with his core message: that he can unify the country in a way few other politicians can. It would even help heal the gulf that has opened up between the Clintons and black voters in this campaign. It's win-win all round.

It is the ability of this ticket to reunite the party after the divisive primary that demonstrates how smart a move an Obama/Clinton would be. Given the huge numbers of Clinton supporters who say that they would vote for McCain or stay home rather than support Obama, a number that only went up as the campaign progressed, there are few better ways to ensure that they don’t follow through with their threat of throwing the election to the Republicans. 75% of Clinton supporters, and 60% of Democrats overall want a unity ticket – with numbers like that, it’s hard to deny its appeal. In particular, Clinton’s appeal is to the key demographics that Obama has been unable to attract: working-class whites and Hispanics (and no, Edwards can’t get those same demographics).

Lastly, Supreme Court Justice Clinton: Perhaps the most interesting possibility is for Barack Obama to agree to nominate Hillary to the Supreme Court.

Before stepping on to the national stage in 1992, Hillary had a very successful legal career. After attending Yale Law School, she practiced with The Rose Law Firm for nearly 20 years, becoming its first female partner. Additionally, she has worked as a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund, and for the House Committee on the Judiciary during the Watergate Hearings. In both 1988 and 1991, The National Law Journal listed her as one of America’s 100 most influential lawyers.

As Jason Miller argued in yesterday’s Washington Post,

Obama and Clinton have wound up agreeing on nearly every major issue during the campaign; at the end of the day, they share many orthodoxies. Unless the Supreme Court were to get mired in minuscule details of what constitutes universal health care, Obama could assume that he'd be pleased with most Clinton votes, certainly on major issues such as abortion.

Obama could also appreciate Clinton's undeniably keen mind. Even Clinton detractors have noted her remarkable mental skills; she would be equal to any legal or intellectual challenge she would face as a justice. The fact that she hasn't served on a bench before would be inconsequential, considering her experience in law and in government.

If Obama were to promise Clinton the first court vacancy, her supporters would actually have a stronger incentive to support him for president than they would if she were going to be vice president. Given the Supreme Court's delicate liberal-conservative balance, she would play a major role in charting the country's future; there is no guarantee that a Clinton vice presidency would achieve such importance…

Obama could also trust that Clinton would maintain her image as a fighter after
arriving at the court. Her tenacity has never been more apparent. President Obama would engender praise (at least from Democrats) at the prospect of Hillary going toe to toe with Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. Clinton's gumption and determination might make her one of the most powerful forces ever on the court, particularly when it comes to swaying other justices when the court is closely divided.

For some context, there have been many Supreme Court Justices who did not previously serve as judges. There is also a long list of influential Justices who were nominated for the Court after careers in the legislature, including, most notably, Hugo Black (a former senator representing Alabama); William Henry Moody (a former member of Congress from Massachusetts, who, in only 2 years on the Court, authored 67 opinions); and Chief Justice Fred Vinson (formerly a member of Congress from Kentucky).

There is even precedent for Supreme Court nominations playing a role in presidential politics. In 1860, Lincoln defeated Ohio Governor, and former Senator, Salmon Chase for the Republican nomination. Fearing that Chase would run against him again in 1864, Lincoln preempted his challenge by nominating Chase to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Similarly, Earl Warren became Chief Justice only after involvement in two presidential campaigns. As Governor of California, Warren was the 1948 Republican nominee for Vice President, and a candidate for the Republican nomination in 1952. In 1953, Eisenhower appointed his former rival; the Warren Court would go on to be one of the most progressive periods in the Supreme Court’s history.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Greed - for lack of a better word - is good. Greed is right. Greed works."

According to Robert Mundell, Columbia economist and Nobel laureate, the movie Taxi Driver is responsible for "creating more wealth" than any other movie in history. Why?
The 1976 classic, directed by Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro as the bitterly alienated protagonist, gave the world De Niro's catchphrase, "You talking to me?", and introduced a young Jodie Foster. But what does it have to do with the world economy?

John Hinckley, the deranged would-be assassin who attempted to kill US president Ronald Reagan in 1981, claimed that he was inspired by it. He said that his action was an attempt to impress Foster. (The movie features a scene in which a mohawked De Niro attempts to assassinate a politician.)

According to Mundell, the wave of sympathy for Reagan that was engendered by the assassination attempt deterred Democrats in Congress from voting against his proposed tax cuts. Because of this accident of history, the US administered a big fiscal stimulas at the same time that Paul Volcker at the Federal Reserve was administering tight money. This, for Mundell, was vital in creating the era of prosperity that followed.

"Taxi Driver is the most important movie ever made from the standpoint of creating GDP," Mundell told delegates. "It's the movie that made the Reagan revolution possible. That movie was indirectly responsible for adding between $5trn and $15trn of output to the US economy."
Personally, I'm skeptical that
a) Taxi Driver is really THE cause that of the Reagan assassination attempt (as opposed to the fact that Hinckley was crazy);

b) that the assassination attempt is THE cause for the tax cuts passing (as opposed to the fact that tax cuts tend to be popular in general, and Reagan had just routed Jimmy Carter in 1980 51%-41% while carrying 44 states); and

c) that the tax cuts are THE cause for that much economic growth (given that Reagan then raised taxes twice starting in 1982, and that the economy grew faster under Clinton than it did under Reagan in any event).

I'd probably choose Wall Street as the biggest wealth-creating movie of all time. God only knows how many future I-bankers were created by watching the Michael Milken/Carl Icahn/Ivan Boesky-inspired Gordon Gekko. True, he was supposed to be a villain, but lots of people didn't (and don't) necessarily see him that way. Plus, this has got to be the greatest monologue in defense of capitalism of all time:

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we're not here to indulge in fantasy, but in political and economic reality. America. America has become a second-rate power. Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions. Now, in the days of the free market when our country was a top industrial power, there was accountability to the stockholder. The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company!

All together, these men sitting up here own less than 3% of the company. And where does Mr. Cromwell put his million-dollar salary? Not in Teldar stock: he owns less than 1%.

You own the company. That's right. You, the shareholder. And you are all being royally screwed over by these, these, bureaucrats with their steak lunches, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes.

Teldar Paper, Mr. Cromwell, Teldar Paper has 33 different vice presidents, each earning over $200,000 a year. Now, I have spent the last two months analyzing what all these guys do and I still can't figure it out. One thing I do know is that our paper company lost $110,000,000 last year, and I'll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents.

The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book, you either do it right or you get eliminated.

In the last seven deals that I've been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of $12 billion. I am not a destroyer of companies, I am a liberator of them!

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed - for lack of a better word - is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

Greed, in all its forms - greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed - you mark my words - will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Why Ban Polygamy?

Todd Zwyicki at Volokh Conspiracy has an interesting post:
Here's my thought--the definition of marriage as one man and one woman seems somewhat arbitrary, which is why it is difficult to justify. The primary justification I can see is a Hayekian one of prudential deference to tradition unless there is an extremely strong case for rejecting it. I would distinguish this from what I would understand as a Burkean objection, which I would read as tradition being prescriptive, rather than prudential. But whether this is an accurate distinction is probably a debate for a different day.

So the question is, if you get rid of the "man-woman" prong as largely arbitrary, why does this not lead to getting rid of the "one-one" prong as well? It seems like the new line is just as arbitrary as the old one.

Now my sense is that the courts simply say that they are distinguishable, but don't say why. They seem to simply say that they are different. And as Eugene's post implies, merely saying they are different without saying why doesn't hold up to scrutiny later.

The difference, as is often the case, is that legislatures often draw arbitrary lines, especially under their police power. But courts should be able to articulated a principled basis for their decisions rather than an arbitrary legislative-style line-drawing.

As I said, I don't have strong feelings on this, so my question is purely intellectual--I'd just like to understand better whether a principled line can be drawn here or whether this is largely arbitrary line-drawing.

Note that this is being framed as an intellectual, rather an political question. I don't imagine that we'll see a push for the country, or individual states therein, to legalize polygamy any time soon, if for no other reason than the fact that there is no sizeable coalition trying to advance that policy. Rather, the question should be seen as, if one supports same-sex marriage but opposes polygamy, what differentiates the two?

One of Zwyicki's commenters takes this notion further, claiming that to the extent that there is a non-arbitrary difference between same-sex marriages and polygamy, it's contrary to what we might expect:
I don't buy into the argument that same sex marriage has any legitimacy over plural marriages. Even today, there are far more people living in countries that allow plural marriages than allow same sex marriage. And, indeed, one of the largest religions in the world (Islam) condones polygamy, and there is some evidence that some, if not all, of the other "great" religions did so in the past. This doesn't even get to the FLDS and their religious doctrines. So, polygamy has a reasonably strong claim under the 1st Amdt. that same sex marriage does not.
As far as I'm aware, while Christianity never explicitly allowed polygamy, both Judaism and Islam have.

An obvious argument against polygamy is that it can be exploitive, particularly in cases where child marriage is involved, but I don't find this particularly compelling. In general, "X can lead to Y; Y is bad; therefore ban X" is pretty weak logic when Y can be prohibited directly. There is no parallel ban on "traditional" (read: monogamous, heterosexual) marriage, despite the fact that many involve various forms of spousal abuse, such as domestic violence and rape (unless you subscribe to Phyllis Schlafly's theory that "[W]hen you get married you have consented to sex. That's what marriage is all about.") Similarly, we could have laws against exploitive acts within polygamy, without banning the practice entirely.

To me, the most compelling difference between the two isn't really an inherent difference, but more a byproduct of history: the United States, and the West in general, have developed an understanding of, and common law rules governing, how "traditional" marriages function. We have accepted policies regarding property rights within a marriage, divorces, the death of a spouse, child custory, taxation and others, all of which are predicated on an understanding of a marriage being between two people.

For most legal questions regarding marriage, there is no functional difference between a marriage between one man and one woman, two women, or two men. It is easy to place same-sex marriages under the system that currently exists for heterosexual marriages, but allowing polygamous marriages would require thinking large swaths of established family law. For example:
*Adding another person to the marriage: Would the three of you have to have a ceremony at the same time? If two people wed, and the wife wants another hubby, does her first husband have to consent? Who is married anyway - a man to each woman, or all individuals to each other?

* When you marry, would there be any way to ensure that your spouse does not bring another person into the union later on? Mr. Zwyicki can surely imagine his discomfort if his wife were to wed another husband.

*What happens when you divorce? What if the second wife only came into the marriage because of her belief that the first wife did a good job of managing the children and keeping the husband's drinking under control, and the husband desires to divorce the first wife? Can the second wife object - after all, it's her marriage at stake, too?

*Have fun trying to divide property at divorce, especially if only one spouse divorces and the others remain married.

*Whose paycheck would count for child support and alimony? If the purpose of alimony is to have the divorced spouse live in the manner to which she was accustomed during the marriage, why would she not be able to get alimony from her sister-wives, if they worked and earned a paycheck?

*Upon whose death does the marriage terminate? If there is one husband and three wives, would the union terminate when the husband dies, when any one person dies, or when there is only one person left?
None of this is to say that such questions couldn't be answered, but just that we don't have widely accepted answers to them now. The fact that same sex marriage, unlike polygamy, can fit into the current legal regime governing marriage isn't a a normative argument against legalizing polygamy, but it does point to a significant difference between the two types of marriage.

UPDATE: Dale Carpenter provides several reasons why polygamy is different than same sex marriage:

*There is nothing in principle that necessarily leads from the recognition of a new type of monogamous union (same-sex unions) to the recognition of polygamous unions. Consider the recognition of inter-racial marriage (a type of monogamous union), which reversed long-standing legal bans on miscegenation and departed from deep cultural disapproval of it dating to colonial times and before. Many warned that reversing miscegenation bans would lead to polygamy, but it did not. To the objection that dyadic inter-racial unions would lead to polygamy, the proper response then was, "Why would it?" One response to the fear that dyadic same-sex unions will lead to a polygamy slippery now is, "Why would it?" Opening marriage to one change because the change seems justified does not mean that opening marriage to every change is justified. Every proposal for reform rises or falls on its own merits. Gay marriage advocates have made extensive (and contested) arguments about why it would benefit individuals and society. It is up to polygamy advocates to do the same.

*From a Burkean/Hayekian perspective, it's relevant that polygamy has been historically tried and rejected in many human societies. We do not write on a blank slate when it comes to polygamy. Lessons have been learned from this experience and those lessons have led us away from polygamy in the West, in part because polygamy as practiced has been seen as inconsistent with liberal values, individualism, and sex equality. SSM has not been tried and rejected and is not inconsistent with, indeed arises from, Western values of liberalism, individualism, and sex equality. While the burden is on gay marriage advocates to show why we should try it, I think actual historical experience with polygamy suggests that the burden on polygamy advocates is much heavier.

*Plural unions have historically most often taken the form of one man having many wives. It seems likely in practice it would take that form in the future. This raises many concerns different from those raised by same-sex marriage, including the greater potential for abuse of women and children. These same concerns do not arise with SSM, which should improve the lot of women and children in gay families (if SSM advocates are right about the benefits, a contestable but separate point).

*Polygamy will likely mean that marital opportunities will diminish for some men, since a few men who are very wealthy or otherwise attractive as mates will have many wives. This constricts the marriage market for less desirable men, which leaves some with no mates at all or delays their marriages as compared to their opportunities in a non-polygamous society. And unmarried men present all kinds of difficulties for societies. By contrast, SSM will mean that meaningful marital opportunities will be available for gay persons. More people will be married. Thus, SSM expands marriage opportunities while polygamy contracts it.

*With polygamy, many basic rules of marriage will have to be changed. For example: if the husband dies intestate, who inherits? How are death benefits split? How are child custody disputes decided if a partner wants to divorce the group? If the husband exits, do the wives remain married to each other? On and on. We could craft answers to these questions, but it will involve a dramatic retooling of marriage as a two-person institution. None of these issues arise with SSM; aside from a few technical matters, the marriage rules remain the same. As a legal matter, SSM involves changes in the wording of statutes that specify “husbands” and “wives” and little more. The basic legal design of marriage as a dyadic institution, embedded in literally hundreds of ways in state and federal law, remains untouched.

Perhaps none of this is conclusive against polygamy nor do I offer it as such. I am sure polygamy advocates have responses to these and other concerns about it. But I do think it suggests that SSM and polygamy present quite different questions of history, experience, logic, and public policy such that we are entitled to treat them as separate issues. We may, despite the concerns and the historical trend against polygamy, one day accept it. But the debate about accepting it will not, I think, turn on whether we have first accepted gay marriage.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Interesting Post-Mortem by Clinton Staffers

The New Republic has a new story up on the Clinton campaign: What Went Wrong, as told through the words of fund raisers, organizers, staffers and advisers.

Before I cherry pick the quotes that best summarize my own explanation, I find it somewhat interesting that there is no mention of the May 2007 memo by Deputy Campaign Director Mike Henry, in which he said that the campaign shouldn't compete in Iowa, instead focusing on New Hampshire and the following states. Henry presciently wrote that
In past presidential campaigns smaller states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, played a more prominent role in securing the nomination. That process was based on the momentum that was created from winning Iowa or New Hampshire. Thirteen of the last 14 major-party nominees have won Iowa, New Hampshire, or both. Senator Clinton's husband is the only exception. But I think this old system is about to collapse and it will happen this year because of the impact of primary elections that are being held on February 5th.
After assessing this proposal against core elements of our plan, my recommendation is to pull completely out of Iowa and spend the money and Senator Clinton's time on other states. I believe that the changes to and the volatile nature of setting the Democratic nomination calendar has changed the way the nomination will be won in 2008. I believe the "small state first" approach that we are familiar with, that bases winning nomination on momentum is about to be turned on its' head this year. It used to be protected by party rules and the lack of a national primary day. We no longer have either. The party has no leverage to maintain scheduling discipline and we now have a national primary on February 5th with 20 states choosing their nominee on the same day.
He lists six reasons for his suggestion, three of which proved to be particularly accurate:
2. Dedicating significant funding to Iowa will draw money away from other important states. Spending Senator Clinton's time and money in other states will be more efficient and increase our chances of winning the nomination. And it will improve our fundraising. After the first four states (not including Florida) our campaign will only have $5 - 10M to compete in the 25 February 5th states.
3. Iowans will not be the first to vote. Over 15 states have no excuse early vote or vote by mail programs that allow voters to cast their ballots well before caucus day in Iowa. These states are: Florida, Arkansas, Arizona, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas.
5. Proportional representation is a ticking time bomb that the campaign needs to deal with by campaigning hard in February 5th states now. The campaign should focus on winning a majority of congressional districts in each state. This will limit our exposure to a movement candidate beating us after the early states.
As a result, he nailed the state of the campaign heading into Super Tuesday on February 5th:
Remember all of the states have a rule that you eat what you kill. So if we have a split decision in Iowa. Senator Clinton wins New Hampshire, and Obama or Edwards wins South Carolina. We now enter into the February 5th mega states with no money, little time to raise it, and have to rely on earned media to get our message out. Coverage will be about equal among all the candidates who have survived (for argument sake let's say Obama and Edwards). If we invest the money and time we save by leaving Iowa on a strategy to win majorities in each of the February 5th states we limit our exposure.
The Clinton campaign rejected Henry's advice, however. One week after having his advice vindicated on Super Tuesday, Mike Henry resigned as Deputy Campaign Manager. Clinton, low on funds, went on to be routed in state after state throughout February, too low on funds to compete and not having put sufficient effort and troops in place to organize those states after essentially fighting to a draw on Super Tuesday. Obama ran up large margins of victory in small states and caucuses where the Clinton's didn't compete, banking on coming back in Texas and Ohio. By ceding several contests entirely, however, Clinton let Obama build up a pledged-delegate lead that she was unable to overcome.

To be clear, Henry's strategy was not the same as Giuliani's disastrous gamble of skipping the early states and betting it all on Super Tuesday, largely for two reasons:

1) Giuliani's position in the Republican field was not as dominant as Clinton's in the Democratic field. Despite the media's infatuation with his campaign, Giuliani never managed to put any real distance between himself and the other candidates in terms of either support or fundraising. Clinton started off with much larger initial advantages here, yet Obama was able to catch up. Giuliani was never out in front of the pack to the same degree, and he could not, therefore, afford to let someone else (or multiple candidates, as it turned out) build momentum.

2) Henry's strategy wasn't to skip all of the early states, as Giuliani did, but rather to skip Iowa and move straight to New Hampshire, where Clinton went on to win. He advocated campaigning in all of the early states except Iowa, whereas Giuliani skipped head to Florida and Super Tuesday. Prior to Super Tuesday, Henry still had Clinton competing in Nevada, South Carolina, and New Hampshire, two of which she managed to win despite spending inordinate amounts of time and money in Iowa. Had she used those resources elsewhere, the results may well have been better for her than they were, and Obama's Iowa victory wouldn't have seemed as astounding. No more so than her victory over him in West Virginia, where he didn't compete at all.

As for the Clinton people themselves, here are some of their more persuasive explanations, courtesy of TNR:

"Clearly [Obama] was a phenomenon. He was tapping something really different than anyone had ever seen before. ... Months and months before Iowa, he was getting record crowds. I just think they should have really gone after him back in the summer and in the fall. I know it would have been a difficult decision to make back then. She's the leader of the party, the standard bearer, the big dog. Everyone thinks she's gonna win and walk away with it. Why go picking on Barack Obama? But that's just something the campaign should have done sooner."

"We didn't lay a serious glove on him until the fall. We tried to a little bit, but we weren't successful. We did silly stuff, like talk about David Geffen. It wasn't the substantive contrast we needed to make."

"There was not any plan in place from beginning to end on how to win the nomination. It was, 'Win Iowa.' There was not the experience level, and, frankly, the management ability, to create a whole plan to get to the magical delegate number. That to me is the number one thing. It's starting from that point that every subsequent decision resulted. The decision to spend x amount in Iowa versus be prepared for February 5 and beyond. Or how much money to spend in South Carolina--where it was highly unlikely we were going to win--versus the decision not to fund certain other states. ... It was not as simple as, 'Oh, that's a caucus state, we're not going to play there.' That suggests a more serious thought process. It suggests a meeting where we went through all that."

"Harold Ickes's encyclopedic understanding of the proportional delegate system was never operationalized into a field plan. The campaign inexplicably wrote off many states entirely, allowing Obama to create the lead of 100+ delegates that he has today. Most notably, we claimed the race would be over by February 5, but didn't devote any resources to the smaller states that day and in the weeks that followed, allowing Obama to easily run up margins and delegate counts on the cheap--the delegate margin he will win by."

"Probably our second biggest mistake was much more operational: Making our chief strategist our one and only pollster. It is impossible to disagree and have a counter view on message when the person creating the message is also the person testing the message."

"We would just cringe. Ugh. Such an out-of-touch corporate run kind of campaign--exactly what you'd expect from Mark Penn. He did fine during his time in the Clinton White House. But running a campaign to capture the nomination in a change environment is something he had never done. Just look at what he did for Joe Lieberman!"

"Keeping the same team in place [after New Hampshire] meant that pre-Iowa planning and strategic errors continued nearly unabated, were not corrected. ... Too much damage had been done by the time Maggie Williams took the helm."

"There was financial mismanagement bordering on fraud. A candidate who raised more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the years had to pump in millions more of her own money to stave off bankruptcy."

"We placed a huge financial bet on Iowa and raised its importance by sending senior staff there. And because we didn't plan for a national campaign, we couldn't point to an operation that could withstand an Iowa blow the way Obama could after New Hampshire."

"Penn was preoccupied with the national polls. We were up in the national polls, but Iowa was always a challenging thing for us. Early, early on, our internals showed us a significant number of points behind. ... In Iowa, Penn consistently would show polls that were of the eight-way. That was basically meaningless because it wasn't going to be an eight-way race. The candidates that were the second-tier candidates were not going to reach the threshold [of 15%]. The real race was the three-way. But he always focused on the eight-way when we'd start going over the numbers in Iowa. It was frustrating to the state staff and other people as well. It just showed a lack of understanding and a disconnect."