Same as it ever was

30 05 2015

There are three issues for which American presidents will always—despite campaign promises, previous votes, and party positions—go their own way:

Trade, energy, and security.

Presidents will always seek expanded trade agreements, greater access to energy resources, and whatever is necessary to secure what we now, alas, call the Homeland.

Democrats and Republicans will vary in how they go about this business—Dems may talk more about renewables and Republicans may project a greater hawkishness—but in the end, each of them, as president, will sign the trade deals, drill for oil and gas, and sop up every last bit of information flowing through the leaky pipes of cyberspace, all to “strengthen America”.

This cuts across interests in both parties. Environmentalists and labor activists will get screwed by Dems on energy and trade, perhaps placated with a few wilderness set-asides or anodyne words in trade deals; hawks and nativists will be unsatisfied by Republicans daunted by popular opposition to extended wars and willingness to open borders to both people and products, respectively; and (civil) libertarians will be screwed by presidents of both parties when it comes to the ever-expanding national security state.

Thus, the more ideologically-minded partisans on either side of the divide will be forsaken again and again, the everlasting Charlie to President Lucy.

~~~

As one of those ideologically-minded partisans, I have some sympathy for those who want to believe that this time, this time things will be different, and who disillusioned when they are not.

But as a fan of Machiavelli, I think it is better for us not to have illusions about power.

The promises are nice–necessary, even, to move us to canvass and call and get out the vote—but they go only so far as politics will allow them.

And on trade, energy, and security, that ain’t very far.

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What’s going on?

6 11 2014

Another wailing? Why oh why oh why oh why?!

No, that won’t do.

A stream-of-consciousness blather of all of the possible variables involved in electoral politics? Bad candidates, bad campaigns, tribalism, voter turnout, voter suppression, running from liberal accomplishments, the president’s party tends to lose midterms, . . .

I considered this, but then realized that would be more indulgent than enlightening—and while I’m all about the indulgent and have my own issues with the enlightening, it does seem that some thoughts from the folks who study American politics for a livin’ are in order:

First up, Hans Noel:

Commentators:

Nov. 5, 2014: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Obama failed! It’s Red America!”
Nov. 7, 2012: “Democrats win! Republicans are doomed! Romney’s 47 percent misstep! Latino voters!”
Nov. 3, 2010: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Obama overreached! Tea Party!”
Nov. 5, 2008: “Democrats win! Republicans are doomed! Palin was a joke! Realignment!”
Nov. 8, 2006: “Democrats win! Republicans are doomed! Bush finally pays for failure in Iraq!”
Nov. 3, 2004: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Kerry never should have let himself be videotaped windsurfing! Values voters!”
Nov. 6, 2002: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Voters back Bush’s tough stand on Iraq!”

Political scientists: 

Presidents tend to win re-election (2004, 2012), but they are more likely to lose the longer their party has been in power (1992, 1952, 1948). Presidents’ parties tend to lose seats in midterm elections (2006, 2010, 2014).

Seth Masket:

Here are some very tentative election results compared with their averages in midterm elections between 1950 and 2010:

  • The president’s party lost roughly 12 House seats. The average is 25.
  • The president’s party lost roughly 8 Senate seats. The average is 3.
  • The president’s party lost roughly 8 state legislative chambers. The average is 10.

How do we interpret, say, the Republican gain of a dozen House seats? Obviously, that’s good for Republicans, giving them the largest majority they’ve had in almost a century, but it’s also a pretty paltry gain by midterm election standards. Between 1950 and 2010, the president’s party has lost an average of 25 seats in midterms. Now, given that Republicans already had a healthy majority in the House, it was harder for them to win that many more, so surely this is an impressive gain. But how impressive?

He goes on to offer some very nice charts & diagrams for comparative perspective.

Matthew Dickinson considers the midterms, then makes the turn toward 2016:

So, what are we to make of these results? To begin, it’s important to resist the inevitable tendency for pundits to overreach in their effort to discern “the message” the voters send yesterday. Already I am reading that the results indicate 1) a rejection of Obama,  2) a rejection of Democrats’ “war on women”  3) a rejection of Democratic liberal governance or maybe some combination of all of these. Some Democrats, not surprisingly, are suggesting that Republicans “bought” the elections due to backing from Superpacs.

The reality is that while this was a good night for Republicans, the results were driven by midterm election dynamics that political scientists have long documented. In this respect last night’s results were not unusual – nor were they even unexpected, at least based on fundamentals-driven forecasts. The most important point to remember is that the electorate in a midterm is different than what we see in a presidential election year, a point I made repeatedly last night. I haven’t seen turnout figures, but I’m guessing turnout was about 40%, down about 18% from 2012’s presidential election. More important than the size of the turnout, however, is its composition: yesterday it skewed older, whiter and more affluent than the electorate of 2012, and these are all attributes associated with a greater propensity to vote Republican.

He gives credit to the Republicans for their solid performance, noting they did well in building on an already-large majority in the House, but also that the gains themselves were not outside of historical norms.

And Jonathan Ladd looks ahead to 2016 as well, arguing that:

1) These results tell us essentially nothing about how the 2016 election will turn out. If any analyst tries to explain the significance of this for 2016, you can stop reading/listing right there. The president’s party almost always does poorly in the midterms in the sixth year of a presidency. The 2016 election will be determined by economic performance in 2016, how long the Democrats have held the presidency, and whether Obama gets involved in a costly overseas war. The only possible effect this could have is if newly elected Republicans in some way affect economic performance in 2016.

Ladd, Masket, and Noel all blog at Mischiefs of Faction, while Dickinson has his own thing going on at Presidential Powe.

Anyway, these are among the folks you should be reading if want to get beyond the wailing (or dancing, as is your wont) and actually make sense—or begin to make sense—of what’s goin’ on in these united states.





On and on, on and on, on and on

7 03 2013

For all the problems with his mention of Lochner and his unconcern about the use of lethal and surveillance techs on non-US-citizens and  his multitude of other shitty positions. . .

Rand Paul, after ending his filibuster.           Charles Dharapak/AP

. . . Senator Rand Paul did a solid in filibustering since-confirmed CIA chief John Brennan on the issue of presidential authority over the use of drones against American citizens.

And fie on those Democrats who didn’t support him. President Obama has been dreadful on drones, and there is not a little justification for those who claim that many Dems* who screamed about power grabs by President Bush are rather aggressively silent when it’s their guy doing the grabbing.

I’m not surprised by this silence, mind you, but goddamn Democrats, do you have to be so disappointingly and opportunistically predictable?

(*It is not fair to go after leftists and liberals in general, as this is among a number of issues about which various libs, commies, and other malcontents have excoriated Obama and the Dems.)

I’m sympathetic to (my old grad school colleague) Sarah Binder’s concern that “In an age of intense policy and political differences between the parties, no corner of Senate business is immune to filibusters.” And she notes that Paul’s talking filibuster overshadowed the threat-filibuster of the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the DC Court of Appeals, which meant her nomination was blocked.

I was among those who, back when the Democrats were in the minority in the Senate, believed that the filibuster ought to be reformed; that the old asses of the Democratic leadership knocked back any chance of real reform at the beginning of this session is an ongoing irritation. I believe in effective and accountable government, and the way the filibuster has been all-too-often deployed hinders responsible government.

Still, if ever the filibuster were to be justified, this is it. Given the expansion of presidential power in the ever-expanding national security state—with the acquiescence of the majority of the members of Congress—Senator Paul’s willingness to take a stand on the matter of a presidential perogative to assassinate citizens ought to be applauded.

And so I do.