Just gonna have to be a different man

17 06 2014

I am admittedly ambivalent on the prospects of Hillary Clinton running for president.

I’d dearly love to see a woman president, but if I thought Russ Feingold had half a chance in Hades of becoming prez, I’d vote for him in a New York minute.

She’s just too. . . conservative for me to get hepped up about her.

(That said, if she’s the nominee, you can be damned sure I’ll vote for her over Ted Cruz or Rick Perry or Scott Walker: “voting while sighing” is preferable to “smashing an icepick thru my eye socket”.)

In any case, she’s received a fair amount of (mostly negative) press on her tetchiness with Terry Gross, and, honestly, her inability to give a decent answer to mildly skeptical questions about her “evolution” on gay marriage is ridiculous. She changed her mind, it’s clear she changed her mind, and yet this woman who had adopted a wonderfully FuckIt attitude while Secretary of State somehow froze up when confronted with that known aggressor Gross.

Not that it’ll matter. She might get some grief about it in the primary, but chances are her opponents will also have “evolved” on the issue and will be unwilling to press her too hard. If she makes it to the general, it won’t matter at all: many Americans who today favor same-sex marriage probably had the same views about the issue in the 1990s as Clinton did, and thus won’t hold her changing views against her.

Hell, they might even feel reassured by her vagueness about exactly when and why her views changed, not least because the course of their own change is similarly vague.

Those of who pay attention to politics often want some kind of consistency or thru-line in their candidates and politicians; we want, in some weird kind of way, for them to be better than us—or, vainly, for them to be good enough to deserve our support.

But we’re not normal—most people don’t pay attention to politics—and it’s not at all clear that the characteristics we prize or deplore in politicians matters much to the folks who don’t tune in to the race before that last Labor Day before the election.

And for better and for worse, they’re the ones who’ll have the final say on who the next president is.

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I’m gonna set your flag on fire

19 08 2013

Quick follow-up to yesterday’s post:

I wasn’t clear in defining “punishment”, nor in distinguishing that undefined punishment from a beat-down from one’s political opponents.

The ultimate punishment (for an incumbent) is, of course, to be tossed from office, and is the standard for any other concerns about punishment. For example, falling poll numbers might invite either a primary challenge or a better-quality challenger from the other party, which could result in losing one’s seat. Similarly, a beat-down from a political adversary could lead to softening poll numbers, which, in turn, lead challengers to believe the incumbent is vulnerable.

I also wasn’t clear in distinguishing between fear of losing one’s seat from fear of being hammered for an allegedly weak response. As with the issue of punishment, the fear of hammering is a second-order fear linked to the primary fear of election loss.

The difficulty for the incumbent representative or senator, or for either the incumbent or possible presidential candidate, is discerning whether one will be considered weak if one counsels a less-aggressive stance as well as whether one would be able to fend off any attacks in ways that, if they do not strengthen one’s candidacy, do not appreciably weaken it. In the United States, DO SOMETHING!!! is the default mode in response to provocation, so in the absence of other cues, taking a highly aggressive stance is likely the safest tactic.

There are other factors, of course. Pressure from party leaders and threats to withhold campaign funds or boot a member off a favorable committee can steer a wavering politician toward aggression. A sustained media assault can also erode one’s resistance.

Finally, the politician might truly believe that the most aggressive response is, in fact, the correct one, and as such, acts in accordance with his or her principles in voting for aggression.

Now, as to my hypothesis that the supposed problem with a softer response is actually a problem with an unclear response, well, because elections are rarely about one thing and one thing only, this is tough to test.

Russ Feingold was the only senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act and laid out his reasons for doing so, and he lost his re-election; however, he had always had tough races, and lost his bid in the 2010 Tea Party surge. Rep. Ron Paul counseled and Senator Rand Paul counsel non-intervention; the father repeatedly won re-election and the son is popular enough with the base of the Kentucky Republican Party that Mitch McConnell is looking to him in his tough re-election bid. Yet it’s also clear that Rand Paul’s non-interventionism runs into strong opposition within his own party, and while he might be able to ensconce himself in his senate seat for decades to come, it might limit his appeal as a presidential candidate in the Republican primaries.

So, no clear lesson.

Except: to the extent that there is no clear lesson regarding the necessity of the most aggressive response, it is just possible that a sitting politician or a presidential candidate who strongly believes in a less-aggressive/non-interventionist approach could effectively inoculate him or herself against charges of being “soft on terrorism/crime” by crafting a strong and clear alternative and selling it as the most effective way of dealing with the problem.





Mayan campaign mashup 2012: Lies lies lies lies

6 08 2012

I don’t care if Harry Reid lied.

And yes, I do believe he’s lying, if not about the conversation with a Bain adviser per se, then in propagating information which he likely knows isn’t true. Either way, I don’t care.

I should, though, shouldn’t I? Why let the political scientist in me rule over the citizen? After all, I don’t like lying in politics, and would prefer a clean and vigorous fight about policy and purpose over a cage match in which (metaphorically) gouging out one’s opponents eyes is considered the surest path to victory.

Also, I would like a pony.

Anyway, I let my analyst lead on a discussion at TNC’s place, repeating there what I have stated multiple times here: In electoral campaigns, all that matters is winning, and anything you do which helps you win is good, and anything you do which makes it more difficult to win is bad.

That’s it, that’s the full morality of electoral politics: Winning and everything associated with winning is good, losing and everything associated with losing is bad.

I and those who argued along similar lines got some pushback, with TNC saying he “didn’t really believe this” and others arguing that Democrats need to hold the line against demagoguery. One side held to the view that this is how electoral politics is (You run for President with the politics you have, not the politics you wish you had, as commenter WCBound put it) and the other that this is not how politics should be.

Along with the other amoralists, I took the hard line on this matter, defending lies and racism and swift-boating; in doing so we took the view of the analyst, or even of a campaign insider. Those who took the other side were standing on the ground of citizenship and, in terms of going after the lies, good journalism. Each side was right; neither side budged.

I as a citizen like to feel good about who I’m voting for, and thus am grateful that I have been able to pull the lever for two as-good-as-they-come politicians, Paul Wellstone and Russ Feingold. These men held to their principles—ran on their principles—and won election and re-election. Their integrity was the core of their campaigns, and had Feingold* tried to slide away from it, it’s not at all clear such sliding would have helped him in his losing bid for a third senatorial term.

(*Wellstone, of course, was killed in a plane crash while campaigning, and the man who stepped in to fill his candidacy, former Vice President Walter Mondale, another decent chap, lost to Norm Coleman.)

All that said, I’ll vote for the SOB who advocates for what I see as good policies over the decent candidate with horrible policies every time. Every damned time.

It would be great if more campaigns were built around integrity. It would be great if more journalists would press candidates on their views and their tactics. It would be great if the electorate rewarded clean campaigns and punished those who, by any standards other than those of electoral campaigning, “fought dirty”.

It would also be great if I got a pony.