Thursday, November 29, 2007

Four More of the Same?

Ask Democrats if they would like four more years of George W. Bush, and you risk bodily injury. But according to polls, the candidate most similar to Bush in leadership style and attitude could win the Democratic primary.

Policy content aside, the style, transparency, and decision-making process of an administration are vital. Poor process and an adversarial relationship with observers led the Bush administration into misguided and dishonest decisions with depressing regularity. Yet Americans seem to believe that no Democrat could ever make the same misjudgments. Enter Hillary Clinton.

The paranoid attitude of the Hillary campaign is well documented. The latest indictment is from Howard Kurtz in WaPo:
Such is life spent trailing the Clinton juggernaut, where reporters can generally get close enough to watch but no further, as if separated from the candidate by an invisible sheet of glass.
Michael Crowley writes in the New Republic:
It's enough to make you suspect that breeding fear and paranoia within the press corps is itself part of the Clinton campaign's strategy. And, if that sounds familiar, it may be because the Clinton machine, say reporters and pro-Hillary Democrats, is emulating nothing less than the model of the Bush White House, which has treated the press with thinly veiled contempt and minimal cooperation. "The Bush administration changed the rules," as one scribe puts it--and the Clintonites like the way they look.
The most repeated anecdote this season relates to Hillary killing a negative piece in GQ - which she accomplished by threatening to cut GQ's access to "cover boy" Bill Clinton. Ben Smith draws the same parallel:
The campaign’s transaction with GQ opens a curtain on the Clinton campaign’s hard-nosed media strategy, which is far closer in its unromantic view of the press to the campaigns of George W. Bush than to that of Bill Clinton’s free-wheeling 1992 campaign.
Stephen Braun, in a generally positive article, recalls Hillary's disastrous attempt at governing in 1993.
[H]er gates-drawn stance raised concerns that shadow her presidential bid today -- that she reacts with a siege mentality under pressure, retreating behind a restrictive wall of presidential and attorney privilege.
Former Governor and nominee Michael Dukakis used Hillary's failed health care push as a classroom example of poor political process. The secrecy, the unwillingness to get input, and the inflexibility all emanated from Her Eminence.

Hillary's campaign and her former positions of public trust indicate that she would run a cagy, uncompromising administration, willing to alienate constituencies and allies in order to achieve a policy goal. While she would make a great Inspector General, a presidency with Hillary at the helm could quickly become the worst of the 21st century. After all, for all the secrecy and mendacity of the Bush Administration, it has one great redeeming virtue: incompetence. You won't find much of that in a Hillary White House.

Bush is leaving office in 13 months, and Democrats can actively debate whether or not their nominee should run "against" Bush. But is there any question as to whether a Democratic nominee should run as Bush?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Winning Strategy

Dear Chops,

I have kissed babies and hugged grandfathers. I have lied glowingly about my love for ethanol. I have conducted push polls, opposed free-trade agreements with key allies, and pandered to the far *****. I have spent $50 per caucus-goer in Iowa. Yet I'm still mired in *th place in the polls. What do I need to do to really pull away from the pack?
Dear *****,

You could be honest with the voters, but look where that's gotten John McCain, Joe Biden, and Ron Paul. You could spend $100 per Iowa caucus-goer, but your rivals probably will too. Or you could pull an end-run around the entire primary process and create a new paradigm for American elections.

Like most candidates, you are tied to your home state and your experience as a *****. That benefits you in some regions and hurts you in others. Imagine if you could transcend that - and appear more serious about governing at the same time.

Specifically, you need to pick a vice president. A good Veep-select will add regional and ideological balance to your run, and give you double coverage in the Mad Rush of December 26th - February 5th. Having chosen a VP will show that you are electable and ready to govern. And the controversy from having done so earlier than anyone in American history will give you two or three days of blanket media coverage - most of it positive.

A well-balanced ticket is now far more valuable in primaries than in the general election. Vice Presidents have lost much of their cachet as "ticket balancers" in recent general elections, as polarity and national party machines overwhelm regional loyalty. It's possible that a selection from Ohio or Florida could swing a close election your way - but close elections are the exception, not the rule. Besides, the way you're going, you won't get the chance to run in the general election. But in the primaries, name-recognition is low and voters get to vote their hearts. Your VP selection will allow voters to swallow objections to your support for *****. It will also help them take your "change of heart" on ***** seriously. And if they're worried about your lack of ***** experience, a good VP has you covered.

Choosing a VP at this stage also signals electability and leadership. It's like an endorsement, but with real commitment. There's an old saw that in a ham-and-egg breakfast, the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed. An endorser is involved, but a VP is committed. Voters who respect the VP will take his or her commitment as a strong signal that you are electable. Picking a VP - provided the choice is not silly - also shows that you are thinking about January 2009 as well as January 2008. While your opponents are trying to distill their policy proposals into soundbites, you can decisively make one of the most important and digestible judgments of your presidency and submit it to the voters

Subverting an aspect of the nominating process will earn you plenty of criticism - and that is a reason in favor of doing so. Trenchant traditionalists will bemoan your decision or deride it as expediency. But you hold the trump card: you are giving more say to the voters, not less. The old system resembles the VP selection from 1792 - 1800, when voters picked the president but could end up with an unwanted VP. The new system - which everyone will adopt in 2012 after you win this nomination - promotes positive aspects of democracy, like compromise and balance, instead of the polarity of the old solo-primary system. Besides, the longer the controversy lasts, the longer you'll dominate the news. Voters who won't be listening until the calendar says "2008" will hear your name (and your Veep's) early and often, and they'll hear it from pundits, editorialists, and politically active friends.

Whether you take my advice or not, someone will, maybe not until 2012 or 2016, but eventually. That candidate may not win the general election, but if he picks a good VP at the right time, he'll win the nomination. And that's more than you're going to do without a revolutionary strategy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Free-for-All 2008: Primary Games

With more and more states holding early primaries, pundits are baffled as to how the primaries will play out.

Does the overload on February 5th give early states more power or less? Will any candidate have the time needed to dispatch some of his or her opponents before the 5th? And if not, will the frontloading paradoxically lead to a protracted battle between two candidates in one (or both) of the parties.

While I can no better predict the individual outcomes, I am aiming to apply some basic methods of estimation, which would help us understand what really motivates primary voters. Do their own preferences formed over the Long Campaign matter most? Or are they swayed by a candidate's recent successes and their own desire to pick a winner?

Thus, I posit a model of primary vote share determination where candidate i's vote share in state s (vi,s) is a linear function of pre-primary polling data (pi,s), results of previous states' (1,2...s-1) primaries weighted by size and date (f(vi,1,...,vi,s-1)), and delegates already locked up by the candidatate (deli).
vi,s = alpha1*pi,s + alpha2*f(vi,1,...,vi,s-1) + alpha3*deli
With the data from previous elections available, a model such as this one could be estimated to yield the coefficients (alpha1, alpha2, and alpha3); then, with polling data and election dates from this cycle, the entire primary season could be simulated. (If any readers have access to that type of data, I would be very grateful for help on this project).

The latest media chatter is almost constant from October. The big gainers are Hillary and Huckabee. The Republican side continues to be a dogfight between the Big Three, with Fred Thompson slipping and out of contention in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Rank Candidate ChatterRank Change
R.1 Rudy Giuliani 5,4600
R.2 Sen. John McCain 3,469+1
R.3 Gov. Mitt Romney 3,402-1
R.4 Fred Thompson 2,9190
R.5 Rep. Ron Paul 1,6110
R.6 Gov. Mike Huckabee 1,283+1
R.7 Sen. Sam Brownback 285+2
R.8 Rep. Tom Tancredo 276+4
R.9 Rep. Duncan Hunter 212+2
R.10 Newt Gingrich 98-2
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 9,4390
D.2 Sen. Barack Obama 5,7800
D.3 Sen. John Edwards 5,5150
D.4 Sen. Christopher Dodd 1,145+5
D.5 Sen. Joseph Biden 940+2
D.6 Gov. Bill Richardson 9370
D.7 Al Gore 763-3
D.8 Rep. Dennis Kucinich 548+2
D.9 Mike Gravel 231+2

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. Tested but not qualifying is Alan Keyes (28). Purged this month are almost all non-contenders; the only ones who remain are distinct vice-presidential possibilities. The purged are Condi Rice (who said she will not be VP), Chuck Hagel, Howard Dean, and John Kerry. Al Gore remains.

See recent graphs of the Chatter Rankings plus Chatter Rankings from October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January, December 2006, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, December 2005, August, July, June, and May.

The monthly prediction...

Nov '07: Clinton & Richardson over Giuliani & Thompson
Oct '07: Clinton & Richardson over Giuliani & Thompson
Sep '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Richardson
Aug '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jul '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jun '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
May '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
Apr '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Giuliani
Mar '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Feb '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Jan '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Dec '06: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Nov '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Oct '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Sep '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Aug '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Jul '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Jun '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
May '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Apr '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Mar '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice
Feb '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice

Fisking the Krug

The pundit wars continue. In today's Post, Ruth Marcus eviscerates the Times' Paul Krugman for his moralistic flip-floppery.

She's right. To change one's mind about an issue may or may not be intellectually honest; but to insult those who are not in lockstep with one's own vicissitudes is childish at best.

In Krugman's case, the puffery is transparent. Marcus quotes:
Inside the Beltway, doomsaying about Social Security -- declaring that the program as we know it can't survive the onslaught of retiring baby boomers -- is regarded as a sort of badge of seriousness, a way of showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are... In fact, the whole Beltway obsession with the fiscal burden of an aging population is misguided.


Where is the crisis? Just over the horizon, that's where. . . . Responsible adults are supposed to plan more than seven years ahead. Yet if you think even briefly about what the Federal budget will look like in 20 years, you immediately realize that we are drifting inexorably toward crisis; if you think 30 years ahead, you wonder whether the Republic can be saved.
The first quote? Krugman, 2007. The second quote? Krugman, 1996.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Free Rice Challenge

See if you can donate more rice than I did by playing FreeRice - a word definition guessing game that donates 10 grains of rice to UN food agencies. I was stumped on "kine" - after getting the previous 20 entries right.

Good luck!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Urgently Needed Flip-Flop

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Though no one would dare suggest that President George W. Bush has a little mind, current events in Pakistan force the U.S. to adopt an inconsistent position. We must either desert our ally - General Pervez Musharraf - or discard our consistent (if distant) support of democratic movements (such as those in Burma, Ukraine, Georgia, and Lebanon).

Global Review, and almost every other Western observer, believes that continuing to support Musharraf is the more foolish consistency here.

Fate has handed Pakistan - and all those who want Pakistan to be peaceful and productive - a golden opportunity to turn crisis into triumph. Consider the history:
  • Musharraf's "temporary" regime is weaker and weaker in the face of opposition.
  • He invites former P.M. Benazir Bhutto to return from exile and share power.
  • Bhutto returns, and a bomb kills 145 of her entourage - but misses Bhutto.
  • Musharraf dissolves the Supreme Court and suspends the constitution, using the attack on Ms. Bhutto as rationale for martial law.
  • Bhutto leads protests against Musharraf
But wait - isn't this supposed to be a confrontation between a pro-American kleptocrat and Taliban Islamists? Then how is the leader of the opposition a Harvard-educated woman?!

For the past six years, Musharraf has wielded the Taliban as a Ring of Power. With the consistent enmity of Islamists, he has held the West in his sway. We have been incapable of pushing him away from us, so well has he exploited our common enemies.

Now he has outsmarted himself: he wanted to make Ms. Bhutto a martyr in the cause of anti-Islamism. Instead, she survived and has called Musharraf's bluff. Her survival lends the West an imperfect (she has a history of deep corruption) but serviceable ally, someone who can free us from our dependence on Musharraf and potentially fend off the Taliban. The material question for Western policymakers should not be whether, but how, to support Bhutto's populist protests.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

According to the Daily Mail, the Ministry of Defense's own "Q" - Professor Sir John Pendry - has come up with a Bondsian gadget that will revolutionize warfare: an invisible tank.
The new technology uses cameras and projectors to beam images of the surrounding landscape onto a tank... [Pendry] said the only drawback was the reliability of the cameras and projectors. But he added: "The next stage is to make the tank invisible without them - which is intricate and complicated, but possible."
Global Review has shocking new photos of the invisible tanks, deployed in Tehran:

And in Moscow:

And here is a British tank in action in Beirut:

Keep your eyes open for invisible tanks in your neighborhood!