Kevin Drum - November 2008

Rahm Emanuel

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 8:00 PM EST

RAHM EMANUEL....The New York Times reports that Barack Obama has asked Rep. Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff. Ezra Klein is ambivalent about this:

If you thought the Obama administration would be all about bringing people together and would simply make sad faces when stubborn congressmen refused to come to the table, this is a clear sign otherwise. If good feelings don't suffice, bareknuckle politics will happily be employed.

But part of Emanuel's job will be to advise on what is politically possible. And he has always portrayed himself as a hard-headed realist on such matters, with a late-term Clintonite's allergy to ambition. In his book The Plan, Emanuel warns Democrats away from attempting universal health insurance or comprehensive reform, and suggests they content themselves with expanding S-CHIP (he also gives a plug to his brother, Ezekiel Emanuel's, health care plan, but says his "plan is well beyond Washington's current reach."). That's not change we can believe in.

Noted without comment since I don't really know anything about this. I just thought it was worth passing along.

UPDATE: Conservative Yuval Levin has a different take:

The White House chief of staff is not a chief strategist or a chief advocate. He is a manager of people and of process. Above all else, he sets the tone internally, and shapes the president's decision process and the feel of the upper tiers of the administration.....[Obama] will need a chief of staff with a sense of the gravity of the choices the president faces, and one capable of moving the staff to decision, keeping big egos satisfied and calm, and resisting the pressure to be purely reactive to momentary distractions. None of this spells Rahm Emanuel. There is definitely a place for a Rahm Emanuel type of brilliant ruthless shark in a White House staff, but not in the Chief's office.

This jibes with my understanding of the CoS position too. But what do I know?

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2012

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 7:24 PM EST

2012....I'd like to be the first pundit to go on record predicting the result of the 2012 election. I project that Barack Obama will crush his Republican opponent and win the popular vote by 10 percentage points. You heard it here first.

The Great Persuader

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 2:37 PM EST

THE GREAT PERSUADER....Will Barack Obama be a great president? He's got a big election victory behind him, solid congressional majorities in both houses, an electoral coalition eager to support him, and a country seemingly ready for serious change. But what kind of change? Technically, his platform is as progressive as we've seen from a Democrat in a generation. But did he really sell it to the voters? Did he even make the effort? The public face of his economic policy, after all, was almost entirely based on tax cuts, a distinctly conservative notion. His energy plan was largely based on the promise of "green jobs." He mostly avoided talking about social issues. He got people's votes, but did they really know what they were voting for?

I'm not sure. A couple of months ago I wrote a piece for Mother Jones about this, and after Obama's speech at Invesco Field I almost changed it a bit before publication. But in the end I didn't, and I think that turned out to be right. Because it's still not clear to me that Obama even tried to sell the public on specifically progressive change:

Majorities may come and go, but FDR built a liberal legacy that outlasted him because, by the time he left office, the public believed in the New Deal and everything that went with it.

Now fast-forward 70 years and ask yourself, What is it going to take to pass serious climate change legislation? A liberal majority in Congress? Check. Interest groups willing to rally? Check. But to paraphrase an old military saying, the opposition gets a vote too. And the opposition's message to a public already tired of high gasoline prices is going to be simple: Liberals want to raise energy prices. Your energy prices.

And make no mistake. Barack Obama's cap-and-trade plan to reduce carbon emissions may be technically one of the best we've ever seen, but it will raise energy prices. That's the whole point. So once the public understands that there's more to Obama's plan than green-collar jobs and serried ranks of windmills on the Great Plains, they're going to have second thoughts. And those congressional majorities, who face election in another couple of years, are going to have second thoughts too.

The right way to address this won't be found in any of Obama's white papers. There's a story there, if you dig deep enough, but it's long and complicated and relies on things like increased efficiency, consumer rebates, and R&D funding that pays off in another decade or so. In the short term someone is going to have to tell the public that, yes, there's some sacrifice required here, but it's worth it. Someone needs to come up with a garden-hose analogy to convince a financially stressed public that doing something for the common good is worth a small price.

That someone, of course, is Barack Obama, but it's not clear yet if he gets this. His speeches soar, but they rarely seem designed to move the nation in a specific direction. Is he pushing the public to support cap and trade even though it might cost them a few dollars? Or merely to vote for "change"? It's sometimes hard to tell.

I'm not arguing for hair shirt politics. Presidential candidates win office by promising to solve all the problems of the world, not by hectoring the electorate. And as I mentioned in the article, FDR ran a notably mushy campaign in 1932 and look how he turned out.

But even if that was a good excuse for holding back during the campaign season, now's the time to start using the bully pulpit. Obama has a notable streak of temperamental caution that serves him well, but it could also betray him. Maybe he could have turned the tide against Proposition 8 in California if he'd been willing to take a risk on its behalf. Maybe he can overcome conservative opposition to a progressive energy plan if he's willing to take some risks selling it to the public. But if he doesn't, all the congressional majorities in the world won't help him in the long run. I sure hope he understands this.

Whither Joe?

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 1:20 PM EST

WHITHER JOE?....So what happens to Joe Lieberman now? If Dems had gotten to 59 or 60 seats in the Senate, it would be really tough to kick him out of the caucus. But at 56 or 57, Lieberman is a lot less important. Sure, every vote counts, but needing four or five GOP votes to break a filibuster instead of three or four — well, that's just not such a big deal.

On the other hand, politics makes for strange bedfellows, and political leaders swallow hard and make compromises for the greater good all the time.

On the third hand, dumping Lieberman, especially if Obama were behind it, would be a very dramatic way of encouraging party loyalty from the rest of the Democratic caucus in the future, wouldn't it?

So....I dunno. What do you all think happens to Holy Joe? Stay in the caucus on condition of good behavior? Stay in the caucus but lose his committee chair. Get kicked out completely? Something else?

How We Voted

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 1:02 PM EST

HOW WE VOTED....We're going to be seeing a ton of electoral slicing and dicing over the next few day, but Andrew Gelman leads off today which a chart showing the tremendous difference in the youth vote this year compared to 2000 and 2004. In the previous two elections George Bush got nearly half of the 20-something vote. This year, John McCain barely broke 30% of the youth vote.

Gelman also notes that the election came out about the way political scientists expected. "Obama won by about 5% of the vote, consistent with the latest polls and consistent with his forecast vote based on forecasts based on the economy." He calls that "close," but I'm not sure that's right. It's true that historically it's no blowout, but presidential elections have trended pretty close in recent years, and by the standards of the last decade this is a pretty solid win — especially given the big Democratic majorities now in place in Congress. Given the state of the country, it's hard to see how it could have been much bigger.

Return to Reagan

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 12:01 PM EST

RETURN TO REAGAN....Conservatives are now going to spend the next few years talking about the future of their movement, the same way we liberals have been talking about ours since 2002. I suppose I'll pop in and kibbitz once in a while, but for now I just want to throw out one thought: the Republican Party needs to return to Reaganism.

Obviously I won't get any argument on that score from conservatives, but here's the thing: they need to return to actual Reaganism, not the Reagan myth they've created over the past 20 years. The problem with George Bush was never that he was too conservative (he had a distinctly mixed record on that score), nor that he "abandoned" conservatism (like it or not, it's just not true that he lost popularity because he overspent in his first term). The fact is that throughout his presidency he remained a fairly popular figure among rank-and-file Republicans, if not the conservative intelligentsia, but eventually cratered among center-right independents. And that happened, I think, because he lacked any sense of pragmatism. He was surrounded, as Ron Suskind told us eight years ago, by Mayberry Machiavellis who disdained policy and ground-level reality, and instead evaluated everything that crossed their desks based solely on its partisan appeal and ideological purity. He was surrounded by single-minded zealots like Dick Cheney and David Addington who reinforced his worst tendencies, shredding the constitution and institutionalizing torture in the service of endless foreign war. He appointed cronies to jobs that required actual expertise and ignored to the end the fiscal disaster of policies dedicated solely to protecting friendly corporations and the rich. He himself maintained his intellectual incuriosity throughout, never doubting that a modern country of 300 million people could be governed by gut feeling. No presidency, either liberal or conservative, can survive that. It produces incompetence, disaster, rot, and eventual popular rebellion.

Reagan, conversely, had a mile-wide pragmatic streak. Maybe it was his Midwest roots. Maybe it was because he was originally a New Deal Democrat. Maybe it was because he had spent years dealing with California politics. Maybe it was just because Tip O'Neill was speaker of the house and he had no choice.

But whatever the reason, he had it. He slashed taxes in his first year, but when that produced gigantic deficits he raised them the next — and then raised them again every single year of his presidency. (He kidded himself that he was just "closing loopholes," but he did it nonetheless.) He favored partial privatization of Social Security, but when it became clear that he couldn't get that he called Alan Greenspan and had him put together a mainstream, bipartisan rescue plan. He won office on the back of social conservatism, but he was the president who originated the Republican tradition of delivering speeches to the annual pro-life rally in Washington DC by phone because he didn't want to be too closely associated with them. He drove up defense spending and called the Soviet Union an evil empire, but when the Kremlin finally produced Mikhail Gorbachev he did business with him. To the consternation of conservatives everywhere, he eagerly embraced arms control talks with Gorbachev and eventually signed the INF treaty.

This isn't some kind of ode to Reagan. Reagan was a dedicated, sometimes primitive conservative with plenty of failures to his credit, and I opposed nearly everything he did. But I'm talking about what conservatives need, not what I want or approve of. And unlike George Bush, Reagan seemed to instinctively understand the limits of what was possible and what the country would accept. If the Republican Party continues to embrace Bushism and the messianic, know-nothing Texification he brought with him (current incarnation: Sarah Palin), it will continue its intellectual and popular decline. But if it regains its pragmatic Reagan streak, who knows? They could be back and giving Dems a run for their money sooner than anyone thinks.

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The Senate

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 11:09 AM EST

THE SENATE....Lots of very, very close senate races this cycle. Alaskans, almost unbelievably, appear to have returned convicted felon Ted Stevens to office, but only by a few thousand votes. I guess that could still change, though. Swillmeister Saxby Chambliss seems to have won reelection in Georgia by 100,000 votes or so. Oregon is still too close to call, but incumbent Gordon Smith is currently ahead by about 15,000 votes.

And then there's Minnesota, where Al Franken and Norm Coleman are within a thousand votes of each other with nearly all votes counted. Via email, here is Franken's statement:

Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.

The process, dictated by our laws, will be orderly, fair, and will take place within a matter of days. We won't know for a little while who won this race, but at the end of the day, we will know that the voice of the electorate was clearly heard.

There is reason to believe that the recount could change the vote tallies significantly.

Our office and the Obama campaign have received reports of irregularities at various precincts around the state. For instance, some polling places in Minneapolis ran out of registration materials. Our team has been working on those issues for several hours already, and they will continue to do so this morning as the recount process begins.

Let me be clear: This race is too close to call, and we do not yet know who won. We are lucky enough to live in a state with built-in protections to ensure that in close elections like these, the will of the people is accurately reflected in the outcome.

I guess it's going to take a few days to know whether Democrats picked up more than five seats. Keep your seat belts buckled.

UPDATE: This is actually a weird repeat of what happened in 2004. This year, all the Dem pickups have been in states where they won by big margins (seven points or more). Conversely, all the close races look like they're going to be won by Republicans, with the possible exception of Minnesota. The same thing happened four years ago, when Republicans won all the close senate races but one (Colorado). Weird. What's the deal with Dems and close senate contests?

Gay Rights in California

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 10:50 AM EST

GAY RIGHTS IN CALIFORNIA....The votes aren't quite fully counted yet, but with 95% of the precincts reporting it looks like Proposition 8 banning gay marriage in California is headed for passage, 52%-48%. In one sense, this might have been inevitable: this is precisely the margin I projected six months ago based on basic demographic trends. What's more, the voting trends are exactly what you'd expect: strong No votes in the liberal coastal counties, especially in the north, and Yes votes in the conservative inland counties. On the other hand, it only passed by two points. I really, really wonder if we could have beaten it if Barack Obama had been willing to step up and take a bit of a risk on behalf of defeating it. Especially toward the end, when it was unlikely to hurt him in the national race. If he had cut an ad to run over the final weekend, would it have made the difference? Maybe.

In other news, it looks like Prop 1A, the high-speed rail bond measure, has passed. I opposed this, but obviously I had mixed feelings and I can't say I'm unhappy to see it win. I hope the rosy projections from its proponents turn out to be closer to the mark than I thought they were.

Prop 2, guaranteeing minimally decent treatment of farm animals, passed decisively. Prop 4, which required parental notification for teen abortions, appears to have lost. Prop 9, a bad "victims rights" initiative, passed fairly easily. Prop 11, the redistricting initiative, is narrowly ahead right now, but still too close to call.

Not the worst night ever for California initiatives, then, but not great either. The good news, I guess, is that the same demographic trends that doomed gay marriage this year also guarantee its eventual victory. We'll try this again in five or ten years and win easily.

Barbecue Politics***

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 10:10 AM EST

BARBECUE POLITICS....Last July, at Netroots Nation, I had lunch with Joe Garcia, the Democratic challenger in Florida's 25th congressional district. "If Joe's ability to pound down Texas barbecue is any indication," I said, "he should be a landslide winner in November."

Sadly, it turns out that barbecue eating ability was not the key factor in the race. Garcia lost to the incumbent, Mario Diaz-Balart, 53%-47%. This is a sad defeat for central Texas barbecue.

I also had lunch in Austin with Steve Young, the Democratic challenger in my district (California 48th). He ended up losing to incumbent John Campbell 55%-41% — which actually isn't a half bad result, several points higher than any Democrat has ever gotten in this district. Still, the lesson is clear: having lunch with Kevin Drum is not the road to victory. Aspiring politicians, take note.

Dreams

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 9:37 AM EST

DREAMS....I had a weird dream last night. Really vivid too. Obama had already won the election and he was giving a big victory speech at Grant Park. Crowds were cheering, people were crying, and there were celebrations around the country. I swear, it felt as real as if it had really happened.

But enough of that. So what do today's tracking polls look like? Has McCain made up any ground since yesterday?