Kevin Drum - November 2008

Presidential Success

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 1:19 PM EST

PRESIDENTIAL SUCCESS....Matt Yglesias predicts a land office business after the election in op-eds warning Democrats not to get too full of themselves, but argues that analogies to Clinton's first couple of years are off base:

But that aside, I just think it's pretty blinkered to act as if the electorate has a deep commitment (or lack of commitment) to bipartisanship or some finely nuanced conception of moderation. Rather, voters tend to re-elect incumbents when things seem to be working out okay whereas they tend to punish incumbents — and those closely associated with incumbents — when things seem to be going poorly. What Democrats need to do if they want to prosper in 2010 and 2012 is deliver the goods. In other words, return the economy to prosperity, avoid terrible foreign affairs calamities, etc.

I think that's right. Obviously administrations need to pick their spots — in retrospect, leading off his first week in office with a proposal to allow gays in the military didn't do Clinton any good — but the key thing is to succeed, and then to get credit for succeeding. If the opposition is able to frame the terms of the debate, or if you allow the press to frame success with its usual idiotic "hundred days" narrative, you're behind the eight ball before you even start.

(Please, please, Senator Obama: make clear to the media that you aren't planning to change the shape of the country in your first hundred days. Please. It's long past time for this trope to be buried once and for all. Only one president in history has ever done this, and you won't be the second.)

So what would success look like? I've said this before, but I'd put my money on three things:

  • Withdrawal from Iraq. Sure, sure, Obama will leave a few "residual troops" in place. I get it. But it's time to get out.

  • Serious healthcare reform. Obviously I'd prefer reform even more serious than what Obama has proposed, but his plan is a good start if it doesn't get watered down too much.

  • Carbon pricing. Obama needs to pass a real energy plan that includes a version of cap-and-trade with teeth. (A carbon tax would also be fine, but I don't think that's politically feasible.) Price signals work, and increasing the price of carbon has to be the backbone of any attempt to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. We're already too late on this, and getting the rest of the world on board may take decades, but we have to start. We're condemning hundreds of millions of people to an early death if we don't.

So those are my big three: Iraq, healthcare, and carbon. Get something serous done on those issues, and Obama's administration will be a big success. Fail on them, and it's not clear to me that any combination of other new programs will be enough to salvage it.

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Tomorrow

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 12:44 PM EST

TOMORROW....As near as I can tell, here's the state of the race. Obama is ahead by a lot, but (a) the Bradley effect might cost him a couple of points, (b) super-duper black turnout might help him by a point or so, (c) Palin-mania might help GOP turnout more than we expect, (d) Palin-phobia will increase Obama's share of the female vote, (e) independents are likely to break heavily for McCain, (f) a joyous Obama tsunami will add a point or two to the Dem column, (g) Joe the Plumber is making inroads among working class voters in swing states, but (h) Obama's ground game is awesome and adds hidden strength to his poll totals. Plus i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, and y.

Feh. This is a mug's game. None of the pundits know squat. The polls are what they are. Obama's ground operation has been in the planning stages for months and it's superb. As of today, pretty much everyone's mind is made up. Obama's going to win by 5-6 points (maybe more!), and tomorrow the most disastrous presidency in modern history will finally begin the shamefaced descent into the memory hole that it so richly deserves. I can't wait.

Bankruptcy in China

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 12:26 PM EST

BANKRUPTCY IN CHINA....China's manufacturing decline has accelerated recently due to the global financial meltdown, but apparently China's provisions for corporate bankruptcy aren't quite as smooth as one might hope:

First, Tao Shoulong burned his company's financial books. He then sold his private golf club memberships and disposed of his Mercedes S-600 sedan.

And then he was gone. And just like that, China's biggest textile dye operation — with four factories, a campus the size of 31 football fields, 4,000 workers and debts of at least $200 million — was history.

....In recent weeks, there have been many fires, increasingly large-scale. In Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai, Ye [Hang] counted at least six major bankruptcies, including Jianglong; Feiyue Group, China's biggest sewing machine maker; and Zhejiang Yixin Pharmaceutical Co., among the largest in that industry.

"Of these six, one [owner] committed suicide, one was detained by police, and the remaining four all escaped," he said. "I can imagine that in the future, there would be more such cases as a result of the chain reaction."

I don't especially want anyone committing suicide, but I confess that the thought of Wall Street executives in failed banks either being detained by the police or going to ground and hiding in terror holds a certain appeal. Is there any chance that the U.S. could import the Chinese method temporarily just for the financial industry?

Screwup in Syria

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 11:57 AM EST

SCREWUP IN SYRIA....The London Times reports that the American raid on Syria last week wasn't an encroachment of Syrian sovereignty after all. According to "sources in Washington," they say, the al-Qaeda commander targeted in the raid, Abu Ghadiya, "was feared by the Syrians as an agent of Islamic fundamentalism who was hostile to the secular regime in Damascus." So they gave the go-ahead for the U.S operation. But things didn't go as planned:

In the time-honoured tradition of covert US operations in the Middle East, this one seems to have gone spectacularly wrong. The Syrians, who had agreed to turn a blind eye to a supposedly quiet "snatch and grab" raid, could not keep the lid on a firefight in which so many people had died.

The operation should have been fast and bloodless. According to the sources, Syrian intelligence tipped off the Americans about Abu Ghadiya's whereabouts. US electronic intelligence then tracked his exact location, possibly by tracing his satellite telephone, and the helicopters were directed to him. They were supposed to kidnap him and take him to Iraq for questioning.

....It is not clear what went wrong, but it is believed that the helicopters were spotted by the militants on their final approach and a gun battle broke out. That is supported by an account from a local tribal leader, who said a rocket-propelled grenade had been launched from the compound at the helicopter. The firefight blew the cover on a supposedly covert operation.

As usual with these things, you can decide for yourself whether this report is believable. But it wouldn't surprise me if it turned out to be at least partially true.

The Future

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 1:55 AM EST

THE FUTURE....So what does the political world look like on Wednesday if the gurus at ABC News are right? They all announced their guesses Sunday morning, and the average of their projections is 352 electoral votes for Obama plus a pickup for the Democrats of 24 seats in the House and 7 or 8 seats in the Senate.

If this happens, the upshot is that both parties get moved to the right. Most of the Democratic pickups will be in centrist states and districts, which will move the Democratic caucus moderately toward the center. At the same time, it will remove these centrist states and districts from the Republican side, which will make the GOP caucus not just smaller, but even more conservative than it is now. As a touchstone, the Republican Study Committee, the hardcore conservative wing of the House GOP contingent, currently represents a little over half of their total strength. After Tuesday they're likely to represent nearly two-thirds, which means that the rump of the House Republican caucus remaining after Tuesday is likely to be almost entirely in the hands of the most faithful of the movement conservative faithful. These true believers are not likely to give in quickly to the notion that hardcore conservative ideology needs a bit of freshening up if the party wants to regain its competitive edge. On the contrary, they'll probably double down, convinced that they lost only because John McCain and George Bush abandoned the true faith that America truly yearns for.

Will these folks rally around Sarah Palin as their conservative savior? I continue to see that as unlikely, but who knows? Desperate people do desperate things, and there's no telling if they'll somehow convince themselves that she represents their future.

Anyway, consider this an open thread. I'm not saying anything original here, just sort of noodling about how long it's going to take for the Republican Party to start making a comeback after their losses this year. My guess is that the business wing of the party will become (partly, reluctantly) reconciled to a Democratic majority, if for no other reason than self-preservation, which will leave the evangelical/Southern wing of the party in effective control. And if that turns out to be the case, the GOP is in for a very, very long stay in the wilderness.

Quote of the Day - 11.02.08

| Sun Nov. 2, 2008 3:04 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Syrian ambassador Imad Moustapha, in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine:

"I have reason to believe that even if McCain becomes president of the United States, he will also be inclined to sit and talk with Syria. I can tell you this on the record: Senator Joe Lieberman, who is supposed to be very close to McCain, has said this explicitly and very clearly to me personally."

That's good to hear. I wonder why McCain's supporters seem so reticent to say the same thing publicly?

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2004 vs. 2008

| Sun Nov. 2, 2008 1:28 PM EST

2004 vs. 2008....Back in 2004, I remember at least a few bloggers and pundits arguing that liberals would be better off if John Kerry lost. I never really bought this, but the arguments were pretty reasonable. Leaving George Bush in power meant that he'd retain responsibility and blame for the Iraq war. (Despite the surge, that's exactly what happened.) Four more years of Republican control would turn the American public firmly against conservative misrule. (Actually, it only took two years.) If we waited, a better candidate than Kerry would come along. (Arguably, both Hillary Clinton and Obama were better candidates.)

Conversely, it's unlikely that John Kerry could have gotten much done with a razor-thin victory and a Congress still controlled by the GOP. What's more, there's a good chance that the 2006 midterm rebellion against congressional Republicans wouldn't have happened if Kerry had gotten elected. By waiting, we've gotten a strong, charismatic candidate who's likely to win convincingly and have huge Democratic majorities in Congress behind him. If he's willing to fully use the power of his office, Obama could very well be a transformational president.

So: were we, in fact, better off losing in 2004? The downside was four more years of George Bush and Dick Cheney. That's hardly to be minimized, especially since the upside is still not completely knowable. But for myself, I think I'm convinced. The cause of liberal change is better served by Obama in 2008 than it would have been by Kerry in 2004. Comments?

Voter Registration

| Sun Nov. 2, 2008 12:40 PM EST

VOTER REGISTRATION....Matt Yglesias seconds Rick Hasen's proposal to make ACORN's registration drives (and the quadrennial conservative meltdown over them) obsolete by just having the federal government do it:

The solution is to take the job of voter registration for federal elections out of the hands of third parties (and out of the hands of the counties and states) and give it to the federal government....The next president should propose legislation to have the Census Bureau, when it conducts the 2010 census, also register all eligible voters who wish to be registered for future federal elections....When people submit change-of-address cards to the post office, election officials would also change their registration information.

I'd go even further: implement a national ID and give one to everybody, free of charge. You get it when you turn 18 (or whatever), and you get a free update every five years (or whatever). Post offices would handle most of the work, and roving mobile vans would trek through rural areas periodically to make sure everyone has easy access to whichever federal agency is tasked with providing the cards. Instead of simply requiring people to have picture IDs, the federal government would do everything it could to make sure everyone actually has a picture ID, with as little hassle as possible. Once this was in place, everyone with an ID could vote on election day unless they were barred for some affirmative reason, which might still vary from state to state. No registration required.

This wouldn't be perfect. Nothing is perfect. But it would be a damn sight closer than the squirrelly system we have today, and the only real objection to it is that, by God, Americans will never accept national ID cards. No "showing of papers" here in the land of the free!

But this is ridiculous. For all practical purposes we already have a national ID system. The feds require virtually everyone to have a Social Security number, and virtually all state ID cards are based on that number. Your name is already in a zillion public and private databases keyed to your SSN number, and one more won't really change things much. You won't be required to show your papers any more than you already are. It will just be easier, cheaper, and more consistent for everyone — including students, the elderly, the poor, and minorities — which should make liberals happy. And if the govenrment affirmatively generates IDs free of charge for everyone, then there's no objection to requiring ID at polling places — which should make conservatives happy.

Which, come to think of it, is one reason we'll probably never do it. For a lot of people, it would take all the fun out of presidential elections.

DST Hell

| Sun Nov. 2, 2008 1:39 AM EDT

DST HELL....Time to reset all the clocks again. Let's see. Garage: two cars and the sprinkler timer. Living room: clock, VCR, thermostat. Kitchen: oven, microwave. Study: computer, two clocks, fax machine, telephone. Guest room: clock, VCR. Sewing room: clock, computer, VCR. Master bedroom: three clocks, VCR, Mac notebook, several watches. Also the cell phones, but they reset themselves.

Is that all? I think that's all. I'm probably wrong, though. There are probably several more I'm forgetting about.

Question of the Day

| Sat Nov. 1, 2008 12:47 PM EDT

QUESTION OF THE DAY....Are avocados good for you? Well, are they? Really?

They're full of fat, of course. But wait! It's good fat. So maybe we're talking about a fair number of calories, but no artery clogging badness. Right?

But are avocados actively good for you, or is it just a case of not being especially harmful? If you had to choose between, say, an apple and an avocado, which one would be healthier? Does adding avocado to a turkey sandwich make it better for you? Worse? No difference? Can I really grow my own avocado tree by sticking toothpicks in an avocado pit and letting it soak in a jar of water?

The fine folks at avocado.org inform me that avocados are rich in beta-sitosterol and carotenoid lutein and better for me than cheddar cheese. Well, duh. Unfortunately, they might be just the teeniest bit biased about the wonderfulness of avocados. So for a straight answer I turn to you, my loyal blog readers. How about it?