John Holbo muses over tonight's razor-close election results:

One of the many, many reasons to hope the unusually silly primary season stretches on and on is that eventually we get to New York (April 24). Maybe all the way to California (June 5). What if California actually matters? If Newt and Santorum are still hanging on, how are they going to pander shamelessly to California voters?

This is a good question, and one I've been wondering about too. When was the last time a California presidential primary really mattered? 1968? And what happens this time if the race actually goes that far?

One thing to keep in mind if you're not from California is that our Republicans are not like, say, Maine Republicans: kind of moderate because they live in a basically liberal state. California Republicans are fire-breathing, take-no-prisoners, down-with-the-ship Republicans. I live in Orange County, which most people think of as ground zero for conservatism in the Golden State, and it's true that we're pretty conservative here. Our county board of directors routinely turns down federal money if it's sullied in any way with connections to Obamacare. Still, as near as I can tell, OC Republicans are pussycats compared to Central Valley Republicans. I don't know if the Central Valley Rs are more conservative than Alabama Republicans, but they'd sure give them a run for their money.

Anyway, all this is to say that although Romney seems like he'd be the best bet to win California — it's a big, media-driven state; he's ahead in the polls; he's got good connections; etc. — a guy like Santorum has a chance. Maybe even a pretty good one. Does anybody out there who pays a lot of attention to state politics (which is decidedly not my thing) care to weigh in on this?

The Encyclopaedia Britannica has seen its final print run:

The last edition of the encyclopedia will be the 2010 edition, a 32-volume set that weighs in at 129 pounds and includes new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.

....The oldest continuously published encyclopedia in the English language, the Encyclopaedia Britannica has become a luxury item with a $1,395 price tag; it is typically purchased by embassies and well-educated, upscale consumers who feel an attachment to the set of bound volumes. Only 8,000 sets of the 2010 edition have been sold, and the remaining 4,000 have been stored in a warehouse until they can be purchased.

Sad. I have a 1993 copy of the Britannica, purchased in 1994 for about a hundred dollars. I never cottoned to the macropaedia/micropaedia thing, and like everyone else, pretty much stopped using it once the internet became the font of all knowledge. As you can see, today its primary use is to lift my monitor to eye level, which I suppose is especially humiliating when I'm using the monitor to read something from Wikipedia. But it had a good run. R.I.P Encyclopaedia Britannica.

I don't get HBO and didn't see Game Change this weekend, so I missed the fact that the film unearthed yet another howler to add to the Sarah Palin hall of fame. Apparently she believed that the Queen of England was in charge of the armed forces:

Her confusion emerged during a coaching session with Steve Schmidt, a top McCain adviser, who asked Mrs Palin what she would do if Britain began to waver in its commitment to the Iraq war.

In one of the many rambling responses that steadily eroded her credibility during the campaign, Mrs Palin reportedly replied that she would "continue to have an open dialogue" with the Queen.

A horrified Mr Schmidt informed her that that the prime minister, then Gordon Brown, would be responsible for the decision.

If the economy had stayed strong just a year longer, Palin might well be a heartbeat away from the presidency as we speak, my friends. A heartbeat away.

Hat tip goes to T.J. Simers. Just goes to show that a habit of reading the sports page during my morning, uh, rituals occasionally pays off.

Why are tacos from food trucks better than tacos from restaurants? Felix Salmon has a theory:

My favorite theory is that it basically comes down to the amount of time that elapses between the taco being made and the taco being eaten. Fillings can stay warm and delicious for a while, but the tortilla really is at its very best within seconds of coming off the stove, rather than getting soggy at the bottom of a tortilla warmer brought to you by your server. I suspect that if you could walk into the kitchen of a decent taco restaurant and get the chef to make you one then and there, it too would taste better than the same taco ordered off the menu.

This sounds right. My favorite taco place (a restaurant, not a truck) seems to deliver tacos to my table in a pretty fresh state. I'm no foodie, but the shells seem to be hot off the griddle most of the time, and that does indeed make the taco taste better.

Alternatively, if we did a blind taste test maybe it would turn out that tacos from trucks aren't any better than tacos from restaurants. Perhaps we just like the idea of eating food from trucks?

The Misogyny Bubble

Is misogyny worse than it used to be? Kathleen Geier thinks so:

One way in which things are much, much worse for women these days than 20 years ago is the sheer amount of virulent misogyny that is openly expressed, and tolerated, in our society. It feels to me that, in many ways, our culture is much more openly sexist now that it was then. Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke are only the most recent and notorious example of this new misogyny. You see it online; women bloggers, for example, report they are frequently the target of vicious verbal abuse, up to and including rape threats and death threats. Female political leaders of both parties are held to a double standard and subjected to much humiliatingly sexist treatment. Many movies and TV shows, and reality shows especially, traffic in extremely sexist stereotypes; TV commercials sometimes seem to go out their way to be offensive to women. Tabloids obsessively police the bodies of female celebrities and cruelly ridicule any famous woman who dares to go out in public looking less than perfect.

....When I was growing up, there was certainly a lot of sexism in television shows, but misogyny is something different. Sexism was Archie Bunker calling his wife Edith a dingbat; annoying and insulting, certainly; sexist, definitely; but not violent or hateful. An example of misogyny is, for example, the way the character of the daughter, Meg, is portrayed in the popular cartoon sitcom, The Family Guy. Meg is frequently the subject of rape “jokes” and cruel jibes about her supposed ugliness; a frequent theme is that she is worthless and beneath contempt because she is not “hot.”

I'm too disengaged from popular culture to have a strong opinion about this. I don't watch much TV and I almost never read blog comments. I see enough references elsewhere to these things to believe that Kathleen is probably right, though. But why?

The internet allows many people to be extremely nasty anonymously, with impunity — that’s certainly part of it. Pop culture has become more vulgar, and porn has become more widely available, and thus more influential, I think. The proliferation of everything from home video to cell phone cameras to the internet has caused us to become a more visual culture, which partly explains why women today are judged much more harshly on the basis of their looks. We’ve become a much more conservative country, politically, and the Christian right, which is explicitly anti-feminist, has become more powerful. But that can’t be the whole thing.

At a guess, another part of the reason is that a lot of misogyny that was more-or-less private a couple of decades ago is now more-or-less public. We might not be more misogynistic than we used to be, but our misogyny is a whole lot more public than it used to be. That makes it seem like there's more of it. In reality, we're just being forced to confront the fact that there's always been, and still is, a helluva strong misogynistic streak in American culture.

But it's disgusting regardless of whether there's a real upswing or simply more media channels to make it public. I do think there's some occasional carelessness here, where mere nastiness toward a female target is mistaken for real misogyny, but that's a minor thing. There's too much of it, and if lefties won't call it out when they see it, who will? Examples in comments, please.

Last night I argued that Ezra Klein went too far when he suggested that presidents have little power to persuade. Today, Ezra acknowledges a distinction between agenda-setting and persuasion. In the case of Iraq, for example, it's true that public opinion about invading Iraq never actually changed much between the late 90s and 2002. But George Bush unquestionably put Iraq on the national agenda. Before 2002, it wasn't a big deal. After 2002, it was.

So we agree about that. But then there's this:

Kevin also argues that Ronald Reagan’s presidency changed the public’s attitude towards taxation in an enduring way. This is conventional wisdom, but it’s not evident in the polling. If anything, the belief that the income tax people paid was “too high” fell after Reagan.

It’s clear that Reagan’s presidency — and, perhaps as importantly, George H.W. Bush’s presidency — changed the politics of taxes inside the Republican Party. But I’m not certain that the country’s attitude toward taxes changed dramatically. Bill Clinton raised taxes when he was president, and he seemed to do okay. More recently, Barack Obama has had considerable success arguing for tax increases on wealthier Americans. But I’m sure there’s more thorough scholarship on this subject, and I’m open to being proved wrong.

There are some important points to be made about this. First: we should be careful not to take opinion polls too seriously. Gallup may say that attitudes toward taxes didn't change a lot pre- and post-Reagan, but the real world says different. Before 1980, it was possible to raise taxes both locally and at the federal level. After 1980 it became virtually impossible, and after the early 90s it became very nearly literally impossible. In Congress and at the polling place, where it really matters, public opinion was loud and clear: higher taxes were a killer.

Second: it's not just broad public opinion that matters. Persuading the base matters. Ramping up intensity matters, even among a minority. Raising money matters. And persuading the chattering classes matters. Those are all things that presidential persuasion can affect, even if they don't get picked up in the latest Gallup poll.

Third, there's always a pendulum effect. If your campaign to lower taxes succeeds in lowering taxes, it's natural that even the tax fighters will start to relax some and become more open to the idea that existing tax rates are OK. That doesn't mean persuasion on taxes has failed. Just the opposite: it means it worked! But no amount of persuasion will keep people heated up no matter how low taxes go. That's just not a realistic bar.

Now, I don't want to pretend that the tax revolt of the past 30 years was all Ronald Reagan's doing. It wasn't. He came into office on a wave of anti-tax sentiment that was already ramping up, and there was a big institutional movement to back him up. But did he really have no effect at all? That's a tough nut to swallow. He was the most important public face of the anti-tax crusade, and I think his choice to talk about taxes endlessly for eight years made a difference. Three decades later, it still does.

Rush Limbaugh has been losing advertisers at a ferocious clip ever since his slut/prostitute comments regarding Sandra Fluke, and ThinkProgress reports today that the exodus has now become a full-scale rout:

Radio-Info.com reports that Premiere Networks, which syndicates the Rush Limbaugh show, told its affiliate radio stations that they are suspending national advertising for two weeks. Rush Limbaugh is normally provided to affiliates in exchange for running several minutes of national advertisements provided by Premiere each hour. These ads are called “barter spots.” These spots are how Premiere makes its money off of Rush Limbaugh and other shows it syndicates.

But without explanation, Premiere has supended these national advertisements for two weeks. Radio-Info.com calls the move “unusual.” The development suggests that Rush Limbaugh’s incessant sexist attacks on Sandra Fluke have caused severe damage to the show.

I'm struggling about what to think of all this. On the one hand, obviously I'm pleased — and bleating from the right about liberal hypocrisy just doesn't wash. Misogyny soaks our culture everywhere, and plenty of lefties have been guilty of it too. But Limbaugh's no comedian. He's no B-lister. And these weren't heat-of-the-moment comments. He made them coolly and deliberately, and then kept up the attacks for three straight days. He went way beyond the pale here, and he deserves to get hit back hard for it.

And yet....there's an obvious slippery slope here. Lots of advertisers already shy away from political shows of every stripe, and this episode could begin to drive them all away. Why take the chance, even on a host who doesn't usually cause national outrage? "Usually" isn't never, after all, and in any case, you never know what a guest is going to say. Better to stick with local blowhards and self-help shows.

Limbaugh is getting what he finally deserves. I couldn't be happier about it. I just hope that down the road this doesn't turn into a preemptive boycott of every political gabber out there who has even the smallest chance of ever producing any national blowback. That runs the risk of turning every show into a bland marshmallow. It wouldn't make the world a better place.

In the Wall Street Journal a few days ago, Allan Meltzer hauled out the chart below, which shows that income shares of the rich have been rising all over the world for the past 30 years. His conclusion: if income inequality is changing everywhere, "that means domestic policy can't be the principal reason for the current spread between high earners and others."

Really? Here's the chart, based on data from Jesper Roine and Daniel Waldenström:

I'll make the obvious point first: there are some mighty big differences here. According to Roine and Waldenström, the income share of the top 1% in 2004 (their most recent data) clocked in at about 17% in the United States. It was 9% in Australia, 8% in France and Sweden, and 5% in the Netherlands. Only the other English-speaking countries, Canada and the UK, were near U.S. levels.

So although domestic policies certainly aren't the whole explanation for the exploding income of the rich — and nobody has ever claimed they are — the evidence certainly suggests they play a significant role. There's a big difference between 8% and 17%.

But Bruce Bartlett makes another point:

[Meltzer] seems to have missed an important implication of his own conclusion. If the rich are going to continue to get richer in low-tax countries and high-tax countries alike, then it must mean that high tax rates have far less of a disincentive effect on the rich than conservatives like Professor Meltzer continually proclaim.

He asserts that we should not raise tax rates on the wealthy, as President Obama has proposed, because it won’t do anything to reduce the share of income going to the ultrawealthy and thereby equalize the distribution of income. For the sake of argument, I will concede the point. But there is another very good reason to raise taxes on the ultrawealthy: the government needs the revenue.

Right. As it happens, I don't think tax policy is a great instrument for wealth redistribution. There are probably better ways to make society more egalitarian. On the other hand, tax policy is a great instrument for raising money that can be spent on programs that make society fairer and more decent — like universal healthcare, for example. And since (a) the evidence suggests that high-but-not-punitive tax rates have little effect on economic growth, and (b) growing income inequality means that the rich have ever more money, then it makes sense to tax the rich at higher rates. They're the ones benefiting from economic growth, they're the ones with the money, and they're the ones who can best afford it. If your income share doubles over the course of 30 years, it only makes sense that your tax rates ought to go up, not down.

Do presidents really have the power to persuade? Citing the work of political scientists George Edward and Frances Lee, Ezra Klein writes in the New Yorker this week that they don't. Not much, anyway. When presidents talk, he argues, all they really do is polarize: instead of persuading, they simply make partisan divides even starker. So if you didn't have much of an opinion about contraceptive coverage a month ago, you probably do now — and thanks to President Obama's intervention, you're now for it if you're a Democrat and against it if you're a Republican:

Edwards’s work suggests that Presidential persuasion isn’t effective with the public. Lee’s work suggests that Presidential persuasion might actually have an anti-persuasive effect on the opposing party in Congress. And, because our system of government usually requires at least some members of the opposition to work with the President if anything is to get done, that suggests that the President’s attempts at persuasion might have the perverse effect of making it harder for him to govern.

....The question, [Paul] Begala says, is: What is the alternative to Presidential persuasion? “If you don’t try it at all, it guarantees you won’t persuade anybody,” he says. “And, to put it simply, your people in Congress and in the country will hate you if you don’t.” That’s the real dilemma for the modern White House. Aggressive, public leadership is typically ineffective and, during periods of divided government, can actually make matters worse. But passivity is even more dangerous. In that case, you’re not getting anything done and you look like you’re not even trying.

The entire essay is worth a read. It's surprisingly persuasive. And yet, that bolded passage makes a key point: even if presidential speeches don't accomplish much, we really don't know if shutting up would be any better. After all, we've never had a modern president who specialized in shutting up. And since it's not a trait likely to lead to the Oval Office, we probably never will.

I also think that Ezra doesn't really grapple with the strongest arguments on the other side. For one thing, although there are examples of presidential offensives that failed (George Bush on Social Security privatization), there are also example of presidential offensives that succeeded (George Bush on going to war with Iraq). The same is true for broader themes. For example, Edwards found that "surveys of public opinion have found that support for regulatory programs and spending on health care, welfare, urban problems, education, environmental protection and aid to minorities increased rather than decreased during Reagan’s tenure." OK. But what about the notion that tax cuts are good for the economy? The public may have already been primed to believe this by the tax revolts of the late '70s, but I'll bet Reagan did a lot to cement public opinion on the subject. And the Republican tax jihad has been one of the most influential political movements of the past three decades.

More generally, I think it's a mistake to focus narrowly on presidential speeches about specific pieces of legislation. Maybe those really don't do any good. But presidents do have the ability to rally their own troops, and that matters. That's largely what Obama has done in the contraception debate. Presidents also have the ability to set agendas. Nobody was talking about invading Iraq until George Bush revved up his marketing campaign in 2002, and after that it suddenly seemed like the most natural thing in the world to a lot of people.

Beyond that, it's too cramped to think of the bully pulpit as just the president, just giving a few speeches. It's more than that. It's a president mobilizing his party and his supporters and doing it over the course of years. That's harder to measure, and I can't prove that presidents have as much influence there as I think they do. But I confess that I think they do. Truman made containment national policy for 40 years, JFK made the moon program a bipartisan national aspiration, Nixon made working-class resentment the driving spirit of the Republican Party, Reagan channeled the rising tide of the Christian right and turned that resentment into the modern-day culture wars, and George Bush forged a bipartisan consensus that the threat of terrorism justifies nearly any defense. It's true that in all of these cases presidents were working with public opinion, not against it, but I think it's also true that different presidents might have shaped different consensuses.

Maybe I'm protesting too much. I actually think Ezra has the better of the argument here. But even if public opinion can rarely be directly challenged and turned around, it can be molded and channeled. Presidents and their party machines can influence which latent issues stay dormant and which ones become national obsessions. They can take advantage of events in ways that others can't. After all, talking is what human beings do. It's hard to credit the idea that it never really accomplishes anything.

The state of Texas recently adopted a law that requires residents to present photo ID at the polling place before voting. These kinds of laws are problematic even in the best cases, but Texas being Texas, their law is almost laughably brazen in its intentions. For example, in addition to driver's licenses, the law specifies that military ID and handgun permits are acceptable forms of identification; specifies that student IDs aren't acceptable forms of identification; and automatically qualifies elderly voters to cast mail-in ballots, which require no ID. In other words, the law does its best to make voting easy for every possible identifiably Republican-leaning constituency and hard for every possible identifiably Democratic-leaning constituency.

And those are just the identifiable Democratic constituencies. There are others that, for pesky legal reasons, can only be indirectly targeted: primarily blacks, Hispanics, and the poor. These constituencies lack photo ID at higher rates than white, middle-class voters, and this is what the Justice Department homed in on today when it put the Texas law on hold:

Our analysis of the January data indicates that 10.8 percent of Hispanic registered voters do not have a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by DPS, but only 4.9 percent of non-Hispanic registered voters do not have such identification. So, Hispanic registered voters are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic registered voters to lack such identification.

....An applicant for an election identification certificate will be required to provide two pieces of secondary identification, or one piece of secondary identification and two supporting documents. If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter’s birth certificate....As noted above, an applicant for an election identification certificate will have to travel to a driver’s license office. This raises three discrete issues. First, according to the most recent American Community Survey three-year estimates, 7.3 percent of Hispanic or Latino households do not have an available vehicle....Second, in 81 of the state’s 254 counties, there are no operational driver’s license offices....The third and final point is the limited hours that such offices are open. Only 49 of the 221 currently open driver’s license offices across the state have extended hours.

The second paragraph here is a key one. Lots of people assume that getting photo ID is no big deal. Most people have it, and even the ones who don't can easily get it. After all, it's free! But that's not true. First, you need a birth certificate. Middle-class folks might not realize this, but not everyone has a birth certificate handy, and both the hassle factor and the cost of getting one can be real deterrents. Add to that the hassle of getting a ride to a DMV office two counties away during working hours, and voting in the next election suddenly got a whole lot harder for you than it is for your average middle-class white suburbanite. You might even never get around to it.

Which, of course, is the whole idea. Kudos to the Justice Department for pointing that out and doing the right thing here by putting the Texas law on hold.