Archive for the ‘current events’ Category
A few days ago, Ju Hong heckled President Obama at a speech. He asked the President to sign an executive order to stop deportations. The President said that he did not have the power to do so and that Congress would have to change the law. This is just plain wrong. While it is certainly true that Congress writes the law, the executive branch has a lot of freedom in choosing which laws to enforce and how to enforce them. For example, the state and local police don’t give tickets to every single person on the highway who drives 61 miles per hour or faster. The police make all kinds of judgments about when the infraction should be punished. And this is a standard feature of being a prosecutor. You actually have discretion.
At the Federal level, it is very clear that the modern presidency has accumulated a great deal of discretion in how to enforce the law. For example:
- Signing statements – apparently, lots of presidents have gotten away with ignoring laws they find inconvenient.
- Pardons – if a law is deemed to be wildly unjust, the President can just pardon people en mass. For example, President Carter pardoned a couple of million people who evaded the draft.
- Executive order – Obama could easily produce a legal argument that deporting someone causes great economic harm and separates them from their family, and thus constitutes harsh punishment for the administrative violation of coming to America without the right paper work. Then, he could instruct the federal department (DHS) to simply suspend deportations, especially of minors, because it is unconstitutional.
In other words, a legal system that allows presidents to kidnap people and send them to Guantanamo forever could easily be mustered to prevent the deportation of the guy with the leaf blower. It ain’t that hard.
Sociologist and blogger Phil Cohen has an op-ed in the NY Times on gender inequality. Here’s a key clip:
The assumption of continuous progress has become so ingrained that critics now write as if the feminist steamroller has already reached its destination. The journalists Hanna Rosin (“The End of Men”) and Liza Mundy (“The Richer Sex”) proclaimed women’s impending dominance. The conservative authors Kay S. Hymowitz (“Manning Up”) and Christina Hoff Sommers (“The War Against Boys”) worried that feminist progress was undermining masculinity and steering men toward ruin.
But in fact, the movement toward equality stopped. The labor force hit 46 percent female in 1994, and it hasn’t changed much since. Women’s full-time annual earnings were 76 percent of men’s in 2001, and 77 percent in 2011. Although women do earn a majority of academic degrees, their specialties pay less, so that earnings even for women with doctorate degrees working full time are 77 percent of men’s. Attitudinal changes also stalled. In two decades there has been little change in the level of agreement with the statement, “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.”
After two steps forward, we were unprepared for the abrupt slowdown on the road to gender equality. We can make sense of the current predicament, however — and gain a better sense of how to resume our forward motion — if we can grasp the forces that drove the change in the first place.
Read the whole thing.
Friday marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Given this occasion, guest blogger Barry Wellman asked me to post, on his behalf, his 1993 article “Disbelief in Authority: JFK, Milgram and Me.“
Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:
Update: Here’s the entire excerpt, with Barry’s permission:
DISBELIEF IN AUTHORITY: JFK, MILGRAM AND ME
Reminiscences for the 30th Anniversary of Obedience to Authority, Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Toronto
Barry Wellman, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto
Not only was 1963 the year that Stan Milgram’s Obedience to Authority was published, it was also the year that Stan, JFK and I came together for one explosive moment in November.
SOC REL 200 was the centerpiece of Harvard’s Social Relations Department. Each week a Harvard star gave new graduate students the word on his latest masterpiece. Each week, I sat shaking in my seat, a New York City street kid who had never studied sociology before, trying to figure out what was going on and to make believe that I already knew.
You’ll recall that Soc Rel’s raison d’etre was to bring together social and clinical psychologists with sociologists and anthropologists. In no other graduate school, would I have routinely encountered Erik Erikson or Roger Brown, or met Stan Milgram.
Stan was new at Harvard too, an untenured professor. I didn’t know if he was shaking or not. In those days I looked at faculty members with awe, and even addressed them as “Professor”. (Nowadays, when a Toronto student calls me “Professor,” I immediately wonder what s/he wants out of me.) In mid-November, Stan did SOC REL 200. He enthralled us with the shocking news of his then-recent “obedience to authority” experiments. This clearly was a formidable guy; this clearly was a crafty guy. You’d never know when he’d pull an experiment on you.
The following week, Talcott Parsons lectured to SOC REL 200 about the nature of social systems. In the midst of Talcott’s guided tour through the labyrinth of A, G, I and L boxes, Stan Milgram burst into the lecture hall, and rushed to the podium.
“I have horrible news,” he announced. “President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas!”
“Cut the crap, Milgram,” I remember blurting out from my seat, forgetting even to call him “Professor”. “You’re just doing another experiment on us.”
“No, it’s true! Listen, Ed Kelly has it on his radio.”
Sure enough, Ed Kelly (then a psychology graduate student) brought in a transistor radio which kept announcing that President Kennedy had been shot.
“This guy Milgram sure is a great experimenter,” I said to my classmates. “Just like Orson Welles, he’s even rigged up a simulated radio broadcast to convince us that this is true. I wonder what the experiment is really about.”
It was only after we left Emerson Hall, went out into Harvard Yard and talked to others, that we realized that JFK had been shot and that Stan Milgram had only been telling us the truth this time.
The “experiment” had been an inadvertent one: my persistent denial of a painful truth. However, I am sure that if Stan Milgram hadn’t had such a reputation as an imaginative researcher and hadn’t demonstrated it just a week before, I would have accepted the news much more easily.
Stan and I became friendly after this. I was a great fan of his ingenious experiments and noble goals. I especially remember the time in the mid-sixties that he mailed a bunch of envelopes to the southern US. Some of the envelopes had return addresses indicating that they were from racerelations groups; others were more innocuous. Sure enough, many of the race-relations envelopes were opened en route, Milgram had a trick to show that.
Stan and I have kept on dancing around the same issues — similar perspectives, different techniques. His “Small World” research became one of the touchstones of social network analysis. Our communities are far-flung networks. Stan showed that we’re all connected to each other by five (or fewer) interpersonal ties. My students are skeptical of this until I demonstrate that they’re all linked to Wayne Gretzky: one of my students always knows him, or knows someone who knows someone who knows him. They’re even more convinced (although less excited) when I demonstrate our links to Inner Mongolian yak herders (three indirect ties via one of my graduate students).
Stan moved to CUNY and New York City; they taught each other many things. I think warmly of Stan every year when my urban sociology students read “The Experience of Living in Cities” (Ed: see article) — which is about everywhere but reeks of New York. Stan not only talked about the lack of neighborhood community; he showed how to investigate it — simply and neatly. You must remember that Toronto is both the safest and the most uptight city in North America. People here fear interpersonal contact when they have the least reason to do so. Right after reading Stan’s article, I send my students out to do an experiment: “Just look people in the eye and smile at them. Record who smiles back, by age, gender, social circumstances and personal characteristics.” Most
Toronto students find this hard to do, but they plunge in as a wild adventure. They report that almost all of the people they smiled at, violently twist their heads away from them.
We call this experiment, “The Neckbreaker”. Stan would have loved it.
 Sexist pronoun empirically accurate.
 Where Love Story was later filmed.
Two weeks ago, my organizations class discussed a chapter from Nicole Woolsey Biggart’s classic study of direct selling organizations (DSOs) as charismatic organizations. DSOs rely upon people using their personal networks to recruit customers and, more importantly, new members who distribute products and services. Members share a portion of their sales with sponsors, or those who recruited them to the organization; such sponsors derive most of their income from recruited members’ sales. DSOs’ techniques are more commonly known as multi-level marketing, which have been criticized by some.
In past years’ discussions of the DSO reading, students listed familiar examples of DSOs like Tupperware, Cutco, Amway, and Mary Kay. This time, students named a new DSO that I wasn’t familiar with: Primerica. Two said that they had studied for their license to sell Primerica life insurance. After class, I looked up Primerica’s business model. One of the summary articles (bonus: 300 page prospectus) noted Primerica’s origins (citigroup) and flagged one of its sources of revenues as the $199 license fee that members-in-training front, along with a recommended monthly fee.
In the financial sector, another DSO Herbalife has been the epicenter of an unusually vocal feud between two hedge fund managers, one of whom is shorting Herbalife’s stock and the other of whom is going long. In explaining the rationale for their fund’s position on Herbalife, Bill Ackman and his analyst Shane Dineen gave a 3 hour-long presentation with a 300-plus slide Powerpoint analysis that claims that “Herbalife Displays Indicators of Being a Pyramid Scheme.” During the presentation, Ackman and colleagues argued that Herbalife is primarily about recruiting people for a “business opportunity” rather than selling products or services. For example, the presentation describes how the top 1% of distributors claim 88% of Herbalife’s compensation. Not surprisingly, in a subsequent cnbc interview, the Herbalife CEO countered Ackman’s analysis as an attempt to “manipulate our stocks.”
Ackman’s analysis inspired at least one blogger to journey to Queens to visit a Herbalife nutrition club’s meeting and post about his impression. On the other hand, a Herbalife distributor who has been disappointed by his business opportunity results has filed a suit using claims similar to Ackman’s contentions. An executive summary version of Ackman and Dineen’s Powerpoint analysis underscores the potential impact of DSOs upon distributors’ networks:
Recruiting family members, friends, work and church acquaintances and others in their communities into a rigged game, one that is highly likely to exact financial and emotional harm on those loved and trusted by them, has an impact that cannot be repaired or recompensed with dollars alone.
In class discussions over the years, students have made similar conclusions, with some sharing experiences about how they no longer can socialize with relatives and friends who are members of DSOs because of the relentless pressure to buy and join. Others continue to do part-time work as DSO members who were recruited by family.
Teaching resources on DSOs
Here are recent studies of DSO practices:
- Paid to Party: Working Time and Emotion in Direct Home Sales by Jamie L. Mullaney and Janet Hinson Shope (Rutgers, 2012)
- Making Up the Difference: Women, Beauty, and Direct Selling in Ecuador by Erynn Masi de Casanova (University of Texas Press, 2011)
- The Hard Sell: An Ethnographic Study of the Direct Selling Industry by John Bone (Ashgate, 2006)
- The Tupperware! documentary is a great complement for teaching Biggart’s work
More on Ackman vs. Ichan
Despite the cnbc announcer’s attempts to steer discussion towards the two callers’ opposing positions on Herbalife, Ackman and Carl Icahn revisited an old disagreement, with traders ohhhing in the background. A Vanity Fair article delves into the origins of their feud and other feuds over what sound like spot agreements gone sour. Word on the street is that Ackman may have another presentation on the ready.
The Posse Comitatus Act was passed in order to prevent Federal troops from enforcing state and Federal law. In other words, you can’t use Federal troops as local law enforcement. The law had dishonorable origins – it was designed to prevent the Federal government from using its troops to protect Southern Blacks. But it did establish the idea that unless there is an emergency, or an exception made by Congress or the Constitution, the standing army will not be used to enforce domestic laws. Soldiers and police are different.
Now let’s fast forward to 2013. The National Security Agency is part of the Department of Defense. It is headed by a member of the armed forces. And it grew out of the Armed Forces Security Agency. It is part of the standing army. Would that mean that it’s collection of phone calls, email, and other communication in mass from domestic sources is a violation of posse comitatus? Here’s the statute text:
Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
The wiki legislative summary notes that the revised Posse Comitatus act makes exceptions when domestic persons are al Qaeda or Taliban related. But still, that only covers a minute portion of the American population. If I read the act correctly, the NSA, as part of the Department of Defense and managed by active senior military staff, is in violation of posse comitatus when it conducts surveillance of individuals who have no plausible connection to al Qaeda or similar organizations – which is most of us.
Consider this an open thread on this evening’s accquital of George Zimmerman. When I see cases like this, I try to remember that criminal trials, especially murder trials, are highly complex. While I do believe that the shooting was not justified self-defense – especially since police told Zimmerman not to pursue – I also know that the media doesn’t always accurately portray what happens in a court room. Perhaps the prosecution bungled the case, or maybe there simply wasn’t enough compelling evidence relating to the interaction between Zimmerman and Martin. I’m especially interested in hearing from readers who have legal expertise.
Neil Gross cements his position as the leading sociologist of American intellectuals with his new book Why are Professors Liberal and Why do Conservatives Care?* This book collects into one text a series of arguments about the American professoriate that Gross and his collaborators have presented in a series of articles. Essentially, Gross argues that American academia, on the average, is liberal because of self-selection on the part of conservatives. The specific issue is that academia, for a number of historically specific reasons, has acquired an aura of extreme liberalism. Thus, conservative students say “Why bother? Academia is for liberals. What’s the point?”
What is impressive about Gross and his confederates is that they test all kinds of alternative hypotheses. For example, one might think that academic skills explain conservatives lower enrollments in PhD programs. But it doesn’t. Differences in values don’t explain much either. In other words, Gross et al systematically test all kinds of hypotheses and show that they are simply not true or that they only explain a small proportion of the differences between conservatives and others.
Eventually, using historical evidence and interview data, Gross makes a good case for self-selection. Sociology is a good example. In principle, there’s lots of places for non-liberal sociologists. For example, one could work on non-ideological aspects of sociology, like research methods. Or, as many conservatives have done, they could work in areas of interest like family sociology, where in some cases (like studies of negative divorce effects on kids), they could work on topics that are consistent with their ideology. But if you sit down and ask a typical conservative undergrad why they didn’t take many soc courses, they’ll tell you an image of evil ultra-liberals who are bent on political correctness.
Now, where I would criticize this book is the study of conservatives. For example, Gross argues that there isn’t much evidence of bias against conservatives. He uses the example of a study he conducted with Jeremy Fresse and Ethan Fosse where they contacted graduate directors with email from fake students. Some emails mentioned working for a GOP candidate, some a Democrat, and other none at all. Gross et al find no differences in how graduate directors responded.
First, there’s the issue, which Gross acknowledges, that graduate directors probably write a lot of boiler plate emails. But there’s a deeper criticism – why didn’t Gross interview people at risk for discrimination from liberal colleagues? For example, why not interview liberal (Keynesian) and conservative economists (monetarists or Austrians)? Or, why not interview Rawlsian philosophers (liberals) and compare their careers with Nozickians (libertarians) or Burkeans (conservatives)? Or, even better, why not collect materials from people who submitted books or articles on conservative topics but were rejected?
I think that Gross is right – anti-conservative bias is not nearly as bad as people think, if it exists at all – but the treatment of conservatives is not nearly as nuanced as the treatment of liberals. This probably speaks to the development of the project, which started with analyzing massive data (like the GSS) that trues to tease out conservative/liberal differences. Developing a theory or map of conservative intellectuals probably came late in the game.
Regardless, this book is massive progress on a central issue in the study of American intellectuals and the academy. This will be required reading for anyone interested in this topic.
* And I’m not saying that because he said nice things about me in the book. But he did. Oh yeah, and I’m not just saying it because he edited another cool forthcoming book about academia with a chapter by moi. But he did. Ok, maybe he buttered up a little. But just a little!
The defenders of the NSA’s mass surveillance raise a point worth discussing – much of what is being done is legal. They point out that the NSA programs were authorized by Congress, reviewed by Courts, and run by the executive. They also read the Fourth amendment in a very narrow way. Personally, when I read that the people will be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” I’m pretty sure that means electronic communication. It would be bizarre if this right only applied to technologies present in 1789. “Papers and effects” seems to imply a lot of stuff, but the Courts and the executive seem to disagree.
This suggests to me that may we need to make mass surveillance explicitly illegal. How? The Digital Rights Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their transactions made through electronic media and other forms of communication, and in the data generated by such transactions, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. The people will retain the right to review such warrants and challenge them in the courts.
In other words, you need a warrant to collect our data or even our “metadata.” And we get to see the warrant and we can take you to court. If you think I’m a criminal, you’ll have to explain it in court.
Our friend Jenn Lena draws my attention to a serious issue in Russia – the state is attacking the Levada Center, an independent organization of social scientists who conduct polls. I quote from Jenn’s post:
The Center has been (with other non-profit organizations) asked by its government to identify itself as a “foreign agent” because it receives money from outside Russia and engages in political activity. As this NY Times article on the crack-down on Levada makes clear, approximately 3% of the Center’s funding comes from abroad, namely, grants from MacArthur, Ford, and the Open Society Institute. The Center provides us with the only social scientific polling data on Russians I’m aware of that isn’t generated by the state. The Center’s origins actually lie in conflict with the state over political attitudes:
The center’s founder, Yuri Levada, incurred Mr. Putin’s wrath a decade ago by publishing polls that showed waning approval of the United Russia party and the Chechen wars. When Kremlin officials tried to assert control over his organization by appointing a new board of directors in 2003, Mr. Levada resigned and formed a private company, the Levada Center. His employees followed him.
Consequently, the Levada Center staff went about their business, sorting out what Russians really think about their country.
In other words, independent scholarship is being attacked. Here is a petition, asking state officials to relent.
The Open Borders movement is based around a simple idea – in most cases, people should not be restricted in their movement across borders. This idea was featured this weekend in The Atlantic. The article presents the case and discusses the academics and writers who congregate at the Open Borders blog, which is run by Vipul Naik.
Michael Huemer, a philosopher, boils down the argument with the hypothetical story inspired by the “Starvin’ Marvin” South Park character:
[Marvin] is very hungry and is trying to travel to the marketplace to buy some food. Another person, Sam (Sam has a large number of nephews and nieces, so we’ll call him Uncle Sam), decides to stop Marvin from going to the marketplace using coercion. He goes down there with his M16 and blocks the road. As a result, Marvin can’t trade for food and, as a result, he starves. So then the question is, did Sam kill Marvin? Did he violate his rights? Almost anyone would say yes, Sam acted wrongly. In fact, if Marvin died as a result, then Sam killed him. It wouldn’t be that Sam failed to help Marvin. No, he actively intervened….This is analogous to the U.S. government’s immigration policy. There are people who want to trade in our marketplace, in this case the labor market, and the government effectively prevents them from doing that, through use of force.
I was also cited for discussing open borders strategy:
“Open borders will become a reality when the public stops believing that immigrants are a threat,” sociologist Fabio Rojas recently wrote, comparing the open borders movement to the gay rights movement. “Even if a pro-immigration referendum fails to pass, it will still serve the function of forcing the issue onto the public stage. These actions won’t change the minds of those strongly committed to anti-immigration policy. Instead, they will make immigration seem ‘normal’ to a later generation of people.”
Check it out.
Apparently, yes. An article in Talking Points memo reports on a rare, but disturbing, aspect of our immigration laws. Hospitals may pay for undocumented immigrants to be moved to medical facilities in their original nation. They occasionally do this when people start in the emergency room, they stabilize, and then insurance does not pay for long term care:
Hundreds of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally have taken similar journeys through a little-known removal system run not by the federal government trying to enforce laws but by hospitals seeking to curb high costs. A recent report compiled by immigrant advocacy groups made a rare attempt to determine how many people are sent home, concluding that at least 600 immigrants were removed over a five-year period, though there were likely many more.
To be sure, very uncommon, but it starkly points to a disturbing issue. Current law allows the state and other entities, hospitals in this case, to grossly violate one’s individual freedom if the aren’t a documented migrant. There’s a healthy debate to be had over the degree to which hospitals should provide care for the uninsured, but that doesn’t imply that somebody can be be shipped to another country because they are a non-citizen and it saves the hospital some money.
Due to the detonations (warning: graphic) at today’s Boston Marathon, Boston, NYC, and DC are now on high alert. For those of you in Boston, please stay safe. We are getting conflicting reports of Boston area cell service being down vs. increased capacity.
- Boston Police Dept. twitter feed is here.
- Looking for someone/have info about someone in Boston? Use Google person finder here.
- No-fly zone over the Boylston St. area of Boston, heightened security expected at Logan airport
A few weeks ago, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma tried to ban the NSF from supporting political science research. And of course, a lot of folks in the academy voiced their objection. But there’s a broader question for political science: Why is the political science profession so reliant on NSF funding? Repeatedly, people said that a majority of political science projects are funded with NSF funds. Is this true? If so, then it is a precarious state of affairs.
Academic disciplines should rely on a diverse group of supporters. If Congress deems social science a worthy effort, then great. But if they don’t, then we should still be ok. Relying on the NSF is analogous to a business having a single wealthy customer. That’s usually a bad business model. Instead, social scientists should actively court different sources of funding ranging from the public sector, non-profits, individuals, and the corporate world. If you look at sociology, you see many important projects funded by all kinds of folks. The General Social Survey is your typical big project funded by the NSF. Ron Burt obtained a lot of his data from private consulting gigs. Merton’s reference group research was done for the Dept of War during WWII. A lot of Columbia sociology in the 50s and 60s was sponsored by for-profit groups in New York.
It is up to each researcher to decide what kind of funding they are willing to pursue. But collectively, we should encourage funding from many sources, or we’ll be at the mercy of the Tom Coburns of the world.
We live in a golden age of papal betting. Within my own lifetime, I will have had at least three opportunities to wager on papal elections (’78, ’05, ’13). Better than bingo. If you need a primer on the possible leaders, click here. Intrade is trading 47% for an Italian pope. For individual cardinal odds, click here. For sociology of Vatican II, check out Melissa Wilde’s ASR article on the topic. Consider this an open thread on the social science (and gaming) of the papacy and/or information markets.
My colleague Bernice Pescosolido, one of the leading social scientists who studies mental health, has some insightful commentary on violence and social isolation:
Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy, took him out of Newtown High School and home-schooled him to get his GED. Ryan Lanza said he hadn’t seen his younger brother since 2010, and reports indicate that Adam Lanza hadn’t even left the confines of his home for some time.
“Isolation is more deadly than smoking in terms of mortality,” said Pescosolido, an authority on medical sociology and social issues in health, illness, and healing. “People who are not engaged are more predisposed to suicide,” she pointed out. “Those who don’t have a meaningful connection to norms in society are more predisposed to take their own life.”
There is an article on The Daily Beast website about Susan Rice, who may be the next Secretary of State. Written by Peter Beinart, the article makes a simple point. There is nothing terribly controversial about Susan Rice. In fact, she embodies a sort of timid and very traditional thinking found within the Democratic Party. She may be the kind of person who will yell at people in the UN, but she’ll quiet down when people call for invading another country. From Beinart’s article:
To understand what’s at stake in Rice’s potential nomination, it’s more useful to listen to a different set of interviews, conducted roughly a decade ago. Between the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2003, NPR’s Tavis Smiley interviewed Rice four times about the Bush administration’s looming war with Iraq. I’ve spent the better part of an afternoon listening to those interviews and I still can’t tell whether Susan Rice supported the war or opposed it. That’s the real scandal, and it says a lot more about Susan Rice, and the entire Democratic foreign-policy class, than anything that happened in Benghazi.
Exactly. When push comes to shove, Democrats become timid on issues of war and peace. If we look at the post-war American history, we see many wars, but few clearly good outcomes. Vietnam cost tens of thousands of lives. Afghanistan still winds along with no end in sight. Iraq cost nearly five thousand American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, all in response to a threat that turned out to not be there. In the 2000s, we’ve spent an extra trillion dollars on these fights. The argument for war becomes very weak when you count the lives and money. At the beginning of each war, great promises are made, though they rarely pan out.
Yet, decade after decade, the Demcoratic Party acts like a wall flower at the high school dance. Susan Rice, as Beinart writes, is just a symptom. Lot’s of Democrats waffle when the case for war is made. The Democratic Party’s version of being strong on national security is to acquiesce to hot heads, not to be strong in the case of peace. I don’t how they are going to do it, but if they want to be serious about national security they’ll have to grow a backbone and oppose wars where thousands of American men and women will die or be crippled for life.
Did you guys notice that eerie silence? That’s the sound of Ron Paul not having an impact on the Republican party.
Here’s a flashback. According to some folks, the Republican party was supposed to have been taken over by Mises reading Tea Party fanatics. Ron Paul was the hero to the new crowd of limited government radicals. Well, yes, there are some folks who claim to read Mises and love Ron Paul. But the last presidential election cycle shows how misguided the prediction of the Tea Party take over. Some evidence:
- The general election simply didn’t focus much on the size of government. It was mainly about Romney’s work at Bain, whether Obama was doing a decent job, and defending healthcare reform.
- A lot of GOP candidates decided to focus on abortion.
- Romney was awfully vague about what was going to get cut if he became president.
- The two hard core libertarian candidates in the GOP primary did not perform well. Paul couldn’t even beat out Herman Cain (!) for the privilege of being the non-Romney of the month. Johnson’s showing was a statistical error.
In other words, the GOP is really a coalition of business interests and social conservatives who like the rhetoric of small government. Those who actually favor a roll back of the the state, such as reducing the military or ending the drug war, don’t get very far.
Barack Obama’s electoral career is now over and it’s time for the body count. Barack Obama beat the following folks in elections:
- Alice Palmer
- A bunch of Republicans who ran in Hyde Park’s state senate district
- Jack Ryan
- Alan Keyes
- Hillary Clinton
- John McCain
- Mitt Romney
When you lay it out, you see a pattern. The victims tend to come in two categories. First, there are people who, for structural reasons, never had a chance at winning (e.g., Republicans in the South Side). I’ll toss John McCain in this category because no Republican could have won with a major recession and two wars hanging on his neck. Alan Keyes’ candidacy was hopeless because he’s, well, Alan Keyes.
Second, there are what I like to call the “high altitude” candidates. The high altitude candidate is a very wealthy or very prestigious person who has not worked their way up the ladder. These candidates have relatively little political experience. Hillary Clinton, for example, cruised to two very easy Senate wins in New York in 2000 and 2006. She had no serious primary or general election challenge. The second time, the GOP didn’t even bother running a serious opponent. Romney has an almost identical record. Using his large war chest, he easily rolled over all GOP challengers in Massachusetts. He was once spanked by Ted Kennedy and then went on to win the governorship a few years later.*
You know who was *not* an Obama victim? Bobby Rush, who represented District 1 in Illinois. That guy beat Obama in a primary challenge 59% to 29%. So bad was the beating that Obama admitted that he seriously considered dropping out of politics. Why was Rush the only politician to beat Obama? Well, he paid his dues and learned politics the hard way. He founded the Illinois Black Panthers and was a big player in SNCC. He ran for City Council and lost. Then, later, he won election as an Alderman. After that, he ran in 1992 for District 1. By the time Obama showed up, Rush, by my count, had fought at least 6 or 7 very nitty gritty local elections and was deeply rooted in the South Side. No way was he going to be bounced out by a Spider Man comic reading nerd from the University of Chicago.
The lesson I take from this history is that Obama is a truly skilled politician, but he was often lucky and took advantage of candidates who weren’t used to having serious opposition. That’s why he was always underestimated. The Clinton’s and Romney’s of the world are used to just rolling over people and have little experience with intelligent and well organized challengers who can exploit the political system in novel ways. But when confronted with a determined politician who had paid his dues, Obama showed he was as human and fallible as any other politician.
* What about Palmer? She’s a weird case that doesn’t fit either the loser or high altitude category. Obama’s people found that her paperwork was out of order and she was bounced from the ballot. She then decided not to run or contest the disqualification. Sui generis, but et tu BHO.
Traditionally, national defense was an issue the benefited Republicans. Symbolically, it allowed Republicans to appeal to nationalists who wanted to see America on top. Also, it is a hand out. The bigger the defense budget, the more contracts and jobs you can give to constituents.
In view of the recent election, I’ve come to believe that we have reached a turning point. Increased defense spending is now slowly eroding the Republican party’s position in national politics. The reason is that “defense” is no longer is limited to what we normally think of as the armed forces – soldiers, tanks, ships, and so forth. Now, defense means a very expansive “homeland security” apparatus.
The new face of defense is a vastly expanded community of contractors, consultants, engineers, and computer programmers. These people do not need to be spread out across the country. Instead, this new bureaucracy is concentrated around Washington, DC and its suburbs in Virginia and Maryland. These people do not always vote Republican. In fact, highly educated scientific types like to vote Democrat.
Of course, the suburbs of Virginia are expanding for many reasons, but one important reason is that massive expansion of “homeland security” and other Washington bureaucracies in the 2000s. This shifts Virginia from being a primarily rural conservative state to a slightly liberal urban state. And without a solid lock on the Southern electoral votes, it is very hard, if not impossible, for Republicans to build their coalition with a monopoly on Southern whites and Midwestern conservatives.
In no order:
- Math 1, Republican Pundits 0. As comedian Yakov Smirnov used to say, “the Polish are the most powerful group in America. When politicians say the Poles are wrong, they always lose.”
- Drug legalization: I am not surprised that some states would eventually legalize recreational marijuana. The real question is whether the Federal government will allow this to stand. I am very curious to how the Department of Justice will respond. Will Obama refrain from prohibition enforcement? When this goes to court, because state and federal law conflict, which side will the Obama administration take? Obama has been very careful in distancing himself from this issue, but the referendums in Colorado and Washington put him on a crash course with this issue.
- Immigration reform: People say that immigration reform will be an Obama priority. Not so fast. What can Obama do to actually change things? The House won’t cooperate and the Dems are far from having 60 in the Senate. Reagan was able to enact immigration reform because he was able to peel off enough GOP and Dem votes. Unclear how Obama does this.
Consider this an open thread on yesterday’s election results.
Last presidential politics post before Tuesday. A few comments:
- In July, orgtheory readers estimated that Obama will carry about 51%-52% of the vote.
- My hypothesis is that the popular vote is only close because of extreme anti-Obama sentiment in the south.
- The polls are showing a slight Obama tilt nationally, but consistent Obama leads in the important swing states.
- My theory of the election is that Obama will slightly outperform the “fundamentals.” Normally, it’s really, really hard for the incumbent party to win the White House with nearly 8% unemployment. But I think non-Southern voters like Obama and don’t blame him that much for the slow recovery. There’s also Romney’s less than effective campaign (other than debate #1). That’s why he’s doing well outside the South. And in the South, there’s an unusually large drop in Obama support that’s hard to explain.
- As of the evening of November 4, Intrade is at .65 for Obama and the Iowa Market is at 50.7% vote share/72% winner takes all for Obama.
Post your last minute comments, predictions, and questions in the comments.
Remember a few months ago when a Romney staffer compared election campaigns to an Etch-a-Sketch? Each time, you shake things up and start over. People were appalled, but Romney’s staffer was correct. The reason is that elections are not driven by high information voters with strong opinions. They are driven by low information voters with no opinions. The reason is that people who know politics tend to know what they want. To get 50%, you need to focus on the weakly committed, low information voter. The person who still isn’t sure what they think of an incumbent – after four years!
The result? Once you win the party’s nomination, you can say more or less anything you want. The people who actually remember what you said won’t change their vote, unless you say something that directly and violently attacks a core belief of your base. The people who can be influenced don’t remember much and have a relatively limited knowledge of politics. Say what you want. They won’t remember.
While people may view politicians as evil, I say they are responding to the incentives given to them. If your job depended on pandering to amnesiacs, wouldn’t you keep fishing until you found something they liked?
The polls are ambiguous these days. First, after trailing by about 2-3% during the entire election cycle, Mitt Romney has now gained a consistent 1/2% to 1% lead in the polls. Second, the Obama campaign is still on track to win the election because he has retained leads in a lot of swing states, including Ohio. The only big swing state to switch to Romney is Florida.
How do we reconcile this split? Here’s my theory of the 2012 election: the South hates Obama a lot, but the rest of the nation is relatively satisfied with a modest economic recovery. Consider the following cross-tab from a recent mid-October 2012 Gallup poll:
This chart explains why Obama is trailing in the polls right now. The South really, really hates Obama and the lopsided polls cancel out modest Obama leads in the rest of the country. Also, it explains why Obama is doing well (for now) in the Electoral College. Florida is the only swing state in the South. In other words, if it weren’t for the South, Obama would be cruising to a modest, but easy, victory due to a slowly recovering economy.
RNC delegates heckling a Puerto Rican speaker. This is unacceptable.
The Republican party has often been a force for good in history. In the 19th century, the party stood strong against slavery. Defending black freedom remained a notable feature of Republican party well into the 20th century. As late as the 1920s, Republican presidents, such as Warren Harding, spoke out against lynching and racial segregation. In the mid-20th century, the Republican party aligned itself with anti-communists, who rightly saw the brutality of Soviet communism.
But the Republican party we have today has not lived up to the standard created by the party’s founders and early leaders. By strongly courting social conservatives and relying on their votes for success, the Republican party has drifted far from its original goal of promoting people’s rights. Instead, we have a party that promotes voter ID laws that undermine black rights that the Republican party won with the blood of American soldiers. It is also a party set firmly against immigration. The mantra is that the party only opposes illegal immigration, but the policy proposals indicate an opposite view. There are many calls for walls, fences, and deportations. There are few demands for an immigration system that makes it easy for people to legally exercise their right to live or work in the place of their choice.
Those who care about civil liberty and individual freedom may recoil, but this is unwarranted. Instead, people who care about the rights of blacks, women, and immigrants should draw upon the Republican’s rich history to bring out the best in the party. This is important because democracies are built on rivalry. Major parties take turns in government. Thus, the Republican party is an essential feature of American government, not an aberration. If the Republican party can return to its roots, and work to make America a place for all, then the Republican party can use its time in office to be the promoter of freedom that it used to be.
Breaking news: The ASA has decided to change next year’s theme to Unreal Dystopias. The meetings will begin with a randomly chosen member of each section being locked in the grand ballroom, leading to a conference-long struggle for survival and paradigm supremacy. Start stockpiling your survival gear now.