Monday, November 30, 2009

Obama's Blunders

It's been slightly more than a year since President Obama was elected and ten months since he took office. In that time his administration has committed several blunders that will cripple the rest of his administration.

The Economy

In their first budget projection, the White House expected the recession to end in the second quarter followed by a robust recovery. Their reasoning was that this how the economy had responded to other (but not all) deep recessions. The expectation was that they could pass a major spending bill, call it a stimulus, and take credit when the economy rebounded on its own. Since they expected the economy to recover on its own, the Obama administration quickly lost interest in ti, moving on to issues closer to the President's heart.

Obviously, the economy did not recover as hoped. While there was some growth in the 3rd quarter, it was very poor and mainly reflected unsustainable growth in government spending. Jobs often trail the rest of the economy and this time is expected to be particularly bad with unemployment continuing to rise into 2010.

The economy topped every poll of Americans' top concerns with health care much further down on the list. For Obama, health care was the top priority and the economy seemed to have fallen off of the list completely. Obama finally seems to have noticed this and managed to squeeze a jobs summit into his schedule for December. This is too little, too late.

The Deficit

George W. Bush left a huge deficit behind. Obama quickly turned it into a monstrous one. One school of economists led by Paul Krugman insisted that Obama couldn't spend enough and that the multiplier effect of government spending would allow all of this spending to pay for itself. The fact that no government has ever spent its way out of a major recession was dismissed on the grounds that these governments had not spent enough. This was just what Obama wanted to hear.

The rest of the country has not been listening to Krugman and the size of the deficit has become a political cause all its own. Even the normally pro-Obama Newsweek has an article on how the deficit threatens America's long-term place in the world. This promises to be a millstone around Obama's neck, slowing or stopping his pet projects. At some point he is going to have to raise taxes, cut spending, or both. His options are limited because of his many promises that tax increases would only hit the rich.

Obama's options on deficit reduction are almost non-existent. Even with rosy economic projections, his administration projected record deficits a decade into the future. With tax increases on most of the country off-limits and a party committed to additional spending, the only way to control the budget is to break major campaign promises - sure political suicide.


For years Afghanistan was the forgotten war. Several things happened to bring it back into focus. Obama himself made it a major part of his campaign. Now the war is Iraq is winding down and the Taliban have reformed. The result is a constant stream of bad news from Afghanistan.

As with the economy, Obama hoped to address Afghanistan early then move on to more important matters (to him). The war did not go away. When asked for more troops, he mulled over the request for months with an answer finally to be announced in December. The public and the Democrats in Congress no longer support the war. This could have been avoided if Obama had been giving it more attention and justifying American involvement. His chance to do that is probably gone. Winding down participation in the war leaves the Democratic Party open to charges of being weak on defense. Continuing it will drag down his approval rating just as Iraq dragged down Bush.

Health Care

Health care reform was obviously Obama's top priority. His announced goal was to control costs before Medicare became unmanageable. The bills currently being considered will do almost nothing for this. Obama hoped to ram health care reform through Congress so fast that it would be passed before the Republicans could read the bill. Obviously, that didn't happen.

The health care debate is incredibly corrosive. Most of the country is not interested in it. They are worrying about jobs and the deficit. In contrast, both parties have spent most of their energy for the last five months doing nothing but debating health care. As a result, the country is sick of both parties. Back in July, someone high-up in the Democratic Party needed to put health care on hold and concentrate on the economy. Instead, jobs were placed on the back burner. Instead, health care is given such high priority that important votes are held on weekends.

The Democrats have convinced themselves that they lost Congress in 1994 because they failed to pass health care. As their polls drop now, they are certain that the only thing that will save them is the current health care legislation. In the meantime the rest of the country is screaming at them to stop wasting time on health care and fix the economy.

In the meantime, the Republican base is solidly against the current legislation forcing Congressional Republicans into reactive mode.

Foreign Relations

Obama counted on his popularity overseas to smooth relations. While he is still popular among the general world population, this has not translated into any achievements. He couldn't even get the Olympics. He went to China with a long list of topics and came back with pictures of the Great Wall. He has snubbed Britain, France, and Israel. Eastern Europe no longer trusts him. Japan has turned mildly hostile. The Russians have ignored his attempts at "resetting" relations. His attempts to repair relations with the Muslim world have not accomplished anything.

Possibly because he comes from a "Blame America first" background, his administration has also been silent on human rights. He was silent on the corrupt election in Iran and the protests that followed. He did not bring up human rights on his trip to China.

While Obama talks about nuclear disarmament, Iran and North Korea continue working on nuclear weapons.

Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize simply for not being Bush but his only hope for a successful foreign policy will be to act more like Bush. This is the one blunder that he still has a chance of turning around.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Meaning of ClimateGate

Last week thousands of emails, graphs, and computer programs from a British university were released by an unauthorized source. This was originally reported as the work of a hacker who filtered through who knows how much data. Later, many people including Junk Science decided that the emails, etc. had already been assembled for a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) and someone copied them from that source. Regardless, there are several implications.

Some skeptics have combed through the emails looking for a smoking gun. They found references that imply that researchers were manipulating the data. The warming true believers insist that these quotes are being taken out of context or were poorly worded. This is a dubious interpretation but I am going to accept it. There is no smoking gun here although there might be some smoke.

There are three other points that are very important. Two cast serious doubt on the famous scientific consensus and the third casts doubt on the base figures.

A chief argument against the warming skeptics is that there is a wide consensus in peer-reviewed journals. The emails show that this is a manufactured consensus. In one case a skeptical article was accepted for publication. The warming-believers managed to bend the submission rules so that a rebuttal could be published in the same issue instead of in the next one. In a couple of cases, an editor allowed a skeptical article to be published. The response was a discussion on how to have that editor fired (which happened in both cases). When one publication showed itself open to skeptical papers, the emails discuss how to marginalize the entire publication.

All of this creates a false consensus where dissent exists but is suppressed, then the lack of public dissent is given as proof.

Good science is reproducible. Twenty years ago a peer-reviewed journal accepted an article on cold fusion. Once this was published, other scientists tried to duplicate it but failed. In climate science, reproducibility means making the raw numbers and the methods of compiling them available to third parties for independent verification. There are emails discussing how to avoid doing this. There are cautions to delete emails so that they cannot be requested through FOI. Some scientists say that they would rather destroy their work than allow a skeptic to see it.

Climate science is a complicated field. You can't simply plug figures into a spreadsheet. Most of the final numbers have to be coalesced through custom programs. There is no off-the-shelf product that can do this and the climate researchers frequently have to invent new calculations. This opens them to errors. By hiding their work, they are implicitly admitting that there may be serious flaws in their calculations that they don't want the world to see.

Which brings me to the final point - the computer programs. Someone dug through the comments in a large program. A talented programmer was trying to get the program to work to reproduce some previous series and add new figures to them. He discovered numerous problems. In one case a function that returns the square of a number returned a negative (this is impossible in the real world but in a computer usually means that a result was too large for the field holding it). He tried rolling back the most recent changes without success. Eventually he concluded that the only way to get the program to work would be to go back to the earliest version. This was unacceptable because he didn't know how many problems the original code had that were corrected in later version. The conclusion was that the program was too poorly written and documented to be usable.

This is not the first time that this has been discovered. Several years ago Michael Mann (who is well-represented in the emails) released his results of a temperature reconstruction using tree-rings. This showed a long, stable temperature range until the 20th century when it rose so rapidly that it was nicknamed the "Hockey Stick". Later analysis showed that Mann's math was off and any set of random numbers would produce a hockey stick graph.

So, new, dissenting research is suppressed, the inputs into published papers is hidden from skeptics, and the computer programs used to calculate them can be buggy and unreliable.

Before the scientific community asks us to reshape civilization they need to start adhering to scientific method including opening their research to everyone asking for help when dealing with something that is out of their expertise.

For more information, the entire collection is here. The program comments are here. You don't have to understand programming to see that there are major problems.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tarnishing the Brand

Traditionally there are stark contrasts between the two parties. The Republicans stand for pro-business, pro-military, fiscal restraint policies. Their traditional weakness is being perceived as cruel or uncaring. The Democrats are the pro-poor, anti-business, pro-equality, anti-military party. Their weakness is "tax and spend" and being weak on defense.

George W. Bush didn't like the cruel label and invented "compassionate conservatism". As implemented, this could be characterized as "borrow and spend". He lowered taxes but increased spending on all levels. This gave the Democrats an opening to expand their brand to be the party of fiscal restraint. At early as the 2004 Superbowl, MoveOn was running ads against the Bush deficit. In 2006 and 2008, the Democrats ran as the party that would balance the budget. That this promis was based on the budget under Democrat Bill Clinton with a Republican Congress didn't matter. A Democrat had been involved in one of the nation's few budget surpluses.

By abandoning the party principle of fiscal restraint, Bush tarnished the party. He did not get any credit for his spending but he got the blame for the increasing deficit. At the same time, the public tired of his two seemingly-endless wars and the Democrats were able to position themselves as the party that would handle defense more responsibly.

Now Barack Obama is facing the same dilemma - how to keep from tarnishing the party's image. So far he has done major damage to the Democrat brand.

First, the Democrats will not be able to claim to be the party of fiscal restraint for at least a generation. After being stable throughout the administrations of Reagan, the first Bush, and Clinton, the rate of spending increased under Bush but this is nothing to how it is projected to increase under Obama. On a graph, the growth in government is around a 30 degree line until Bush when it becomes a 40 degree line. Under Obama it jumps to a 60 degree line.

Obama attracted a lot of votes from people who were tired of Bush's spending and wary of McCain's promised spending. They expected him to be a pragmatic centrist who would reign in excessive spending. Many of these people are now attending Tea Party protests and are upset with both parties.

Since 2004, the Democrats have pushed the idea that, by fighting the "wrong war in Iraq," the Republicans made us less safe and that they would take the fight to the "real" war in Afghanistan. Obama started strong with a quick commitment of troops but, when asked for more than twice that many, he balked, waiting three months to make a decision. At the same time, Nancy Pelosi made it clear that she wants troop reductions instead of increases. The Democrats' claim to be strong on defense has been eroded, possibly giving it back to the Republicans.

Fiscal restraint and defense represent issues that the Republicans traditionally dominate. A strong case can be made that these are not important to the Democrats since they were never Democrat strong points. More important to the Democrats is how they are handling their core strengths.

Traditionally Democrats were the Robin Hood party - they taxed the rich (and middle class) and gave it to the poor. Obama promised to alter that equation by only taxing the rich and giving to the poor and middle class. Performance on this has been mixed. One of his early accomplishments was expanding a program for providing medical coverage to the poor. This was paid for by taxing cigarettes, a tax that hits the poor disproportionally. Plans call for taxing "Cadillac" health plans to pay for health care reform. This will largely hit middle-class union jobs.

The stimulus included the "making work pay act" which gives a $400 credit to everyone reflected in a small change to payroll withholding rates. Again, this mainly helps the poor rather than the middle-class.

The health care proposals being debated will also help the poor at the expense of the middle class who will foot a sizable chunk of the trillion dollar bill.

So, despite promises, Democrats have not really changed. They are still the party of Robin Hood.

More important is their relationship with big business and Wall Street. The health care bills under consideration represent several important deals. Drug prices are not included as part of a deal with the drug-makers. Hospital prices and doctors' fees are also unaddressed for the same reason. The mandate for everyone to buy insurance or be fined came from a deal with insurance companies in exchange for coverage for pre-existing conditions.

More important are the bail-outs. Banks were deemed too big to fail and given amounts of money too big to comprehend, then allowed to give portions of it out in bonuses. GM and Chrysler were also bailed out. These may have been desperately needed but they left the impression of a close relationship between Wall Street and the Democrats. Its hard to soak the rich when you are propping them up. This will probably hurt the Democrats a great deal. The far left was always anti-business and would have been happy so see all of these businesses nationalized (instead of the quasi-nationalization that we have).

Put it all together and the Democrats brand name has been tarnished. It is questionable if the Republicans will have burnished their own reputations enough to take advantage of it by the 2010 election but they have an opportunity.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Last Chance to Save America

I hate to sound as alarmist as Glenn Beck but the next week will determine the future of America. Health care is big but it is only the first step. To quote Robert Creamer form the Huffington Post:

Everyone realizes that health insurance reform is not just another piece of legislation. But its significance goes well beyond the fact that it affects one-sixth of the economy; or that it will massively impact our country's ability to create jobs in the future; or even that it will determine whether or not health care finally becomes a right in America.

If we succeed in winning health insurance reform we will have breached the gates of the status quo. We will demonstrate that fundamental change is possible. Into that breach will flow a wave of progressive change. That victory will also make it possible for us to pass legislation to restructure the energy economy -- to put the brakes on climate change and free us from the tyranny of foreign oil. It will make it possible for us to rein in the power of Wall Street and pass long-overdue comprehensive immigration reform. It will make it possible to structure a bottom-up economy that can produce the jobs of the future.

He's probably right. If we can't stop health care then we will not be able to stop the rest of their agenda.

This is about control - personal control. The Progressives don't want you to have any. Their first step is to establish a requirement for being a citizen living in America. I'm quoting from the Congressional Budget Office. Along with their budget analysis they point out that this will make it a punishable offense to fail to buy something. Once you have established that president, nothing is out of bounds.

And nothing will be out of bounds. Just look at the rhetoric from the last few months. The Progressives want to control how much you earn, how much medical insurance you get (including an upper limit). They will limit how you drive and what temperature your house can be. The health care bills alone allow them to punish you for weighing too much (insurance companies can charge as much as five times the base rate for "high risk" factors).

This will kill jobs and stifle freedom. It will not work. It's been tried all over the world and it always fails. Most of Europe is moving away from a Progressive agenda. France has chronic 20% unemployment (much higher for youth and Muslim) and their health care is running out of cash as fast as ours but they want us to be like the French.

The goal is to push so many changes through that the Republicans will never be able to undo them. There can be no compromise. The Democrats are using every trick in the book to advance their agenda. In order to get the health care bill out of committee, they promised to remove the public option. The bill that was introduced to the full Senate had it restored. Once it passes the Senate, the bill that both houses of Congress vote on will remove limits on abortion and no longer allow states to opt-out of the public option. When Republicans complain about bait-and-switch, this is what they mean. The final bill will be voted on late at night with no chance for anyone to read it.

Then they will use the same tactics to pass cap-and-trade and cripple power production.

On top of that, they will cripple the economy with new debt. They used book-keeping tricks to hide the real cost of health care $900 billion in ten years but the first four don't count). That's on top of Obama's projected record deficits for the next decade.

We are in for a lost decade like Japan's unless we stop it now.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

World War II and the Economy

With an economic summit planned for December, it is likely that the Obama administration will ask for a second stimulus early next year. Part of the reasoning comes from a group of economists led by Paul Krugman. They maintain that the Great Depression and Japan's Lost Decade happened because the governments had not spent enough money. They point out that spending for WWII reached astronomical levels but just a few years later the national debt was back to manageable levels and the country began a twenty-five year boom. If the government just spends enough money then history will repeat itself.

It would be nice to believe that economics were that simple but there are a number of factors that make WWII unique. Simply spending without these other factors will not produce the same result.

The most obvious factor is that WWII was a war. It had a beginning and an end. By the end of the war the nation was sick of it. There was strong pressure to send the troops back home and get on with life. That put a natural end on the spending. In contrast, Krugman and company are proposing peacetime spending which will be hard to cut once it is established. What starts out as a short-term stimulus will likely turn into permanent programs.

Another factor was pent-up demand. The war years were years of deprivation. No new cars were built and few new houses. Even new clothing was a luxury and food items that we take for granted such as hams and chocolate were hard to come by. With the war over, people wanted these things.

By the end of the war, the US was the only major power to end the war with its manufacturing base intact. In fact, years of war spending had paid for upgrades to American factories. At the same time, Japanese and European manufacturing was in ruins. These other countries had to buy from the US in order to rebuild their own manufacturing bases.

In contrast, we are not experiencing any long-term privation nor are we bombing our competition out of business. No amount of spending in the US is going to dismantle Chinese factories.

WWII was financed by war bonds which were bought by Americans. When the debt was paid down, the money went to Americans who could spend it in the American economy. Our current debt is largely financed by long-term bonds sold to foreign countries. Running up a massive debt today means shipping dollars overseas and draining them from the economy.

When the Great Depression started, the Roosevelt Administration feared deflation. Under normal market conditions, high unemployment should have meant falling wages. The Roosevelt administration kept wages high through a combination of government coercion and union support. This system was finally scrapped during the war and never reestablished. This lowered the cost of hiring new employees. Krugman is advocating the opposite approach today. In a recent column he suggested that the government make it harder to fire or lay off employees. The Democrats have been working hard at raising the cost of hiring with increases to minimum wage and health insurance mandates.

Obviously the huge deficit that the nation ran up during WWII was only a small part of the story. Running up a new deficit and expecting a boom is irrational.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Justice or Ideology?

In 2001, President Bush declared war on International Terrorism. Last week, the Obama administration signaled that that war never happened with two separate actions.

First there is the Fort Hood shooter who has been charged with 13 counts of murder but not terrorism. There has been some argument (exclusively on the left) about whether his actions actually amount to terrorism. This is fairly ridiculous. He had a history of justifying terrorism and corresponded with radicals. Murder and terrorism charges are not mutually exclusive. So why not charge him.

Then there is the announcement that the terrorist known as KSM (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) will be tried in New York rather than by a military tribunal. There is a long history of try foreign combatants by tribunals and there are good reasons for doing this. The Constitutional guarantees given to citizens are difficult to apply to apply to foreigners. Presenting the evidence against KSM in an open court will almost certainly compromise on-going intelligence operations. The sticking point here is the term "foreign combatants". The left has always held there there is no war on terror. With no war, there can be no combatants and no military tribunals, only open courtrooms. President Obama will not even use the term "War of Terror".

Keep in mind that this is not about justice. It is about ideology. We already know that he is guilty. KSM has already boasted of his guilt in front of a tribunal. The whole point of starting over again with a new trial is meant as a slap at the Bush administration.

There are several ways that this can backfire. The trial is likely to turn into a circus that runs on for weeks or months. The OJ trial turned the brutal murder of two people into a national joke. What will the KSM trial do to the murder of 3,000 people?

The worst thing that could happen is that, like OJ, KSM might not be convicted. It has already been decided that he will not go free. If he is not convicted then he will be charged with new crimes and stand for a new trial until he is convicted. This makes a mockery of the justice system. The courts exist to weigh evidence and decide guilt. We already know that KSM is guilty - he admitted it under oath. Trying someone when it is known ahead of time that he will eventually be found guilty of something makes us look like a banana republic.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Confused Priorities and a Tin Ear

There are a couple of reasons that the Democrats are likely to lose big next year - confused priorities and a tin ear.

Obama and the Democratic leadership have their priorities and these do not match the public's priorities. All recent polls put jobs and the economy at the top of the list. They want to know that their government is working hard to put things right. They are also concerned about the war in Afghanistan.

What do they get? Six months of constant talk about health care with cap and trade next on the list. The Obama administration rushed through a stimulus package, bank bailouts, and auto maker bankruptcies in order to clear the decks for its real priorities. Troops were rushed to Afghanistan early in Obama's term and a request for more troops submitted in September is still waiting for a decision. The latest report is that Obama rejected the four options given him and asked for new ones.

The fact that Obama, Pelosi, and Reid are all ignoring the public shows an incredible, collective tin ear. It gets worse.

The White House has released figures about jobs created or saved due to the stimulus. I doubt that the public is buying into this. Unemployment is at a 25-year high. Even the major news organizations have found major holes in the official figures. In one instance, stimulus money went for raises. The White House maintained that this counted as multiple partial saved jobs.

Obama's supporters say that he saved the world's economy and averted a second Great Depression. Maybe. Most of the saving that he did was followup from policies begun in the last couple of months of the Bush administration. Regardless, Obama was also responsible for creating the over-used Wall Street/Main Street meme. For much of the year, the Obama administration has been seen as propping up Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. Firms that were too big to fail have grown larger.

Liberals have been outraged by bonuses and pay packages that still approach the GDP of small countries. Conservatives are shocked by the way that the administration has taken over entire industries. without input by Congress or the Courts, the White House was suddenly running GM, installing its own CEO and decreeing which divisions would continue and which would close down.

The deficit is an example of both a tin ear and broken promises. In both 2006 and 2008 the Democrats pitched themselves as the party of fiscal restraint. They pointed out that we were running a surplus during the Clinton years which went back into a deficit in the Bush years. "Put us in charge again," they said, "And we will return to fiscal responsibility."

This was an outright lie. Even before Obama's inauguration, Pelosi announced the suspension of "Paygo" (rules that required all new expenditures to be funded through new taxes or cuts elsewhere). While economists like Paul Krugman argue that deficits are good in a recession, the top Democrats refuse to discuss the issue.

The Tea Parties have been fueled largely by a sense of betrayal at the Democrats' spending. Rather than addressing this, they are dismissed with a derogatory term referring to oral sex.

History is against the Democrats to begin with. Presidents with long coattails usually lose party members in the mid-term elections. They could try to minimize this by paying attention to the polls. Instead they have convinced themselves that the only reason that Clinton lost Congress was because he failed to pass health care. They are clinging to health care as their 2010 salvation, ignoring the fact that at least half the country thinks that this bill will make things worse rather than better.

Parties that ignore their constituents always end up regretting it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dr. Who and Politics

You would expect a column on the British TV show, Dr. Who to be a politics-free zone. Unfortunately, with some people there is no such thing as a politics free zone. In a four paragraph column on Dr. Who in Wired, the writer, Scott Brown, injects this:

Sound familiar, America? Oh, I can hear the teabaggers now: This is defeatist talk! Doesn't sound like your cup of Tetley, eh, Glenn Beck? Fair enough: Enjoy your Transformers and the baby-faced club kids of the new Enterprise. But I'd highly recommend a field trip to Whoville.

Brown makes to many bad assumptions it is hard to list them all. First, he assumes that everyone who reads his stuff agrees with his politics. He compounds that by throwing in a derogatory term for the Tea Party movement. He also assumes that Enterprise and Transformers only appeal to conservatives (I guess because he considers both the movies and the audience to be less enlightened). Finally, he thinks that Dr. Who supports his politics. I'll examine this last assumption in depth.

First, I'm going to make an assumption. Since the Brown doesn't like the Tea Parties or Glenn Beck, I'm going to assume that Brown is a big-government liberal.

So, what politics does Dr. Who espouse? It's hard to generalize but there have been a number of episodes that have a strong Libertarian/anti-big government element. In fact it's a given that any episode that features a large government agency or big business, the agency or business will turn out to be run by evil aliens for nefarious reasons.

At the end of the first season the Doctor was on a satellite that housed a totalitarian government. This turned out to be a cover for a plot to recreate the Daleks. The following season a government agency called Torchwood seized the Doctor's TARDIS, saying that all alien technology in Britain belonged to them. They also opened a door to an alternate universe populated by Cybermen.

The Cybermen came from an alternate world where they were manufactured by a large corporation working with the government.

In a later season finale, a charismatic politician named Harold Saxon was elected Prime Minister. It turned out that Saxon was the Doctor's fellow Time Lord the Master who took over the Earth with the intention of using humanity to conquer the universe.

In the spin-off Torchwood, the government blew up Torchwood's Welsh branch and arrested the survivors. Their reason - they didn't want Torchwood to interfere with an alien race's demand for 10% of all children.

Clearly, in the Doctor's universe, big government and big business working with big government are bad. They inevitably end up threatening humanity.

So, why would Glenn Beck object to this?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Mourner in Chief

One of the President's duties is to act as the unofficial Mourner in Chief. When done right, the President helps the nation to put a tragedy in perspective and the President's approval ratings rise. When done poorly, the nation turns its anger on the President.

Bill Clinton's response to the Oklahoma City bombing comforted the nation. The event came at the end of a long series of public relations problems and repaired his image. His approval rating climbed.

George W. Bush took a day to strike the right tone but after that his response to September 11 was what the nation needed and his approval rating climbed into the 90+% range. Four years later his response to Hurricane Katrina was seen as inadequate and his approval rating started a drop that ended in a historic low.

How will the nation judge Barack Obama's response to the Fort Hood shootings? While not on the same level as these other tragedies, it was still a shocking event.

Obama's initial response was shockingly callous. Rather than changing his schedule, he simply inserted a mention of the shooting into a prepared speech. He didn't even lead with it. Instead he began with a "shout out" to a member of the audience who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor (he actually won the Congressional Medal of Freedom - the civilian version). Fort Hood's mention came two minutes later.

Obama has made some further remarks since then but he will not travel to Fort Hood until a memorial service on Tuesday. He spent Saturday lobbying Congress to pass health care. He even used the Fort Hood tragedy in this context, reminding Congressmen in marginal districts that their sacrifice was nothing compared to the people in uniform.

Over the last year the Obama administration has shown that it is single-minded in its agenda, no matter what else happens. The unemployment rate is at a 25 year high and a request for more troops for Afghanistan has waited two months for a decision but the Obama White House seems focused on health care. Even a major tragedy seems unable to get more than a moment's notice.

To their credit, the White House said that the timing of Tuesday's memorial service was for the convenience of the families and not the President. Still, one wonders. Obama postponed an overseas trip by one day. Had the service been any later it would have been much less convenient for the President to attend. Was this just good luck?

Regardless, the President has one last chance to set the right tone before public opinion starts to turn against him.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

New York 24

What to make of New York's 24th results? Actually, the whole situation was so muddled that you can make anything you want of it.

To recap - this was a special election to fill a vacancy. Obama won it in 2008. The Republicans nominated a liberal who supported most or all of the Obama agenda. A conservative independent surged after getting support from Sarah Palin. The official Republican dropped out of the race and threw her support (including her robo-calls) to the Democrat. The Democrat won the election with 49% of the vote.

The result of this mess is that:

A Democrat won this district for the first time since the 19th century.
Even with all of this, the Democrat could not get a majority of the votes.
Even if the independent had sat the race out and allowed the Republican to win, the Democrats would have gained a reliable vote.

The most important lesson for the Republicans and independents (and I'm not the first to point this out) is that they need each other to win. If the Republicans had nominated a candidate who was closer to mainstream Republican then this seat would still be in Republican hands.

On the other hand, trying to turn a single special election into a national mandate to continue the Obama Revolution is a stretch.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Year Later

A year ago the Democrats won big. The big question was if the election represented a national shift to the political left or a normal swing away from the party in power amplified by a charismatic minority at the top of the ticket. A year later it looks like the second scenario is the correct one.

The Republicans won the governor's office in two states that Obama won in 2008. Spin doctors are pointing out that these states usually elect the party that is not in the White House so we should not read too much into this election. In fact, that explanation confirms that the 2008 election was a normal swing instead of a permanent shift. If the country had shifted then the old rules would no longer apply.

The old rules also say that the party in the White House will have losses next year. The extent of those losses depends on how long the President's coattails were. Reagan, Clinton, and Obama all had long coattails. Reagan and Clinton lost seats. Chances are very good that Obama will lose seats, also.

This should concern representatives who were elected on Obama's coattails. By definition, they are people who won in districts that normally favor the other party. The thinking is that, either they profited from the halo effect of being in the same party as the President or that they got votes from people who turned out to vote for the President and who will stay home on off years.

The best chance that these representatives have of staying in office is to appeal to the people who normally elect Republicans. That means that they have to distance themselves from the Obama agenda.

What about the Republicans being too conservative to elect? That was tried in Virginia. It turns out that voters care more about economic issues. With the recession dragging on, the Democrats now own that issue and it is hurting them.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Purity Part II

I wrote my last post on Friday. On Saturday Dede Scozzafava, the officially endorse Republican, bowed out of the race out of party unity. On Sunday she started campaigning for the Democrat. What to make of this?

First, Scozzafa is a sore loser with no honor. She took large sums of cash to run as a Republican. At the very least, she should have gone out quietly. Her actions on behalf of the Democrat show that she was never committed to the Republican party.

Second, this calls into question the judgment of the party members who supported her. Why support someone who has no party loyalty and whose views are not in line with the party? This minor race may eventually doom Newt Gingrich's presidential ambitions.

The third point is the question of who is welcome in the Republican Party? Several Democrats and their supporters have already insisted that this means that centrists and moderates are not welcome in the GOP. I have two answers to this. The first is that, in its rush to appeal to centrists, the Republicans have been alienating the conservatives. Which is more important to the party? Moderates or conservatives? The Tea Party movement shows that there are a lot of angry conservatives who the Republicans are either ignoring or taking for granted.

If this election means that moderates are not welcome in the Republican party, how welcome are they in the Democratic Party? Joe Lieberman is an interesting case study.

In 2000 he was the number two man on their ticket. He ran for president himself in 2004 although he tends to suck excitement out of a room. His voting record shows that he aligns with the Democrats more than 90% of the time. The exception was the Iraq war. This is where it gets interesting.

Because of his support for the war, Lieberman was run out of the party. A challenger defeated him in the 2006 primary. I saw liberals openly celebrate this. Several posts on Huffington claimed that this was the biggest victory for Democracy in America since 1776 (I'm not exaggerating). Someone forgot to tell the voters. They reelected Lieberan as an independent. Because of his treatment, he campaigned for McCain in 2008.

The Democrats still need him so he is allowed to caucus with them and he kept his committee assignments and seniority.

Last week he announced, as other centrist Democrats have done, that he cannot support a health care bill with a public option. Once again there were calls to have him expelled from the Democratic caucus and stripped of his committees. No centrist dissent is allowed here. So much for the Democrats appealing to the middle.