The Third Estate
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What Has It Been Until Now In The Political Order?
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Have A Happy New Year

Sunday, December 31, 2006
The kitty demands it.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:42 PM

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Woe To Me (Again)

Friday, December 29, 2006
Sorry for not posting lately. Partly it's because it's the holidays and I don't feel like I have to post anything (particularly as not much is happening). More importantly, I'm in a funk because Brazen is leaving me again.

Expect LOTS of blogging in the next week, cause you guys are the only ones I'll have to talk to. Except the dog, who has very limited conversation skills.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 5:40 AM

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Some People Never Change

Wednesday, December 27, 2006
The Republican-controlled S.E.C. has ruled that corporate executives can conceal the extent of their compensation. So this is how we're going to deal with inequality in this country - pretend it doesn't exist, and try to shut the proles up by concealing information. How typical.

In response to Democrats offering a more open deliberative process in the House, the Republican minority has said that they are going to use the opportunity to embarrass Democratic freshmen. Nice. Watch this: the Republicans will use Democratic good will to blow up the House, and then when the the Democratic majority cracks down to end minority obstruction, the Republicans, aided by their lackeys in the press corps, will scream about the Democrats breaking their promise for greater bipartisan comity.

Apparently for Republicans, "shame" is a synonym for "sucker."
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:33 AM

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Sounds Like Something from Princess Bride

Saturday, December 23, 2006
via Addy N

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Milord Earl Arbitrista the Educated of Bumpstead under Carpet
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:55 AM

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Say What?

Friday, December 22, 2006
From the Washington Post:

Pelosi is grabbing the moment to present herself as the new face of the Democratic Party and to restore the party's image as one hospitable to ethnic minorities, families, religion, the working class and women.

When did Democrats not have the image of being favorable to these groups? Why in the world would you need to restore something that has defined the party for a generation?

What the hell is wrong with WaPo? I mean, damn.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:19 AM

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Is This Any Way To Elect A President?

Thursday, December 21, 2006
Journalists and bloggers are by no means immune to the power of nostalgia. In the old days, they say, the Presidential race didn't start 2 years out. Candidates announced early in the election year, maybe ran in a couple of primaries (separated by weeks or even months), or maybe entered no primaries at all. Party leaders at the National Conventions then made a decision in light of the best information they had (which included but was not limited to primary results) as to which candidate had the best chance to win.

Or so the story goes.

In reality, Presidential elections have changed much less than we like to believe. Potential candidates have always spent 2+ years positioning themselves for the race and trying to line up support. They have always looked to powerful institutional players and wealthy contributors to build up a political base. If you don't believe me, go read The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, or the beginning of A Team of Rivals, or The Making of the President 1960. You'd be amazed how little has changed.

Those romanced by the old mixed system of primaries + convention to determine nominations (which ran from about 1900 to 1968) tend to neglect the fact that the voters and the broad swathe of party activists had very little influence on who was nominated. And they tend to ignore that the Conventions weren't interested in who would be the best President, but who could win the election.

Matt Yglesias is right about one thing - there has been a decided shift in power from party elites to the media. Starting with John Kennedy, the road to the White House has lain through the Washington press corps. No media attention means no institutional support means no money means no voters means defeat. Evan Bayh saw this reality and wisely abandoned a Presidential run. Obama and Hillary, McCain & Guiliani (and to a lesser extent Edwards) are adored by the press because they make good copy. Who ever heard of Tom Vilsack?

Selecting a presidential nominee has never been about substance or qualifications. It has always been two things: electability and the at least grudging support of every element of the party coalition. That's it.

Does this mean that the system couldn't be improved? Of course it could. But we live in a media-dominated, celebrity-obsessed culture. Do you really think that our elections are somehow not going to be media-dominated and celebrity-obsessed? I'd love to break the power of the Washington press over national politics. I just don't see how to do it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:38 PM

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Blogging Foul!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006
You'd think that when a really big blogger used the content of a very tiny blogger, the former would be nice enough to provide a link to the latter. But you'd be wrong.

Oh well, at least he edited his post to put my name in. But would a link have killed him? Yeesh.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:32 AM

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A New Pseudonym

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
As I stated earlier, I have been interested in changing my pseudonym. "Publius" is far too common a moniker on the internets, and the original motivation behind adopting it is no longer valid. So after much reflection I have decided to change it to "arbitrista." The arbitristas were a group of reformers concerned with the decline of the Spanish economy during the 17th century. I learned about them reading John H. Elliott's Imperial Spain , a book that had a profound effect on my intellectual development. I remember thinking "what would it be like to realize that your country was in decline, and have so little power to do anything about it." It wasn't until later that I realized how ironic that thought was.

I hesitated about adopting this particular pseudonym, in part because the arbitristas were not very concerned with democracy or egalitarianism (it just wasn't an issue in the 17th century). But I think in conjunction with the name of my blog, inspired by the French Revolution, I have managed to blend my concern with social justice with my interest in public policy.

Plus, arbitrista doesn't sound like something to do with gonads. Does it?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:45 AM

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This Is The Dog's Bed

Friday, December 15, 2006
Or at least it used to be. He slept on it in NYC, but once we moved here he was let out of the kitchen and has slept on the couch ever since. We were worried the dog bed would go to waste until Misha discovered it. Then Loki saw him sleeping on it and they've been fighting over it ever since. This is a picture of one of their brief truces.


No squirrels were harmed in the making of this blog.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:50 AM

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Best Wishes

Thursday, December 14, 2006
Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota had some sort of collapse last night and is undergoing surgery. I'm not going to be as crass as some people and obsess over the political implications if the worst happens. That's just ghoulish, and I haven't lost that much of my soul yet.

All I have to say is: Good luck, Tim!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:27 AM

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How Scotch May Be Like Sushi

The first time I had Sushi I wasn't all that impressed. It was good, I just didn't see what all the fuss was about. Two weeks later I suddenly had a craving for the stuff and ever since have eaten it pretty much whenever I can afford it.

What the hell does this have to do with Scotch, you ask?

Well a few weeks ago Brazen and I went to a Scotch tasting at a very good local bar. We go to tastings of various drinks there all the time just because we love the atmosphere and the inexpensive quality liquor (even when the particular drink isn't our favorite). We got a couple of bottles of Scoth that night but really didn't understand the obsession so many folks have with the stuff.

Last night we went to another one to give Scotch a second chance. And presto! We thought it was fantastic! Was it just better Scotch than last time? Or is Scotch like Sushi, and you need to have it twice before learning to appreciate it?

Hmm. Come to think of it this phenomenon also reminds me of sex. Awkward the first time, but after that.......
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:19 AM

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No. No. No. No. No.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006
If this happens and he wins, I'm outta here. Not joking.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:20 PM

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End of the Year Meme

via Brazen Hussy

1) Harken back to your archives.
2) Collect the first sentence you wrote every month for the whole year.
3) Entertain us.

January 2006: Happy New Year, one and all (unless you operate on a Lunar calendar, in which case you have to wait another month).

February 2006: Like Josh Marshall, I just can't bring myself to watch State of the Union speeches.

March 2006: From the cross-examination it looks like the Supreme Court will strike down Vermont's "clean election" campaign finance law.

April 2006: So this morning I conducted one of my periodic trolls of the major conservative blogs.

May 2006: Zola responds to my last post with the following argument: But can we have a "kitchen sink" coalition? Doesn't -some- of the millions of things the Democrat confederacy argues for have to go to the back of the line?

June 2006: Brazen Hussy and I have finally reached Uville and settled down into our new college town existence.

July 2006: If this is true, then I'll have to start wearing tinfoil.

August 2006: Doing the right thing is sometimes downright inconvenient.

September 2006: IMG_1310

October 2006: The passage of the torture bill - the biggest boulder in what seems an avalanche of bad news lately - has exhausted my ability to think about politics.

November 2006: I was watching a repeat of the Colbert Report last night, and Stephen mentioned that Congress was a great insitution because it was only in session three days a week.

December 2006: Iraq is not moving towards civil war; it's in a civil war
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:45 AM

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More On Wealth

Monday, December 11, 2006
Go read this right now.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:01 PM

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I'm not sure what this means

Friday, December 08, 2006
(via Nimue)

Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:16 AM

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Cats Don't Like Dogs

Nuh-uh. No sir!


Yes, you are interpreting this picture correctly. Misha is kneading the dog.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:37 AM

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The Real Black Power Movement

Wednesday, December 06, 2006
The South dominated the Congress for generations in large part due to seniority. Since the South was a one-party region, members elected from there served for decades without serious risk of defeat. Their northern counterparts, however, had no such job security. National political tides came and went, and each time scores of northern incumbents would be replaced by new members. The southern barons just went on and on, accumulating seniority and rising to positions of dominance on one key congressional committee after another.

We are about to see the birth of a new class of committee barons. Black (and eventually Latino) congressmen from overwhelmingly Democratic districts have no need to fear defeat. Since 1992 African-Americans like Charlie Rangel and John Conyers have become among the most senior members of their party in the House. Their potential power was concealed by the fact that the Democrats were in the minority. But now they will be assuming control of major committees like Judiciary and Ways & Means. Control of these committees will give the Congressional Black Caucus disproportionate power in the House - their acquiescence will be required on every issue.

Will they be the tail that wags the dog of the Democratic majority? Not really. There were over 100 Dixiecrats in the old New Deal majority - nearly half the caucus. The CBC has only 40 or so. And while the old Dixiecrats were generally hostile to liberal legislation, representatives from majority-minority districts are among the most consistently progressive members in the House. But while they may not control the party the way the Democrats did, they will have enormous influence.

The Republicans tried to make an issue in the last campaign of (black) chairmen like Rangel if the Democrats took power. To which I can only say - it's about time.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:08 PM

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I Too Am Ghandi-Like

Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I wish. (via Addy N)
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:30 PM

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Hillary's Dinkins Dilemma

A little New York History....

In 1989, Ed Koch had been the mayor of new york for 12 years and was seeking re-election. He faced a difficult strategic dilemma. Koch was challenged in the Democratic primary by the popular African-American candidate David Dinkins, who had rallied liberal support. Koch also faced a serious general election threat in Republican prosecutor Rudy Giuliani. Koch's problem was this: if he attacked Dinkins, he could win the primary, but in doing so he would so alienate African-Americans that he would have no hope against Giuliani. If he didn't attack Dinkins, there was a very real possibility that he would be denied re-nomination. Koch (probably correctly) decided to take his chances by not attacking Dinkins, and lost the primary. Dinkins went on to become the first African-American Mayor of New York City.

So what does this have to do with Barack Obama? Everything. I have argued before that Obama would have an excellent chance to deny Hillary Clinton the nomination because of his ability to unite liberals (who are uneasy about Hillary) and because he would monopolize the black vote, a constituency Hillary has been counting on.

But Obama presents an even graver threat to Hillary's chances than I originally realized. Obama is no Jesse Jackson, who white Democratic candidates could safely ignore. He has a legitimate shot at the nomination. He also underscores all of Hillary's perceived weaknesses. But worst of all for Clinton, from a strictly tactical perspective Obama re-creates the "Dinkins Dilemma" for Hillary. She would need to attack Obama in order to defeat him, but doing so would thoroughly alienate African-American voters and (fatally) damage her chances in the general election. But if she didn't attack Obama, he would retain his "Golden Boy" image and likely defeat her the primaries.

I have said before that Obama could win the nomination. I am going to take a risk and say that if he decides to run, he probably will win it. Which I think he's probably smart enough to have figured out.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:09 AM

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Learn Geography!

Monday, December 04, 2006
When I read things like this, I despair:

Though southerners, like possible candidate Sam Brownback of Kansas, will remain in the field, there is not a clear southern favorite able to take the reins from Bush following his exit.

Um, the last time I checked, Kansas was in the Midwest.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:50 PM

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The Wisdom of Futility

Stu Rothenberg has criticized partisans of both sides (particularly Howard Dean and Tom Coburn) for arguing that the parties should expand the playing field by recruiting and supporting candidates in supposedly hopeless districts. Defenders of Dean's 50-state" strategy argue that the last election demonstrates the success of a broad-front strategy as opposed to the narrow targetting advocated by most political consultants.

So who's right?

Rothenberg is correct to point out that we can't use the last election as a real test, since there was a pro-Democratic wave that brought down a number of Republican incumbents. In most elections, those incumbents would have been re-elected. One might argue that reducing an incumbent's vote share from 60% to 55% might feel like a moral victory, but it is scarcely a method for building a congressional majority. According to Rothenberg, there really are only so many potentially competitive seats, and under normal circumstances even incumbents in marginal seats are going to be re-elected. Why waste precious resouces on races you aren't going to win?

Chris Bowers over at MyDD has one good argument. Democrats need to field credible candidates in every district in order to take advantage of unexpected events. If the Democrats had given Mark Foley and Tom DeLay a pass, we would never have won those seats. You just never know. Dean has also made the argument that parties need to contest every seat in order to build up a long-term infrastructure so that when a seat opens up, the party is in a better position to take advantage.

Rothenberg could of course poo-poo these points. Why waste money on races on the off chance that something funny will happen? It seems terribly inefficient, doesn't it?

Which is where my argument comes in. I suspect that challenger spending has an asymmetric effect on incumbent spending. Let's say a long shot challenger can only raise $10,000. The incumbent will spend around $100,000, and will be persuaded to hand over a good chunk of his war chest (say half a million) to the national party to spend in competitive races. Now if the DNC puts $100,000 into a long-shot, the Republican incumbent there is going to spend $1,000,000 - just to be safe. Presto! For the cost of $100,000, the Democrats have just eliminated $500,000 of Republican attack ads in another seat.

As of yet, I have no concrete evidence to support my claims, only impressionistic observation. But it wouldn't really be all that difficult for a political science researcher with spare time to find out, since the data if freely available. If my hypothesis is true, then it makes a lot of sense to fund challengers even against seemingly invincible incumbents. Not because you expect to win that race, but because it will help you win another one.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:50 PM

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Is the Mainstream Media Finally Coming Around?

Who knew lighting a fireplace was so dangerous? Anyway.....

The Washington Post has been hosting a discussion on where George Bush ranks among America's Presidents. This conversation is surely premature, but certainly revealing. Vince Cannato says that it's too soon to tell. Michael Lind argues Bush is the 5th worst. David Greenberg claims he's 2nd to last behind Nixon. Douglas Brinkley thinks Bush has a chance to pass Hoover and finally reach bottom. Eric Foner goes all the way and ranks Bush dead last.

It's nice to see the Post at least consider the possibility that the Dear Leader is a disaster. But all I have to say is, where have they been? Sean Wilentz claimed that Bush was the worst President in U.S. history in April. Heck, I said it way back in November of 2004, anticipating the arguments of Wilentz and Foner.

Way to jump on the bandwagon guys!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:37 AM

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This Is What We Voted For

Friday, December 01, 2006
Iraq is not moving towards civil war. It's in a civil war. The conflict is - hard to believe as it is - a relatively low-grade affair at the moment. When (not if) we leave, the intensity of the conflict will accelerate. The most likely scenario? The Shia will attack the Sunnis, and the Sunnis will get massacred. The Sunni world will rally to their defense with various forms of aid, led by the Saudis (who don't want an Iranian client on their front door). The Saudis and Iran will fight against each other for influence in Iraq, either directly or through proxies. Syria might support Iran. The Kurds will consolidate their grip in Northern Iraq and remain a U.S. client, or perhaps even ally with the Sunnis out of fear of Iran. Weirder things have happened. Oil prices will skyrocket.

This is a nightmare scenario, and an entirely predictable one. Every reasonably informed person knew that the aftermath of any U.S. invasion of Iraq would lead to civil conflict risk regional war. Unfortunately neither our political leadership not our pundit class contains many reasonably informed people. There will be no democracy in Iraq, because there will be no Iraq. There has never been an Iraq - only petty tyrants who gave their domains a name and called it a nation.

The suggestions of the Iraq Study Group will likely come to nothing. The Democratic majority in Congress will be able to do nothing. The increasing disillusionment of the American people will mean nothing. Why? Because Americans have chosen to flout their own constitutional precepts and invest full authority for foreign affairs in the chief executive. Unluckily for us, the present holder of that office is a fool.

It is obvious to everyone but the President that our adventure in Iraq has ended in failure. He won't change because he cannot admit failure. But we can't in fairness blame Bush for this disaster - we have to blame ourselves. We voted for someone to "take care of us" and "make us feel safe." We abandoned our responsibilities as a free people, and gave control over our nation's fate to an incompetent demagogue.

Hopefully the next time a prospective leader attempts to control us by fear, to lead us on harebrained adventures through lies and demagogy, we won't listen to him. But I doubt it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:58 AM

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