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Random Paragraphs of Crap

Thursday, November 27, 2008
I don't think I know how to blog without Bush to kick around. I can do election analysis, and political strategy in a more general sense, but this is a new world we're entering in. I started blogging in 2004. I have no experience with this situation. I'm not alone in this - I expect a lot of political bloggers are going to take time to figure themselves out. Matt Stoller, David Sirota, and Chris Bowers over at Open Left are clearly happier with opposition, and they're gearing up to critique Obama from the left. That's fine. There's a place for that. But I'm not a pure critic, and certainly not a "movement progressive." And I'm not a wonk with specific policy interests like Matt Yglesias or Ezra Klein. What I know is political institutions, and campaign politics. In the former case, we don't know enough to make any judgments about the near future. I'm conent to wait and see what happens. In the latter case, there aren't going to be any major campaigns for 2 years. It's time to be patients and focus on governing, which I'll confess is a mysterious thing. It's been so long since there's been any opportunity to do something good, rather than just trying to stop bad stuff from happening.

So in the meantime I'll write about events that intrigue me, but in the main it's time I think to see what the current group can do. It'll also give me some time to work on that crappy fantasy novel I've been thinking about for the last dozen years or so. Hey, I'm almost done with the first chapter!

Oh, and everybody - have a happy Thanksgiving. Not that I'm going to eat any stupid turkey. Damned bird doesn't taste like anything.....
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:40 PM

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Mr. Productivity

Monday, November 24, 2008
Major case of the blahs today. Brazen Hussy and I got out of town for a nice weekend and made plans for a trip in a few months, all of which should put me in an excellent mood. But it's cold and rainy and I stayed up too late reading a book last night, and there is an ever-growing pile of work on my desk. That I wrote exactly zero words last week, which makes me feel bad. I basically just want to go home and crawl under the covers. Ugh.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:07 PM

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Meeting The 2nd Most Powerful Man In Washington

Saturday, November 22, 2008
I haven't posted much this week because I went out of town on Wednesday for an overnight trip, and was buried at work on Friday. I went to D.C., which I was excited about until I realized there would be no time for sight-seeing. Oh well. The interesting part of the trip was on the way back, when I ran into my Democratic congressman at the airport. He was taking the same flight I was. We chatted about the Detroit bailout and the economy (he's really worried), and the changes in the House leadership, and other things. What was really cool was Rahm Emmanuel walking by and stopping to talk to my congresscritter. I didn't get the chance to ask him anything, but it was neat to be able to meet the White House Chief of Staff.

BH and I are going out of town for the day for some much needed R&R. Hope everyone has a nice weekend!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:32 AM

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I Predict The Wanker Of The Day

Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Just in case Atrios doesn't do it, the wanker of the day is the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:02 PM

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Advice For Working On A Research Project At A Thinktank

Monday, November 17, 2008
1. Never hire undergraduates to help you collect or enter data. Or do a lit review. Or write any text. Or basically anything. Ever.

2. Never be supervised by someone who does not have a PhD.

3. Never take over at the "end" of a project that has gone nowhere for months.

4. Never agree to any timeline that you did not create.

5. And never, ever do research in your boss's major area of interest.


Just some stuff I've learned over the last 2 weeks.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:09 PM

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How Scotch Got Me Out Of Jury Duty

Friday, November 14, 2008
Normally I wouldn't mind jury duty, but November was a bad month for it. I was sure that I would have to attend on election day, or the day of my long-deferred doctor's appointment. It wasn't until I had scheduled a trip to Washington D.C. that I finally received notice, which made me quite unhappy. So today I got up unnecessarily early and went to the Courthouse, convinced I was going to be sequestered for three months for a celebrity murder trial.

It didn't end up being nearly so bad. First, the judge stated that he expected it to be a one-day trial. Hey, a day off! I thought. Second, I was juror #14 of 18, with only 6 to be empaneled. What were the odds I would have to serve?

Pretty good actually. It was a DUI case and the prosecutor apparently had no physical evidence. She kept asking people if they would be willing to convict without a blood alcohol measure, and people kept saying no and getting kicked off the jury.

When it was my turn she didn't ask me that question. She only asked me how I would know someone was drunk. I said that it's very hard to tell if you don't already know a person, since drunkenness is only obvious through a change in personality. She pressed me, and I said that someone passing out would be a pretty good indication (that got a good laugh). I also stated that you have to judge these things from context, so I don't think at that point I was going to be going home early.

Then the defendant's counsel started asking questions. She wanted to know if I had a favorite bar, and I said yes. She asked which one, and I told her. Finally she asked why, and I said "Because of their excellent whiskey selection." Would I be able to identify anyone else at the bar as drunk. "No, that's the bartender's job. I do my business, and other people do theirs."

The prosecutor couldn't strike me off of that jury fast enough.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:24 PM

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Election Warm Fuzzies

Tuesday, November 11, 2008
If you haven't seen these pictures yet, you have to. If you aren't just a little bleary-eyed after, then I don't know what to do with you.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:38 PM

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Putting Obama's Win In Perspective

Republicans and some pundits are attempting to minimize Obama's win, while many Democrats and other pundits are throwing around "realignment" talk. I think this is an issue that deserves some close attention, less because of what it tells us about the future, but more what it means about any "Obama mandate."

As far as electoral college and popular vote margin victories, Obama's win was fairly modest. The latest estimates have him winning by around 7% of the popular vote and with 365 in the electoral college. That's very much in line with Clinton's victories in 1992 and 1996. He also received about 53% of the national vote, which is clearly a majority, but scarcely a landslide. So from a straightforward historical perspective, Obama's win is solid, but nothing to get too excited about.

But (and there are always buts) there are other things to consider. This was an open seat election, which tend to be extremely close. The huge landslides we remember tend to involve incumbents getting re-elected by large margins (1964, 1972, 1984) or getting crushed (1932, 1980). When there isn't an incumbent, partisan attachments tend to be a bit more determinitive and the election is more prospective - voters are trying to decide what a candidate will do, rather than what they have done. The post-war open seat elections have usually been quite competitive, with 1960, 1968, 1976 (I really don't consider Ford an incumbent), and 2000 all squeakers. There have been some lopsided victories - Eisenhower won with 55% in 1952, and Bush I with 53% in 1988. While the electoral college margin was greater for H.W. than for Obama, Obama's win looks a lot like Bush's. It's therefore one of the most substantial for a race without an incumbent. Not a spectacular victory, but certainly a convincing one.

Should Obama's victory be considered more substantial because of his race? Well, perhaps. It's possible he was more competitive in North Carolina than a white democrat would have been because of extremely high black turnout. It's hard to say. But your Bill Clinton-type candidate (a white southern male) probably would have had a good chance at winning Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia - states that McCain actually did better in that George Bush. It's hard to prove counterfactuals, but I expect that an equally charismatic and disciplined white candidate might have been able to add a point or 2 to his margin and picked off a few states, but that's just a hypothetical and I could be completely wrong. You heard very similar discussions about Kennedy in 1960 - did he win with huge Catholic support no other Democrat would have gotten, or were margins among white protestants badly depressed? There's just no way to answer the question.

Now there is one other way to look at election victories, and that is coattails. A president's success is greatly influenced by his or her ability to influence Congress, and a president who is elected with expanded majorities probably has a far greater claim to a mandate than one who doesn't. If the voters are supporting the entire party, then that party has a reason to believe it is supposed to govern. Most presidents since World War II haven't been able to make such a claim, as they have either looked at minor gains (or even losses) for their party, have faced congressional majorities of the opposite party, or both. Truman in 1948, Eisenhower in 1952 and LBJ in 1964 could all claim decisive partisan victories, as each were elected with new or expanded majorities in Congress. Republicans tried to make the same case in 2004, but Bush's margin was so slender and the gains in the House so meager that I'm hesitant to grant that argument. Reagan in 1980 had major gains in both houses and flipped the Senate, but the Democrats retained control of the House, so he doesn't get scored for a big partisan win either. Heresy, I know. All the other elections - 1956, 1960, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 - were in some sense draws. (It reminds of that Indigo Girls song about "the endless split decision that never solves anything."). In 2008, on the other hand, the Democrats made substantial gains in the House (20+ seats) and Senate (6+ seats) to pad their majorities, which certainly counts as a major win according to the coattails criterion.

A number of commentators are comparing Obama's 2008 win to Clinton's 1992 win, and claiming that Obama should not over-reach that way Clinton did, resulting in the 1994 debacle, i.e. that he doesn't have a partisan mandate (although I'm not sure that 1994 was due to over-reach at all). Superficially the elections look similar, with around 6-7% popular vote margins, House majorities in the 250's, around 56 or 57 seats in the Senate. The analysis above should demonstrate how silly this is. Clinton won a clear anti-incument election, while Obama won the usually much more competitive open seat. Clinton didn't receive a majority of the popular vote, which Obama did. The Democrats actually lost seats in the Congress in 1992, while they made gains in 2008. All of this makes Obama's victory much more impressive than Clinton's.

So let's give a quick run-down:

1948: Trumans win a comfortable popular vote victory but not a majority. Major gains and a new majority in Congress.
1952: Major popular vote majority for Eisenhower, narrow congressional gains flip both houses of Congress.
1956: Eisenhower re-elected in landslide, no gains in Congress
1960: Kennedy wins a narrow plurality, loses seats in Congress
1964: LBJ re-elected with large majority, large gains in Congress
1968: Nixon narrowly elected with plurality, minor gains but an opposition Congress
1972: Nixon landslide, minor gains in House & losses in Senate, opposition Congress
1976: Carter wins narrowly, no change in Congress (but large Democratic majorities)
1980: Reagan wins a majority in multicandidate race, big gains but Democrats hold the House
1984: Reagan re-elected in a landslide, loses seats in Senate and some gains in the Democratic-controlled House.
1988: Bush wins comfortable majority, but loses seats in the House and Senate, opposition Congress
1992: Clinton wins a modest plurality, loses seats in the Congress, large Democratic majorities in Congress
1996: Clinton re-elected with comfortable plurality, loses seats in Senate and gains some in the House, opposition Congress
2000: Bush loses the popular vote, loses seats in the Congress, but Republicans narrowly control Congress
2004: Bush re-elected by small majority, small gains in the House and somewhat greater in the Senate, modest Republican majorities in Congress
2008: Obama wins a comfortable popular vote majority, substantial gains in the House and Senate, substantial Democratic majorities in Congress.

The data seems clear. The victory by Obama and the Democrats is the most substantial by either party in 44 years, the ranks second among all victories since World War II, second to LBJ's 1964 triumph. It demonstrates a clear desire by the public to give Obama and the Democrats a chance to implement a new agenda. In no other election do we see significantly expanded congressional majorities in both houses and decisive margins in the popular vote in a two-candidate race. While this may not necessarily mean that we have become a "center-left" country, it certainly means that Obama and his political allies have every reason to believe that this is their moment to change the country.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:10 AM

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The Rest of My LIfe

Monday, November 10, 2008
Is it just me, or was that the longest and most absorbing election ever? My god, I've been in some sort of daze ever since. Now I have the strange sensation of having to think about something else. Predictably, I've made a far-too-ambitious list of tasks for the next several months (no need to wait for New Years!).

1. Write that novel I've been fiddling with for years. I actually managed to sit down and start the first chapter yesterday. It's probably going to be a piece of crap, but at least I'll be able to get on with my life and join the ranks of unpublished novelists.

2. Focus on my job. Oh, I've been going and everything. But can I really say that I've been giving it my full attention? Nope. That would be a lie.

3. Media consulting for the local city council. I've been in informal discussions with members of the council for a few months, but with the election over I can make a real agreement. They definitely need the help, and it's not like I can go cold turkey off of politics entirely.

4. Write some academic papers. I have this ridiculous backlog of papers I just have to get started on.

5. Be a more interesting conversationalists with Brazen Hussy. What the heck are we going to talk about now?!

I'm seriously considering just turning off national politics for the rest of the year. No one -and I mean no one- thinks I can do it. But really, what more is going to happen? Except Al Franken's recount, and that Jim Martin special election, and the creation of the cabinet, and...

dammit.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:40 PM

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Funny Post-Election Commentary

Wednesday, November 05, 2008
1. The Rude Pundit tells us how to say good-bye to the Bush era.

2. Women finally constitute the majority in one state legislative chamber. 1 down, 98 to go!

3. Must John Lewis be feeling good right now or what?

4. We learn what Obama thinks of the press.

5. And finally, what are we going to do now?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 5:17 PM

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A Second Gettysburg

I've been trying to figure out how to write about the election all day. After considering a number of different ways of discussing Obama's victory analytically, I finally decided that a personal approach would be best (Don't worry, I'll write the analytical stuff later).

I had pretty ridiculous ideas growing up. I thought that the South was just a geographic expression with a unique history - a history that didn't really matter anymore. I believed the myth that the Civil Rights revolution had been a success, and those bad old days of racial strife were gone. Then I got involved in politics and realized how very wrong I was.

I grew up in the Deep South at a time when the political divide between black and white was growing. Moderate and conservative Southern whites were transferring their allegiance to the Republican Party, transforming the once-dominant Democratic Party into a minority based on black voters and a rump of white liberals (like yours truly). It was hard to experience, not just for the political defeats and policy disasters it led to, but because it seemed like the state was drifting towards a very dangerous, socially segregated place. Of course in most senses it had always been that way, and generally race relations were oh-so-slowly improving in the 1980's and 1990's - but it didn't feel that way at the time. It was hard to be hopeful about the future.

When I finally left the South and realized that there were parts of the country not so corrupted by racial politics and demagoguery, I decided never to return. I had become an embittered Southern exile. Imagine my joy when the South seemed to follow me, as George Bush and his allies worked to impose the worst features of Southern life on the rest of the country. For someone as politicized as I am, it's been excruciating to watch a country I love in the hands of monsters, while my fellow citizens hoot encouragements. I feared after 2004 that the whole country was turning into Dixie, that the South would finally win the Civil War and that I would have to pack my bags again.

Which brings me to Barack Obama. No, he didn't win the majority of white votes, and he did quite poorly among whites in the South. I expected nothing else. His success in Virginia and North Carolina and close margin in Georgia had more to do with heavy black turnout and the demographic changes in those states than any sudden return of the Dixiecrats to their ancestral home. But for me the point is that Obama didn't do much worse than any other Democrat would have done among white voters. Despite all the fear, there was no Bradley effect. People just didn't care enough about race to let it determine their vote. At least not many people did. It's almost as if my false beliefs of 20 years ago are suddenly true.

It's a rare thing to watch your world change, to experience it lurching in a positive direction. For the first time I can say that my country has matured sufficiently to have elected a black man President of the United States. Yes he is superlatively talented and exceptionally lucky, but that it was possible it all means that my stubborn naivete about this place is not entirely misplaced. A small part of me is now willing to entertain the possibility that in a few more generations the South will be distinguished from the rest of the country by something other than its poisonous race relations - that slavery and segregation will one day be just bad memories. And a bigger part of me is willing to believe that the arc of the world does tend towards justice.

For one day at least, the good guys won, and America seems more like the place of my youthful imaginings. Hoo-ray.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:33 PM

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Election Day Perils

Tuesday, November 04, 2008
I have these huge assignments at work which I am determined not to fall behind on. I got to the office determined to focus on them and not obsess about the election, since a) I'd like to keep my job, and b) it might make the day go by faster. I was doing okay until I had lunch. Now I'm like sort of blog junkie. Sigh.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:17 PM

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What Today Could Mean

Election Day is always exciting for me, but today's election is particularly important to me. Not because of my own activities - I early voted weeks ago, and have too much work to do today to go campaigning (I was unemployed this time in 2006 so did plenty of work!). No, this is a great day because of the possibilities it presents. Let me give you a list of very heartwarming maybe's:

We can try to solve some of our country's and the world's problems rather than making them all worse.

We can put an end to the disasters of the Bush administration.

We can finally kill the zombie of Reaganism.

We can stop living in 1968.

We can bring an end to the politics of Karl Rove, Lee Atwater, and Jesse Helms.

We can end the Civil War - at last!

And maybe, just maybe, we can come a little closer to overcoming the original sin of slavery.

Now doesn't that sound a lot more fun that another 4 years of the same old stuff?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:52 AM

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Almost There.....

Monday, November 03, 2008
I plan on writing something substantive tomorrow morning before I suffer a complete pre-election breakdown, but just in case I don't, I want to say that I feel pretty confident that the Democrats will win a substantial victory tomorrow. The sooner we can end the last 8 years of craziness, the better. Okay, "confident" is low-balling it. I'd be stunned if Obama lost. And I'd be looking into plane fares to Europe, probably.

Oh, and if you're hopped up on polls, check out Brian Schaffner's and Nate Silver's pieces on the "cell-phone effect" in this cycle. You may have noticed that some pollsters are giving Obama a huge lead, while others are giving him a modest one. The reason? The former make sure to include people like yours-truly that don't have landlines, and who happen to be overwhelmingly pro-Obama. I think the big question mark tomorrow isn't the oft-discussed but rarely discovered "Bradley Effect," but whether there is the "cellphone effect" is making the contest look closer than it really is. We'll see.

And as for things that actually matter, Brazen Hussy and I first met 19 years ago today - the most important day in my life.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:22 PM

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