Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Fundamentals of Presidential Politics Ctd.

A quick follow-up from my post about Sarah Palin and the Rules of Presidential Politics. A new WaPo article by Dan Balz has the quote from Mrs. Palin herself:
“I don’t think I owe anything to the mainstream media,” she told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. “I think it would be a mistake for me to become some kind of conventional politician.” (Bold mine - JG)
I understand that Washington and 'politics as usual' are nice four-letter words to play up on stump speeches, but there's a big gap between campaigning and governing. A lot of 'conventional politics' (like contacting state party chairs, working fundraisers for local candidates and consolidating support through party networks) are necessary steps that candidates have to take, in order to help illustrate their facility for governance.

From where I'm sitting, it looks like Palin is gambling on remaining on the national scene (and maybe running for president) on name recognition alone. That's just not going to cut it on the national scale. Sarah Palin has great politically talent. Lots of college athletes have talent to. Only the ones that show discipline, train, practice and master fundamentals are able to advance to the next level. I would argue that Mrs. Palin's case is not that much different.

Quote of the Day

Buried in The Globe's new series on Mitt Romney is this great quote:
"I know this is going to get a lot of conversation,'' he said, "but the health of the people in Massachusetts is more important to me than the health of my political prospects." (Bold mine - JG)
I'm happy to read this. The more and more Mitt Romney backpedaled on his policy achievements, the worse and worse his critics used his Massachusetts healthcare reform as a cudgel against him. Now that Romney is pushing back, he actually able to tout his policy achievements and at the same time make his critics look small.

The upshot from all of this, is that Romney would now forced to openly break from the current Republican orthodoxy that any plan with an individual mandate is the 'Death of Freedom.' I certainly hope he continues to stop apologizing and start confronting the intellectual dishonesty of his fellow conservatives on healthcare policy.

The Fundamentals of Presidential Politics

Running for president is hard, particularly in America. You have to organize, ideally, more than half of a geographically large and culturally diverse country to vote for you. (If you're lucky enough to find yourself in a three-way race, a plurality will do.) Because of these facts, presidential politics requires quite a bit of organizing skills. Jonathan Bernstein has been writing quite awhile about these facts, and uses a short hand "The Rules" of presidential politics to describe them. Lately, Jonathan (and others) have been pointing out how Sarah Palin refuses to follow them.

This bit in the Politico really bolsters the point quite well, and really drives home the fact that politics goes much farther beyond simple opinion polls, national favorability ratings and 'profile'. Candidates have to actually work hard and sell their candidacy. Examples litter the article:
The lack of a heads-up has irked many GOP leaders in the states Palin plans to visit.

“I have had no contact. I question the value of the ‘theater’ by some candidates,” Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason told POLITICO. “We seldom hear from presidential candidates as they are all focused on the early primary states. They will need us some day and we will remember those who helped us with party building.”

Gleason pointed out that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently helped raise funds for the Allegheny County GOP. He also said former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has been active in the state.

Gleason’s comments were echoed by Republican strategist Karl Rove, who spoke to Palin’s “rather unconventional style” earlier Monday on Fox News

“I bet you a dime to a dollar her visits to those areas are not proceeded by courtesy phone calls to the local Republican Party chairman and request they generate volunteers,” Rove said. “She will announce her schedule and show up.” (Bold mine - JG)

Joshua Green wrote a fantastic piece about Palin and her political development in Alaska. In the piece, I got the sense that a lot of Palin's electoral support in her gubernatorial run was largely generated by a resentment against the Murkowski's, and that Palin's election was more an artifact of Frank Murkowski's unpopularity than her ability to organize voters.

Now, I am not saying that Palin cannot organize voters, but she does seem unable (or unwilling?) to network with party or non-party organisations with the goal of consolidating electoral support. Without that skill, she's never going to gain traction in national politics beyond the core base of supports that identify with her purely on cultural and socio-economic terms.

I'm curious if the way Palin was instantly thrust onto the national stage hindered her ability to develop the basic national organizing skills a presidential run required. Or maybe Palin has these skills, but lacks any interest to develop them further.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Another chapter in the ongoing epic dysfunction of our confirmation process and the US Senate.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stay Classy, French Socialist Party

"Why all the fuss? It's merely a bit of hanky-panky with the help," said Jean-Fran├žois Kahn, the crusading editor of the Left-wing Marianne weekly. Jack Lang, a law don famous for having been Fran├žois Mitterrand's high-profile, graffiti-loving, diversity-fostering Culture Minister, dismissed it all rather infelicitously as an "overblown" affair: "Really, nobody died in that hotel room."

How (Not) To Sell Your Candidacy

Ezra Klein critiques Tim Pawlenty for being uncompelling with the rationale for his presidential candidacy.

On one hand, I do see Klein's point. Candidates need to be salesmen, and that means they need to effectively market themselves to voters. Answers like:
"You know, I turned 50 last year, and I’m realizing I’m — if I’m not in the fourth quarter, I’m in the third quarter of the chronological clock."
are not particularly energizing, and Klein makes the appropriate point that Pawlenty is going to have to do better than “because I’m getting older” and “I didn’t want to start taking it easy yet.”

On the other hand! Over at The Atlantic, I'm throughly sympathetic to Conor Friedersdorf's point that Pawlenty's answer is refreshingly normal. Politicians are people too, and sometimes they don't have the best answer for everything.
In the same way that romantic comedies shape our expectations about relationships in unrealistic ways -- "I knew from the first time I saw him that we'd spend our lives together" -- the conventions of presidential elections cause us to imagine that there should be some compelling narrative version of what brought someone into the race.

I'd like to place the correct answer somewhere in between the two. Candidates should be honest about the intentions and motivations of their candidacy, but that the same time need to offer voters a vision or platform to get behind.

The best answer Pawlenty (or any candidate) could have given, would have been something along the lines of "I can't give you the exact moment I decided that I wanted to run for the presidency, but I can tell you that my decision was ultimately cemented by the vision and leadership I can offer the American people."

Good salesmanship doesn't always equal dishonesty, but bad salesmanship does make your honesty harder to swallow.

UPDATE: I think Daniel Larison gets to the underlying point of Klein's Pawlenty critique:
Pawlenty’s candidacy doesn’t have any obvious rationale. In fact, the former Minnesota governor has trouble coming up with a reason why he is running at all. He doesn’t unnerve any major constituency in the party in the way that Huntsman does and Daniels did, but he isn’t that closely identified with any of them. He inspires neither intense loyalty nor especially strong dislike. (Bold mine - JG)
It's not so much that Pawlenty's answer to Michael Crowley wasn't that compelling, but rather the rationale for Pawlenty's campaign as a whole is underwhelming. Klein's critique of Pawlenty's answer isn't valid on the answer itself, as it is on the overall motivations of his candidacy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"It is not God who kills the children..

Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It is us. Only us"

The tragic death of Iraq Veteran Jose Guerena was brutal, pointless and absurd.

First, the basics of who Mr. Guerena was; a 23-year-old former Marine with two tours of duty in Iraq, husband of seven years, father of two boys (six and four), currently working night shifts at an Asarco copper mine.

According to Ellen Tumposky's reporting, Guerena had returned from the mine, and was resting "when his wife, Vanessa, saw the armed SWAT team outside her youngest son's bedroom window."
Vanessa Guerena thought the gunman might be part of a home invasion -- especially because two members of her sister-in-law's family, Cynthia and Manny Orozco, were killed last year in their Tucson home, her lawyer, Chris Scileppi, said. She shouted for her husband in the next room, and he woke up and told his wife to hide in the closet with the child, Joel, 4.

The confrontation resulted with 5 SWAT officers firing, according to KGUN9's initial report, 71 rounds over the course of approximately 7 seconds.

This tragedy would be grimly hilarious if it weren't so cruel. The man was employed, paid and trained by the state to travel thousands of miles to fight against terrorists. He survives and returns to his family; only to be gunned down in his own home, with his wife and child present, by state authorities waging a separate terror campaign.

While this story would be galling enough on it's own, the Pima County Sheriffs office has treated this disaster with an appalling nonchalance. The sheriff himself is bristling at how reporters is characterizing the story, specifically "scold[ing] the media for 'questioning the legality' of the shooting."

Hannah Arendt wrote a report on Adolf Eichmann's trial for The New Yorker, and eventually adapted it into a book in 1963, titled Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The central thesis of the book, per Edward S. Herman
was that people who carry out unspeakable crimes, like Eichmann, a top administrator in the machinery of the Nazi death camps, may not be crazy fanatics at all, but rather ordinary individuals who simply accept the premises of their state and participate in any ongoing enterprise with the energy of good bureaucrats. (emphasis mine - JG)

While there can be no comparison between the monstrosities of Germany's Holocaust and America's War on Drugs, Arendt's framework provides an excellent tool to help us deconstruct how the two polices produce similar effects on official's charged with executing them. Why Pima county's sheriff; who's responsibility is to the citizens of his county and is charged with protecting and serving them - expresses more concern over the media's 'questioning' than the fact that his officers have violently killed a (currently) innocent father, husband and veteran - is best understood in light of the idea that they were just following their orders and training. And unlike the Holocaust, these orders and trainings ultimatly emanate from our choices as an electorate.

The War on Drugs, and specifically the violent raid tactics that in this instance resulted with the death of Jose Guerena, are products of very conscious decisions made by every politically active (that is, voting) American. As H.L. Mencken wrote, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." The politics of our Drug War is skewed so heavily for our representatives to support more violence, harsher sentences and greater brutality because we make it so. The violence and brutality of our Drug War continues because, like Eichmann, we choose not to fully engage the ramifications and consequences of our political choices. Instead we hide behind a notion that this kind of engagement isn't our responsibility. It may have been the Tuscon District Court that signed a warrant for Jose Guerena's address, and it may have been Pima County's SWAT team that served it. But government polices - polices that we all have a say in - that created this tragedy. We cheaply extol on the virtues of our democratic system and how our government serves the people. But the good must come with the bad, and the failures of our polices must be confronted by every citizen, we are all complicit; either through our support, our opposition or our negligence.

It wasn't God that killed Jose Guerna, or fate that fed him to the dogs. It is us. It is only us.