The case for "artificial timelines" in Iraq.

The case for "artificial timelines" in Iraq.

The case for "artificial timelines" in Iraq.

A mostly political Weblog.
Dec. 29 2003 10:34 PM

Why Hillary Was Wrong About Iraq

Plus ... rigor mortis at the L.A. Times.

Two very useful reports on the Iraq timetable (in WaPo, and the Los Angeles Times) suggest that while we may or may not be moving too quickly to hand over sovereignty, the "artificial timeline" derided by Hillary Clinton has some obvious virtues. The June 30 deadline focuses the minds of the Americans on what they can and can't expect to accomplish before they've outstayed their welcome-- do we really need to "cash out" Iraq's food rationing program in accordance with Milton-Friedman's theories before we leave?--and it focuses the mind of Iraqis on what they need to do as well, including what compromises they may need to make. From the LAT:

To persuade the Governing Council and other Iraqi groups to work together to establish a new government, the administration has employed a variety of arguments, including warning that the U.S.-led occupation authority will not be around to protect them if they don't.

Bremer's strategy, one U.S. official said, is to "just keep telling people, 'We're going to be gone by June 30 and although you are enthused about that idea, just think about what you're going to do on July 1.' [Emphasis added.]

If the "timeline" needs to be pushed back, it can be pushed back. Even if that needs to be done, it's not at all clear that we will be in worse shape than if we'd never set a deadline at all. "We'll transfer sovereignty one of these days when we're ready"--the Hillary position--isn't exactly an incentive for the various factions to drop their less essential demands and close a deal. That's why I thought her criticism was Washington posturing. ... P.S.: It is pretty clear, though, that we're not moving too slowly (the  Howard Dean position). ... P.P.S.: Remember, we're not (in theory) leaving after June 30. The Pentagon is talking about a large negotiated presence for "one or two years, in terms of the troops' staying there," according to Deputy Secretary of State Armitage. And there will be ongoing reconstruction programs. ... To be sure ... It might still be a giant debacle. But not because of the artificiality of the timeline. ... 7:22 P.M.


Sunday, December 28, 2003

I'm not up on my Michael Jacksonalia, but isn't this exchange from the just-aired  "60 Minutes" interview potentially key:

ED BRADLEY: Would you allow your children to sleep in the bed with a grown man, who was not a relative, or to sleep in the bedroom?

MICHAEL JACKSON: Sure, if I know that person, trust them, and love them. That's happened many times with me when I was little.  [Emphasis added]

Hmmmm. .... Update: Freeper "Shermy" had the same reaction, word for word! [It's a one word reaction-ed Word! He had one more "m"-ed There you go. Overwriting.]  7:39 P.M.


They Hate Us Because of Our ... Intellectual Rigor! That's It! The L.A. Times' Tim Rutten, in a rambling criticism of something he calls  "the assault on the ethic of impartiality," says:

[E]xperience has demonstrated that intellectual rigor and emotional self-discipline enable journalists to gather and report facts with an impartiality that — though sometimes imperfect — is good enough to serve the public's interest in the generality of cases. [Emphasis added]

Top 4 dismissive responses--Pick Your Favorite! (drum roll):

1) At least he's not arrogant about it!

2) I better check--did Gray Davis win that election? ... My recollection is that opinionated journalists (like L.A. Weekly's Bill Bradley) got the big California recall story right while the intellectually rigrorous and emotionally self-disciplined journalists of the L.A. Times consistently and embarrassingly  got it wrong. ... [Maybe that "served the public's interest"--ed. Yeah, in living in a dream world!]

3) Lucky we L.A. Times skeptics won't remember that winning phrase--"intellectual rigor and emotional self-discipline"--and throw it back in the Times' face when they blow it again. Heh.

4) "Rutten seems to have missed that whole Reformation thing; the notion that truth might not have to be derived from a priesthood." -- Armed Liberal


Update: Prof. Bainbridge  notes Rutten's distinct lack of rigor when it comes to knowing when the Civil War started. Standards! ... 2:27 A.M.

Friday, December 27, 2003

Dean vs. the 527s? Here's an obvious, extremely non-trivial example of how an "independent" expenditure of money to influence a campaign--even if it involves big bucks--might not be very effective at actually helping a candidate: Call it Howard Dean vs. the 527s. ... Supposed Howard Dean wins the nomination by March, in part by continuing to snipe at the Clinton years. The biggest "independent" Democratic fundraising groups--the so-called 527s--are, its been noted, controlled by Clintonites. The Media Fund, for example, which is trying to raise $95 million for an ad campaign, is run by former Clinton aide Harold Ickes. National Journal notes Ickes' plans to run ads during the period between next March and the summer convention in which the winning primary candidate often runs out of funds. Does Dean really want the party's message in this crucial period shaped by the very faction of the party with which he's picked a fight, with which (to hear the columnist tell it) he and Al Gore are locked in a bitter struggle? Suppose Dean's message continues to be anti-centrist and subtly anti-Clinton? Is Ickes going to back him up? What if Ickes decides the best thing to do is effectively concede the presidential race, try to hold down Democratic losses in the Congress and the states, and boost Hillary for 2008? ... Even if Dean, now rolling in dollars and operating outside of the public finance system, doesn't run out of money in April, does he really want to have to spend it then to make sure his message drowns out or at least shapes Ickes' message? ... One upshot: It's not at all clear that Dean will owe Ickes' funders the way he would have owed his big contributors under the old soft money system. McCain-Feingold hasn't not made a difference, contrary to Alan Murray's jaded dismissal (see below). ...P.S.: If Ickes runs an ad Dean doesn't like, and Dean then gives a public press conference where he says "That ad isn't very helpful to us," and Ickes pulls the ad, is that illegal "coordination" between Dean and an "independent" group? If it isn't, how much more "coordination" do you need? If it is, aren't you in effect muzzling an actual presidential candidate's actual speech on a highly-relevant issue?... 5:50 P.M.

On Da' Soros Ad: No? In Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, Alan Murray declares that McCain-Feingold "doesn't work."  Why? Because a heretofore unkown group, Americans for Justice, Healthcare and Progressive Values, has run TV ads denouncing Howard Deans's lack of foreign policy experience, etc. .... Why were these ads so outrageous? a) They raised perfectly valid points. b) They weren't last-minute attacks--the election is weeks away. c) Their backers are suspected of being Gephardt-friendly, but the ads doen't seem to have been coordinated with the Gephardt campaign. And d) perhaps because of (c), the ads don't seem to have been at all effective. ... Yes, unions contributed to the campaign, and the donors will be kept secret until after the New Hampshire primary--both arguably bad things. But its clear that what really outrages Murray is simply that someone spent big money on a hit ad outside the regulated public finance system. The proof: Murray is also horrified by "the pledges by Peter Lewis and George Soros to spend millions in the coming election." Lewis and Soros are neither unions nor anoynymous. Why shouldn't they spend millions if they want to?


The issue here is whether any campaign finance system that lets rich individuals (or groups of less-rich individuals) spend money to say what they think--a First Amendment right, I'd hope--can ever be a "success."  McCain, to his credit, tells Murray it can, even with ads like the anti-Dean spots. He notes that the institutionalized shakedown of corporations for unilimited sums has been ended, at least temporarily. And while it may not be impossible for a candidate to shake down George Soros (or--better example--a mogul like Rupert Murdoch who needs government-dispensed TV licenses) it's at least harder if the candidate and his campaign can't ask the shakee for the money and if the candidate can't collect and spend the money himself. So far, there's no evidence this sort of shakedown has survived McCain-Feingold. Meanwhile, rich individuals who try to curry favor with politicians by financing freelance Soros-like campaigns run the risk of simply annoying their intended beneficiaries, as Gephardt is probably annoyed by the hapless efforts of Americans for Justice, etc. That's the hope, anyway, of many McCain-Feingold backers. Sure, a campaign in which a Soros can intervene at any moment with an off-message message is unpredictable. But who said politics should be predictable? (A little unpredictability is what the current presidential campaign, in particular, could use right about now.)

Murray says he doesn't want to get into "whether the new campaign finance law violates the First Amendment." But his essay suggests that he won't consider campaign reform a success unless it violates the First Amendment. ... 2:15 A.M.

Infloriating Revenues: In case you missed Conde Nast magazine empire chief Steven "Mr. Credibility" Florio's latest "revenue"-enhancing gimmick, David Carr dissects it here. It seems Florio discovered an area where his competitors claims were actually less accurate than his, and he quickly moved to rectify the situation. Conde Nast now declares as "revenue" the formal, publicized rates advertisers are supposed to pay as opposed to the discounted rates they in fact pay ... Ken Lay, don't try this at home! ... Is this why the New Yorker is 'profitable'? ... 1:23 A.M.

Thursday, December 25, 2003


I dunno--if Duncan Sheik is one of the best XM satellite channel's "core artists," do I really want to buy a $200 radio and give them $140 a year? If I need breathy wimpy overhyped pop, I can hear it for free on Nic Harcourt's show! ... A point Stephen Holden's NYT piece might have made: How quirky can satellite radio be if it's so precisely segmented that Holden's favorite channel, The Loft, covers "four decades of singer-songwriters," while another favorite, XM Café is described as "similar but has a slightly harder, alternative-rock edge"? ... Wouldn't a really quirky show that restored the "magic" of radio not be so easily categorizable--it would play hard rock, American folk music, hip-hop, foreign music, whatever, as the sensibilities of the DJ dictated? It would surprise you. It doesn't sound like anyone will be surprised by XM's The Loft... A good point Holden does make, or at least "flicks at" (as newsweekly writers say): Any successful format will come under intense pressure from promoters and record companies. It's not clear why satellite radio professionals will be able to resist this pressure any more than public radio professionals. I'll stick with college radio, where they seem too amateurish to be corrupted. ... (In Los Angeles, that means KXLU , 88.9 FM; in New York there's that weird station from New Jersey. [Update: WFMU, 91.1 FM]) ... P.S.: Here's your quirk, Jack. ... 11:47 P.M.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Communications Stream of Crazed Column Commerce: Kausfiles one week, Safire the next. ... 3:19 A.M.

The Lieberman camp has responded to charges that he backstabbed Gore first. Aide Dan Gerstein blames "a few bitter, uninformed [Gore] operatives." His delightfully irritated letter can be found on TNR's "&#C*%!!" blog. ... P.S.: Gerstein's defense on the military ballot issue--that Lieberman was only following the orders of the "Gore campaign leadership"-- seems on its face powerful. It does not match the impression left by the Washington Post'sreport on the incident, however. ... I don't know who's right. Kf doesn't have a backstabber in this fight! I am only fulfilling my vital constitutional role of giving voice to the nation's bitter, uninformed operatives. ... 2:28 A.M.


He's Clark Without the Creepiness! Let's assume Howard Dean really wants to "plug that hole on the resume" by choosing someone with foreign policy background, preferably a general. Assume also that Clark has blown it by making an issue of whether Dean did or didn't offer him the slot, and assume Gen. Hoar blew it with his crack about deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz knowing "very little about the Middle East, aside from maybe Israel." Any other retired generals out there? Let's go through them from "A" to "Z" ... Actually, lets start with "Z."

Zinni. Gen. Anthony. Made no-nonsense case against the Iraq war that mostly holds up. Press fave. Middle East diplomatic experience. Decorated Vietnam vet. Seems human and real--not weird like Gen. Clark. See Tom Ricks' Tuesday WaPo profile.

Thanks to reader C.M. for the suggestion. ...  One potential problem:  Zinni endorsed Bush/Cheney in 2000, and seems to be a Republican. ... So? That makes him either the perfect ticket-balancer or the perfect Third Party insta-candidate! ... The night is young--nobody's even voted yet, the convention is more than half a year away. If Zinni declared tomorrow, my greatest worry would be that he'd peak too soon! ... Real Time Due Diligence: There's something wrong with every candidate. Readers who know what's wrong with Zinni please email me. ... P.S.: Zinni makes one point in the anti-war talk linked above that seems especially powerful, namely that we didn't need to invade Iraq to achieve the Wolfowitzian goal of creating a democratic Western-looking government in the Middle East because we were about to get a democratic Western-looking government in the Middle East without a war, once the expected revolution happens in ... Iran. ... 2:49 A.M.

Nikki Finke's Hollywood quote roundup has one keeper:

"[T]he learning curve was beginning to dissipate ..."

--John Goldwyn, vice-chairman of Paramount's Motion Picture Group, coming up with a self-puffing reason for leaving his job that could replace the cliched "I want to spend more time with my family."

On the other hand, I now live in fear that one day my boss is going to walk into my office and say "Kaus, don't you think your, um, learning curve is beginning to dissipate ...?" [I don't even know where your office is--ed And let's keep it that way.] 12:13 A.M.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Chatter on the Network: Today seems to be Wolfowitz Day:

1) WaPo's Tom Ricks has a Wolfowitz profile that doesn't get into at least three questions you'd want a Wolfowitz profile to get into: a) Is he on the outs or not? b) What is his explanation for the evident failure in post-war planning? c) Is he really in favor of pressuring the Israeli government to make a peace deal, as rumored before the Iraq war? (Hmm. I don't want to get too conspiratorial, but is that why the guns are now turning against him?) ... But Ricks does get a highly-inflammatory derisive quote from retired Marine Gen. Hoar. ....

2) An inexcusably anonymous blogger  at New Republic takes Wolfowitz to task on issue b).

3) Bloggers  Roger Simon and Daniel Drezner weigh in. Drezner notes that Gen. Hoar is an official Dean adviser. Simon's blog features a comment from Michael Ledeen laying the groundwork for a blame-shifting defense of Wolfowitz:

...  I agree that we were not well prepared for post-war conditions ...[snip] ... but a large part of that failure lies at the doorstep of Powell and Tenet.

The CIA and STate fought desperately against the creation of an IRaqi political authority before the war, probably because they still believed that a coup was the only way to go. They opposed the Iraqi National Congress tooth and nail, as will be documented shortly by several internal investigations.

And if people like Wolfowitz were "naive," maybe they were so at least in part because they got lousy intelligence... [Emphasis added.]

4) So is Wolfowitz on the outs? Kf has received an email from a trusted oracular Bush source suggesting not: "The guy spreading it is free-lancing." ... You mean a distinguished journalist like Robert Novak--who wrote that Wolfowitz had fallen from favor--would be carrrying water for a source? I don't believe it! ...

5:51 P.M.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Lame Wolf? From deep in Robert Novak's Sunday column:

A footnote: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, once thought to be in line for the top job at either State or Defense in the second term, is reported to have lost favor at the White House. [Emph. added]

Footnote? How about lede! Have I missed this story being treated as the big deal it seems to be? ...  Isn't this a fairly large tacit admission of miscalculation in post-Saddam planning? Or is some other issue involved? ... Backfill:  1)Time says Wolfowitz was "too controversial for Bush to promote,"  which certainly sounds euphemistic. There are usually ways to keep powerful aides who are "too controversial to promote" if you really want to keep them. 2) U.S. News' "Washington Whispers"  has reported, "Word is ... Wolfowitz may bow out as soon as February." 3) Novak has been sniping at the Iraq operation for at least a week. Last Thursday he wrote

The Bush administration has spent a lot of time saying how well things have gone in Iraq, contending the happy truth has been obscured by negative news media coverage. This is privately described by officials as the ''smoke and mirrors'' technique. Nobody has recognized that more clearly than Jerry Bremer. He was not summoned to Washington when he volunteered for a brief visit Nov. 11. He wanted to tell the president personally just how bad things really were in Iraq and, in fact, got a rare one-on-one meeting with Bush.

The inadequate, unrealistic planning for the occupation of Iraq will never be admitted publicly, but it is common knowledge at high levels of the administration. The notion that Iraqi exiles could step in to run the country, pressed on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by his civilian advisory board, was a chimera. [Emph. Added.]

The Hunt for Mass Contradiction: That said, I don't understand Fareed Zakaria and Michael Kinsley's  argument that you can't a) have thought the war was on balance a bad idea but b) think that now "the only way out is through," as George Will puts it. Such a position "makes no sense," declares Zakaria. "If it wasn't worth American lives to improve the situation then, why is it worth more lives now?" Kinsley asks. Well, maybe because the bulk of the lives have now been spent--many of the costs have been incurred and we might as well reap the available benefits in the form of the introduction of democracy, even if those benefits would not have justified the costs were we starting with a clean slate.

Nor do I share Zakaria's confidence that if we wanted we could just turn "the place over to a general or Shiite leader who will also have no interest in having his country become a Qaeda base." Where does it say that Shiites never cooperate with terrorists, or that generals always stay in power once we leave?  Not to mention the global humiliation of beating a retreat after a few guerilla attacks, which would be a non-abstract message to all potential future attackers that the concept of "Don't mess with America" is a fraud.  [Update: Yglesias  makes these points on TAPPED.] ...

If you're going to start catching people in geniuine contradictions, why not start with John Kerry, who (as Rich Lowry notes) criticized Bush for having a "politically expedient" strategy of 'cut and run' but--when he was on one of his I'm-as-antiwar-as-Dean jags--opposed the $87 billion package intended to let us stay and build. (At least Hillary Clinton, before she mounted a similar critique, voted for the money to help carry out her long-term occupation strategy.)...

And Dean is vulnerable, not because he wants, in Zakaria's words, to "stay and see it through," but because you can't want to stay and see it through and then think "the capture of Saddam has not made America safer," while we're staying, and gotten America closer to seeing it through.

You can even zing Zakaria. He was for the war but now says Bush is "bungling the opportunity."  As Kinsley notes, who did Zakaria think was going to carry the war out? "If Bush bungled this authority, entrusting him with it was a big mistake." But this isn't quite the same sort of contradiction--presumably Zakaria believes the war was still worth it even if the aftermath is being bungled. (After all, he thinks we could just bug out now and there would be no enhancement of the terrorist threat.) You can't rule Zakaria out as self-contradictory. I just wish he'd show the same tolerance for those who opposed the war. ... 5:33 P.M.

Hola, Okrent! The NYT's perpetually gloomy Louis Uchitelle, in "A Recovery for Profits, but Not for Workers," writes:

Profits, it turns out, never stopped rising as a share of national income all through the 2001 recession and the months afterward of weak economic growth. That did not change even as the recovery kicked in strongly last summer and hiring resumed. New data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis erases all doubt on this point. [Emphasis added.]

That appears to be either a highly deceptive or false statement. Jim Glass points out (in the comments section of Brad DeLong's Web site) that if you dig up the Bureau of Economic Analysis chart for "national income" and "corporate profits, ' you get numbers like these:

Year ..... NI .... . Profits .... P/NI

1999 ... 8,237..... 851 ..... 10.3%

2000 ... 8,795 .... 818 ...... 9.3%

2001 ... 8,981 .... 770 ...... 8.6%

2002 ... 9,291 ... 904.2 .....9.7%

It sure looks as if profits' share of national income dipped a bit during the 2001 recession (indeed, the quarterly figures show corporate profits sinking to 8.37% in the second quarter of 2001, before the 9/11 attack). Glass says, "Hey, my doubts are not erased." ... [To get the BEA numbers, go here, click on "List of All NIPA Tables" and look at Table 1:12.] ... To be sure: Uchitelle may be using a different, more complicated measure of profits. At one point, he explicitly adopts an idiosyncratic "profit" measure designed by NYU lefty Edward Wollf that "includes not only standard net income, but also profit from self-employment, rent and interest." If self-employment income is "profit," then it's hardly surprising that "profit" rises as a share of national income as more people become self-employed. ... More: I recommend the full thread on DeLong's site, in which several contributors take Glass on and James Suroweicki notes that "Uchitelle wrote almost this identical piece, citing Wolff, in 1999 ..." [Why do you resist the idea that income inequality is growing?-ed I don't. Economic inequality's clearly growing, because the rich are rapidly getting richer. What I resist is the idea that the average worker is getting poorer in absolute terms--a notion now pushed by Paul Krugman in The Nation  as well as by Uchitelle. Arguing in this fashion that capitalism doesn't "deliver the goods" is a mug's game. It's the one thing capitalism does! The New Left knew that. The Newer, Hack Left seems to have forgotten. Have Krugman and Uchitelle been to Best Buy and seen all the average families buying big-screen TVs? Casual empiricism suggests that the vast majority of citizens are also getting richer, just more slowly--i.e. not enough to stop the rich-poor "gap" from widening. That gap creates lots of profound problems, but the progressive immiseration of the citizenry is not one of them. I suspect honest analysis of the statistics will erase all doubt on this point. ...] ... 1:50 P.M.

Backstab Gridlock: It's now Conventional Wisdom that Al Gore stabbed Joe Lieberman in the back by endorsing Howard Dean. (See for example the NYT's 12/14 "Week in Review" piece.) What this CW ignores is that many in Gore's camp didn't feel they owed Lieberman all that much loyalty, because they think Lieberman has stabbed them in the back on several occasions. A former Gore aide recently ticked off to me three of the counts in the indictment. I remember two of them: 1) During the Florida recount, Lieberman was briefed to go on Meet the Press and defend the Gore team's plan to challenge unpostmarked military ballots. Instead, Lieberman caved on TV, telling Tim Russert Florida officials should "give the benefit of the doubt" to military  ballots. This made Lieberman look good but pulled the rug out from Gore's legal strategy and cost him hundreds of precious votes; 2) Lieberman didn't really, definitivelystep aside in the 2004 race until Gore had decided not to run himself. Rather, Lieberman did everything he needed to do to prepare his campaign, and even left himself a little wiggle room to renege on his promise and run against Gore before Gore mooted the issue by taking himself out of the race. ... Update: Here's the likely #3--in mid-2002 Lieberman blasted the "people versus the powerful" message on which Gore had based his 2000 campaign, complaining it had "made it more difficult for us to gain the support of middle-class, independent voters who don't see America as 'us versus them.'  ... I think the strategy was wrong." ...A common thread in all these acts of disloyalty, needless to say, was Lieberman's preening moral self-regard. ... P.S.: Lieberman was right about the populism, of course. The Democrats had a winning Clintonian message. Gore threw it away, and his party has never recovered (as this excellent Matthew Dallek piece makes clear). But that doesn't make Lieberman's comments loyal. Once he made them, he could hardly expect punctilious fealty from Gore. ... Backfill:  Weeks ago Lizza had some detail on how Lieberman ticked off Gore after 2000. ...   12:54 A.M.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

They laughed when kausfiles suggested that Howard Dean get to President Bush's right on the potentially volatile people-vs.-elites issue of immigration reform (and amnesty for "undocumented" immigrants). But see for what Dean told the Arizona Republic editorial board about "guest workers." ... Note to Dean: You might also point out that the striking supermarket workers in Southern California would have a whole lot more bargaining power if they didn't face the implicit threat of wage competition from illegals. ... 11:59 P.M.

Bombshell Bombs: Alas, that sensational top secret Iraqi memo purporting to document a) Mohammed Atta's secret Iraq training session, b) the disputed yellowcake shipment from Niger, and c) Webb Hubbell's presence on the grassy knoll seems to be too good to check, as expected. Newsweek's Isikoff and Hosenball  say the FBI has records detailing Atta's presence in the U.S. for the period in question. ... But "a few days are unaccounted for," and Isikoff and Hosenball's expert hadn't actually seen the suspected forgery. Take it away, Edward Jay Epstein! ...Still, even Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress calls the bombshell memo "nonsense," and the U.K. Sunday Telegraph reporter who publicized it doesn't stand up too strongly for it either. ... Sorry, Glenn! (And Bill!) .... 11:31 P.M.

More Dean Third Party Fantasizing: TNR's Noam Scheiber argues that Dean may have "a better shot of winning the presidency" in a three-candidate "Dean vs. Gephardt vs. Bush race than in a Dean vs. Bush race."  That seems, a stretch to me. How does a leftish independent candidate beat Bush unless either he or the regular Democratic candidate somehow eat into Bush's half of the vote in the "red" states? I don't see either Dean or Gephardt doing that. I see them splitting the anti-Bush vote and losing. But maybe I'm missing something. You make the call! ...

P.S.: Scheiber also repeats a belief, which I think is false, that if three parties split up the states, so that no candidate's Electoral total on the day after the election adds up to a majority, then the election will automatically be thrown into the House. Isn't it more likely that there will be bargaining and some sort of deal struck before the Electoral College votes--so that, for example, enough Dean and Gephardt electors combine behind one candidate to achieve a majority in the College, before it ever gets to the House? [Aren't electors bound to vote for their party's candidate?--ed. Not really,  according to Slate's resident Electoral College maven, Tim Noah.  Sure, the parties can require them to pledge to be faithful, but that doesn't necessarily nullify their vote if they break that pledge. Even state laws binding electors might not be enforceable. And, as of 2000, 24 states don't even try to penalize "faithless electors," Noah reports . ... Constitutional scholars (and non-scholars!) who think I'm wrong on this please e-mail me and tell me why. ...

P.P.S.: Everett Ehrlich himself emails to note that while the Electoral College tends to reward big nationwide parties, "there's the countervailing point that a more divided field makes it easier to win states." Combine that point with the possibility of quasi-parliamentary Electoral College bargaining, as just discussed, and I wonder if I was too quick to concede that the Electoral College set-discourages third parties. After all, if you have a solid third party you can maybe grab a bunch of states and hold the balance of power, no? Certainly third parties would do better in this system than if the presidency were decided in a single national popular vote. The so-called Duverger's Law--"most votes wins all" elections create two party systems--would only applywithin each state's Electoral contest. In the entire Electoral College, it would not apply, since the Electoral College isn't a "most votes wins all" system. Under the Twelfth Amendment, you need an absolute majority to win. A 49 and a half % plurality won't do. Hence the room for third parties to make up the difference. Vote for a third party, in such a system, and you don't "waste" your vote, as long as that party has a chance to win the electors from your state. [Then why've regional third parties, historically, withered and dies?--ed.  Possible answers:a)They don't inevitably wither. They have to be affirmatively courted and coopted by the major parties. But they have been affirmatively courted and coopted. b) Voters are fooled by the illusion that they are voting in a single national "most-votes-wins-it-all" election, so they don't vote for third parties even when that would be rational; c) I'm wrong on the possibility of Electoral College deal-making; d) parties do more than elect presidents--they elect Congressmen, mayors and dogcatchers by giving voters an easy way to tell friends from foes. Thanks to this ideological "branding," they're hard to displace. But less hard than before! ...

P.P.P.S.: UCLA corporate law prof Stephen Bainbridge attempts to take down Ehrlich--and Bainbridge may be right that Ehrlich misapplies Ronald Coase's theories to political parties. So? Forget Coase and consider Ehrlich's argument on its own. Bainbridge declares:

The internet does nothing -- nada, zilch -- to solve the transaction costs that are solved by political parties.

Huh? Bainbridge seems to be talking here about a specific way parties minimize costs--by eliminating the need to investigate the views of every Sewer Commissioner or State Assemblyman. (Instead, as noted, you can just rely on the party label.) But parties do a lot of other things that are made a lot easier by the Internet--like hooking like-minded people together in the first place and raising money from them and mobilizing them rapidly around the issues of the day. The Dean campaign does exist, after all. It can't be theorized away. And it could not have done what it has done without the Internet. Even Bainbridge says, at the end of his post:

Ehrlich may be right that the internet will make it easier for outsiders like Dean was a few months ago to capture a party's Presidential nomination.

'Only the presidency' seems a pretty big 'to-be-sure' concession. Ah, but remember the less glitzy offices, says Bainbridge "[A]s long as there are sewer commissioners to be elected there will be political parties."

Even at that level, will they be traditional parties or Dean-like Insta-parties? My guess is the Insta-parties will get down to the Sewer Commissioners soon enough. And if they don't ... how important are they if they can't elect a president? ...   11:04 P.M.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Which two parties, that is the question: Several eminent emailers have suggested that Everett Ehrlich's prediction of party decline  ignores the major U.S. deterrent to splinter-party formation--the combination of the Electoral College and the rule, in all but two states, that the candidate winning the most votes gets all that state's electors. It doesn't pay to be a third party, in this scheme, unless you can actually win a few states. (The tendency of such person-with-the-most-votes-wins-all systems to produce two-party politics is sometimes called Duverger's Law.) ...

The short answer to this argument is, that's all true, but who or what will the two parties be? Surely it matters whether we have 1) a two party system in which the two parties are familiar institutions that carry over from election to election (e.g. Republicans and Democrats) or 2) a fluid two-party system in which the #2, or even #1 banner is up for grabs every election, to be captured by one of several competing self-started Internet-organized groups that may not even have existed the year before. If the latter is true, the Internet will still have 'ended parties as we know them.' The label "Democrat" will be a sort of title to be won in the start-from-scratch organizing wars. It won't come with an existing cadre of officials, or even necessarily with any ideology.

But there's no reason the two major party slots would even continue to be called "Democrat" and "Republican." Suppose John McCain ran as an independent in 2004 or 2008; he might win a few states and come in second in most others. The McCainiacs would then be the opposition party, and it might suddenly be the Democrats who are the third party looking in vain for a reason to stay alive. .... If McCain doesn't work for you, substitute Dean. (In a Dean vs. Gephardt vs. Bush race, is it clear Dean would finish third? Not to me.) I still think Ehrlich is onto something fairly big. ... (As my colleague Bob Wright notes in his book Nonzero, changes in information technology tend to be followed by big political/cultural shifts. It's no accident that the Reformation happened a few decades after Gutenberg. Suddenly, you could nail a few theses on a door and they'd be distributed across a continent in days. Now--to exaggerate for a moment--you can put up a Web site and fill out some forms, and you can have a party-like political organization in all 50 states in a few weeks. Who needs Terry McAuliffe?) ... 2:06 A.M.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

If He Loses, Will He Quit? Alert reader B.B. points out at least one more implication of Everett Ehrlich's high-ramification analysis of party decline in the Internet era: What happens if Dean loses in the Democratic primary? As Ehrlich notes, Dean's essentially built an entire new party for himself on the Web ("his own lists, his own money, his own organization"). Suppose one of the establishment party types he denounces, like Gephardt, defeats him and captures the Democratic "brand name." Will Dean really just pack up and go home? Why should he? He can take his new personal portable party and keep on running, as an independent, the way John Anderson did back in 1980.  His followers are fanatical enough (he could tack back to the left to keep them stoked) and the front-loading of the primary system gives him more time to make this switch and get on the ballot in enough states, no? He could argue that Gephardt will lose to Bush anyway, that it's more important to build a movement for the future, etc. And you thought Ralph Nader was a spoiler. ... What are Democrats to do? 1) Make Dean pledge right now that he'll support the Democratic nominee [see Update 'n Salvage below]; 2) If he's beaten in the primaries, offer him the vice-presidential slot. That might not be a bad idea anyway, given his fervent following. 3) Encourage a compensating breakaway spoiler candidacy on the right. [Reader D.H. nominates an embittered Trent Lott] ... Update: Reader "Kevin from Sacramento"  writes that "Dean has stated, repeatedly, that he will not run as a third party candidate and he will support the Democratic nominee if that nominee is not him." Good point! (He does it in this October debate, more or less.) Salvage: But campaign promises have a way of changing when opportunities open up. Bill Clinton pledged he wouldn't run for president in 1992. Hillary's said she won't run, and nobody seems to quite believe her. It wouldn't be hard for Dean to come up with a reason to change his mind--especially if the Democratic nominee is pro-war--now that it's clear he has the power to mount a national campaign independent of the party.  ... Make him promise again, now, when everyone's paying attention! ... More: At the very least, the unspoken threat that Dean might break his promise and launch a third party candidacy gives him lots of leverage going into the convention, even if he doesn't win the nomination. ...  4:39 P.M.

Monday, December 15, 2003

TNR's Ryan Lizza takes up the Dean-Spin challenge with a rare unconvincing analysis:

If the biggest effect of Saddam's capture on the race is that it pushes Dean's rivals to become more vociferously pro-war, then Sunday's news really was a blessing for Dean.

Lizza also quotes with a straight face a Dean "senior adviser" saying the following:

"This doesn't change much for his candidacy ... We are no safer today than we were yesterday. The man was found hiding in a hole. He was hardly a threat to the people of Chicago." [Emph. added]

A few more flailingly stupid statements like that--as if hundreds of thousands of Iraqis weren't scared to cooperate with American soldiers out of fear that the man in the hole might return to power--and the Dean campaign could succeed in frightening even Iowa Democratic caucus-goers. ...And wasn't today supposed to be Centrist Foreign Policy Respectability Day for Dean? ... My non-contrarian take: Yes, Saddam's capture doesn't mean vociferous pro-war candidates are suddenly going to surge to the front of the Democratic pack. But why try to deny the obvious: The better things are going in Iraq, the more air leaks out of Dean's balloon--even if, as Lizza notes, he's "developed a robust anti-Bush message" on other, non-foreign-policy issues. It's like finding out that the off-Broadway play being written by the guy you're dating isn't very good after all. Sure, you tell yourself, he's got lots of other appealing qualities. You really shouldn't let it affect your judgment. He's the same guy he was before! Still ... [You are pretending to be a woman-ed. Valid objection. Mary McGrory would have figured out a better way to say this.] ... P.S.: Another positive side effect of Saddam's capture, noted by both Lizza and  Will Saletan, is that John Kerry has made a fool of himself, switching in one news cycle from (in Lizza's words) a) "fiery criticism of how the war has been executed" (in which he "insisted that we would not be at war with Iraq if he were president") and b) attacking Dean for supporting a pro-war resolution to a) "attacking Dean as a hopelessly soft-on-Saddam peacenik" and b) "recasting himself as a maximalist hawk." ... Note to Eric Alterman: I never criticized Kerry for his hair. (I criticized his furrowed brow!) The problem is not his hair. The problem is that, as this incident shows, he lurches impulsively and opportunistically (Gregg Abbott's  adjectives) in response to every perceived momentary advantage.  His presidency would be a disaster by Month 3. ... Correction: O.K., there was one small "hair"-related cheap shot. [No thanks to alert reader J.W.] ...2:57 P.M.

New "New Perot" possibility: Tom Brokaw! Don't think he hasn't thought of running for president! ... 10:40 A.M.

'None? O.K. Just checking. Some people were making a fuss about it': From MSNBC News Services--

The U.S. military hopes Saddam will clear up allegations that he had chemical and biological weapons and a nuclear weapons program, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling of the 1st Armored Division.

10:33 A.M.

P.S.: Today was a Jo Moore Day--a good day to bury bad news, or any other kind of news  ... like, say, news of a highly personal medical procedure. Check the back pages for what, on other days, would be on the front pages. ... 10:20 A.M.

"New Perot" Nominations are pouring in. Thanks! It's pretty clear to me who is the best name mentioned so far as suitable for mounting a centrist, Web-based third-party 2004 campaign for the presidency: Warren Buffett. He's a Democrat respected by Republicans for his financial success. He writes well--he could key in his own blog! He's been scathing about the deficit. ... Buffett got three votes, one less than the obvious won't-happen choice, John McCain, and equal to the obvious might-happen third-party candidate, Gen. Clark. ... Other interesting reader nominees: Carly Fiorina. Bill Gates. Douglas Wilder. Bob Kerrey. Herb Kelleher. Oprah! Robert Rubin, Bill Bradley ("assuming he's still alive"), Franklin Raines, Gary Hart. ... Keep them coming. ... Max Cleland, Bill Weld, Christine Todd Whitman ... P.S.: Dan Conley's been blogging along these same lines, There, he nominates Joe Lieberman, adding

... the center has a way of asserting itself in American politics whenever it is ignored. And I've never seen the center shunned as much as it has been in 2003 by both parties.

Good point, though the prescription drug bill was not a shunning of the center. And the night is young. ... 2:02 A.M.

Meanwhile, on to Public Enemy #2: Here's the quote Clark overspinner Chris Lehane gave the NYT  for a story about Howard Dean's minor (2 percent or so) stake in a Vermont radio station that broadcast Rush Limbaugh:

 "In a Dean administration, will Rush Limbaugh become the Voice of America?"

I don't think this was a total goof. I think Lehane thinks crafting these sort of zingers is his job, that he's good at it, that some Democrats might actually have doubts about Dean because of this third-remove association with Limbaugh, and that if he adds up enough of these subtly-engineered ripostes (there's another one here) he can help his candidate win an election--when really all he's done is make himself and his candidate look like idiots. ... Update: Discriminations finds another bit of  ornate Lehane b.s., spinning Gen. Clark's skipping of Iowa as a search for multicultural proportionality. Wouldn't it be more effective to just say "We're conceding Iowa in favor of states we think we can do better in"? Why look like a liar? How is that clever? I don't get it. ...1:23 A.M.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Didn't Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert on NBC lobby a bit heavy-handedly (i.e. incessantly) today on the need for the administration to use this occasion to "internationalize" the Iraq effort?  ... 9:52 P.M.

Saddam's capture bumped Howard Dean off the cover of Newsweek. Some will find cheap symbolism in this! ... 12:14 P.M.

It appears we've captured Saddam. A special award to the first reporter or commentator who argues this is actually good news for Howard Dean. ... And the winner is ... James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal? See  penultimate item. Taranto doesn't argue it will help Dean win the election, though--only the nomination. ... Or is the winner my Slate colleague Will Saletan, who writes:

And what if interrogations of Saddam, like interrogations of his henchmen, yield no more evidence of weapons of mass destruction? U.N. weapons inspectors are already saying that the United States has produced almost no new evidence of WMD since occupying Iraq. Could the capture of Saddam—and with it, the exposure of the last dry hole in the WMD hunt—end up discrediting the war?

Update: If I heard it right, former Bill Clinton foreign policy aide Nancy Soderbergh was just on TV arguing that we can now speed the transition from American to Iraqi rule. Didn't Hillary Clinton just tell the nation we were transitioning too quickly to Iraqi rule--"artificial timelines," and all that?  ... More--Dean vs. Hillary: This morning Howard Dean put out a statment that also argued, contra Hillary, that  "we must also accelerate the transition from occupation to full Iraqi sovereignty." [And the point is ..?-ed 1) Both of them can't be right. Maybe we should let Hillaryphile and Dean enthusiast Sidney Blumenthal break the tie! 2) But they can both be wrong, in a Goldilocks kind of way, if Bush is going neither too fast nor too slow.Bush faces a dilemma, after all (as Hillary acknowledges in passing). If he doesn't promise a quick transition, Iraqis will think we are occupiers. If he promises a too-quick transition, Iraq may not be ready for self-governance. He's trying to strike a balance. It would be surprising if he got it perfectly right, and he's not going to get it perfectly right every time. Having voted to put the nation in this dilemma, you would think Hillary would try to sound sympathetic even when she's sniping that Bush is going too fast--rather than easily sliding into the charge that the administration is cynically playing 2004 politics, looking for an "exit strategy, some kind of transition before our elections."  3) Where's Hillary's snipe at Dean, who's even wronger than Bush under her analysis? If Hillary really believes her critique, taking on Dean would be a practical, not merely rhetorical, step--since Dean's so-far successful campaign would be a big part of what is pressuring Bush to transfer sovereignty faster than Bush might do otherwise.] ... 3:59 A.M.

Waiting for Perot, or Someone Like Him: Either I haven't done enough reading or this is a brilliant piece that should be read by all concerned Americans. Everett Ehrlich notes that decreasing information costs--i.e. the Internet--now enable outside groups to do what only big political parties used to be able to do--i.e. organize effective national campaigns. And that's before you consider the effects of the McCain-Feingold law, which Ehrlich doesn't mention but which makes circumventing the parties not only possible but imperative. (See, e.g. Edsall's article on the "shadow" Democrats in the same edition  of WaPo.)

Ehrlich draws some pithy conclusions from the parties' obsolescence:

For all Dean's talk about wanting to represent the truly "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," the paradox is that he is essentially a third-party candidate using modern technology to achieve a takeover of the Democratic Party. Other candidates -- John Kerry, John Edwards, Wesley Clark -- are competing to take control of the party's fundraising, organizational and media operations. But Dean is not interested in taking control of those depreciating assets. He is creating his own party, his own lists, his own money, his own organization. What he wants are the Democratic brand name and legacy, the party's last remaining assets of value, as part of his marketing strategy.

That puts the much-discussed Gore/Dean vs. Clinton struggle in a different light--maybe Gore and Dean don't care if Clintonites control the party. ...

Ehrlich also makes several big and entirely plausible predictions based on this analysis:

1) If Dean loses, he'll keep his e-mail lists and "reemerge" as a third party candidate in succeeding elections;

2) "[T]he evangelical right will become a separate political party in the near future, and will hold its own conventions and primaries." Why not? They can still endorse the Republican candidate if they want.

3) In "the next six or eight presidential elections, a third-party candidate will win the presidency. ..."

My only question: Why will it take six elections? And I'd add two more predictions:

4) If Dean locks up the Democratic nomination but trails badly in the polls, a non-trivial centrist third party candidate will emerge in the current, 2004, election. Think about it. Dean could wrap the nomination up by mid-March. That leaves almost half a year before the summer conventions--not an eternity, but rather several excruciating eternities for Democrats if Bush's lead in the national polls continues to hold. (Remember the Feiler Faster Thesis--two months now seems like a year.) Are we really to spend five months reading wishful Adam Nagourney pieces about how this strategy or that strategy (New voters! Hispanics! Reservists! Metrosexuals!) might bring victory for Dean's Democrats? No. Thanks to the Web, it doesn't cost much to start up a moderate third-party alternative.  If Dean's still 20 points behind by mid-May, I expect some New Perot to go for it. Who? I don't know. Maybe Clark, if he isn't on the ticket and hasn't humiliated himself. Maybe Clark's nemesis, Republican William Cohen. Maybe Warren Rudman. Someone! It's not hard to do anymore. And things move fast. Ask Arnold Schwarzenegger. ... Meanwhile, it's pretty clear what the easiest, most effective thing Bush's opponents could do is--namely, goad someone on the beyond-Bush right into starting a Web-driven fourth-party campaign in 2004 that would split Bush's vote. (Hola, Tom Tancredo!) ...

5) The NYT's Glen Justice is wrong to seemingly buy the theory that Congress has had enough campaign finance reform for a while. Isn't it more likely that the McCain-Feingold law, by disempowering parties (especially the Democrats) and shifting influence to independent "527" shadow committees, will prompt a panicked reaction designed to reestablish party primacy by revamping the law? If there's anything politicians hate, it's the idea that their reelection fate is out of their control--that they might be blown away, not by their own gaffes or by their official foes, but by some out-of-the-blue group they've never heard of. That was one big motivation behind McCain-Feingold's loophole-ridden ban on last-minute independent "issue" ads. As Ehrlich notes, even without McCain-Feingold the two major parties will try to "preserve their fading power" through heavy-handed means like keeping third parties out of debates and closing off "open" primaries. Changing McCain-Feingold to readvantage the major parties is another obvious step. (The obvious way to take this obvious step is to let the parties collect a whole lot more money--enough to dwarf the 527s.)

All the anti-Bush 527 groups that are springing up don't have to support the Democrats, after all, It would be just as easy for them or similar groups to raise unlimited donations on behalf of a third-party white knight. Once that possibility becomes a real threat, Democrats and Republicans can be expected to act. ...

Who's the New Perot for 2004? Nominations for a third-party centrist candidate gratefully accepted at ...

Update: Simon Rosenberg of the Dean-friendly New Democratic Network endorses Erhlich's analysis. 1) Note that among the things Rosenberg consigns to the dustbin along with the "industrial age" Democratic party is its "classic FDR liberalism." 2) So what's going to replace that? Rosenberg doesn't say. The medium seems to be the message, at least in this item--the Web-based technology of the new, non-party campaign is what's appealing about Dean.  Do you need a message if you have Meet.up? Would Dean be winning, thanks to his Internet power alone, if he didn't have a strong anti-Iraq position? It's a good question. (He was doing prettty well before the Iraq War started, if I recall.) But in the future, once every candidate has mastered the new means of organizing, message will again be the deciding factor. The Web doesn't get Democrats off the hook of deciding, if they don't believe in the ideology of "classic FDR liberalism," what sort of neoliberalism or Third Way they do believe in. Bill Clinton made progress on this question. It's not clear Dean will.  .. 2:18 A.M.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Convenient Blockbuster--Killing one too many birds with one stone? I certainly hope this report is true. But how likely is it that a single memo written in July, 2001 would just happen to solve two of the Bush administration's biggest current problems: 1) the absence of a clear Saddam-9/11 link and 2) the disputed claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger? ... What's in the rest of the memo? Reader Z.S.: "[T]the third part of the memo, somewhat surprisingly, provides Bush's National Guard attendance records .... " [Link via Instapundit]11:16 P.M.

Friday, December 12, 2003

If Howard Dean is looking for an issue on which to get to George Bush's right--the way Bill Clinton got to Bush's father's right on welfare in 1992--Dean might try this one. ...[But Dean's posted position on immigration is pretty close to Bush's--eda) The Dean "issues"page is vaguely worded--e.g., pledging to "regularize the inevitable future migration of labor" doesn't commit Dean to easy citizenship for illegal immigrants, or prevent Dean from charging Bush with pursuing "amnesty"; b) Dean's flip-flopped before, on bigger issues than this!]... Bonus: An anti-amnesty immigration plank would have huge potential not-so-secret appeal to African-Americans, a constituency Dean desperately needs. 2:28 P.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]