A Democrat by Any Other Gender

Hillary Clinton is a conventional Democrat. That’s not a dig. No, these days it’s a controversial statement. Once again, just as it did eight years ago, the cacophony coming from many on the left is that Clinton is wooden, inauthentic, untrustworthy, and uncommitted to Democratic goals. While it’s unsurprising that a national party leader for the last twenty-five years, with all the burdens and baggage that comes with such responsibility and longevity, would have challenges with very liberal voters, the vitriol and scorn with which many on the left continue to depict the most powerful woman in America is utterly inexplicable. Oh sure, they’ve got plenty of reasons. There’s the Iraq war; her support from Goldman Sachs and Super PACs; her many gaffes and those awful laughs; and that unseemly way she strives for the presidency at all costs. But of course, a version of these very critiques could be said about any of the major Democrats to seek the nomination over the last half-century. Yet, all too many on the left seem to take it as an article of faith that Clinton is particularly dishonest, conniving, awkward, and unreliable, without ever challenging or articulating the specific basis for these assumptions. Continue reading

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Inevitable, Indeed

Bernie Sanders is on the rise. Hillary Clinton is on the attack. And every two-bit pundit with a five-cent microphone is spreading the word: it’s 2008 all over again. Just as then-Senator Barack Obama erased a considerable deficit in his uphill climb to upend Clinton’s “inevitable” coronation, Sanders has drawn even with Clinton in Iowa and pulled ahead in New Hampshire. Considering the meteoric rise in Obama’s polling following his upset win in Iowa, many critics now contend that the Clinton camp’s reliance on her strong numbers nationally and in other early states is equally tenuous to the one she held the last go-round. “Sure,” they seem to say, channeling Michael Scott: “That’s what she said (eight years ago).”

There’s just one problem with this emerging narrative: it is pure fantasy (but not a fairy tale!). Sanders is nowhere close to equaling Obama’s foothold in late 2007 and early 2008, while Clinton has institutional advantages far outstripping those from eight years ago. Continue reading

Achieved Forgiveness

To quote the recently deceased, yet eternally quotable, baseball legend Yogi Berra, it was “deja vu all over again.” Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred concluded his year-long review of Pete Rose’s permanent ban from organized baseball on December 14th with a short but firm denial. Rose, Manfred wrote, had not absolved himself from violating Rule 21 by betting on games while affiliated with MLB: “Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing…or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the circumstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989.” The decision, however, has done nothing to quiet the unceasing call among sports fans for Rose’s pardon—a frequent demand for favored athletes. Nothing, it seems, will stop the continual re-litigation of his ban among fans and in the press. Continue reading

A Republican House Divided

By now it’s a familiar script. Political candidates begin their campaigns on the margins, appealing to their party’s core supporters. Then, after emerging with the nomination, they pivot to the center for the general election. Right now, the Democratic candidates for president are taking their places and delivering their lines. Bowing to popular demand within the party, Senator Bernie Sanders has shifted to the left on gun legislation. Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reframed her relationship with Wall Street and endorsed stricter financial regulations. The new zeal with which Sanders and Clinton are pushing these issues has raised doubts, as it does for competitive candidates in every cycle, about whether their newfound focus is a temporary commitment or a true conversion. As we’ve come to expect in the primary season, Democrats are engaged in a debate about which candidate’s views are most consistent with their party’s core beliefs. The real question, though, is not what it means that the Democrats have moved to find their party’s pulse. The real question is why the Republican candidates have not. Continue reading

Upon Further Review

“Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules, they apply them.” So said John G. Roberts at his confirmation hearing to be Chief Justice of the United States a decade ago. “I will remember,” he promised, “that it’s my job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat.” With these memorable words, an enduring metaphor for our judicial system was born, one that would hang over each subsequent Supreme Court confirmation hearing. In his statement, Roberts was channeling the prevailing political sentiment and the President who appointed him. Introducing Roberts, George W. Bush asserted that the “American people made clear they want judges who will faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench.” For the most part, Americans have accepted the analogy. Judges, after all, attain their positions because of their training in, and knowledge of, the law—a seemingly fixed and clearly defined set of instructions. Jerry Seinfeld captured this prevalent belief about the law when he observed: “What are lawyers really? To me, a lawyer is basically the person that knows the rules of the country. We’re all throwing the dice, playing the game, moving our pieces around the board, but if there’s a problem, the lawyer is the only person that has actually read the inside of the top of the box.”

Strangely, nowhere has society’s zeal for turning judges into umpires been more acute than in the area of, well, umpiring. The decade following the Roberts hearing has coincided with an explosion of instant replay in sports, replete with procedures and terminology more appropriate in a courtroom than on a basketball court. There are objections (“challenges”), decisions below (“calls on the field”), standards of review, questions of jurisdiction (the official responsible for the call) and reviewability, conferences, and appeals. The box top of our national pastime is increasingly crammed with tiny print dictating formalistic rules each step of the way, making sure that the men in blue—like their brethren in black robes—merely apply the law as written. Not content with turning judges into umpires, we’ve become committed to removing judgment from our umpires. Continue reading

Collective Inaction and Duverger’s Law Duel In New Hampshire

On January 6th, Public Policy Polling released its latest poll of the New Hampshire primary and made clear that the most important action in this Trump-filled Republican nominating contest will come from the Granite State. The national (and most state level) polls currently show Donald Trump far out in front, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in double digits, and the rest of the pack far below. Meanwhile in Iowa, Cruz and Trump are locked in a battle far ahead of everyone else, with only Rubio potentially lurking but well behind. New Hampshire is a somewhat different story. The PPP survey shows a remarkable breakdown of support that presents an opportunity, but also a challenge, in solving the Trump riddle. And the dynamic that could take Trump down just might be a decades old political science theorem known as Duverger’s law, so long as the collective action problem currently gripping the GOP race is resolved. Continue reading

The Lane Most Traveled

There has been a lot of sloppy talk recently among the political commentariat about “lanes,” “outsiders,” and the “Establishment” in the race for the 2016 Republican nomination. To the extent that one can distill this assumed but unexplained conventional wisdom into cogent thought, the theory appears to go like this: there are separate segments of the Republican electorate that break down according to ideology and attitude, and each presidential aspirant’s task is to clear the thicket of candidates within their respective “lane” before broadening their coalition as the field narrows. The number of lanes depends on the telling. Sometimes there are as many as four or five, with catchy labels like “Tea Party” and “evangelicals.” More often, however, the choice is binary—you’re either part of the capital “E” Establishment or an “outsider.” Either way, under this campaign framework, there are multiple paths to the nomination, as long as you’re traveling alone. As Robert Frost might say were he still alive and a panelist on Face the Nation, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and Ted Cruz chose the one not traveled by Marco Rubio in order to win a plurality of delegates on Super Tuesday.”

And to the pundits, this model has made all the difference. You can hardly turn on CNN or MSNBC these days and not hear talk about which of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or John Kasich will emerge as the consensus Establishment candidate in New Hampshire, or the supposed brilliance of Ted Cruz’s strategy to “bear hug” Donald Trump in order to absorb Trump’s supporters when he inevitably fades (a rather apt term, I suppose, since holding Trump close must be about as appealing as embracing a grizzly). As Chuck Todd has recently taken to breathlessly exclaiming, the outsiders have swamped the Establishment! Trump, Cruz, and Ben Carson total 64.7% in the most recent Real Clear Politics national polling average; Bush, Christie, Kasich, and Rubio are at a combined 21.4%. The loons are running the asylum, and the only question now is which one will escape.

There are, however, many problems with this line of thinking. Continue reading