Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for February 2007


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The Cs just put some more distance between themselves and Memphis in the Greg Oden stakes.

Written by Jasper

February 25, 2007 at 11:44 am

Posted in Sports

Multiple terms, incumbency, and presidential politics

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I was doing some thinking about an idea I’ve occasionally referenced in this blog — namely, the concept that history favors the Democrats, perhaps strongly so, in next year’s presidential election. The main justification usually given to back up this assertion is that the American people almost always decide to give the other party a shot at the executive branch after its opponent has enjoyed multiple terms in office. But is this idea valid?

Well, a little research revealed that one has to put this idea into context.

During the post World War II era (which I’ll define here as elections occurring after Harry Truman left office), there have been seven presidential elections (1952, 1960, 1968, 1976, 1988, 1992 and 2000) that gave voters the opportunity to keep one of the two parties in power for more than two terms. On only one of those seven occasions, in 1988, did the American people opt for a third term with the same party.

But if we look back further into history, we get a different picture. The modern two party era in U.S. politics can be defined as that period of time since the two, current ruling parties came to dominate the American polity — in other words, since the Civil War. And during this longer sampling of history, seventeen elections have been held when voters had the chance to allow one party to keep the White House for more than two terms: the seven contests mentioned above since Harry’s Truman’s day, in addition to the elections of 1876, 1880, 1884, 1904, 1908, 1920, 1928, 1940, 1944, and 1948.

Using the larger sample reveals that, in the modern era taken as whole, American voters have usually opted to retain the same party in the White House for three or more terms when given the opportunity to do so. Indeed, only twice in the long years between the Civil War and the departure of Truman — the elections of 1884 and 1920 — did Americans decide to “throw the bums out” after multiple presidential terms by one party. That contrasts with the eight elections during this period (1876, 1880, 1904, 1908, 1928, 1940, 1944, 1948) when voters decided to stick with the incumbent party.

So, in modern presidential politics, Americans have given the nod to the party already in the White House for mutiple terms in some 53% (9 out of 17) of the elections they’ve had the chance to do so, but in only 14% (1 out of 7) of the contests held since FDR’s wartime successor left office.

It would appear that Americans historically have not found it problematic to stick with one political party for longish stretches of time covering three or more presidential terms; but that they have also grown more ornery in their political inclinations in recent decades. Drawing conclusions about what historical trends predict for next year’s election depends on whether recent history outweighs merely modern history.

Written by Jasper

February 25, 2007 at 11:00 am

Posted in Election 08, Politics

Midterms: the enemy of change

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A piece in TNR by law professor Sanford Levison gets Ross Douthat thinking about the subject of ammending the constitution. Apparently the professor is of the opinion that the American form of constitutional government is insufficiently democratic, especially with respect to the presidency. Ross writes:

I actually agree with the larger point of his post (and book) – namely, that the American constitutional system has the unfortunate tendency to leave us stuck with failed chief executives long after other systems would shove them out the door. The question is whether this problem is bad enough to require us to rewrite those “basic structures of government,” or whether those structures have shown such impressive and unprecedented durability that we’re best living with their faults and leaving well enough alone. Generally speaking, I’m in the camp that’s in favor of more constitutional tinkering, not less, and I think it’s a bad sign for American government that we’ve only managed to ratify one new amendment in the past thirty-five years, and that politicians have become accustomed to opposing new ones less on substance than on the grounds that we shouldn’t touch the precious, precious Constitution.

This is a good opportunity to bring up one of my own hobbyhorses on the general topic of the constitution, and the American polity’s seeming imperviousness to reform. The way I see it, if what one really wants is an American system that more readily accommodates change and reform, what one really needs to do is eliminate one of the constitution’s most democratic features: House elections every other year. My observation is that it is this feature, more than any other, that is the roadblock to change. Unlike their British counterparts, who can wait up to a half-decade before facing the voters (thereby giving strong medicine time to yield beneficial results the voters can perceive), members of the U.S. House of Representatives are never more than twenty-four months away from an election. This breeds great resistance to doing anything that might upset this or that interest group, or challenge in even the most tepid manner John Q. Public’s penchant for looking out for number one (a penchant that is shared by me, I might add).

One could envision voters rewarding, four or fiver years after gaining power, an administration that, say, raised gasoline taxes. After four or five years the satisfactory results of such a policy might, perhaps, be widely agreed upon by the voters. What one cannot envision is gasoline taxes going up by very much under our current constitutional arrangement, wherein any representative likely to agree to such legislation will be required, in a very short while, to face the angry, gasoline-guzzling voters who control his fate.

In short, if reform is your goal, what you need to do is reduce the surfeit of democracy in America.

Written by Jasper

February 21, 2007 at 8:41 pm

Posted in Politics

Leaving well enough alone

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Michael Gove gives voice to thoughts quite similar to those I’ve often had:

The ability to leave well alone is probably the least admired, but most required, virtue of our time. Just as we’d be well advised to leave the essential of evening dress well alone, instead of pointlessly elaborating, so there is a host of other areas of British life that would be far better if only inertia were allowed to rule.

From pizzas (why do we need cheese-filled crusts? Since the first pineapple appeared on the innocent margherita it’s been all downhill) to the liturgy (the more elaboration, over time, the fewer in the congregation); from mobile telephones (if I want to watch streaming video footage I’ll go to the cinema, thank you) to razors (what was wrong with just one blade?), we’d all be better off if people had simply left well alone.

I’ve never been able to see why resting on one’s laurels was such a bad thing. Invent a decent idea, or product, then sit back to enjoy the benefits, would be my advice to anyone. Try to elaborate on the breakthrough and it will lead only to frustration. Or scorn.

From the atomic bomb (quite enough megatons really, all things considered) to the cappuccino (what was Mr Starbucks doing when he thought coffee could be improved by the creation of the eggnog latte?), the original really was the best.

What was wrong with just one blade indeed.

Written by Jasper

February 15, 2007 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Culture, Miscellania

The Economist does blogging

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The Economist is developing a series of blogs and blog-like products. They’re quite good, in my opinion. Now the journal has even taken to posting all (or nearly) the letters to the editor it receives. Good stuff if you’re a fan of the venerable British “newspaper” — as I am.

Stephen Bainbridge questions why they insist on cloaking their bloggers in anonymity:

To be sure, the magazine has a long tradition of anonymity. As I understand the magazine’s policy, only reviews of books written by authors associated with The Economist are signed. This makes sense in the context of a heavily edited magazine. The logic, I suppose, is that the magazine speaks with one editorial voice…But The Economist.com’s blogs are different. The are expressly stated to be “lightly moderated blogs in which journalists from The Economist Newspaper, Economist.com and The Economist Intelligence Unit post their thoughts and observations.” In other words, they are not intended to be a group product nor to necessarily represent the magazine’s editorial voice. So why not identify the bloggers?…I want to know if the post was written by Megan McArdle or somebody else, because it’s relevant data to assessing the argument. I also want to know which blog post was written by which contributor, just so I can develop a sense of the poster’s personality and

Quite so. I believe The Economist mostly “gets it” when it comes to the internet. They certainly seem to “get it” a lot more than, say, The New York Times. But it seems to me they’d be better off just “adopting” Megan’s blog — or adopting several blogs — in a manner similar to what The Atlantic Monthly has done with Sullivan, or perhaps what Time has done with various bloggers.

The anonymity really doesn’t seem to quite work when it comes to blogging.

Written by Jasper

February 15, 2007 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Blogs, Media

The enthusiasm gap

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Ross Douthat ponders the ramifications of Rudy Giuliani’s moderate stances:

Giuliani’s numbers are going to take a dive once his social liberalism becomes common knowledge, no doubt, which makes him a weaker candidate than you’d think from reading John Podhoretz. But how much of a dive? Only 18 percent of the respondents said that they definitely wouldn’t vote for a pro-gay pro-choicer; if we assume for the sake of argument that Rudy is getting two-thirds of their votes now, then losing all of them in a two-way race would mean that he and McCain would flip-flop, from 52-40 for Giuliani to 52-40 the other way. That’s bad news for Giuliania’s chances, obviously – but then consider that right now, Rudy is getting the bulk of his support from conservatives and McCain is getting the bulk of his from moderates. If the whole conversation starts being about how McCain is pro-life and Rudy is socially liberal, isn’t McCain likely to bleed some moderate support, which Giuliani could then pick up?

I think Ross is on to something here, although one commenter chimes in:

Well, my bet is that Giuliani’s (or McCain’s) social apostasies will translate into a significant “enthusiasm gap” in 2008 — at least unless Hillary is the Democratic candidate.

Maybe. But Giuiliani at least (I personally think the very concept of a McCain candidacy is looking a bit tired and out-of-date) has a fair amount of star power, and a sufficiently compelling story to generate a good degree of enthusiasm. And remember, social conservatives aren’t the whole Republican party. I doubt they’re even a majority (though they are perhaps a plurality). So, nominating a social conservative likewise stands the risk of damping down enthusiasm — among moderate and centrist Republicans. After all, it’s arguable that a big turnout amongst the socialcons is likely not as critical to the success of a the party’s 2008 as is making sure you take the moderate and centrist vote. Alabama ain’t going for Hillary or Obama, even if fewer socialcons turn up at the polls next year. Of this you can be sure. But a Colorado or Ohio very likely will go over to the Democrats in 2008, unless the GOP serves up someone who can capture plenty of non right-wing votes. There is the possibility that socialcons will sit on their hands and not show up to vote for a Rudy (or indeed a McCain), but I think this possibility is overdone. After all, if your biggest goals in life were ending abortion and stopping gay marriage, would you be so relaxed about the prospects of a second Clinton administration?

Nominee Rudy — especially if he can ratchet up the rhetoric a bit on his “originalist judges” meme — may be the best suited of all the Republicans to gin up excitement and build a big tent. Moreover, if the Democrats do nominate Hillary Clinton, a lot of any Republican nominee’s lack of enthusiasm issues will be taken care of.

All this said, it’s surely still the Democrats’ race to lose next year.

Written by Jasper

February 12, 2007 at 9:31 am

Posted in Election 08, Politics

Paying for The Times

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Stephen Bainbridge wonders about the subject of charging for news online. How come some publishers can get away with it, while others cannot?

From a business perspective, the interesting question is why the WSJ Online seems to work and other on line subscription services don’t. There’s no obvious reason that the NYT, say, can’t replicate the success of the Online Journal.

I think the answer is that there’s simply so much free news content out there, it’s just difficult to provide something sufficiently unique that people are willing to pay for it. Not surprisingly, those few online publications that are able to get away with charging for their content (or at least for a good portion of it) — WSJ, The Economist, The New Yorker, The Financial Times — aren’t simply providers of mainstream news. They’re specialists. The New York Times isn’t a specialist. There are many thousands of places online you can obtain, at no cost, the Times’s core products, non-specialist news and analysis. Why pay for it when others are giving it away?

Of course, the New York Times does charge for a modest portion of its online content. But I’m skeptical about how successful it’s been, and I’d be surprised if they were able to keep the joys of Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd away from the general public indefinitely. Not that there don’t exist pirate sites where one can find the Times’s columnists for free, of course. But that’s one of the big problems for them. Keeping their top-shelf opinion behind pay walls risks making them irrelevant. I’ve usually found Krugman, for instance, to be an infuriating but highly interesting read, but he just doesn’t seem to be the same must read he was a few years back, because his influence has diminished. So, if one were in that category of persons who might actually contemplate paying to read Krugman, there’s less and less reason to do so. The Times has foolishly allowed one its principal calling cards — influence — to atrophy.

Written by Jasper

February 10, 2007 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Economics, Media

What Rudy should say

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A commenter on this thought-provoking blog piece made the observation that presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani is “as likely to appoint conservative Justices as any other candidate.”

Really, I thought. More so than Brownback? Newt? Hunter? Tancredo?

Anyway, this really is the key question for me concerning the Giuliani candidacy; I’ll frankly admit that a pro-life Giuliani would be something of a perfect candidate for me, a somewhat more moderate GOPer than many of y’all. Maybe I just haven’t followed his statements carefully enough, but I have no firm idea that he’s a vociferous proponent of federalism, and I have no firm idea on how he views Roe. And I don’t think that’s by accident, because I get the impression that Rudy doesn’t want us to know what he thinks of Roe. Maybe that’s because he loathes the 1973 decision and doesn’t want to offend moderates or liberals (so as to be competitive in a general election), but maybe it’s because he has no intention of using the office of the presidency to protect the lives of the unborn because, he’s, you know, “pro-choice”.

If my state’s primary were held tomorrow morning, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Rudy, either. Fortunately for the Giuliani campaign, he’s still got lots of time to win over some of the pro-life voters he’ll need to win. And make no mistake, any GOP hopeful who completely stiffs us and gets ZERO percent of our votes is done. Period.

Of course, it won’t be credible for Rudy to “pull a Romney” and convert on the eve of the election. His best bet is to avoid the obvious, Romneysque pander session and, instead of attacking abortion head-on, attack the wrongness of Roe versus Wade.

Rudy should, in other words, make a speech containing language something to the effect of:

“Although I was brought up to believe that human life is a supremely precious, sacred, gift from our Creator, it is true that as mayor of New York City — the nation’s largest and one of its most liberal communities — my record of supporting the status quo with respect to abortion is well-known. I have nothing to hide in this regard. But even though many would use the label ‘pro-choice’ to describe my position, I have never favored the idea that courts ought to usurp the role of legislators, and I have always regarded abortion in particular as one of those contentious moral issues that would be best decided at the state level. Let the people’s voice be heard, is my view. And yet the voices of the people — whether they’re liberal Californians or conservative Kansans or anything in between — are effectively blocked from the political process by the 1973 decision — a ruling that even many liberal jurists have admitted was poorly reasoned, and that has had highly damaging consequences. As your president, I’ll use my power to shape the Supreme Court to ensure that the people do have a say in the great moral controversies of our day, because federalism has served our country well, and abandoning it has caused us great harm.”

Otherwise, Romney here I come. And Rudy, one more thing: lots of time till Iowa doesn’t mean infinite time.

Cross-posted on RedState.com.

Written by Jasper

February 8, 2007 at 2:10 am

Posted in Election 08, Politics

Rudy and Roe

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Ross Douthat thinks Rudy Giuliani has been trying to get too cute in his efforts to square his pro-choice past with his political future. His recommended course of action is not for Rudy to convert to the pro-life position (this would seem to obvious, and artificial), but rather the strategy

…in which he sticks to being pro-choice but attacks Roe v. Wade as bad law…And that seems to be what he’s gesturing at, with his confused talk about being pro-choice but liking strict-constructionist judges. The trouble is that he seems to be hoping he can avoid actually saying that Roe is bad law, which would hurt him in the general election, and simply pull a Bush and refuse to have any “litmus tests” for the bench, while making it clear by implication that his ideal justices would be the sort that pro-lifers would find congenial. But Bush pulled off this trick because he was also personally pro-life and didn’t need to reassure pro-lifers on that count, whereas Rudy is trying to dig himself out of a deep, deep pro-choice and pro-partial birth abortion hole. So while being explicitly anti-Roe might keep him out of the Oval Office in the long run, I think that’s a risk he’ll have to take if he wants to have a serious chance at the nomination.

I will say that a pro-life Giuliani would be something of a dream standard bearer for me: an intelligent, colorful, articulate, pro-free market, non-immigrant bashing, tough on crime (and tough on illegal guns), interesting, pro-military, moderate conservative who’s not from the South (got nothin’ against my southern brethren, I’m just mighty bored with the accent after fourteen years).

Alas, Rudy’s pro abortion rights position really makes his candidacy a disappointment for me. I so would like to be able to back the guy’s campaign. I doubt my conscience will allow me to do so, however, absent a clear cut statement disparaging Roe. I don’t sense Rudy’s moving in that direction, however, and agree with Ross that he fears going on record as opposing the ’73 infamy.

Didn’t see the footage, but I’m told he was awfully kissy kissy with the NARAL folks on his recentHannity/Colmes appearance. And this is a dude I’m supposed to want making Supreme Court nominations? Oh Rudy, didn’t you take any of your CCD lessons to heart?

Written by Jasper

February 7, 2007 at 11:32 pm

Posted in Election 08, Politics

What an athlete! What a high basketball I.Q.!

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Matt Yglesias, on the Biden-Obama kerfuffle, writes:

One thing hanging over Barack Obama is the idea — voiced by Debra Dickerson among others — that he isn’t really black. He was, after all, raised by his white mother. And his dad was from Kenya, not the descendant of American slaves. It seems to me that Joe Biden should have dispelled that kind of talk, by showing that Obama’s black enough to be subjected to bizarre race-related crap from white people.

He continues on, touching upon sports stereotypes:

Similarly, if you watch the NBA I think it’s clear that there’s a set of stereotypes associated with black players (“amazing speed and athleticism”) and a different set associated with Europeans…

What I want to know is, is this generalization valid or not?

I think the theories about differing cognitive abilities among the races are pure crapola. But I’m not so sure there isn’t some validity to be observed when it comes to things like muscles, lung capacity, etc. It does seem like one very rarely observes a real, bonafide, freak of nature “athlete” amongst the ranks of white NBA players.

My total non-scientist theory: there’s never been a large group of homo sapiens for whom natural selection wouldn’t have strongly favored intelligence (I’m thinking especially in terms of competition for mating opportunities), so, the human brain has evolved more or less at a constant rate since our species first left Africa. But this hasn’t been the case when it comes to other organs or physiological systems. The extra big lungs that help you survive until sexual maturity in what is now Tibet, in other words, might have been a net energy waste if you make your home in the Amazon basin. But in both places better brains would help you get laid.

Written by Jasper

February 4, 2007 at 3:47 pm

Good point

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Somebody on the radio just made the following point: given the events six years ago that started in this city, the proper reaction to the recent marketing scare is an overreaction.

Can’t say I really disagree.

Written by Jasper

February 3, 2007 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Boston, Terrorism

Chicago’s chances on Sunday

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Via Stephen Bainbridge comes this snippet from the Wall Street Journal.com:

Over the last 22 Super Bowls, 18 — 86% of them — were won by the team that came into the game after allowing fewer regular-season points. (In the 2004-05 regular season, the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles each allowed 260 points.) Not since the Denver Broncos won 1999’s Super Bowl XXXIII has the team with the weaker defense emerged victorious. And that’s why the underdog Chicago Bears should defeat the Indianapolis Colts in Miami on Sunday. Lovie Smith’s NFC Champion Bears allowed only 255 points during the regular season. That’s third-best in the NFL — and is a whopping 105 points fewer than the AFC Champion Colts allowed.

Color me skeptical. As a certified Manning-hatin’ New Englander, I’d love to see the Bears prevail on Sunday. But I don’t see it happening. The Colts’ offense is absurdly powerful. They absolutely made the Patriots’ defense look like a bunch of high schoolers in the second half of the conference championship. I don’t think I recall a better looking passing game in all my years watching professional football.

I know defense wins championships and all, but, seriously…

Written by Jasper

February 3, 2007 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Sports

’08 Musings

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One often hears anti-Hillary Clinton memes on the left. It’s safe to say that the futher left you look, the less popular she is. One can certainly understand the disagreement your average lefty has with the Senator — especially on Iraq. But the argument that she’s “unelectable” is pretty lame.

Hillary will have her work cut out for her to take the White House unless the economy tanks next year — but so will any Democratic nominee. It’s likely to be a close election. I see the only chance for a Democratic blow-out being a significantly worsened war situation (or the aforementioned recession, and the odds of that seem to be steadily declining). It’s just bizarre, though, to say Senator Clinton is “unelectable”. I’ve seen national polls putting her ahead of any likely GOP nominee nationally. History strongly favors the Democrat in 2008 (on only one occassion in the post FDR-era, 1988, have Americans given the White House to the same party three consecutive times). And again, her negatives may be high in places like Mississippi and Kansas, but she doesn’t need to win 49 states. She just needs to add a few purplish ones to Kerry’s total.

While we’re on the subject, let me say that I think Bill Richardson would make a good running mate for Hillary should she take the nomination. He’s a sensible moderate with foreign policy expertise from a mountain state who should help her take New Mexico, and should also help her in places like Arizona, Colorado and Nevada. But he should also help Hillary in general with the burgeoning Hispanic vote. If Hillary can pry another 10 or 15 points of this group from the GOP, it would probably give her Florida and Ohio, and maybe even put Texas into play. I reckon a Democratic ticket that wins a healthy majority of female voters, 80%+ of Hispanic voters, and 90%+ of black voters, thumps to a hefty Electoral College victory in 2008, especially if the GOP chooses a hard core conservative. If they nominate a Guiliani, though, the calculus gets murkier, because the Democrats will have to defend a lot of blue territory. I think the moderate former mayor would at least be competitive in places like California and Massachusetts (and, needless to say, New York).

Written by Jasper

February 1, 2007 at 1:50 am

Posted in Election 08, Policy