Friday, July 31, 2009

Pew: Americans Remain Moderate/Conservative

In 2005, just after the 2004 election, Pew did a study of the American electorate that focused on the role of religion in politics. It found, as we noted in an early blog entry, that for about half of Americans, religion played an important role in their decisionmaking.

This Spring, Pew has completed another detailed look at the American electorate. It found that the economy/jobs is now the top issue for 50% of respondents, replacing moral values, which 27% of voters identified as their top issue in 2004 (“moral values” is now down to just 10%).

The issue shift from moral values to the economy coincides with the sharp drop in voter identification with the Republican Party from 30% in 2004 to only 23% today, and the commensurate rise from 30% to 36% of those identifying as independents (and that's up to 39% in April, the last month polled). Independents are at their highest level since independent Ross Perot was riding high in 1992 (Democratic support has remained relatively constant, rising from 33% to just 35% in five years).

While Gallup polling, in the several studies we looked at earlier, forced independents to identify themselves as “leaning” Democrat or Republican (Democrats won, 53% to 39%), Pew chose instead to focus on independents as the swing group, and measure their views. Pew's approach makes sense. The GOP brand this spring, after all, was in such low repute that many independents for that reason alone would identify themselves as “leaning” Democrat, not Republican.

In any case, Pew’s major discovery is that overall, conservatives outnumber liberals 37% to 19%, virtually unchanged from 2000’s 35% to 18%. Among independents, the conservative:liberal ratio is exactly 2:1, with 50% calling themselves moderate. It’s a surprising finding, given the liberal thrust Obama’s election seemed to proclaim. The country remains moderate, and twice as conservative as liberal.

Here are other key findings from Pew’s exhaustive look at today’s American voter:

➢ Independent willingness to endure higher prices to protect the environment is down 17% from 66% in 2007 to 49% today.

➢ Independent willingness to slow growth or lose jobs to protect the environment is down 19% from 72% in 2007 to 53% today.

➢ Independent willingness to go into debt to help the needy is down 14% from 57% in 2007 to 43% today.

➢ 61% of independents believe something run by government is likely to be wasteful or inefficient.

➢ 57% of independents say government has too much control over our daily lives.

➢ 55% of independents say government regulation of business does more harm than good.

➢ 53% of independents believe labor unions are necessary to protect workers (versus 80% of Democrats; 44% of Republicans).

➢ 77% of independents favor more restrictive control of immigration.

➢ 67% of independents favor offshore drilling.

➢ 50% of independents favor nuclear power.

➢ 55% of independents oppose same-sex marriage, but 55% favor civil unions.

➢ only 32% of independents see society divided between “haves” and “have nots”.

➢ only 29% of independents think success is “beyond our control.”

➢ only 21% of white independents favor preferential treatment of minorities.

➢ 43% of Democrats, 26% of independents, and only 10% of Republicans are nonwhite.

➢ Independents are least likely to “always” vote (43%, versus 62% for Republicans, 56% for Democrats).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

China, Taiwan Leaders Exchange Greetings

Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou’s election as chairman of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party (KMT or Kuomintang) drew a congratulatory message from China president Hu Jintao, who doubles as Chinese Communist Party chairman. Hu greeted Ma [pictured, under China Republic founder Sun Yat-sen, hero in both China and Taiwan] as a fellow party leader, which allows the two to communicate without reference to Ma’s official Taiwan title. We noted earlier how this party-to-party dialog might pull Taiwan and China closer, a possibility made far more real now that Ma has become the KMT leader.

An analysis published online at the government-run China Daily site speculates that a Hu-Ma meeting is unlikely before Ma’s 2012 re-election campaign. Phillip C. Saunders and Scott Kastner, writing in Foreign Policy, agree, but think if Ma is re-elected, Hu would want an historic Beijing meeting with Ma in 2012 before Hu steps down as China’s president that fall.

The stars keep aligning for improved China-Taiwan relations, should Ma be able to maintain support from Taiwan’s overwhelmingly Taiwanese population.

Obama Approval Hits Clinton Low

These are trying times for Obama. As the Washington Post reports, people like their health care coverage—unllke the unsatisfactory elderly care situation that led to Medicare. Obama seeks health care changes people worry will hurt, not help.

I’ve been watching Obama’s job approval rating drop through a series of support levels. "RealClearPolitics" tracks the president’s approval rating daily. On June 4th, Obama’s approval rating saw its first-ever dip below 60%. Then on July 9th, for the first time, Obama’s margin of approval over disapproval dropped below 20%. On the same day, the positive rating for Obama + (the Democratic) Congress fell below the two branches’ combined negative rating (Congress has long had a negative rating), sending Obama + Congress together “upside down” for the first time.

So who cares, really?

Well now, Obama has hit a floor that means something. Bill Clinton didn’t have a great second term. The scandal-ridden president delivered peace and prosperity, but his own vice president proved unable to follow him, as the nation searched for new moral leadership (yes, Gore won the 2000 popular vote, though not in his home state of Tennessee).

Yet bad as things were for Clinton in his second term, his job approval rating never went below 54% in the Pew poll, and only once hit 53% in the Gallup poll, giving the two polls a common floor of 54% (53.5% rounds up to 54%).

Today, Obama’s job approval dipped to 54% in the Gallup poll, and also hit an overall average of 54% in the "RealClearPolitics" combined poll.

This means that six months into office, Obama's job approval has already dropped to Clinton’s second-term low point.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Universal Health Care--Not Universally Popular

"At no time under five separate presidents -- Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Clinton or Truman -- have you been this close on health care. It's just a fact."

--Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff

Close, but so far, no cigar. As liberal commentator Harold Meyerson more pessimistically put it:

universal health care for its citizens [seems] an achievement that the United States alone finds beyond [its] capacities . . . It wasn't ever thus. Time was when Democratic Congresses enacted Social Security and Medicare over the opposition of powerful interests and Republican ideologues.

Ah yes. Social Security—Roosevelt’s signature achievement. And Medicare—the centerpiece of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. So, naturally, Obama wants Universal Health Care, which will place his bust next to Roosevelt’s and Johnson’s (none for Truman, Carter, or Clinton) in the pantheon of great Democratic social reformers.

Obama, as the Washington Post’s Michael Fletcher writes, is going all-out to make the case for health reform. On his radio address last Saturday, Obama said:

It's about every family unable to keep up with soaring out of pocket costs and premiums rising three times faster than wages. Every worker afraid of losing health insurance if they lose their job, or change jobs. Everyone who's worried that they may not be able to get insurance or change insurance if someone in their family has a pre-existing condition.

But as Fletcher counters, “many of those problems are not obvious to everyday Americans, the vast majority of whom have coverage.” [my emphasis]

This is the big, glaring difference between Social Security and Medicare on the one hand, and universal health care on the other. Both Social Security and Medicare help everybody who anticipates living to retirement age. Before Social Security and Medicare, I didn’t have coverage. After, I now have protection for my “golden years.” Naturally, the programs are popular, even if they may be bankrupting the treasury.

Universal health care is completely different. The elderly, the poor, children, and over 5/6ths of Americans already have health insurance. Obama’s program seeks to cover those in the “doughnut hole” between employer-based insurance and Medicaid—people who’ve lost their job or have a pre-existing condition insurance won’t cover, but only those not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. This isn’t “everybody.” It’s a select population. The rest of us don’t care, unless the new program hurts us in some way.

Obama senses the problem he faces. In his prime-time news conference today, the president sought to address the average person who already has insurance, promising the listener universal care wouldn’t make things worse, and could provide significant cost savings. We’ll see shortly how well Obama made his case.

Anyway, Washington Post reporters Shailagh Murray and Ceci Connolly say that on Capitol Hill, conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats in the House now explicitly favor a bill like the one the bipartisan Senate Finance Committee is attempting to put together, a process that as we suggested earlier, may offer Obama his best path to success.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Iran is Split

And so is every other polity on earth. Hidden or obvious, politics (the struggle for power) inevitably leads to divisions. It’s important that observers find and define those divisions, and remember that discovering divisions doesn’t foretell any particular outcome.

I thought it was crazy for a foreign policy generalist like Les Gelb (closely involved with the Vietnam disaster, by the way) to build a column in advance of Iran’s June election around opposition candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi's anticipated win. Mousavi lost, of course. President Ahmadinejad won a crooked election as one might have expected, and just as he had four years earlier.

Iranian journalist Massoumeh Torfeh, writing in the UK Guardian, presents the kind of useful picture of Iran’s politics Gelb might have profitably read before predicting free elections there:

➢ Former president (1989-97) and leading cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani [photo] is now indispensable to Iran’s opposition. He is a bitter rival of the supreme leader and the president alike. In 2005, as the candidate tipped to win that year’s presidential election, he accused Ahmadinejad of rigging the result; four years later, he sees the scenario repeated for Mousavi.

➢ But Iran's opposition must acknowledge that direct confrontation has never been Rafsanjani's style, nor has it been the style chosen by any other powerful backer, including Mousavi. All are aware their future is tightly linked to the Islamic Republic’s survival.

➢ Student protesters know their own weaknesses. They have no clear strategy for what should happen in the event they could remove the "dictator".

➢ The opposition also knows that to confront the regime they need the backing of military and security services; that their set of leaders have little influence inside the Revolutionary Guards or the Basij militia since these are the Islamic instruments of power and devoted to the supreme leader; that Ahmadinejad, who rose to power from the security and intelligence forces, has rewarded his former colleagues, and has influence in their ranks, can rely on them to repress street protests.

These are political realities. Nevertheless, Torfeh believes the protesters know “time is on their side.” The cracks that showed in the U.S.S.R. in 1989 quickly led to the regime’s collapse. But in China that same year, many predicted democracy would follow suppression of the student-led Tiananmen riots. Instead, China's leaders delivered dictatorship-protecting economic development.

Iran’s leaders would do well to get their economy going.

You Saw It Here, First

Robert Samuelson, in Newsweek, wrote July 20 that the February $787 billion stimulus package "crafted by Obama and the Democratic Congress wasn't engineered to maximize its economic impact. It was mostly a political exercise, designed to claim credit for any recovery. . ."

On July 11, I wrote that Obama “rushed the stimulus package through Congress because he wanted credit for a cyclical recovery he believed was inevitable.”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Different World

Here is the CBS News team in 1974.

Walter Cronkite died yesterday at 92. During Cronkite’s time as CBS News anchor, 30 million people watched the CBS News (as opposed to 7 million today, with the nation having added more than 100 million). Three networks, one Walter. A different world.

As Los Angeles Times TV critic Robert Lloyd suggests, Cronkite in 1962-81 brought calm to a nation torn by three major assassinations [video here] , Vietnam, urban riots, Watergate, rampant inflation, malaise, and a 14 month hostage crisis yielding five interrupted or failed presidencies in succession. Now TV, in its drive for ratings, hypes garden-variety stories into major crises, replacing “reassuring honesty” with “perpetual anxiety.”

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Noonan v. Palin

When you strike at a king, you must kill him.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Peggy Noonan, Reagan’s former speechwriter with a column in the Wall Street Journal, has just unloaded on Sarah Palin. For your information, this isn’t the first time. Last October, Noonan wrote,

we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. . . She doesn't think aloud. She just says things. . . she has spent her time throwing out tinny lines to crowds she doesn't, really, understand. This is not a leader, this is a follower, and she follows what she imagines is the base, which is in fact a vast and broken-hearted thing whose pain she cannot, actually, imagine. . . the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It's no good. . .

Noonan clearly anticipated her October scorching of Palin would cost her, for she concluded her attack with the words, “the conservative intelligentsia are . . . attempting to silence those who opposed [the] party. . . [Well,] come and get me.”

So having previously struck Palin, Noonan is now out to kill her candidacy for president. Looking back to last Fall’s campaign, Noonan writes:

In television interviews [Palin] was out of her depth in a shallow pool. She was limited in her ability to explain and defend her positions, and sometimes in knowing them. She couldn't say what she read because she didn't read anything. . . She wasn't thoughtful enough to know she wasn't thoughtful enough. Her presentation . . . has been . . . self-referential to the point of self-reverence. "I'm not wired that way," "I'm not a quitter," "I'm standing up for our values." I'm, I'm, I'm.

Most of Noonan’s column is pushback against Palin’s conservative friends. She mounts a string of straw-(wo)man arguments, quotes supposedly offered by Palin supporters, and bats them down one by one (I dislike the exercise enough to pushback myself against each Noonan argument):

➢ "I love her because she's so working-class." This is a favorite of some party intellectuals. She is not working class, never was, and even she, avid claimer of advantage that she is, never claimed to be and just lets others say it. Her father was a teacher and school track coach, her mother the school secretary.

But wait: Working class isn’t poor, it means body work, not brain work. Secretaries are certainly from the “Working 9 to 5” class, and a track coach who also teaches doesn’t sit at a desk; he works with his body.

➢ "She's not Ivy League, that's why her rise has been thwarted! She represented the democratic ideal that you don't have to go to Harvard or Brown to prosper, and her fall represents a failure of egalitarianism." . . America doesn't need Sarah Palin to prove it was, and is, a nation of unprecedented fluidity. Her rise and seeming fall do nothing to prove or refute this.

But wait: Noonan’s a graduate of the private Fairleigh Dickinson University, not Ivy League but located at the former New Jersey Vanderbilt estate used as a stand-in for Princeton in the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” Palin attended 3 community colleges before graduating from the University of Idaho at age 23. Noonan is pseudo-Ivy, Palin isn’t.

➢ "The elites hate her." The elites made her. It was the elites of the party, the McCain campaign and the conservative media that picked her and pushed her. The base barely knew who she was.

But wait: Noonan gives a smokescreen answer. Conservatives rightly knew the base would go wild for Palin, thus helping McCain with his most glaring weakness. It’s insulting to suggest otherwise. The real elite, one that includes Noonan, does hate Palin.

➢ "She makes the Republican Party look inclusive." She makes the party look stupid, a party of the easily manipulated.

Noonan is name-calling. Undignified.

➢ "Now she can prepare herself for higher office by studying up, reading in, boning up on the issues." But she is a ponder-free zone. She can memorize the names of the presidents of Pakistan, but she is not going to be able to know how to think about Pakistan. Why do her supporters not see this?

More insults.

➢ "The media did her in." Her lack of any appropriate modesty did her in. Actually, it's arguable that membership in the self-esteem generation harmed her. . . It's yielding something new in history: an entire generation with no proper sense of inadequacy.

Ms. Noonan, are we running out of arguments? What’s the point of these insults?

➢ "Turning to others means the media won!" No, it means they lose. What the mainstream media wants is not to kill her but to keep her story going forever. She hurts, as they say, the Republican brand, with her mess and her rhetorical jabberwocky and her careless causing of division.

But wait: The media truly hate Palin, and don’t want her anywhere near the White House. Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 43 made president, in spite of all-out media opposition. Palin would be the worst. No, kill Palin’s chances in the crib, now (whispers Noonan)!

I’m sure Noonan really believes

The world is a dangerous place. It has never been more so, or more complicated, more straining of the reasoning powers of those with actual genius and true judgment. . . our leaders. . . will have to be gifted. There will be many who cannot, and should not, make the cut. Now is the time to look for those who can. And so the Republican Party should get serious. . .

It’s just that Noonan worked for Reagan. The grade B movie actor, graduate of Eureka, hardly a “genius” or “gifted,” a guy who certainly didn’t make any elite’s "cut." Yes, Reagan mastered a 3x5 card pack of key issues. It’s too early to know whether or not Palin can too, but she has just written a Washington Post op-ed on energy policy.

We’ll see. In any case, I so detest the elite’s efforts to bar non-philosopher kings from being president. And hey, wasn’t Obama’s election about how any child can aspire to the White House?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Obama Exceptionalism

Michael Scherer of TIME has decided that since “Obama had just finished his fourth major address on international affairs in as many months, and . . . has now traveled the world, from Riyadh to Cairo and from London to Moscow,” it’s a good time to look at “the outline of Obama's operating philosophy of world affairs,” and at “five of its central pillars.” (What is it about Obama and pillars??)

So here are Scherer’s temple column-sized conclusions about Obma’s foreign policy:

➢ His election as the first black President of goatherd ancestry and foreign upbringing will change geopolitical dynamics. His message: “If I can do it, so can you,” a message targeted directly at the people of the world, not their governments.

➢ Obama preaches that we listen to different views, understand the various motivations and then focus on the commonalities, not the differences. Obama says, “Changes in foreign policy approaches by my Administration [mean] they are more likely to want to cooperate than not cooperate."

➢ in contrast to George W. Bush’s Panglossian effort to remake whole parts of the world under the banner of American moral authority, Obama has sworn off punishing foreign misbehavior by cutting off diplomatic ties or ending direct conversation, and still hopes to meet Iran’s leaders at the negotiating table before September [my emphasis] to discuss Iran's nuclear program.

➢ Obama believes America's fate is tied to that of developing nations, and that "The fact that I am very proud of my country — and I think that we've got a whole lot to offer the world — does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we're not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise, and that includes us."

➢ Obama has adopted the mantle of chief youth inspirer, saying directly through television cameras, "You get to decide what comes next. You get to choose where change will take us," and "The world will be what you make of it."

In short, American voters elevated Obama to the place where he talks directly to the world as a father to a child. Or as Newsweek’s Evan Thomas said, “Obama’s standing above the country, above – above the world, he’s sort of God."

Obama is certainly well beyond any American who believes in "American Exceptionalism". As Liz Cheney (Dick’s eldest daughter), writing in the Wall Street Journal, notes,

Asked . . . whether he believed in American exceptionalism, the president said, "I believe in American Exceptionalism just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." In other words, not so much. The Obama administration does seem to believe in another kind of exceptionalism -- Obama exceptionalism. "We have the best brand on Earth: the Obama brand," one Obama handler has said.

Of course, Scherer’s bit about Obama and Iran is troublesome. Obama displays a (some would say) Bush-like level of stubbornness in refusing to give up the idea that the mullahs will want to break bread with him to solve the nuclear problem. Talk about Panglossian! Luiza Savage, writing in the Canadian journal Maclean's, explains it this way:

Obama remains hopeful because, as he puts it, Iran’s “governing elites are going through a struggle that has been mirrored painfully and powerfully on the streets.”

So Obama thinks the youth of Iran—and I mean this—partly because they are inspired by Obama’s story and his outreach to them, are already fixing the country by pressuring the mullahs to do the right thing.

Bush foreign policy
: change the world by encouraging democratic governments in place of bad dictators.

Obama foreign policy: change the world by inspiring each nation’s youth to overthrow their bad dictators.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bipartisan Health Care Reform?

Friday’s New York Times reported that the Senate is struggling with how to raise $1 trillion to cover the cost of health care reform over 10 years. The article named four key senators—Max Baucus (D-MT), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) of the Finance Committee, and Kent Conrad (D-ND), Budget Committee chair. (Of course, the real cost may be at least $1.5 trillion).

The four senators reject the House Finance Committee’s proposal to place a surtax on joint incomes over $350,000 (single payer incomes over $280,000), a plan also in trouble with conservative (“Blue Dog”) House Democrats. Such a surtax would increase the taxes already set to rise on higher incomes from 33% to 36% and 35% to 39.6% in 2011, when Democrats undo Bush’s 2001 tax cuts. The tax increases on higher income—raising the tax rate and adding a surtax—hit small business especially hard. The Tax Foundation has conservatively estimated that 45% of small business income—often earned as personal income—will be subjected to the higher tax rates. And as we know, small business generates most new jobs. No wonder the Senate is balking.

The best hope for health care reform may lie with whatever compromise Democrat Baucus and Republican Grassley [picture] can bring out of the Senate Finance Committee. The two have worked closely together at least since 2001, and they and their staffs are trying to develop a health care plan acceptable to both sides. The joint effort has Obama’s tacit endorsement, though liberal Democrats as well as most Republicans don’t like the partnership.

Perhaps the fact that both sides don’t trust the two plains state senators means we can expect Baucus and Grassley to plow their rows as straight as possible.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

“Hooverizing” Bush (FDRizing Obama)

Jonathan Martin, who writes at “Politico,” has pointed out that Democrats running for governor this fall in both New Jersey and Virginia are seeking to plant George Bush on the backs of their Republican opponents. As Martin puts it,

Bush isn't the first former president whose name has served as a rallying cry for the opposition. Democrats milked Herbert Hoover and the specter of "Hoovervilles" for decades following FDR's 1932 election.

November elections in New Jersey and Virginia will show how well it works to continue running against Bush, months after he has left office. I myself wrote Bush was in danger of becoming Herbert Hoover to Obama’s FDR.

Here’s the big factual difference, no matter how successful Democrats are in Hooverizing Bush. The Great Depression clobbered Hoover in his 7th month in office (October 1929), and he lived with it for the next 41. By the time Roosevelt took over in March 1933, Hoover personified government’s inability to get us out of trouble. Then Roosevelt came in and things immediately got better.

As James Pinkerton, a FOX News Channel contributor, described it:

By January 1934, less than a year after Roosevelt took office, the Civil Works Administration employed 4.25 million people, fully eight percent of the national labor force. In fact, over the entire course of the the Depression, unemployment peaked in the month that Roosevelt came into office. [emphasis added]

And as we know, Obama’s job loss figures continue to grow.

Bush left when the Great Recession (not the one that statistically began in December 2007; the one that followed Lehman Brothers’ collapse September 16, 2008) was in its 4th month. Bush was there for the beginning, but then got out. Four months, even 13 months, is not Hoover's nearly four years.

Obama promised the economic turn-around would come with his stimulus package (I think he rushed the stimulus package through Congress because he wanted credit for a cyclical recovery he believed was inevitable). The stimulus promises make it Obama’s economy now, not Hoover's, er Bush's.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Robert Strange McNamara

McNamara, the king-sized embodiment of Kennedy’s “best and brightest” [click picture to enlarge], is dead at 93. What did McNamara leave behind?

David Ignatius, the Washington Post’s leading columnist on foreign policy and the son of McNamara’s army secretary, says McNamara found:

Vietnam shattered the rationalist's faith: Here was a peasant enemy, fighting in what looked to us like pajamas and living off handfuls of rice, that somehow persisted against all of America's military might -- and all of McNamara's slide-rule calculations.

To Ignatius, the larger McNamara lesson is:

[B]e wary of the notion that smart people can solve any problem if they just try hard enough. . . -- and encourage us to consider, even when we feel most confident, the possibility that we could be wrong.

Liberals seemed to have taken at least part of that lesson to heart. Last January at the beginning of Obama’s administration, liberals worried that overseas, Obama would follow “the best and brightest” into the same misguided use of force Vietnam proved to be.

Yet McNamara has also become a bogeyman for conservatives afraid of what Obama’s “best and brightest” are doing to our economy. George Will writes:

Today, something unsettlingly similar to McNamara's eerie assuredness pervades the Washington in which he died. . . The apogee of McNamara's professional life, in the first half of the 1960s, coincided. . . with the apogee of the belief that behavioralism had finally made possible a science of politics. Behavioralism held . . . that the social and natural sciences are not so different, both being devoted to the discovery of law-like regularities that govern the behavior of atoms, hamsters, humans, whatever. . . [that t]hings that can be quantified can be controlled. And everything can be quantified.

And Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board argues:

Obama's "New Foundation" [like Kennedy’s “New Frontier”] is an era of soaring rhetoric, big plans and boundless self-regard, issued by an administration convinced it can apply technocratic, top-down solutions to huge and unpredictable systems -- the banking, auto and health-care industries, for instance, or the climate. . . people deeply impressed by their own smarts, the ones for whom the phrase "the best and the brightest" has been scrubbed of its intended irony. . . the mentality of the planner remains alive and well in Washington today, along with the aura of cool intellectual certainty.

But those who looked closest at McNamara’s Vietnam tragedy seem to have reached more nuanced conclusions. Errol Morris, the filmmaker whose documentary “The Fog of War” focused on McNamara and Vietnam, wrote:

the taped conversations between President Lyndon Johnson and . . . Mr. McNamara [suggest] that the pressure for escalation did not come from Mr. McNamara, but from Johnson. Mr. McNamara was not an enthusiast for [Vietnam].

And Ignatius similarly writes:

McNamara was a reluctant warrior, half in and half out, increasingly convinced that our firepower wouldn't work in this asymmetrical war. For the military, that was his greatest sin -- that he sacrificed young American lives without fully believing in the possibility of victory.

My view about McNamara formed after reading ex-Vietnam correspondent Neil Sheehan’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book about the war, A Bright Shining Lie:

McNamara’s doubts about Vietnam show clearly throughout The Pentagon Papers. Beginning in mid-1966, McNamara used his first team, Alain Entoven’s Systems Analysis numbers crunchers, to document that Vietnam was unwinnable—Vietnamese forces had the initiative in 85% of clashes with Americans. While 1966 may seem late, most American deaths in Vietnam occurred after that date.

In fact, the mid-1966 U.S. death toll in Vietnam was around 5,000, a total that eventually reached 58,193.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Palin and the Ruling Class

the effective strategies in politics are ones that are so clear and obvious that people can grasp it.

--Karl Rove

Rove was speaking of Sarah Palin’s resignation as Alaska governor. He means Palin’s “strategy” for pursuing the presidency after in mid-term suddenly vacating her office as a small state governor is anything but clear.

Here's some clarity: Obama showed how a relatively young, inexperienced author, one who is good-looking, telegenic, with an attractive family, can completely upset the political apple cart. It helps if the author makes money from the book and related speeches.

Palin needs a good book. Not there yet.

Here’s what Obama proved to be: the perfect candidate to bring America’s ruling class back to its rightful place at the top of the political mountain. Obama personified the Ivy League-based power structure’s long-held dream of an America run by the right people on behalf of all of us—black, brown, female, gay, and secular, as well as white, straight, Christian, male.

Here’s what Palin will seek to be: the perfect candidate for all who view the liberal elite as a privileged class whose emphasis on big government manipulation of American business truly threatens our prosperity; an elite shielded by a superior, mocking media and entertainment conglomerate that practices personal destruction of those who challenge it.

Political pundits, part of the media conglomerate themselves, may miss the clarity of Palin’s struggle.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Obama's Job Gap (updated)

President Obama promised his stimulus plan would create or retain 3-4 million jobs by 2010 (average 3.5 million). Thus far in 2009, employment has dropped 3.4 million. The resulting Obama job gap stands at 6.9 million jobs [chart]. We are following the Obama job gap in the same spirit as former “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert followed Bush’s job count throughout Bush 43’s first term, at least until Bush’s numbers turned positive (the term ended with Bush up 4.2 million jobs; Obama too is likely to be in positive territory by 2012). Credit to Karl Rove for inventing the “job gap” methodology.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Some hope for Republicans?

Gallup provides a lot of information about the two parties in its several polls. Some of it may lift Republican spirits. Gallup asked respondents to provide their “top of the mind” impression of each party, an exercise that again went badly for Republicans, with "favorable” and “for the people/working, middle, lower class” the words most associated with “Democrats” after the #1 word, “liberal.” By contrast, the top words for Republicans were “unfavorable,” followed by “conservative.”

But the details drew out a slight positive for the GOP. The following chart shows words associated with Republicans both in 2005 and today:

There’s a noteworthy drop in words tagging Republicans as a wealthy, uncaring business elite.

Of course, when a respondent simply dismisses the Republican Party with the world “unfavorable,” as happened in the Gallup poll, it’s quite possible that person if pressed would have supplied “rich” or “self-centered”. Yet I think we do have an indication of change between 2005 and 2009, and it's attributable only in part to the fact Republicans no longer seem so high and mighty.

It’s a fact that Democrats today are as much, if not more, the party of rich people. Gallup’s poll suggests that fact is seeping through to the broader electorate.

A final Gallup poll did turn up some unambiguous good news for Republicans:

Respondents during the early months of the Obama administration, therefore, are 7% more likely to consider Democrats “too liberal” than they were before the election. Republicans, by contrast, have seen no change in the share labeling them “too conservative.” As a consequence, Republicans are now 3% less likely to be labeled “too conservative” than Democrats are to be called “too liberal.”

This change, however, may largely be due to rising GOP alarm with Obama. Among independents, there is still greater concern about Republicans being “too conservative” (49%) than about Democrats being “too liberal” (45%).

Thursday, July 02, 2009

GOP Hurting

No surprise the Republican Party, associated with scandal, Katrina and a difficult war during the 2006 elections, and with Bush and economic collapse in 2008, is in trouble. Gallup has run several polls documenting the GOP’s low state.

In one, Gallup found that those identified with the two parties, after independents are reclassified as leaning Democrat or Republican, have moved between 2001 and 2009 toward the Democrats as follows:

The gap between parties in 8 years has grown from 1% to 14% in favor of Democrats. That’s big.

Another poll went inside the heads of both groups and found Republicans much more unhappy with their party than Democrats:

That means Democrats, admittedly coming off two big victories, are less than 1/5th as likely as Republicans to have problems with their party.

Overall, 58% of the total sample viewed Democrats favorably, a big 19% more than the 34% who viewed Republicans favorably. And overall, 59% of those polled (including those 38% of unhappy Republicans) have an unfavorable view of the GOP, against only 34% with an unfavorable view of Democrats. That’s a whopping 25% difference.

Information from other Gallup surveys points to known Republican weaknesses among sub-groups. The respondents who are non-white (including Hispanic) and non-black make up the following shares of each voting group:

Republicans remain an overwhelmingly white party, though at least the largest share of any non-black minority grouping is independent, not Democrat, and thus more open to moving Republican.

And as we noted here, Democrats are the party of women. Gallup’s polling bears out that fact:

The possible “silver lining” Gallup notes for Republicans is that while men have moved away from the GOP since 2005, they identify as independent not Democrat, so may more readily shift in the future back to Republican. And though Gallup doesn’t say so, the women leaving the GOP also identify as independent, with the Democratic share of women at 42%, exactly where it was in mid-2004.