Scooter as “deputy prime minister”

Various talking heads (David Gergen on the Newshour, for one) have suggested that Bush needs to clean house of his advisors for a fresh start and bring in a new team (perhaps Gergen was using the Newshour to submit his application). Aside from Libby’s departure, that is unlikely, I think, unless Karl Rove is ultimately indicted, too.

But if our form of government were semi-presidential, Continue reading

Ignorant politics

I was over at one of the right-wing blogs, one that has advertisements. And over on the sidebar is an ad for some company that sells what it calls “conservative” t-shirts and that promises the largest selection of “liberal-baiting” merchandise. (I am deliberately providing no links because I do not want to increase the search ratings of either of these sites.)

The ad shows someone wearing a shirt that says ACLU, only with the “C” replaced with a hammer and sickel. Anyone who would design, sell, buy, or above all wear such a shirt just is displaying rank political ignorance. Communists–or even social democrats, for that matter–are not extreme liberals. In fact, communists (though not social democrats) are about as illiberal as they come.

Ironically, the subtext of the shirt says “enemy of the state.” I suppose that means that ACLU members are enemies of the state. The irony is that any true civil libertarian would be proud of that tag, because the state, according to a genuine ultra-liberal, is the truest threat to our liberties.

And, yes, the bumper stickers that I see now and then with the name Bush, only with the “s” replaced with a swastika are just as ignorant and offensive.

More on the Roberts confirmation

Elevated from the comments to my earlier post on how the confirmation of new Chief Justice John Roberts was less than overwhelming:

[The following is from the commenter, RAC, not me]

More info on the voteview.com prediction: It used the DW-NOMINATE procedure, which is based on all career votes. I also looked at it using only the 109th senate and there were fewer “errors” (8) without extreme outliers (like Feingold), suggesting that the Roberts vote was more closely related to recent positioning than to career positioning. Note also that the new Senators were (necessarily) based only on the 109th in the posted analysis and none of them were incorrectly classified. One reason for this difference might be that this highly visible vote should be consistent with any recent “movements” toward or away from moderation in pursuit of current electoral goals more so than reflecting behavior from decades past.

Given that such votes may be perceived to be less ideological, and certainly seem driven by unpredictable events and personalities, it is remarkable how consistently judicial votes map on to two policy dimensions. Errors that are close to the line are still roughly consistent with this basic dimensionality of the vote, but will substantially affect the aggregate prediction when they are skewed toward one side. This was the case for Roberts, though not so much for earlier votes (e.g. Bork).

As mentioned on the page, The fact that all but one deviation from ideological patterns worked in Roberts’ favor, also may not (in at lease some sense) be consistent with the vote being overwhelming. Some believed at the time that that voting for Roberts could better position a Democratic Senator to voting against block the subsequent nominee for the ‘pivotal’ O’Connor seat. Thus the two votes taken together may more consistent with past behavior than either individually.

Oh, and, yes, “RAC” is Royce Carroll, one of Keith Poole’s co-authors on the study of the confirmation votes—and my TA this quarter (and, yes, he approved this tag line).

Arnold is through

How do I know?

I was at Angel Stadium last night for Game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees. Great game, series tied and heading to New York on Friday and Saturday.

During the 7th inning stretch Arte Moreno, the Angels’ owner, was shown on the video board with Arnold Schwarzenegger at his side.

The crowd booed. I mean really booed. Not even Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez got such loud boos.

Really, really bad sign when you are a Republican governor, in the halo (so to speak) of a very popular owner of a team in the playoffs and people interrupt “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to boo you. In Orange County.

Cronyism and the Court

It is not a good sign at all when you are President and you have just nominated a candidate for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and it prompts this headline:

Bush Risks Calls of Cronyism in Selecting Friend

Or the subhead:

The White House is already under fire for allegedly giving plum jobs to the less qualified.

I really could not have said it better myself, although no doubt I will have more to say later.

The fact that the Vice President, within hours, was on Rush Limbaugh’s program defending the choice to that audience is quite revealing. Obviously, they knew there would be a need to go into immediate damage-control mode.

The not-so-overwhelming confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts

While some reports have characterized the 78-22 vote for new Chief Justice John Roberts as being “overwhelming,” it is worth putting it in perspective. Sure, it was not close to defeat and was not perfectly partisan. But purely partisan squeakers are rare. Most justice confirmation votes are a good deal more overwhelmingly postive than 78-22.

Political Arithmetik has a neat graph (haven’t I typed those words before?) that shows the number of votes against nominees to the Court since 1953.

It shows that the no votes against Roberts were more numerous than all but two previous nominees who were confirmed to fill vacancies: Thomas and the man Roberts replaces, Rehnquist.

Fifteen nominees since 1953 have received ten or fewer votes against.

Of course, the reason purely partisan squeakers are rare and most confirmations are indeed overwhelming is that most Presidents nominate candidates for their consensus, rather than primarily partisan, appeal.

(Note: Rehnquist was confirmed twice, once as Associate Justice and then, with more negatives, as Chief.)

Roe v. Wade

I must say that Roe v. Wade is not something I ever intend to blog on. So, I will just say that Scott Lemieux, over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, has written not one, not two, but three of the best discussions of the politics and precedent of the decision that I have ever read. (And, actually, there are more, too.)

(This also allows me to say what a great blog name Lawyers, Guns, and Money is; yes, I am a big Zevon fan, with perhaps “The French Inhaler” being my favorite of all.)

Latest Bush approval

If you have not been over to Political Arithmetik lately, head on over there. Excellent posts using a lowess regression to estimate the impact of Hurricane Katrina (-1.48% is Charles’s estimate) and another on the latest Gallop/CNN/USA Today poll that shows the public actually gives Bush higher marks on the hurricane response than on several other matters. Notably, two thirds now disapprove of his handling of Iraq.

Carl Bildt’s blog

I have no idea if this is a first for a former leader of an industrialized democracy, but Carl Bildt has a blog on world affairs, with recent posts on the new Norwegian government and the German elections, among other topics.

Bildt was Prime Minister of Sweden in the early 1990s. Moderate party. (That is not my description; it is the party’s official name.)

(Thanks to Helena Cobban’s blog for the tip.)

Confirmation and information in the judicial appointment process

A few days ago at Poliblog, Steven made an observation about the current hearings for Judge John Roberts, nominee for Chief Justice of the United States:

these events have so little to do, ultimately, with either seeking knowledge or honest public debate, that I have to ask as to whether we should have them at all.

At Arguing with Signposts, Bryan was even harsher, calling the hearing process a “charade.”

If we consider the process a debate about whether Roberts should become Chief Justice, then Steven and Bryan have a point. There is, after all, no doubt about the outcome, because he is a Republican nominee and will be confirmed by a Republican Senate (and Democrats don’t have anything worthy of a filibuster in this case, and they know it).

But does the outcome have to be in doubt for the hearings to have value? In a system of co-equal independent executive and legislative branches, public disagreements between the executive and legislators (in this case senators from the party with the minority of seats) provide information to the public. This information highlights points of disagreement between the parties (and the president and senators as individuals) on important issues of the day (like judicial philosophy).

From this information-providing perspective, it is beneficial that there are some senators who are ambitious enough to be seeking the presidency (Joe Biden, for example, on the Judiciary Committee). The hearings are framing and “test-driving” issues that might be relevant to the next opportunity voters have to choose a president (and, for that matter, senators).

We don’t have anything like the Question Period that exists in Britain and Canada, or the no-confidence procedures that exist in all parliamentary democracies. In most of these democracies, justices of the supreme court are simply selected by the prime minister. The legislative involvement is indirect, in that the executive itself is collectively accountable to the legislature.

But in our system the executive is independent. Thus hearings for confirmation (and other purposes) are the closest analogue we have to Question Period and confidence votes. Without them, we would know much less as a public about the issues in dispute between the branches of government, or—when the branches are held by the same party—between the parties.

Remembering September 11

Today marks the thirty-second anniversary of the day the Chilean armed forces went to war against their own country’s democratic government, toppling the constitutional socialist government of Salvador Allende and ushering in seventeen years of one of Latin America’s most repressive dictatorships.

Soldiers at La Moneda

While Chile has recovered its democracy over the past sixteen years–probably stronger than ever–the coup of September 11, 1973, will always be remembered as an event that quashed the rights and liberties of a Chilean society that had long been one of the most open in Latin America.

This event, more than any other in my youth, is what pushed me into a career in political science, although I was probably not aware of that until many years later.

Today’s anniversary is a reminder that democracy can never be taken for granted. Allende himself had stated that Chile’s democracy was so solid that there was no risk of a break in the constitutional order as he and his allies in government and the labor movement went about implementing their “Chilean road to socialism.” As Allende said in his first speech as President before the congress (where he had long served as a senator):

It is not simply a formal commitment but an explicit recognition that the principles of legality and institutional order are inseparable from a socialist regime despite the difficulties involved in the transitional period.

Whether it was ever possible to thread that needle between democracy and socialism is, to say the least, debateable. But September 11, 1973, was probably the last day that any revolutionary socialist anywhere in the world believed it was possible. Afterwards, socialists either ceased being revolutionary (like today’s socialist president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos) or ceased being democratic (for instance the leftist parties of El Salvador who had been denied their own electoral victory in 1972). September 11, 1973, was thus genuinely a day that changed history.

The Chilean experience after 1970 is a dramatic example of the impact of institutional rules in democracy. Allende received a plurality of the popular vote in 1970, but it was only 36%. He was duly confirmed by Congress as President per the requirements of the 1925 constitution. However, had Chile required a popular runoff–as its current constitution and most new constitutions in Latin America now require–most likely he would never have been president, and Chile’s democracy would have survived. On the other hand, had he become president but had the 1971 national election been a congressional election instead of a municipal election, Allende’s alliance most likely would have won a majority of seats. That would have meant there would not have been the narrow center-right majority in congress that blocked most of Allende’s program and later declared his government unconstitutional for its use of decree-law provisions that were in fact on the Chilean statute books.

Dr. Salvador Allende Gossens


The link in the first line above is to a BBC story remembering the event. It includes a brief and fascinating audio clip of a BBC broadcast from Santiago regarding resistance to the military three days after the coup.

The partisan lens and Katrina, take II

The new Gallup poll on public opinion regarding government responses to Hurricane Katrina reports the following (among many other findings):

By partisan affiliation, positive-negative in rating of Bush’s handling of the disaster:

Republicans: 69-10
Democrats: 10-66
Independents: 29-47

The immediate interocular tells us that this is a strong partisan split. However, a few days ago, in response to a different poll, I asked if there was not evidence that the partisan lens through which voters viewed Bush was weakening, at least a little bit, even if only temporarily. These numbers are less strongly partisan than recent polls of overall approval, which generally have close to 90% of Republicans approving and only a somewhat smaller percentage of Democrats disapproving.

It will be very interesting to see what the first post-hurricane poll of general job approval shows. There may be some breaking of the partisan lens, but it remains to be seen whether that applies only to this extraordinary event, or is a broader phenomenon. If it is broader, it is a bad sign for Bush.

Note: The source I used may be unavailable shortly, as Gallup apparently makes the analysis of its polls available for only around 24 hours. Thanks to Paul Brewer for the pointer. Also recommended is the analysis by Mystery Pollster.

The partisan lens: Diminishing in voters’ assessment of Bush on Katrina?

There are two primary means by which citizens might assess blame for what almost everyone seems to agree was an inadequate on-the-ground response to the disaster at the Gulf Coast:

1. The president is responsible and should be blamed for not acting faster and more decisively as soon as the scale of the storm was known;

2. Nature is responsible; the scale of this disaster was simply too unprecedented.

I have been thinking about this matter since reading two posts this morning—one by California Yankee on a new poll gauging public opinion so far, the other by Poliblogger, spelling out the case for the “nature” position.

In the ABC/Washington Post poll regarding Hurricane Katrina, nearly 3/4 of Republicans approve of the president’s performance in the disaster, while around 70% of Democrats do not.

This looks like a clear partisan divide, and it is. And one could interpret it as saying Democrats balme the president, while Republicans blame nature. But when put in a broader context, it is clear that nature has trumped partisanship at least to some extent.

Compared to the correlation of partisan affiliation with assessments of the president overall, or of his handling of Iraq, this poll result actually shows a decrease in the extent to which the partisan lens is being used to view the response to this crisis.

That could be a very bad sign for Bush.
In the most recent ABC/Washington Post poll (August 28; see note below) of overall presidential approval, Republicans support him 87-12. But on Katrina, it is 74-22. His gains among Democrats in assessment of handling the hurricane are not as strong as his losses among Republicans. Democrats overall approved 13-84 in the August 28 poll, but on Katrina they approve 17-71. In other words, comparing the two polls, among Republicans his approval drops 13 points and disapproval rises 10 points, but among Democrats approval rises only 4 points even while disapproval drops 13 points.

So, has the hurricane broken the partisan-ship loose from its moorings?

Or is this just a blip (or even a statistical anomaly of comparing two different polls)?

[Note: The link for the ABC/WashPost poll of August 28 takes you to a page that is dated July 29, but from the context (i.e. references to Cindy Sheehan) that is clearly wrong. The PDF link at the bottom of the page takes you to a detailed summary of the poll with the correct date.]