Punditry: No Rationale Necessary
They get a news-cycle jump on us, over the Pond, because they get up quite a bit earlier (the Sun’s orbiting the Earth, and all), so this commentary from Damian Thompson was among the first things on my reading list, this morning. I’m still not able to figure out what he’s implying:
The reported murder of the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, on September 11 is a crude and sickening attempt by Islamists to disturb the internal peace of the United States in a such a way as to throw its election process into disarray. And it seems to be working. …
This bickering is more proof, as if any were needed, that American politics is not only disastrously divided but opportunistic. As the Islamists know perfectly well.
Is it just that the British Thompson doesn’t understand how divisive and contentious presidential campaigns have become in the United States? We get days of media attention on the prankish swagger of Mitt Romney as a teenager. A nation whose press is that frivolous doesn’t seem to have much of what Thompson calls “internal peace” to begin with.
Much more importantly, though, I’m not understanding what he thinks the Islamists hope to gain, if they are indeed attempting to “throw the election process into disarray.” Is he saying that Obama was doing well or poorly? Does he think the Islamists feel that Obama has been a threat or a cream puff? If the former, do they think America will oust him out of intimidated fear? If the latter, do they think America will shy from ousting him because they fear a more militant Romney in the face of embassy attacks?
Not to make light of a very serious topic, but it’s as if Thompson imagines the terrorists’ emulating this scene from The Princess Bride.
With all these conflicting questions clearly implied but not addressed in Thompson’s article, it’s difficult to read his point otherwise than as: “This looks like it will hurt Obama’s electoral chances, and I’m not sure I like that.”
The Priorities of the Unions
An interesting retrospective about public-sector unions includes a paragraph that rings very true:
By the end of the 1970s, the budgetary burdens imposed by public unions had helped revive conservative movements, leading to the elections of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Undeterred, William Clay told the Professional Air Traffic Controllers at Patco’s 1980 convention to “revise your political thinking. It should start with the premise that you have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests. It must be selfish and pragmatic.” He told them to “learn the rules of the game,” which were “that you don’t put the interest of any other group ahead of your own. What’s good for the federal employees must be interpreted as being good for the nation.” The take-no-prisoners message helps explain why President Reagan fired and replaced the striking controllers, and why the public overwhelmingly supported him.
One immediately applicable restatement is that what’s good for the teachers’ unions must be interpreted as being good for the schools, and the students. That is clearly not the case, but knowing that it is an essential part of organizers’ philosophy helps to explain their activities.
The Convenient Definition of “Stimulus”
I was mentally preparing to make a point about Ezra Klein’s interview with Time Magazine correspondent Michael Grunwald when Klein made it himself:
That gets to a conservative critique of the stimulus that I think is right: The Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress really did use the stimulus to invest in absolutely every program and priority that they could think of. In that way, part of it was a kind of Democratic wish list bill that came in under the guise and urgency of responding to the economic crisis.
That’s exactly right, but it’s only one side that thinks it’s a problem. The reason gets to the heart of why the general public should be very suspicious of modern interpretations of Keynesian economics.
The idea that believers insist upon is that it doesn’t much matter what money is spent on, during a downturn, as long as it’s spent. That’s extremely convenient for people wishing to give money to friends and impose new agendas. Which, again, should make the public very suspicious of such prescriptions.
Relativist literary critic Stanley Fish has been making much of his friendship with conservative professor Dinesh D’Souza since at least as long as I’ve been out of high school. Their relationship is of renewed interest to the mainstream, now that D’Souza has produced a wildly successful documentary about President Obama’s anti-colonialist roots.
Cornell Professor William Jacobson, of Barrington, Rhode Island, highlights an interesting parenthetical note in Fish’s latest example:
(Postscript: Our entry into the restaurant, in the heart of Greenwich Village, was delayed when people on the street recognized D’Souza and asked if he would pose for a picture with them.)
As Jacobson says, “When Dinesh D’Souza is stopped by passersby for a photograph in Greenwich Village,” something is happening on the political landscape that isn’t quite being captured through the usual investigatory channels.
The Narrative of Rhode Island CD1
Having arrived on the topic, I’ll close with the political narratives of mainstream media.
Dan Yorke spent the better part of his 630 WPRO early-afternoon show criticizing the Congressional campaign of Republican Brendan Doherty for splashing on the scene, the day after the primaries, with a reminder that incumbent David Cicilline’s record on honesty hasn’t been the greatest. In Yorke’s view, the move was nothing more than picking up the rhetorical flag that Democrat contender Anthony Gemma carried to stinging defeat just yesterday.
Be the policy differences what they may, I strenuously disagree with that analysis.
It has long been clear that Cicilline’s best hope for reelection was to (1) have a primary in which the theme would be that (2) only he could defeat Doherty and keep the seat in Democrat hands, and then (3) declare that Cicilline’s greatest liability (personal character and honesty) had been proven a non-issue in the primaries. (Pause for a moment to appreciate the sheer chutzpah required to rely on the strength of the partisan opponent in the race, whose advantage was to a great extent a result of the incumbent’s tremendous weakness, in order to insist that nobody but the very same incumbent could win.)
With this obvious feint in the offing (and with the clear inclination of the local media to play along), it wasn’t just acceptable for Doherty to grab for the news cycle with a reminder of why his opponent is vulnerable in the first place. It was intelligent — even brave. The fact that Cicilline’s Democrat primary opponent botched things so badly does not mean that he thereby destroyed the best weapon against the incumbent.
The results from the primary strengthen the point when compared with 2010.
Yes, Cicilline gained 8,983 votes, this time around, and despite the smaller field, Gemma only increased his vote count by 1,533. But in the 2010 Democrat primary for the same Congressional seat, Providence progressive David Segal took 11,397, and party chairman Bill Lynch took 11,161. Given the dynamics of the race, almost all of those 22,558 votes should have gone to Cicilline.
There were two significant diversions of votes. The first was the 3,693 total taken by Chris Young, who (if anything) is to the political right of Doherty. The second was that 8,349 fewer Democrats cared to participate (including unaffiliateds who voted as Democrats).
The picture gets worse for Cicilline when one looks at Providence. There, Cicilline’s numerical vote total increased by a much smaller percentage (42.5% districtwide versus 28.4% in the capital). And, moreover, the number of voters overall dropped more than for the whole district (14.7% for the district, 20.3% for the city).
Granted, voter turnout was down overall. The Board of Elections told me, this afternoon, that 2012 turnout of 12.2% of voters compared with 18.1% in 2010 — in both parties’ primaries and across the whole state. Granted, fewer statewide races were on the ballot, this time around, but this is, after all, a presidential year, with the local candidates nationalizing the issues.
Still, in this campaign in 2010, the pool of voters in the general election was 2.8 times the pool of voters in the Democrat primary. And Cicilline only beat Republican John Loughlin by 9,727. Fully 7,506 of that vote margin came from Providence.
Putting it all together, this primary season, Cicilline made greater gains among Democrats outside of Providence than inside, and voter participation, while dropping overall, dropped more in the city. Meanwhile, in his last contest against a Republican challenger, Cicilline relied very heavily on his hometown support.