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Fri May 22, 2015 at 06:34 AM PDT

Celebrating budget shortfalls

by ericf

For the benefit of a national audience, Minnesota's Republicans won the state house in 2014. The Democrats hold the senate and we have a Democratic governor. The legislative session just ended stalemated on several issues including tax cuts. We're projected to have a $1.9 billion surplus. Cross-posted at MN Progressive Project.

There's some schadenfreude to be sure in the self-inflicted problems some Republican state governments are having with budget shortfalls, but there's also a need to think and fact-check before speaking it aloud. Why start an "we told you so" sort of post with a "maybe not" sort of warning? Because as true as it is that Republicans caused some shortfalls with ill-advised but ideologically correct tax cuts, this is partly fallout from the precipitous decline in oil prices.

Plus it's not fun to think about the problem getting even worse and Republicans taking the opportunity to inflict even more dysfunction on government than they have already. From an AP review of state budgets:

Alaska relies heavily on oil revenue and projects a $3.2 billion budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year. A special legislative session has been called after lawmakers failed to agree on a way to fund the budget, even though the state has plenty of money in reserves to cover the gap.

That's not the case in Illinois, where lawmakers are trying to figure out how to close a $6 billion projected shortfall for the next fiscal year, due largely to the expiration of a temporary tax increase.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who campaigned against the tax plan, has suggested cuts to health care, local governments and other areas. But lawmakers in the Democratic-led General Assembly say spending cuts alone will not close the gap.

In Kansas, the Republican governor and GOP-dominated Legislature now confront budget deficits after aggressive tax cutting that prompted them to reduce school funding this spring.

Districts across the state have cut staff and programs such as summer school, and at least eight are ending the current school year early to save money.

Illinois, what were you thinking electing Gov. Ideologically Rigid Rich Guy With No Prior Political Experience? You just loved how that worked out in other states? Kansas has been the poster child of conservative ideologically correct upper income tax cuts, but Wisconsin got lucky the AP couldn't give more than a sample of states, since Wisconsin has its own shortfall roughly equal to its own conservative ideologically correct upper income tax cut. Minnesota's healthy condition missed getting a mention, with just Colorado and California serving as examples of fiscally healthy states, and the writer missed explicitly pointing out that states that raised taxes were doing better than those cutting, leaving it to readers to know that's what these states did.

Yes, tax increases at the top have made us better off, and getting to hear taxophobes scream is merely a bonus. Predictably, Minnesota's legislative Republicans want to inflict tax cuts for rich guys on us; even though their proposed tax cut is bigger than the projected surplus, part of which they propose to spend; even though the projections were made before a couple recent economic shocks, about which more in a bit; even though the surplus is just for this one biennium; even though tax cuts during surpluses blewback on us before. And of course, they want to do this despite seeing the readily avoidable problems other states inflicted on themselves.

Why the note of warning at the beginning about checking before saying "we told you so"? Not every shortfall was caused by tax cuts, or at least not recent tax cuts. States dependent on revenue from oil production have been hammered by the sharp drop in oil prices. The article mentions Alaska, but it could have mentioned North Dakota, and oil prices being something state governments don't control, no one can really claim to have told them so except maybe in the sense that liberals generally think dependence on just one tax is a dangerous idea. If some economic shock affects your one revenue source, the cash flow stops like your oil stops when the pipeline bursts (actually, the literal oil just stops for you, whereas for those near the pipeline break...). Minnesota has a diversified economy and tax system, which is good since we're getting hit by a couple non-self-inflicted shocks ourselves.

Minnesota doesn't have oil, but we do produce a lot of iron, or did. Some deflation of China's construction bubble has caused a sharp drop in demand for steel, and steel producers had built up inventory that they now can't sell, which means they don't need any more iron, which sucks if you mine iron. Thus the closure of iron mines in Minnesota's northeast. I don't know how big iron mining is compared to the whole state economy, so the effect on the state government's revenues might be small ... but it can't be good. Likewise an avian flu is devastating the turkey industry. Minnesota is the country's biggest turkey producer, but I don't know how big turkeys are in the Minnesota economy. So again, the effect could be small, but it can't be good; thus why I like to stress the "projected" regarding the projected surplus. We may have more in common with the oil patch than we'd like.

I can't say my heart broke when our divided government couldn't agree on what to do with the surplus and left an estimated billion sitting there when the legislative session ended. If the surplus materializes, that cushion will be nice should the economy weaken. I hope Gov. Dayton wins on establishing universal pre-k, because education is always a good investment and the achievement gap is best attacked early on, but if we can't have that, sticking the surplus in the treasury is a nice consolation prize. If only our MNGOP legislators could learn from history and experience about the effect of conservative fiscal policies, because then they ... well, I guess then they wouldn't be Republicans.

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Is this a ten-year-old acting tough on the playground, or an actual US senator seeking a major party nomination for president? The latter, sad to say. Marco Rubio thinks quoting movie lines is the way to scare terrorists. h/t Salon:

Not that this necessarily hurts his chances of winning the Republican nomination. As the Salon writer put it:

This is precisely the sort of dick-swinging swagger that conservatives loved (and still love) about George W. Bush. (When W. landed on the aircraft carrier to declare “Mission Accomplished,” G. Gordon Liddy was awestruck over how he could see Bush’s penis through his parachute harness.) The fact said swagger resulted in a decade-long foreign policy disaster that we’ll be struggling to clean up for many long years to come is secondary to the fact that the world knew that Bush was tough and would hit people really hard if they looked at America cross-wise. “Bring ‘em on,” Bush famously declared, channeling his inner action hero and taunting the enemies of America to just try and test our resolve.
Fear not that this is a one-off, nor be surprised that someone so seemingly simple-minded might also tweet this, with a hat tip to another Salon writer:

I wonder if ran that past any Indians before hitting the tweet button? I more wonder if he really believes that spreading freedom came with territorial expansion just by coincidence, or if he's appealing hidebound patriots and figures saying something like that will help him?

Or maybe this is believed by Rubio's billionaire, Norman Braman, and is therefore obligatory if he wants the cash to keep flowing. WHat, you didn't know Rubio has a billionaire? Every Republican candidate needs a billionaire. It's like having a logo or slogan, or a campaign manager or a political sugar daddy. Wait, it is having a political sugar daddy, and Rubio has pretty much set up housing in Braman's pocket.

However he got there, Rubio's understanding of foreign policy and national defense is so shallow, he couldn't even handle softball questions on Fox that surely even he knew were coming. "Well, based on what we know now, a lot of things -- based on what we know now, I wouldn't have, you know, thought Manny Pacquiao was going to beat in -- in that fight a couple of weeks ago." Yep, #ThisGuyWantsToBePresident. Or as Josh Marshall put it:

There are so many things going on here: one is the deep, unresolved specter of the Iraq War looming over the Republican party, notwithstanding what seemed like a rapid fire consensus last week that it was a bad idea; another is the fact that Marco Rubio just doesn't seem like the most cognitively dexterous contender for the Republican nomination.
What Marshall forgets is Rubio is seeking the votes of the same people who picked George W. Bush and now keep Jeb Bush near the top of the polls; "doesn't seem like the most cognitively dexterous contender" is a selling point.
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Artist's conception. Not actually a Republican primary voter
Artist's conception. Not actually a Republican priary voter
So this is a bit scary. From a poll of likely Republican primary voters, and consider these are the people picking a major party candidate:
q23 Do you think that the Government is trying to take over Texas or not?
The Government is trying to take over Texas 32%
The Government is not trying to take over Texas  40%
Not sure 28%
How nice that a plurality could recognize stupidity. However, add the believers and the undecided, and 60% of Republicans believe it's somewhere between plausible and true that Jade Helm 15 is a cover for martial law or locking up the "patriots" in empty Walmarts. The only patriots locked up in Walmart are the workers locked in when their shifts are over but their managers want some free labor.

The PPP poll asked about presidential candidates and the results will affect #ThisGuyWantsToBePresident, but first, a slight tangent related to Jade Helm 15. A different poll had an unexpected result:

The Rasmussen survey found that particular concern was partisan: 50 percent of conservatives believed military training exercises would lead to greater federal control of some states. By contrast, 67 percent of liberals and 58 percent of those who identified as moderates said they weren't concerned, according to the survey.
That's right, you're not seeing things. Liberals trust the armed forces more than conservatives do. This is foolish when there were troops in the streets of Minneapolis just today. I saw them! Are they seizing my guns? Are they planning to lock us up? Are they ... having lunch in the same restaurant I am ... oh. Right, Fort Snelling is close by. Never mind.

OK, enough laughing at the loonies and back to how the PPP poll affects #ThisGuyWantsToBePresident. The beginning idea is that by the time we know who the Republican candidate will be, the foibles of early 2015 will have gone down the memory hole no matter how relevant. So the hashtag can be searched on Twitter (and maybe Facebook to some degree) and the hashtag or the title can be searched here. Since the candidate could be anyone being talked about in national media, the idea was to just track them all. That seemed more plausible when there were fewer of them, but Rachel Maddow the other night counted 20 that are either officially running, unofficially running, or making "look at me!" noises and are too plausible as candidates to be blown off. I won't speak for anyone else, but I give in. I can't follow that many. Time to cull the sprouts, much earlier than planned, but I still don't want to rely on my own sense that "no way this guy is going to win". I want some data, and that linked PPP poll is rich in it.

PPP has the favorability for a load of definite and possible candidates, and almost all are net positive. With tons, literally, of candidates Republicans like, I'm inferring that the ones they don't like might as well not run. They're not going to win. Chris Christie, for example:
Q3 Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Chris Christie?
....................................Favorable 31%
....................................Unfavorable 52%
....................................Not sure 17%
Christie has been fun as "bridgegate" blows up in his face and now he has some questionable expenses, but it looks so unlikely that he'll win that isn't worthwhile including him as a "this guy wants to be president". Anyone who wants to keep on top of him can certainly justify it on the grounds that he's still governor. It happens that he stands for reelection in 2017, which means the winner will preside over New Jersey's redistricting in 2021. Yes, we start electing the people who will decide the next redistricting already in 2017. As I explained in detail in my Moneyball posts, beating GOP gerrymandering will require winning partial control of the governments of bigger states so we can block GOP gerrymanders, and New Jersey is a big state. Democrats do need to care who wins that race (and likewise Virginia, which is big and holds elections in 2017) and certainly need already to solve by then the non-presidential year turnout problem, at least in those two states, but I'm regarding the guy who yells at teachers for a hobby as no longer worth the time (guess I couldn't resist one more shot).

Chris Christie is the first cut, and the second is Lindsey Graham, who is 19% positive to 31% negative. You'd think someone on a Sunday beltway interview show every bloody week would have his fill of attention, but anyway, his "someone look at me!" campaign is going nowhere and he'll shortly be back to responding to every question, "we need to bomb their main facilities before it's too late." Um, Senator, the question was what to do with our deteriorated railroad infrastructure. "So?"

The next net-negative candidate is George Pataki, 13%-24%. If you're trying to remember where you heard that name, you see his problem. 64% had no opinion, which might give him some tiny hope. He was governor of New York during 911, spoke at the RNC in NYC in 2004, and vanished, which presumably explains why he's running --- less for president, and more for relevancy, and his 64% no opinion in the poll gives him a tiny hope. He might be the only politician I ever trolled on Twitter, though since he was trying to troll Hillary's announcement by saying something pointless, I won't feel bad about it.

It's apparent from his tweets that he's really running for president, and apparent from the polls that there isn't much point. But he might be fun if he gets into contention.

One more maybe candidate was negative, Donald Trump, 37%-43%. Gives me hope for Republicans. Maybe they see through the ultimate "someone look at me!" candidate. He has talked for how many election cycles now about running? Despite his assurances no one can solve our country's problems but him, he never runs. He's not worth our attention anymore either, subject to revision should he actually run and poll decently, though I suppose it's apparent I expect neither.

PPP polled Democratic primary voters too, and found Hillary Clinton still blows away the field. Bernie Sanders would be the frontrunner among those declared or likely if Hillary for some reason decided to drop out, though presumably other candidates would jump in. Only Hillary and Bernie (am I the only one who feels like I'm being overfamiliar by calling candidates by their first names, even though they prefer it?) were net positive among those declared or likely, though Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden were heavily positive --- and they're not running, so not sure what the point was of asking.

One weird thing. Among Republican candidates, Emily Farris was 3% positive to 20% negative. Don't know who she is? Don't feel dumb like I did for not knowing. I had to look her up, and she's a political science professor in Austin, TX, who teaches survey research and told PPP they could use her as a test question. They wanted to look at poll respondents giving an opinion on someone they hadn't heard of. I'm not concerned abut 3% being positive about some candidate they never heard of because maybe they just don't want to say something mean about someone they don't know. The 20% unfavorable though, what were they thinking about? They didn't test Democrats so we can't say it's just Republicans who would do that. I've had Democrats admit that they picked a candidate at random in a primary where they didn't know any of the candidates, so don't get cocky we would have been an smarter. To indulge in speculation about why 20% were negative about this woman they never heard of, I recall in 2012 Michele Bachmann being told by some of her fundamentalist Christian base that as much as they loved everything she said, they wouldn't vote for her because women shouldn't be in charge of men. So my guess is part of the GOP base still won't vote for a woman, any woman. Hmm, I wonder if that's an insight into why Hillary drives conservative men so nuts?

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Guess I was wrong. I figured when Jeb Bush said, "What you need to know is that who I listen to when I need advice on the Middle East is George W. Bush," that was as disqualifying a statement as any candidate for public office ever uttered. Forget president: were Bush a candidate for county board, or city council, or soil district commissioner said something like that, you'd assume his judgment was far too suspect to allow him to be further considered. But nope. Turns out Bush could come up with something even worse to say.

Oddly enough, Fox News gave him his, um, opportunity. Bush said, "I would have," which is harmful given the question he was answering. "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?" Naturally, we on the Democratic side will be bringing that up more than once. Republicans will have to choose between acknowledging the reality of arguably the single biggest blunder in US foreign policy history, or playing to a base that insists in telling itself that the war went just fine until Obama screwed it up by pulling out (in compliance with the status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government, mostly negotiated under Bush's brother, but never mind the little point that the Iraqi government wanted us out).

If Bush does go for the "I thought the question was given what we knew then" spin, that's not necessarily better given how we learned too late just how much knowledge the Bush administration withheld from Congress and the press. That begs the question, just who is the "we" in "what we knew"? What the Bush administration really knew, or the parts it told us about?

UPDATE: Apparently, Bush is going to go for claiming he misunderstood the question. Though lest he be accused of admitting a mistake, "Yeah, I don't know what that decision would've been". And wasn't the surge great? Chris Christie gave a sense of where BUsh's intraparty opponents might go. Having the sense to say he wouldn't invade knowing what we know now, Christie felt the need to bow to stupidity:

Christie said that he believed former President George W. Bush did make "the best decision he could at the time" given the information coming from the U.S. intelligence community and the situation on the ground in Iraq.
Sure, if you're willing to forget Bush ignored all the information that didn't fit the pre-determined conclusion, which unfortunately was most of the intelligence. But let's blame the intelligence agencies for that I guess. And let's pretend Democrats would have done the same thing: "And so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got." Hillary owned up to the mistake, albeit not until well into the 2008 campaign and it cost her the presidency IMHO, and does anyone take seriously the notion she would have invaded Iraq had she been president after 911? Or any Democrat? "Almost everybody" doesn't include most congressional Democrats, who figured it out even with the limited and often wrong information Bush provided. So no, Bush and Bush and bushies and other Republicans, you own the invasion and occupation of Iraq with all the consequences.
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Republican presidential candidates should have known they would be asked about Jade Helm 15, the military exercise in several southwestern states that has the nutty wing of the Republican Party, affectionately known these days as "the Republican Party", thinking the federal government is sneakily establishing martial law, complete with locking up all the "patriots" and taking away everyone's guns. The tin foil hatters were validated in their fear by new Texas Gov. Greg Abbott who showed that former Gov. Rick Perry was the smart one (please don't tell me if Perry weighed in equally stupidly)(actually, yes, that would be fun, do tell me).

So given a chance to be the Texas Republican who retains a connection to reality, Sen. Ted Cruz chose instead to remember the base he's playing to:

Cruz was more plugged in. "I have a great deal of faith and confidence in Governor Abbott," said the senator. "He is a long-time friend and mentor of mine. You know, I understand a lot of the concerns raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm. It's a question I'm getting a lot. And I think part of the reason is we have seen, for six years, a federal government disrespecting the liberty of the citizens. That produces fear, when you see a government that is attacking our free speech rights, or Second Amendment rights, or religious liberty rights. That produces distrust."
You know what else produces distrust? Demagogic politicians telling reality-detached people their paranoid fantasies are true. Worth a read, Paul Krugman wonders what Democratic politician would give credence to something so crazy, and notices intelligent conservatives indulging paranoia in other areas: Paranoia Strikes Derp.

UPDATE: Well, turns out Perry went off in his own direction. He disagreed with his successor, but not because his successor is giving credence to paranoid delusion. No, Perry just thinks it's wrong to question the military.  "It’s OK to question your government. I do it on a regular basis. But the military is something else. Our military is quite trustworthy. The civilian leadership, you can always question that, but not the men and women in uniform."

Does Perry not get that the military is part of the government, and supposedly as open to questioning as any other part of the government? Can't there be a happy medium between believing the armed forces are out to impose martial law under guise of training, and saying you can't question them at all?

Artist's conception. Not actually Ben Carson
Artist's conception. Not actually Ben Carson
I'm not aware freshly officially declared candidate Ben Carson has jumped on that crazy train, but he has his own crazy railroad. Carson is running for president on the basis of being popular on the conservative speaking circuit, which popularity he gained by going on a wingnutty rant at a National Prayer Breakfast with President Obama in attendance. Speaking of which, why do presidents go to this thing when they aren't themselves on the theocratically ossified right? Carson fit right in; Obama, not so much. Salon writer Jim Newell accumulated a bunch of examples of Carson being himself, from saying Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery and worse than 911, to saying the solution to peace between Israel and Palestine is to move Palestine to Egypt, and prisons produce homosexuals.

If you want your sleep disturbed tonight, just ponder on the fact Carson used to be allowed to work on brains.

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Fri May 01, 2015 at 10:14 PM PDT

Thugs and messaging fail

by ericf

cross-posted at MN Progressive project

The Democratic Party of the my senate district recently started a book club with the intention of focusing on messaging and explaining Democratic values (no, you need not live in the district to attend). The first meeting discussed one of the preeminent books on the subject, Don't Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff. Always a worthwhile subject, made more timely by the riots in Baltimore and a huge messaging fail that's a prime example of the biggest way Democrats screw this up. Well, we said at the end of the book club we should think of some examples to add to what Lakoff provided. Might have been nice if subsequent events hadn't made it so easy.

Let me put it his way: President Obama spoke for about 15 minutes on the Baltimore riots and the context in which they occurred, but he used the word "thug", and nobody heard a single other word he said. Seriously, without digging up the video, name anything else he said. The president violated one of the rules of messaging, and the mayor of Baltimore committed the exact same violation. Never use your opponent's words. If you do want to dig up the video, I dug it up for you.

It's OK if you don't get "framing" and "messaging" to such an extent that you could explain them to someone else.  It's enough for most of us to learn some dos and don'ts, so you can at least recognize it when you hear it and avoid some mistakes. One of those don'ts is don't use your opponent's words because your opponent has likely chosen those words to build or activate the audiences' frames in a way that favor your opponent. You play into that by using the opponent's words. You don't have to get just what frame is being activated to be aware that when we hear the same word or phrase being used by Fox News, conservative talk radio, Republican politicians, and our conservative friends, it's on purpose. In this case, the word used over and over again is "thug". Even if you didn't get that "thug" was being used as a racial code word to make you think "black" when you hear "thug", the fact that it was repeated frequently should have told you it's a word to avoid. So what harm did the president and the mayor of Baltimore do?

Though "thug" has become a racial dogwhistle, a term used for terms that sound neutral but with a meaning only conservatives can hear, a lot of liberals have figured it out. There was an active pushback against the use of the word, not that the pushback has gone away, it never goes away entirely, but it was undermined when the president and the mayor used the word too to denounce rioters. What they thought they were saying was "violence is wrong", but what they actually said was "blacks are violent". No wonder the conservative bubble burst with joy, because the use of the disputed word by the president and, to a degree lesser but still significant, the mayor, who is also a black Democrat, validated what had been spewed all day on Fox News. How can you call us racist if your president uses the same word to describe black people acting violently?

Conservatives were engaging in deliberate conflation. That's a term which means putting two things together so your audience will assume an association. Admittedly I think it's just my term, or at least I don't recall Lakoff using it (pending a means of doing a keyword search in paper), so don't blame him if you don't like it. Conflation just means confusing one thing with another, but I'm using it to mean deliberately and repeatedly putting two things together to form an association which likely isn't there, or you wouldn't have to resort to it. You might put two things consistently in the same paragraph if not the same sentence. Conservatives put "thug" and "black" together, over and over, to activate a frame. Maybe verbally, or by using "thug" over video of black people. And this is not the only example of the technique I'll be pointing to.

What frame does "thug" activate? Unless you're new to America or you've lived under a rock, you know many (most?) whites think of blacks as violent and criminally inclined. Everyone understands "thug" to mean a violent person with criminal intent. By conflating "black" and "thug", conservatives activate that frame in the audience's mind. Arguing against a frame is really tough, and if it seems like stories on police violence toward unarmed black civilians don't sink in, and neither do statistics on blacks being arrested more often and getting stiffer sentences than whites, that's why. "Thug" fits the frame while blacks as victims doesn't. If you've wondered why it seems so natural to your conservative friends to send you links alleging criminal tendencies on the part of the victim, while it seems irrelevant to you when the victim wasn't engaging in criminal activity when they were attacked by police, that's why. Apparently your conservative friend thinks you'll agree the victim was to blame once you're reminded that blacks are criminals. Any conservatives reading this are probably feeling greatly offended now by the thought that they're being called racist, but they probably aren't even conscious of any of bias. It's the frame they start with. So every time we use their word, especially when a president uses it, but a little bit when any us do, we validate that frame.

If you want an alternative word, try "rioter". It's amazing to hear conservative pundits decry complaints "thug" is racist by proclaiming they have no other word to use for people who are rioting. Really, Dana Perino, when watching a riot, when talking about people who are rioting, you just can't come up with another noun for the participants?

If you're reaching for the dictionary definition of "thug" and you object to the word no longer being racially neutral, bad news: language evolves. Meaning and usage changes. Did you even notice I used "fail" as a noun in both the title and text? "Fail" isn't a noun. It's a verb; at least such was the case a few years ago. Now it's a noun with a subtly different usage than "failure". I admit being surprised the first time I found myself using it that way.

Some good news: I can offer a current example of a messaging success, in terms of obeying that rule to not use the other side's words. In his chapter "Framing 101", Lakoff used the example of the phrase "tax relief" to sell the Bush tax cuts, and Democrats at the time fell for it. Republicans in the Minnesota legislature are currently trying to use it to sell their proposal to cut taxes for rich people and I've seen some reporters covering the legislature repeat it, and of course getting the press to repeat your word choices like an objective phrase is part of successful messaging. However, the legislative DFLers haven't fallen for it. Kudos. I don't know if they fully grasp the framing, or just know not to use the Republicans' language, but I do know I haven't heard a DFL legislator say "tax relief". Lakoff explained that we need "relief" only if something is onerous, so putting "relief" after "tax" was a means of spreading the message that taxes are too high, and Democratic use made that seem like objective reality. Everybody dislikes paying taxes even when they recognize the necessity, and of course conservative propaganda has been anti-tax for decades, so the public was already carrying a frame that taxes are bad and we're taxed too much. The objective reality that Americans are more lightly taxed than they used to be or in comparison to other developed nations just bounced off because it didn't fit the frame.

An example of deliberate conflation Lakoff used, unsurprisingly since he was writing in 2004, was the sales campaign for the invasion of Iraq. War supporters put "911" close to "Iraq" with great frequency to embed the association in the audience's minds. Even when supporters didn't say something like, "Iraq was behind 911", they didn't have to. The proximity of the two words was enough to make it the frame through which the war was understood. Thus why it took years to get the public to understand there was no association --- the lack of connection didn't fit the frame.

Deliberate conflation was used again by Republicans after the 2008-2009 recession and financial crisis, and Democrats made two messaging mistakes to help them along. One mistake was once again using the other side's words, and the other was using jargon without explaining it. Unfortunately, these mistakes played a role in spreading what Paul Krugman recently dubbed "The austerity delusion". Republicans activated the frame we all carry that debt is immoral and dangerous by referring to the deficit whenever talking about rising unemployment, job losses, bank bailouts, or just anything to do with the economy that seemed to be plunging into the second Great Depression. Funny, they understood the need for fiscal stimulus when the president was Republican. At least Bush did since, credit where it's due, he signed the 2008 stimulus bill. It was too small  and inefficient, but the right idea. But suddenly when Obama is president, the deficit becomes the biggest problem. Democrats should have explained that the rise in the deficit was the result of our economic problems, not the cause, and in fact necessary to start recovering, but they didn't. Instead they chose to agree that the deficit was a terrible thing and had to be a priority, and look at how us Democrats are trying to restrain it. In other words, they validated the Republicans' conflation; in other other words, they reinforced the frame.

Democrats simultaneously made the jargon error, by talking about the need for a fiscal stimulus without remembering that few people besides economists had a clue what a "stimulus" was. They handed Republicans a prime opportunity to demonize the word, and demonize they did. "Stimulus" is now a word no politician dares use, except as an attack. Americans might have liked the "recovery act" as the eventual stimulus bill was referred to, but Republicans had succeeded in creating fear of deficits and opposition to the stimulus among people in desperate need of the job creation the stimulus and deficit would bring. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, actually well-named in messaging terms, was half the size economists said it needed to be, was too much tax cuts instead of spending, and it's been pulling teeth to get any more stimulus no matter how well aimed or badly needed. In fact, this last recession was the first one where the government actually cut jobs. In other words, the austerians had won the debate so thoroughly that we did mostly the opposite of what we needed to do. At least we had some stimulus and less austerity than we could have had. The Europeans went all in on austerity, and whereas we refer to the biggest recession since the Great Depression, they pretty much can just call it the Second Great Depression.

So again, there's no need to understand the theory to avoid pitfalls. To "don't use the other side's words", add "don't use jargon without explaining it", or to change that into a do, "do keep in mind the meanings others will attach to words". If you do that, you're more likely to remember that jargon has no meaning to a general audience. If you want to apply what you've learned, then in the case of "deficit", be aware that we're not framing the debate about the last recession. We're framing the debate for the next recession. Yes, that's awkward when bragging about how rapidly the budget deficit has fallen since 2009. On the one hand that's just the objective truth, it's politically beneficial to point it out, and undeniably fun to throw that in Republicans' faces when they repeat the false claim that the deficit is still shooting up. On the other hand, doing so plays into giving the deficit undue importance, and that will bite us the next time we need a stimulus. It might work if we follow up by making sure it's understood that the plunge of the deficit is the result of the improving economy, not the cause, like the rise of the deficit was the result of the bad economy and not the cause. Focusing on the deficit in a weak economy is like thinking you're curing your cold by wiping up your sneeze, but we'll never get that point across by nodding stupidly when some shallow person compares government spending to a family budget.

I suppose that adds one more don't. Don't indulge bad metaphors like a family budget, because now you're arguing within a misleading frame.


baseball and cash in baseball gloveDemocrats rely on a ground game more than Republicans. Or maybe we do more on the ground because we're better at it. I suspect ground game tactics are appealing because their cost is lower than advertising and we usually don't have as much money to throw around as our opponents. Maybe we knock on doors more because our urban and suburban base live in houses closer together and walkable. My doorknocking where houses were spread out certainly made me think about that. Whatever the case, this much I'm sure about: our reliance on a ground game makes it important that we do it efficiently. Since we know that the most effective tactic for increasing turnout is the face to face conversation at the door, and that dropping campaign literature without talking to anyone gets us almost nothing, we should be valuing the proportion of doors where we get conversations, and we should be unimpressed by the raw number of contacts.

Yet that's not what we're doing.

This is a follow-up to Applying Moneyball to political campaigns, which I posted roughly a week and a half ago. I explained the concept of moneyball in politics at length there, so if you happened to read that, feel free to skip these next couple paragraphs. For everyone else, here's the concept.

Moneyball is a book by Michael Lewis that could be about politics — though it’s actually about baseball. Broadly though, it’s about a contest where money is important, and the contestants have greatly varying amounts of it. That means the party with less money either loses, or finds the inefficiencies everyone else is missing. In baseball, that’s what the Oakland Athletics did while Lewis followed them during the 2002 season. They were willing to ask if they were measuring and valuing the right things. They challenged their experience and conventional wisdom with data. They used what statistics said were the best strategies. In the running argument between baseball insiders on one side, and outsiders who happened to be huge fans of both baseball and statistics of which baseball has many, Oakland was the first team to let the statisticians win the debates, and they found good players who were undervalued enough to be affordable. To see Democrats’ problem, replace “baseball” with “politics”, “Oakland A’s” with “Democrats”, and “New York Yankees” with “Republicans”. Basically, Republicans have a collection of crank billionaires who can engage in unlimited spending, and we don’t. They can throw money at problems and we can’t. So we need to find the inefficiencies.

So Democrats need to ask the same questions. Are we measuring and valuing the right things? Are we putting data ahead of experience and conventional wisdom? Are we acting on assumptions rather than knowledge and thereby pursing suboptimal strategies? To answer those questions, I asked what we value, and what we could value instead. The answers were coming on two levels, a macro level like taking back Congress, and a micro level, meaning the ground game where I spend much of my volunteer time. The first post was plenty long explaining the concepts without diving into the weeds of details, so I’m making separate macro and micro posts for detailed weediness. This is the micro post.

Though I said in the first paragraph that our campaigns our valuing the wrong thing by touting the total number of contacts, it's not a useless number. It's just that it's useful only in terms of working out the proportion of doors we knocked on that turned into conversations. Since we have the research to tell us that conversations at the door are easily the most effective tactic at increasing turnout, we should be trying to figure out how to doorknock in such a way as to maximize the conversations and minimize the unanswered doors. Instead, by valuing the sheer number of doors, we're actually pushing canvassers to do a poor job. That especially matters if we're paying canvassers. If they're evaluated on their performance by the number of doors they knocked on or the blocks they covered, then we're actually providing an incentive to avoid conversations. Even volunteers will pick up on this notion that they're doing a good job by walking more sheer blocks. Really though, if we don't talk to anyone at the door, but leave some campaign literature and move on, then we're getting no more impact than a lit drop, which is campaign jargon for leaving some literature at a door and moving on without trying to contact anyone inside, which is a tactic with a negligible increase in turnout.

If we properly value the sorts of contacts we have, then we're going to try to figure out the circumstances that get us the most conversations and fewest unanswered doors. As I thought it through, I realized I was asking campaigns to experiment, which means taking a risk that by ignoring what we think we know, we may do things in the less effective way, just to get a more valid experiment. Long term, that's what we have to do. Short term, well, do you want to be the candidate who loses by a five votes because you chose to work the less promising precinct just to get a more useful experiment? So I realize what I'm asking, yet I must point out that much of what we know, not "think", but know, is because some people have run campaigns in a way to have a better experiment. I'm as shocked as anyone that a candidate who gave great latitude to political scientists to experiment with his campaign was Rick Perry. Yes, former Texas Governor Rick Perry; and he did win, partly by having information on effective campaigning no one else had at the time.

A supposed contrast between baseball and politics is that baseball has this mass of data and politics doesn't, but that's wrong. I think I read that in Nate Silver's book The Signal and the Noise, but I'm not sure so don't quote me. It appears to make sense that baseball is more approachable by statistical analysis because every pitch is a whole set of data. For each pitch there's the pitch velocity, type of pitch, location, the count, swing or take, fair or foul ball, hit or out, and a bunch more. For politics there's nothing except polling, if you have enough polls ... except that's wrong.

Politics does have something similar, and this is what I really want us to think about: every door we knock on is a set of data. Knock on lots of doors, and we have loads of data, if we'll just collect it and use it. For each knock on a door, there is:
-the time of day
-the day of the week
-days until the election
-time the canvasser waits before leaving
-weather conditions
-partisan lean of the precinct
-number of prior contacts and unanswered attempts
-type of housing (single family, condo, apartment)
-and of course the main piece of data, whether the result was a conversation, refusal to speak, or no answer.

Any of us could no doubt think of more. I don't know which data are the ones that, if analyzed, would tell us how to maximize the proportion of doors that turn into conversations. I have a guess, but the point of experimenting is to not need to guess.* And that's just it: we can and should test all this. Suppose Mondays have a 20% response rate but Tuesdays have a 25% rate. One door in four or one door in five, so what? "So what" is that would mean 25% more conversations for the same number of doors on Tuesday over Monday. That adds up.

Here's a question we could answer with a pretty straightforward test: how long should we wait at the door after knocking? How long do we wait? I know that I just have my internal clock telling me when to give up and leave, but I don't actually know how long that is, or if that's the optimum time. I sometimes notice that when I'm working in a pair, my partner goes faster than I do. I also rarely have someone come to the door as I'm walking away. So am I just waiting too long, or is my faster partner missing a bunch of people opening the door after they've left? We could test this by having canvassers go out in a pair, with one person canvassing as normal, and the other just recording the time between the knock and when either the door is answered or the canvasser leaves, and recording how often the door was answered after the canvasser left. If we're getting an answer rate of only 20% which I think is pretty common, then missing a conversation by not waiting long enough is a significant loss. Waiting too long is a loss too since time is usually limited. So why are we out there just guessing?

I recognize there are factors that might limit our ability to use what we learned. If your campaign finds that you get a clearly better answer rate at 2PM Tuesday than other times, but your volunteers are available 11AM Saturday, I have a guess at when you're scheduling your doorknock. However, consider that volunteer time isn't the only time you need to be efficient with. If a campaign has paid staff, then presumably they can be sent out at 2PM Tuesday. Your candidate's time is also a finite resource, and candidates normally arrange their schedules around the needs of the campaign. Wouldn't it be really useful to know the optimum time to have the candidate on the doors?

I mentioned the risk that running an experiment might mean the canvass is done in a less than most effective manner for the sake of future campaigns, which might seem like a poor trade-off if this is YOUR election (though I reiterate that Rick Perry allowed experiments when his election, at least the primary, was in doubt). Another risk is that you'll experiment and find that nothing affects the answer rate, and it's all just noise. At least then, however, you can know that you can schedule only in terms of when volunteers are available, or when the candidate prefers to go out, without worrying you're being inefficient.

Just to acknowledge the nuances, notice I keep referring to increasing turnout. That was the subject of the research I'm aware of. It's for turnout that we want to maximize the conversations and minimize the non-answers. That might not apply to persuasion. My guess is it does, but I'm unaware if anyone has done such research, and that strikes me as a lot harder to measure than turnout. Maybe face to face conversations at the door aren't more effective at persuasion than phone calls or lit drops. I do find it plausible --- my guess is it's wrong, but it's plausible --- that literature dropped at the door can be persuasive in certain circumstances. Specifically, lit drops might work when the residents are already certain to vote, and the candidates are in downballot races where there voter is unlikely to have formed an opinion. I'm skeptical about anyone changing a presidential vote that way, but maybe a well-targeted lit drop could work for something like county board or city council, maybe even an obscure partisan race like state legislature. But as I said here, from what I could see, campaigns that relied on lit drops got nothing for it. Maybe they lit dropped too many non-voters.

Maybe. But the whole point of this exercise is that we have to find the inefficiencies to beat our better funded opponents. So don't we want to figure out what works, and get our campaigns to stop doing anything else?

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baseball and cash in baseball gloveGerrymandering isn't the only thing giving Republicans a guaranteed majority in the US House and a bunch of state legislatures, but it is most of it. Clearly, what Democrats have been doing to counter that isn't working. Time for a rethink, and here's what I thought: we don't need to win seats gerrymandered to be unwinnable, nor do we need to win complete control of state governments so we can do the gerrymandering (many Democrats have an ethical problem with gerrymandering anyway, so there's a bonus). We just need enough control in the right states to block Republicans from gerrymandering.

This is a follow-up to Applying Moneyball to political campaigns, which I posted a few days ago. I explained the concept of moneyball in politics at length there, but since it's unreasonable to require anyone to read that other post before continuing with this one, pardon the recap. I suppose if you read the prior post, you get to skip the next couple paragraphs.

Moneyball is a book by Michael Lewis that could be about politics --- though it's actually about baseball. Broadly though, it's about a contest where money is important, and the contestants have greatly varying amounts of it. That means the party with less money either loses, or finds the inefficiencies everyone else is missing. In baseball, that's what the Oakland Athletics did while Lewis followed them during the 2002 season. They were willing to ask if they were measuring and valuing the right things. They challenged their experience and conventional wisdom with data. They used what statistics said were the best strategies. In the running argument between baseball insiders on one side, and outsiders who happened to be huge fans of both baseball and statistics of which baseball has many, Oakland was the first team to let the statisticians win the debates, and they found good players who were undervalued enough to be affordable. To see Democrats' problem, replace "baseball" with "politics", "Oakland A's" with "Democrats", and "New York Yankees" with "Republicans". Basically, Republicans have a collection of crank billionaires who can engage in unlimited spending, and we don't. They can throw money at problems and we can't. So we need to find the inefficiencies.

So Democrats need to ask the same questions. Are we measuring and valuing the right things? Are we putting data ahead of experience and conventional wisdom? Are we acting on assumptions rather than knowledge and thereby pursing suboptimal strategies? To answer those questions, I asked what we value, and what we could value instead. The answers were coming on two levels, a macro level like taking back Congress, and a micro level, meaning the groundgame where I spend much of my volunteer time. The first post was plenty long explaining the concepts without diving into the weeds of details, so I'm making separate macro and micro posts for detailed weediness. This is the macro post.

What have we been valuing? Votes. Seems obvious enough when trying to win elections. Somehow though, there are times when getting the most votes isn't getting us the most seats. Apparently, instead of valuing votes, we should be valuing seats. Seats are the real goal. Votes are just the main way of getting them, but not the only way. The other factors I mentioned  were gerrymandering, voter suppression, partisan election officials, partisan judges, and election rules. Don't take the following focus on gerrymandering to mean I'm blowing off the rest. Of course they're important, or else we can't understand Florida 2000 where Al Gore won the election but George Bush become president. I'm focusing on gerrymandering because we're not making progress on that, which I suspect is partly because we have the wrong strategy, while Democrats generally understand the other problems. We don't always have the solutions, but at least we seem to be going in the right direction. I can think of opposing arguments to that last statement, but I've written about them before, and maybe again in a future post.

So when we comfort ourselves with having gotten the most votes, we're overvaluing votes, and undervaluing seats. What are these strategies for countering Republican gerrymandering that aren't working? Essentially there are three: 1. Rack up all the votes we can wherever we get them and hope they result in the most seats; 2. Make a big effort to win in districts gerrymandered to be safely Republican; 3. Try to win control of state governments so we can do our own gerrymandering. Strategy one turns out to have too inefficient a distribution of votes to work. Strategy two is very costly because of the money we have to pour in to move these districts the opposite of the way they're made to go, and maybe no amount of money would be enough, assuming we even have enough money to move enough districts, which is a questionable assumption. Strategy three is also expensive, and the Republicans need thwart us in only one house of the legislature, or just the governor in many states, to block a Democratic gerrymander.

Thus why I said at the top that we don't need to gain the ability to control redistricting, nor do we need to pound our heads against the wall of unwinnable seats. We just need to block the Republicans from being able to gerrymander, thereby forcing a non-partisan redistricting. That alone would make a whole bunch of seats winnable. Moreover, we don't need to do this in all states, but just enough big states.

Why just big states? It's not that I'm saying some states are more important that others, but, ... OK, I guess I am  saying that, but only in terms of drawing congressional districts. I can understand someone with the DLCC (Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee) thinking one legislative seat is the same as another since winning as many as possible is their job, but for redistricting Congress, they're not equally worth pursuing. It would be nice to win the legislature in North Dakota, but North Dakota has one at-large seat, so there's nothing to gerrymander. Compare that to Texas, which has 36 seats, and is carefully gerrymandered to help Republicans. Just blocking the GOP in Texas would flip some seats. Do the same in the other big states where the GOP was able to gerrymander, and we're a long way towards regaining the majority of the US House. Winning anything in Texas has proven difficult, but winning something is still a lot shorter hill to climb than winning complete control. Notice the strategy here: focus on winning seats that make it more likely we win other seats. Winning in small states just doesn't make progress toward undoing congressional gerrymandering. Trying to win in just some states, even though they're big, is a whole lot cheaper than trying to win in all states. Winning something in a state, however difficult it is, is a lot cheaper and doable than winning everything.

Hopefully no one in North Dakota took offense. You have every right to care unapologetically about your own state legislature, given that you have to live with the public policy that results. Grassroots activists can individually have the biggest effect in their own districts. And of course legislatures do more than just redistricting, though I must point out my suggested GOP-blocking strategy would also block the GOP from passing the horrible legislation they're inflicting on the states they control. I do get the desire to have complete control so as to pass progressive legislation, but keep in mind we're thinking for right now purely about redistricting, so accepting the blocking of the GOP and the forcing of a non-partisan redistricting is a perfectly acceptable outcome.

So how do we block the GOP? There are four places where we might be able to block: governor, the upper house, the lower house, and a non-partisan redistricting commission. I say "upper house" and "lower house" instead of just "legislature" because if you're doing a rethink, it helps to break everything down into small units just to make sure you're not missing something. As it happens, in pretty much every state, the houses of the legislature have different dynamics, like getting elected in different years or having dissimilar districts, or a history of control by different parties. The effect is one house may be much more winnable than the other, and since we're looking to be efficient with limited resources, it may be wasteful to go after just any seat whatsoever.

Then of course, there's the catch-22 that the legislature is often already gerrymandered to be Republican, so we have to flip it to stop gerrymandering, but we can't because it's gerrymandered. Trying to win governor seems obvious since whole states aren't gerrymandered, but that works only if the governor can veto a redistricting plan. Many can, but not all states let the governor have any say. What this means is, as we're trying to win gubernatorial elections, states aren't equal. Governors who aren't involved in redistricting don't help. Again, that's just for redistricting; there are no governorships that are bad to hold. They're just not equally worth limited resources. Among those who can veto a redistricting plan, just like state legislative seats, we want big states first. It might be hard to tell that to the DGA (Democratic Governors Association) because if you work for them, your first job is reelecting Democratic incumbents since they presumably paid in. Competitiveness is presumably the only criteria for getting into other races. For the rest of us though, governors are not all equally valuable. Remember the general strategy: identify and gain seats that can get us more seats.

Non-partisan commissions aren't common, and the only one I know of for sure is California. Interestingly, Democrats actually gained seats under the non-partisan plan. Putting commissions in place entails giving up the chance to do the gerrymandering, but they sure can block the Republicans even if we fail to hold any part of the state government. So maybe we should think about more of these. Getting state legislators to give up that power is presumably difficult, but some states have citizen initiatives, though as we've seen sometimes, when Republicans have control, they just overturn initiatives they don't like, so these commissions ought to be done via constitutional amendment. I suppose it could be done through statute, and then dare Republicans to run for election after making a blatant power grab, but can anyone recall voters punishing a party over how districts were drawn? Me neither.

There might be hesitancy to change long-standing strategies at the DGA, DLCC, DCCC, DNC, or Democratic leaning independent groups, but one thing is for sure: the Republicans have been thinking strategically. Their success in state legislatures in 2010 was partly the luck of a red wave, but they had positioned themselves by focusing on state legislatures. Democrats, remarkably for a redistricting year, paid scant attention. It's as if the strategic thinking we see in presidential years just gets tossed in midterms. Democrats revert to the same strategies that fail just about every time.

However, I don't think we're stuck merely hoping the Democratic acronyms get it figured out. We can push. And it's not like volunteer time and small donations mean nothing. Probably anyone reading a post where the word "redistricting" gets used repeatedly already knows how their state does it, but if you don't, find out. Remember that your time and money are resources to be deployed strategically. Hopefully the candidates on the Democratic ticket will work together but if not, pick who gets your help. If you can't take the lower house, then with apologies to the really good lower house candidate, you have to go help the upper house candidate. If you can't take either house, try to help win governor. Support a push for a non-partisan commission. Work at home and in adjoining districts of course, but if sending money to candidates elsewhere, be strategic in picking who you help.

And if you can, give some help to Democrats in Texas. If the GOP loses Texas, it's in multiple forms of trouble. Obviously a tough state for Democrats, but wow, the impact if we can do something there.

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baseball and cash in baseball gloveI recently read Moneyball, the Michael Lewis book that is ostensibly about baseball, but really is about politics. OK, it's really about baseball, specifically about the Oakland Athletics during the 2002 season. Broadly speaking however, it's about a contest where money is important, and the different parties in this contest have drastically different amounts to work with, forcing the side with much less money to either lose badly, or find the inefficiencies everyone else is missing. Oakland did the latter. If you're uninterested in baseball, I still suggest reading the beginning, and in your head replace "baseball" with "politics", "Oakland A's" with "Democrats", and "New York Yankees" with "Republicans", and some questions should come up. In a matchup of unequal financial resources, where the other side can just throw money at things and we can't, are we using our resources efficiently? Democrats actually tend to match Republicans in spending by party units, by candidates, and even by independent groups who have to report their spending and donations. The difference is in dark money, though we can't know by how much, which is the point of dark money. We simply don't have the Republicans' ample supply of crank billionaires willing to spend unlimited funds on their favored candidates and ideological crusades. They throw money at campaigns. We can't afford to.

Lewis said he started out looking into how a team that was consistently near the bottom in payroll was consistently contending. He coined the term "moneyball" to describe Oakland's approach to competing by finding players they could afford who were still good enough, and doing that required finding what other teams were missing. After the 2001 season, they were pushed hard when three star players signed big contracts with other teams including, of course, the Yankees. The Athletics' management did this by being willing to question what they believed, differentiate between knowledge and assumptions, trust data over experience, and ask if they were measuring and valuing the right things. If you think I'm leading up to a suggestion that our political campaigns are measuring and valuing the wrong things, yes. Though at least on Team Blue, it seems we value and use research more than baseball did. Just my impression, which is ironic since I'm suggesting less reliance on impressions. Anyway, we can do better, and it's not like I, and probably most readers, are unable to cite instances of people in campaigns stubbornly refusing to reconsider conventional wisdom and change established habits.

So yes, I'm thinking of ways we campaign where I suspect we value and measure the wrong things, so sometimes we lack data and sometimes use less than optimal strategies.

I'm going to give a couple examples from the book, admittedly at the risk of indulging the liking I have for baseball and the enjoyment I got learning about this stuff, but I think non-baseball fans will get this too, and I ask us to apply this same thinking to politics.

Something the Athletics chose to value was how often a player gets on base. Baseball is blessed to be followed by people enthusiastic about both baseball and statistics, who tried to tell the people who run professional baseball that the frequency of getting on base is the most important aspect of judging a player. Scouts did not agree, and Oakland was the first team to take the statisticians' side on this. Scouts didn't think much could be judged by a young player's numbers, especially at a high school level (they have a point, so Oakland looked more at college players, which scouts tended to ignore), so they didn't measure how often a player got on base. They measured foot speed, throwing distance, and judged whether a player had an athlete's body. Oakland had conflicts between scouts and the staff who applied statistics, who came to different conclusions about which players had potential. The statistics won, and Oakland didn't care what a player looked like, as long as he could get on base. Thus they found players overlooked by other teams and thereby affordable to the A's, and the A's were able to contend while spending roughly a third of what the Yankees were spending.

Similar conflicts arose regarding strategy. Statistically inclined fans calculated the odds of scoring a run given different combinations of outs and runners on base, and determined that certain long-standing assumptions were wrong, leading to self-defeating strategies, such as the sacrifice bunt. That's where the batter bunts the ball and signals the bunt to the defense, making himself an easy out at first. In exchange for giving up the out, the team at bat gets to advance a runner on first base to second, or second base to third. However, the odds of scoring with a runner on first and one out turned out to be higher than with a runner on second and two out. In other words, outs were being undervalued. The sacrifice is a good deal for the defense. Some managers still haven't come as far as fans in figuring this out, thus why the smattering of boos when the home team sacrifices.

So how about we ask similar questions about our campaigns? Are there analogous situations where we're measuring the wrong things? Refusing to use data which conflict with experience and conventional wisdom? Those of you who have been at this politics stuff a while are probably formulating examples already. As I thought about it, I realized I was thinking on two different scales, macro and micro, by which I mean the grand scale like national strategy, and down on the ground where we're pounding pavement. Campaigns entail a lot of factors that make it hard to tell exactly why we won or lost, which strategies help, but maybe we can get beyond merely taking our best guess, and having a strategy of "just do everything because we don't know what works".

To answer the question of whether we value that right things, I asked what it is that we value, and what potentially we could value. Getting into the details on either the macro or micro levels would make this post awfully long, let alone covering both, so my thinking now is I'm going to save the details for separate posts on each level. But I do want to share the general direction now.

On a macro level, we value getting votes --- yet getting the most votes isn't always getting our candidates into office. What we need isn't votes; what we need is seats. Votes are merely the main means of getting seats, and sometimes when we get the most votes, Republicans get the most seats. Probably many readers just remembered Florida 2000, when Al Gore won the election but somehow Bush Jr. got into the White House. I thought of that too, but I'm also thinking of 2012, when Democrats in aggregate got the most votes for Congress, but weren't even close to getting a majority of seats. The same happened in some state legislative chambers. Republicans got more seats with fewer votes. Apparently there are more ways to get seats than getting the most votes. What else might affect getting more seats? Might seem obvious, but let's think it through, because sometimes it's surprising what we find when we back up and think through what we think we already know. So, ways to get seats besides getting the most votes:


  • Gerrymandering: this is the big one, at least in terms of winning back Congress, and the macro post will focus on gerrymandering, but to put it briefly, we try to counter it by winning control of state governments and trying to win gerrymandered seats. But there might be a more efficient way to counter gerrymandering. We don't need to control states to allow us to gerrymander, which many Democrats have ethical problems with anyway. We need to gain partial control, of big enough states, to block Republican gerrymandering. I'm thinking that's both cheaper and more achievable.
  • Voter suppression: If you weren't reminded of Florida 2000 before, you probably just recollected the effect of a partisan state secretary of state purging tens of thousands of black voters from the registration rolls by falsely identifying them as felons. Democrats definitely have an ethical objection to suppressing Republican votes, but we have to block Republican suppression of likely Democratic voters. Keep in mind Republicans don't do this merely to be mean, but because it gets them more seats.
  • Partisan election officials: hard to separate from voter suppression since it usually requires election officials to act in a partisan way to suppress the other party's votes, but it's also about having people who want the machinery of government to work, and who value more people voting. Even just wanting to block Republican voter suppression rather than wanting to suppress their voters, which I expect no Democrat would be ethically OK with,  requires winning the elections for the officials that administer elections, or the officials that appoint those who administer elections. We don't have to stop a crooked secretary of state from wrongly purging voters off the registration rolls if we elect a secretary of state that won't do that.
  • Partisan judges: Republican were many years ahead of us in their focus on controlling the judiciary, and having partisans on the right benches has gained seats for them, the presidency in 2000 obviously being the big one. I don't want judges who will be partisan to Democrats because partisan judges erode the legitimacy of the judicial branch, but we sure have to block partisan Republicans.
  • Election rules: By this I mean how we hold elections, like instant runoff versus separate runoff versus plurality winner, or party primary versus jungle primary.

Again, I'm saving the dive into the weeds of details for a separate macro post, but do notice right now one thing: winning seats by these non-vote methods has proven cheap. The big one is Republicans gained the presidency in 2000 for the cost of winning a secretary of state election. Getting Republicans on the US Supreme Court gained Republicans a court that throws out campaign finance laws, gaining who knows how many elections so far or to come, which we have failed to counter by what we've tried so far.

On a micro level where, like probably most of you reading this, I spend my actual campaign time, I thought of the times I heard campaign staff or candidates boast of the numbers of doors their campaigns knocked on. However, we know that only the actual conversations really matter. So when we count just the doors knocked on, we're measuring the wrong thing. Since only the conversations matter, counting the doors where no one answered is useful only in terms of establishing a proportion of doors where we're getting the conversations. Yes, it's a potentially useful piece of data, but we're treating it like the goal. A supposed difference between baseball and politics is that baseball has loads of discrete bits of data while politics doesn't. That's true about baseball, where each pitch can be taken as a separate measurable unit. But it's true about politics too. Yes, it's hard to know if votes were won or lost from TV ads, posters, bumper stickers, or debates. But we do have a load of data available if we recognize that each voter contact is a measurable piece of data. Since knocking a door and getting no answer is no better than a lit drop, it seems we would want to analyze our doorknock data with the goal of maximizing the conversations and minimizing the unanswered knocks. Instead, by emphasizing the sheer number of doors, we're actually providing an incentive to do a poor job of doorknocking.

Doorknocking is where I spend most of my volunteer time, so that's the explanation of why my thoughts would go that way. There are a number of things about our doorknocks I question and as I'm pondering the post, even just in my head it's getting really long. Like a separate macro post, my intention is to have a separate micro post for a deep dive.

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I never thought we'd get to use this again when Mitt Romney dropped out of the 2016 presidential race:
Turns out we can, as long as we solve the problem of which 2016 candidate deserves it more. Rand Paul and Scott Walker are in a tight competition for the Romney Prize for Bizarre Position Changing. I doubt either can match Romney's ability to change positions on consecutive days, but they're making a valiant effort.

To start with Paul, he was asked to explain some position changes in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, and Paul really thought this was a valid reason for saying something different in the past than he's saying now: "I also wasn't campaigning for myself, I was campaigning to help my father at the time." Later on a similar question,  "Once again, before I was involved in politics for myself." I guess somehow that makes sense to Paul. Hannity let it slide.

That interview was obscured by the controversy over his interview on NBC's The Today Show, where he was a jerk towards interviewer Savannah Guthrie. He's been similarly boorish towards other female interviewers, but Paul excused himself on the grounds that he acts like that to male interviewers too. Um, I hate to you Mr. Sort-of-Doctor Sen Paul, but that's not better. "Complete jerk" is different than "patronizing chauvinist", but not actually better.

Scott Walker has been making flip-flops that seem like the old-fashioned practice of changing your politics to please the audience in front of you, which worked more often before the internet. Hat tip to Laura Clawson, who picked up on this Politico article from JR Ross of Ross showed Walker switching positions on sales taxes, immigration, abortion access, and he suddenly sounded friendly to ethanol subsidies in Iowa in contradiction to his prior opposition. He likewise changed positions on the need for stronger gun laws, being fine with them when representing a suburban district in the state legislature, but now that he want the votes of the gun nuts in the GOP base, not so much.

If you don't like Walker's position on something, just wait until you're in the audience, and he'll change it.

So which gets the Mittster? I decided "Romney Prize for Bizarre Position Changing" is a bit long to write over and over again.

Twitter users, remember the hashtag #ThisGuyWantsToBePresident

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Just so we're clear, the "troubles with the truth" in the headline aren't necessarily lies. There can be more subtle forms of obfuscation, denialism, and even inadvertent honesty.

Or just plain old refusing to check facts that are just too convenient to not use. I'm referring here to Marco Rubio, who claimed Obama refused to comment on the fraudulent election in Iran 2009 that ignited street protests in Tehran. Obama did comment. Rubio is just flat out wrong. My guess is he wasn't lying, but just repeating a talking point that was so good, it was best to not fact check it. Rubio is hardly the first. The Washington Post's fact checker has Rubio's statement and tracked the statements Obama made at the time, though he also did that thing that drives me nuts about fact-checking columns and sites, some of them anyway. They have to do their own twisting to find some way a false statement isn't completely false, or a true statement isn't completely true. In this case, Glenn Kessler gave Rubio just three Pinocchios instead of four (and why do fact checkers need the cutesy rating systems?) because Obama could have been stronger sooner, and Rubio would have had a point if he'd said something else. Fact checkers keep doing this. "The president didn't say that but looking only at part of what he said, the misquoting would have been close to what he was accused of saying, and the person making it up would have been close if he had said X instead of what he actually said, so it's therefore not completely false." Why is this so hard for not just Kessler, but other fact checkers too? Rubio said Obama said X. Obama didn't say X, so Rubio's statement is false. Rubio's staff tried to support their boss's claim by referring to something Obama said that was related to the topic but not what they claimed he said. They should get extra cutesy icons for bogusity.

Bobby Jindal actually got other Louisiana Republicans upset with him for his own act of bogusity. In a desperate attempt to keep his no-tax pledge while plugging massive budget holes, Jindal wants to eliminate $526 million in tax rebates that go to business. He didn't consult with anyone in Louisiana, but with Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). Jindal sought ATR's blessing first, and they decided that ending a tax rebate isn't a tax increase, much to the consternation of Louisiana business and Republicans. In pure policy terms, ending the rebate is probably a smart move, though I suppose being a liberal, I would think that ending a special tax break for some businesses when there's a budget shortfall is smart. However, the issue here is Jindal got some anti-tax fanatic in DC to approve his policy before asking anyone actually in his state, and his state's Republicans and businesses are ticked both at losing a rebate, and at losing it because some guy in DC makes up the rules by no discernible rationale. ATR decided to call ending the tax rebate a spending cut rather than a tax increase, which I intend to point out next time I'm arguing for ending a tax expenditure.

Of course, if that were a Democrat who wanted to end a tax expenditure rather than Norquist's presidentially ambitious buddy, there no doubt would be screaming about another "Democrat" tax increase. To be fair though, a bunch of conservatives in Louisiana aren't buying the definitions even from Jindal. Losing your own goodies from government will have that effect I guess.

Lindsey Graham says Al Gore is to blame for the inability of Republicans to address climate change. Why can't Republicans accept climate change and come up with a policy? "But the problem is Al Gore's turned this thing into religion." Oddly enough, though Graham is indulging in utter nonsense, he is accidentally telling a sort of truth. Republicans can't accept that climate change is real because a Democrat they hate has been prominent on the issue. Call it childish or tribalistic, but Graham is telling us where they are: Republicans can't accept it because that would mean agreeing with environmentalists. Whatever the ideological enemy believes must, by definition, be wrong.

It's ironic that Graham et al accuse Gore and environmentalists of making a religion of global warming when global warming realists are following the evidence, while deniers are holding tight to their beliefs without proof, or in this case despite proof. Yes, somebody is making a religion out of it, eh, Senator?

Ted Cruz would have us believe his musical tastes changed almost literally overnight. Cruz said he switched from classic rock to country because country responded better to 911. Just by coincidence, country is the preferred genre for the people Cruz is playing to in order to get elected. "I had an emotional reaction that said, 'these are my people.' So ever since 2001 I listen to country music." Right, the guy who didn't even want students from the "lesser ivies" joining his study group at Harvard is plain down home folks. This isn't to say he's lying because who knows what music he likes now or what he used to listen to. Or if someone does know him well enough to know he's lying, it's that person's word against Cruz, so we'll never know for sure. It can be said for sure that claiming musical taste changes on a dime is down low on the plausibility scale, and claiming that it just happened to change in the most politically convenient way pushes it down even further.

TPM posted the video of the interview, and what's rather scary is how the panelists, supposedly journalists trained to be skeptical, just nod in agreement. Not one "are you frikkin' kidding me?!" expression to be seen. Just nodding heads, as if these Beltway and NYC denizens had the same reaction. Sure, now here's a radio, show us where the country stations are.

Twitter users, remember the hashtag #ThisGuyWantsToBePresident

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Cross-posted at MN Progressive Project, with a bit of editing for a national audience.

Sen. Bob Menendez, indicted yesterday on bribery charges, has just been removed from the foreign relations committee. I have a guess at the next conspiracy theory to come out of conservative Obama Derangement Syndrome. My guess is they're going to claim the Justice Department is going after Menendez because of his opposition to Obama's negotiations with Iran and Cuba.

I can't pretend to be broken up about the prospect of losing Menendez, but the notion should be seen as silly on its face. First, the indictment seems pretty substantial. The text is here (anyone know how to make a Scribd embedding work?). I don't claim to know if there really is a quid pro quo as the indictment charges, or just two buddies doing favors for each other, and these buddies happen to be rich in one case and a senator in the other, but it's clear these aren't baseless allegations. Second, Menedez's replacement will be appointed by a Republican governor, so losing Menendez, much as he's no prize, does mean flipping the seat. If the DOJ was going to make up corruption charges to remove Obama's opponents, I assume they'd go after Republicans first, especially Republican senators whose replacements would be appointed by Democratic governors. Instead, they indicted a Democrat with a Republican appointing the replacement. So no, it makes no sense that Democrats would seek some bogus grounds to remove him.

One of my state's senators, Amy Klobuchar, is the "senator 1" in the indictment. She received a donation from co-defendant Salomon Melgen that Menendez apparently asked him to make, allegedly as a favor to Menendez. She's not accused of wrongdoing, but getting your colleague even mentioned in an indictment is a lousy way to endear yourself. Klobuchar returned the donation from Melgen, and a donation from Menendez. Returning someone's donation is an monetary way of saying, "keep away from me you useless *&^%$".

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