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Where did everything go wrong?

Just as my liberal friends are on a high, my conservative and libertarian friends are on a low, particularly in Minnesota.

In reality, we right-of-center folks shouldn’t be too depressed. If you look at elections as four-year cycles instead of two-year cycles, the electorate actually shifted to the right since 2006/2008. Most people seem to forget there’s a natural difference in turnout between midterm and presidential elections. So we should never compare the 2012 result with the 2010 result, we need to compare presidential elections with presidential elections, and midterm elections with midterm elections. So, between the midterm elections of 2006 and 2010, there was a dramatic shift to the Republicans. And, despite the fact Romney lost in 2012, Obama’s margin of victory was significantly smaller in 2012 than it was in 2008. Right now, just from a historic standpoint, the Republicans are favored to take the Senate in 2014, so all is not doom and gloom.

That said, the last six years of political history have shown us a Republican Party completely ill-equipped to discuss political issues in a realistic and compelling way, to win important elections, or to form winning coalitions to push policy (at least on the national level). The first step towards a cure is simple: fresh blood. The Republican Party is going through a long cycle where  one generation is being replaced by another, and this is always uncomfortable. It’s also necessary. The new political landscape is not one concerned about communism (here and abroad) nor are we talking about going to the moon anymore or whatever people worried about before Reagan. The conversation has changed, and new people are necessary to communicate not only that there are the “permanent things” of Russell Kirk, but that the permanent things are still permanent even in a secular world of irreligious people who spend a lot of time playing Angry Birds.

The second step is just understanding where we went wrong. Here are some of my ideas:

Forever War; one day the Republicans are openly criticising President Clinton for sending troops into the Balkans, and six years later Republicans are openly defending two major land wars in foreign countries. War is part of The Fall; war is unavoidable, but war does not need cheerleaders or blind allegiance. Conservatism should always be about a “return to normalcy” and not about revolutionary changes and nation-state experimentation.

 – Willingness to lose elections; the Tea Party is wrong.Losing is Losing. How losing became so popular, I will not understand. Losing on principle is still losing. I don’t care if it’s losing in Delaware, or losing in Michigan, or losing in Colorado. Picking a bad candidate over a good candidate because of, what in reality would be, a difference of a few votes each session is stupid. And stupid is the quickest way to losing. And losing is for losers.

Mexicans are our friends, immigration is good. Seriously. Becoming obsessed about what is in essence a bureaucratic issue (“hey, you forgot to put a cover letter on your application for a work visa”) may have permanently damaged conservatism in this country. Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic in the country because America is awesomer than the alternative. Our goal should be to keep America awesomer, not get freaked out about whatever it is about Mexicans the immigration-obsessed losers get freaked out about.

Gay Marriage; regardless of your particular view on the subject, gay marriage is the cause de jour of the Millenials. Using gay marriage as a GOTV tactic in the aughts was a mistake since the issue will be used the same way in the teens. Our best hope is for activist courts to strike down gay marriage bans so we can all get on with our lives.

Of course, I may be wrong.

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A Disaster for Education

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...

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Governor Walker’s union curtailment has become law:

“The monetary part of it is not the entire issue,” says Arnoldussen, a political independent who won a spot on the board in a nonpartisan election. Indeed, some of the most important improvements in Kaukauna’s outlook are because of the new limits on collective bargaining.

In the past, Kaukauna’s agreement with the teachers union required the school district to purchase health insurance coverage from something called WEA Trust — a company created by the Wisconsin teachers union. “It was in the collective bargaining agreement that we could only negotiate with them,” says Arnoldussen. “Well, you know what happens when you can only negotiate with one vendor.” This year, WEA Trust told Kaukauna that it would face a significant increase in premiums.

Now, the collective bargaining agreement is gone, and the school district is free to shop around for coverage. And all of a sudden, WEA Trust has changed its position. “With these changes, the schools could go out for bids, and lo and behold, WEA Trust said, ‘We can match the lowest bid,'” says Republican state Rep. Jim Steineke, who represents the area and supports the Walker changes. At least for the moment, Kaukauna is staying with WEA Trust, but saving substantial amounts of money.

Then there are work rules. “In the collective bargaining agreement, high school teachers only had to teach five periods a day, out of seven,” says Arnoldussen. “Now, they’re going to teach six.” In addition, the collective bargaining agreement specified that teachers had to be in the school 37 1/2 hours a week. Now, it will be 40 hours.

The changes mean Kaukauna can reduce the size of its classes — from 31 students to 26 students in high school and from 26 students to 23 students in elementary school. In addition, there will be more teacher time for one-on-one sessions with troubled students. Those changes would not have been possible without the much-maligned changes in collective bargaining.

Read the whole thing at the Washington Examiner and realize how utterly awful Republicans are.

From the Notebook

Cover of "American Assassin: A Thriller (...

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Lots of year-end house-cleaning to do here.

-Looks like an easy solution to the Vikings stadium issue is to permanently make Twin Cities Federal Stadium their permanent home. Making some small renovations to the field, like the addition of heating coils, and negotiating concessions and alcohol sales is a lot easier and cheaper than asking for $700-900 million for a new stadium or spending several hundred million renovating or rebuilding the Metrodome site.

– Larry Jacobs’ defense of the HHH/MPR/SCSU/MinnPost/Strib/Minnesota polls (for context, I suggest Mitch Berg’s series on the topic) is (or should be, anyway) embarassing. There is obviously a problem with these polls. The ability of other national polls to be more accurate at an earlier time is a good indication there is some systemic problem with the MPR/HHH and Strib Minnesota Polls.

Recount notes:

– I mentioned throughout the election that I felt Emmer was the weaker of the two MNGOP options to run for governor. Having seen a few thousand ballots now in the recount, I’m more confident of this assertion. I have seen a lot of undervotes for governor on otherwise straight-ticket GOP ballots. And I have seen a lot of Dayton votes in otherwise straight-ticket GOP ballots. These are very anomalous compared to what I saw in the Coleman/Franken recount. I did get to see a lot of split ticket ballots (Colin Peterson being the most common in both recounts, State Senator and former Douglas County Sheriff Bill Ingebritsen being a common split ticket vote getter this time around), but these ballots with votes for Byberg, Westrum or Franson, Ingebritsen, Severson, Barden, and Anderson then a vote for Dayton or a non-vote for governor have me convinced Emmer drove away people who would have voted for any other Republican. And there weren’t a few of these ballots. I saw more than a dozen in the 1000 or so ballots I got to see counted. (I wrote this the first day of the recount, on the second day I saw even more ballots and the pattern held.) And I bet reason #1 for this was Emmer’s DUIs.

– Something new this year, the election judges had the option to declare a challenge “frivolous” and skip sending those ballots to the state canvassing board. While there is a huge potential for abuse, it hasn’t been an issue in my area as the only challenged ballot was a real enigma. Some of my Republican recount volunteers were disappointed in me that I did not challenge a “Bugs Bunny” write-in on a Dayton ballot (one of the very few anamolies I saw). First, I was familiar with a similar issue from the 2008 Senatorial election and I knew how the MinnSupremeCourt ruled on the issue (thus the challenge would be futile) and second, the handout we got on the first day of the recount from the recount officials showed very clearly that they would declare challenging any writing in the write-in areas of the ballots to be frivolous.

-Thankfully, there were very very few problem ballots in this election. Off-year election voters are simply less likely to vote for “lizard people” or do other stuff with their ballots that would be questionable in a hand recount. Everything went smoothly. Emmer’s only hope was for a statewide “reconciliation” of ballots and signatures. Without that, the recount wasn’t going to make a difference.

Books Read:

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton. This novel was found on Crichton’s computer after his death. Unlike the last book he published when he was still alive (“Next”), this one was a simple plot with a small group of main characters. And thus, very pleasant to read. Steven Spielberg is said to be working on a movie. The most interesting part of the book was how true-to-life Crichton was trying to be, rather than other pirate stories that are well beyond what actually happened.

-Herodotus’ Histories (Books I&II). This is part of the Great Books ten-year reading program. Book I dealt mostly with the history of the Persians (and the Hellenes on the west coast of Turkey) and the various interactions thereof. Book II deals entirely with the Egyptians. This was really a joy to read. Herodotus was a writer for a popular audience.

-Prisoner of War Diary of Paul E. Lee Sr. (24 May 1944 to 29 April 1945). This short diary, about twenty pages, deals mostly with the day to day life of a POW. Lee was held as a prisoner for about a year by the Luftwaffe. He spent time in the American side of Stalag-Luft III (the place where the Brits staged their “great escape”). What was most interesting was the obsession with food (not surprising, but the last part of the diary had a page of food Lee intended to eat when he got back, and it makes a great guide for those looking for comfort food ideas). Also interesting was the number of “classes” that were taught. These POW camps, at least the officer camps, were practical universities. The diary was available from Lee’s daughter on eBay. It is no longer available. She put a copyright protection on the diary, so I can’t put anything up (yet).

-Revelations (The Bible). The most enigmatic book of the Bible is also the easiest read. I can see why fundamentalists love the book so much, I read the book in a single sitting. It was interesting, and taken out of context it’s subject can be applied to anything. (For example, are the Vikings the anti-Christ? they wear purple too.) Despite its many misuses, I like many of the passages of Revelations. It is the most literary book of the New Testament.

-Teaching Company Course: “Science Fiction: The Literature of Technological Imagination” by Professor Eric Rabkin (U of Mich). This was the equivalent of a 1-credit undergrad seminar. Rabkin avoided all of what we most commonly know as sci-fi and instead focused entirely on literary sci-fi and sci-fi origins. It is a very interesting course.

– American Assassin, Vince Flynn. The story of Mitch Rapp’s beginning. Like all of Flynn’s novels, there’s a lot of red meat here. A very fun diversion.

Election Redux

"The Third-Term Panic", by Thomas Na...

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– First, can I brag I predicted the vote totals for Tom Emmer and Tom Horner to within about ten thousand votes and one thousand votes, respectively? I was off by about 80,000 votes when it came to Dayton, mainly because I overestimated total turnout. Looks like a lot of voters who were around for 2002/2006 weren’t around for 2010 (about 100,000 or so, or about 4.5% drop in turnout).

– And yes, I did predict a Dayton victory. I calls them as I sees them.  I’m surprised at the failure of Severson and Anderson to win in the SOS/Auditor races. They both outperformed Emmer by a significant margin. I think it’s clear from the fact they lost that Tom Horner took slightly more DFL votes than GOP votes.

– For those wondering how the MNGOP could take both houses of the state legislature and still lose all the statewide races, you need to remember two things. First coattails don’t go down the ballot, sometimes they can go up. But mostly, summing averages does not deliver a real mean. Winning in a majority of small districts does not translate into statewide victory as you could barely win in a majority of those races, but lose by a substantial margin the rest of those races.

-Most polls accurately predicted Dayton’s final precentage. I saw polls from 40-44% with most around 44%. He got 43.7%. And, the pollsters also got Horner’s support total right, with a little more error there. What the pollsters had a hard time measuring was Emmer. Correction, the propaganda polls failed to measure Emmer’s support accruately. The MPR/Minnesota/Humphrey polls never got close. Rasmussen and PPP were the most accurate. PPP uses a large sample size while Rasmussen has a deal with evil corporations. For the most part, these elections vindicated the top pollsters.

– The results of these elections were surprisingly just. While a lot of Blue Dog Democrats who voted against healthcare lost, there are still plenty of them around. And, conservative Democrats (WV being a good example) who separated themselves from Obama did really well. The House dems lost a lot of leadership experience, including Jim Oberstar, which is a just result. I was worried that these elections would wipe out a generation of pro-life Democrats, and for the most part that didn’t happen.

The 2010 Train

I’ll be digging around exit polls for a while after this election, but a quick look at what’s available now shows, very clearly, this Republican wave has been built on two columns. The first column was a surprisingly high conservative turnout, the second was independent voters. Independent voters are a nuanced crowd, the economy being a big factor, another was simple anti-incumbancy, and there was dissatisfaction with Obama. Neither column is sturdy enough to carry the GOP through to 2012. And neither column has anything to do with the teapartiers (who are basically just already politically active middle classers). Please GOPers, don’t misread this elections like the Dems misread ’06/’08.

Polling Notes

I have buried myself in pulling as much information as I can about what we can expect in the general election next month. There are a lot of issues involved and there’s no way to cover everything except through chunking. Hopefully it’s not too disorganized.

-When it comes to midterm elections, there is a question of turnout. While about two thirds of eligible voters vote in presidential election years, only 30-40% show up in the midterm elections. That means 1 in 3 voters who regularly vote for president don’t vote in the midterms. The great GOTV (Get Out The Vote) revolution in the GOP was learning that those people can be pestered into voting, if you create solid lists and keep them up to date. The question is, does the GOP have the GOTV infrastructure they have enjoyed in the past (2000/2002/2004).

– All indications are the official GOP GOTV effort has been underfunded, underutilized, undermanned and completely forgotten this year. The general attitude has been that a big GOTV effort is unnecessary thanks to the enthusiasm (and enthusiasm gap) on the right combined with the spontaneous organizing provided by the teaparty movement. On the other hand, the left has maintained their GOTV infrastructure, they are investing heavily in it and they have a plan to continue face to face voter outreach up to election day.

-Anecdotally, I have seen fewer pieces of literature, less grassroots campaigning and overall less campaign work from local campaigns than I have seen in the past. But, there are also lots of yard signs up, about as many as I’m used to seeing.

-Polling and predicting voter turnout is tough. From what I’ve gathered, the best way to poll turnout is to ask about frustration. A frustrated opposition votes, frustrated supporters don’t. And a large plurality of people who supported Obama and the Dems in ’06 and ’08 are frustrated. So we can expect, despite the GOTV efforts from the left, voter turnout will favor the Republicans.

-I also predict overall turnout will be high. The highest midterm voter turnout was in 1982. Considering the economic similarity, I expect it is a good proxy. Reagan lost 27 Republican Congressmen in this election.

-It also important to know there is little or no “coat-tail” effect in politics. The guys on top of the ballot do not help those at the bottom. It’s just the opposite, the bottom helps the top tremendously. Who does this help? I don’t know. I think it helps the GOP.

-After looking at all this information, it’s clear it would take a geological shift to stop the Republicans for making tremendous gains everywhere. What kind of gains to expect in Minnesota? That’s something for another post.

Great Expectations

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There is an air of invincibility among the GOP faithful, and it’s not entirely displaced. Polls have the GOP picking up around 47 seats in the house and winning 7 or 8 seats in the Senate. The GOP will pickup at least 10 Governorships to the Dems‘ 3 and there are still 8 tossups. It looks as if nothing could be better for the Republicans.

But I think there is good reason to temper expectations.

The primary reason is that, no matter what the national trends are, there is still a real person in each district that a Republican has to beat. This person has already won at least one election in their district. If it is the typical Democrat in a swing district who beat a GOP incumbent in either 2006 or 2008, they are fairly conservative, a military veteran, pro-gun, socially conservative, voted against Obamacare, and has otherwise separated himself/herself from the Obama admin. They are probably sitting on a lot of cash and are prepared to make their election about personalities rather than allow it to be a referendum on Obama.

Don’t misunderstand, 2010 will still be a Republican year. But I don’t think it will be the slam dunk everyone thinks. Here are some other reasons I think the Dems will be tough to dislodge this year:

The “Enthusiasm Gap” will disappear. Yes, it is true that your average Democrat is not as likely to vote this year as your average Republican. However, I’ve already seen polls in Minnesota showing this trend has disappeared, and I would wager it is true nationwide. As November approaches, interest will pickup and regular voters will find their way to the polls.

– Registered Voters still prefer the Dems in generic ballot polls. It is important to look at polls for both Registered Voters (RV) and Likely Voters (LV)/ LV prefer the GOP but RV still prefer the Dems. If the voter turnout doesn’t go the way we all expect, these minor differences will result in several lost congressional seats.

The GOP doesn’t have the GOTV infrastructure the Dems do. 2006 and 2008 weren’t accidents. An unpopular foreign war and a tanking economy were the primary causes of the Dem takeover of government, but new GOTV tools favor the Dems. Socialnetworking and online media were really perfected by the Dems in 06/08 and the GOP hasn’t caught up. Not to mention the unions’ ability to get people to the polls. This is an area the GOP needs to invest in, and I’m not seeing it (but I am on the outside, so I don’t know for sure).

Bad GOP Candidates. Yeah. O’Donnell in Delaware, Angle in Nevada, Emmer in Minnesota, Palladino in New York. Because of the teaparty crowd there is a strict ideological expectation that will take a toll on the results for the GOP in November. Races that should be tossups are going to the Dems; races that should be GOP pickups are tossups. The relentless pursuit of ideology will cost the GOP at least two senate seats.

 I could be wrong.

New MPR/Humphrey Poll

This poll has Dayton 11 points up on Emmer and has Horner sitting at 16%. (38-27-16). This leaves 19% undecided and gives Dayton a 98+% pWP (political Win Probability). This matches closely the pWP total of the Strib poll (unadjusted for methodology). So, I would say it’s likely Dayton has gotten a bit of a bump (from what, I don’t know, but all the commentary is focused on Horner). However, I would also say it’s also likely both the Strib and the Humphrey Institute practice poor methodology in their polls.

Principle or Party?

Protestors at the Philadelphia Tea Party on Ap...

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The Tea Party movement has claimed victory over several GOP mainstays, including Rick Lazio in New york and Mike Castle in Delaware. Castle I don’t care that much about, but it sure would be nice to have that seat in GOP hands. 

What I do care about is the fact this new movement cares more about holding strictly to certain principles over the political realities of different districts. 

All one has to do look to the opposition party and see the value in choosing candidates that can win in tough districts. The Democrats, in 2006 and 2008, sported scores of conservative or moderate candidates, most of whom were military vets, most of whom were pro-gun, many of whom were pro-life, and a few who were fiscal hawks. Basically, they ran anti-war Republicans who would vote Democrat for speaker, and otherwise not be especially strong in their bread and butter liberal issues. 

And look what the consequences were: the Democrats were able to spend a trillion bucks they didn’t have; pass, despite ridiculously strong and loud opposition from everywhere, a large healthcare bill; and reform the financial industry. 

None of these things had anything to do with the primary issue in 2006: the Iraq War. And the primary 2008 issue, the economy, has seen almost no growth since Obama took office. 

No matter what you think of the Democrats, you have to appreciate the fact they’ve accomplished some substantial legislative victories, and they’ve done so on the backs of dozens of conservative and moderate Democrats new to the legislature, circa 2006 or 2008. The legislative agenda is built by the political party in power, not by the ideological stalwarts in the minority. 

Conservative pundits, riding high this election, are proud of the fact the Tea Party types are cleansing the party of less-than-ideological candidates. However, there is more than this election to think about. 

Even if Christine O’Donnell wins this year in Delaware, she will lose re-election (and I say this with confidence). Even if Sharon Angle wins in Nevada, it will be a tough bid for her in 2016. The same for Tom Emmer in 2014. 

By going with the more conservative candidates now, we are sacrificing seats and legislative agendas in the future. 

This is above and beyond the fact the GOP is, probably, already giving away seats this election cycle. 

Rick Lazio’s loss in New York is especially painful, and I do hope he stays on the ballot for November (he’s endorsed by the NY Conservative Party, and they need a certain number of votes to preserve their ballot access). Lazio was a good candidate, with experience in statewide races, who would have been a tough opponent. Lazio would have forced money into the NY gubernatorial race that can now escape to other districts. So going with the more conservative candidate in New York will hurt other conservatives elsewhere. 

Rigid adherence to a political ideology has to be seen as a mental disease. There’s nothing wrong with having an ideology, a preferred way of looking at the world, but religiously holding to those principles is idolatry. Conservatism is not a dogmatic philosophy. It’s not a philosophy at all. It is a loose assortment of traditions, principles, philosophies and empirical truths; all of which are, at their core, pragmatic. 

Rush Limbaugh, in a broadcast I listened to recently, tried to do away with William F. Buckley’s rule (Buckley said to vote for the most conservative candidate who can win the general election in a primary) by saying this rule requires clairvoyance. 

But it doesn’t. We have tools, generally effective, that can tell us the likelihood a candidate can win an election in a given year in a given region. They’re called polls. And those polls show the GOP making things hard on themselves by picking bad candidates. 

In short, electability has to be part of the discussion whenever choosing a candidate. Even, or I would say especially, in years where conservatism is riding high. 

Without principles, a party has no meaning. Without a party, principles never get instituted. A political movement must understand this or face extinction.