Friday, April 08, 2011

Scary thought experiment

Where would government spending be if the GOP had not won the House in 2010?

Did you work for that victory? Maybe, like I did, you sent more in contributions to good conservative candidates in tight races outside your home state. Maybe you spent an hour or three making phone calls in coordination with one of the GOP's on-line get-out-the-vote organizations.

Maybe you just showed up at the election polls and cast your vote, when maybe in some other off-year elections you hadn't bothered.

Compared to the norm, compared to most reasonable expectations, compared to anything but completely unrealistic fantasies: What a return on your investment you've seen tonight!

Bonus thought problem: Of all the political memes of the last few years, has any been more dramatically proven wrong than the one which went like this:

"Ahh, this Scott Brown election is Massachusetts is being over-read by the GOP. This is just a fluke, a combination of a hunky Republican running against a weak and self-contradictory Democrat in a special election for an open seat. It's certainly not the beginning of some political tsunami."

(Cue the intro theme music from "Hawaii Five-O," cut to dramatic shots of crashing waves!)

Posted by Beldar at 11:59 PM in 2010 Election, Budget/economics, Congress, Politics (2011) | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Sunday, August 15, 2010

NYT posits that Dems will benefit, compared to 1994, by "lack of surprise" over voter discontent

Today's NYT also contains as nice a piece of self-delusion — entitled "This Time, Voter Anger is No Surprise" — as has ever been recorded in the annals of psychotherapy. It begins with an anecdote and proceeds to what the NYT clearly hopes will be accepted as shrewd political analysis applicable to Democratic incumbents nationally:

A year ago, dozens of protesters gathered outside the district office of Representative Ike Skelton, a Democrat who has represented a wide stretch of western Missouri since 1976. The anger they directed at health care legislation — and by extension most Congressional Democrats — left the party in a state of near panic.

It may, in retrospect, have been the best thing that could have happened to Mr. Skelton and his colleagues.

In the arsenal of advantages that Republicans hold as they seek to win control of Congress this year, one thing is missing: the element of surprise. Unlike 1994, when Republicans shocked Democrats by capturing dozens of seats held by complacent incumbents, there will be no sneak attacks this year. Democrats have sensed trouble for more than a year, with the unrest from town-hall-style meetings last August providing indisputable evidence for any disbelievers.

The result has been to goad many Democrats into better preparation: more fund-raising, earlier advertising, lots of time on the campaign trail.

Because, of course, everyone knows that the incumbents who do more fund-faising, do earlier advertising, and spend more time on the campaign trail should win, regardless of what they've done in office.

U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) Take a step back. There is a significant admission not very well hidden in this delusive fantasy: The Dems have known for at least a year already that their actions in office were angering the public. Did they change what they were doing? No, they did not. They've kept doing what the Democratic Party's collection of special interest groups wants, meaning they've kept up the unprecedented and outrageous volume of government handouts and the associated opportunities for graft. And they've extended the bumbling, fumbling, incompetent, and destructive reach of the federal government further into your health care, your energy use, the cars you drive, and dozens of other aspects of what you used to think of as being "your" lives.

And having spat in their constituents' collective faces, they're going to hunker down, fire up their attack ads, fan the flames of class- and race-warfare, point the finger at Boooosh, and generally hope that this somehow turns out to be, against all polls and predictions, one of those years where they can still fool most of the people all of the time.

Yes, Representative Skelton, you and your buddies have finally captured the public's rapt attention, and now they're on to you. As a consequence, the hanging party has gathered, the pots of tar are heating, and they're cutting up pillows for feathers. But just like the NYT says: all that's the very best set of things that could have happened to you — if you're willing to heed the advance warnings and get the hell out of Washington before they catch up to you. But your lack of surprise at their outrage, brother, isn't likely to save you; instead, it just makes you more guilty.

Posted by Beldar at 06:09 AM in 2010 Election, Congress, Politics (2010) | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Blumenthal lies about lying

If I'm looking at my son Adam and I call him by his older brother Kevin's name, I've "misspoken." If I say to him, "Adam, I served in Vietnam," then I'm a liar.

Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general of Connecticut, is running to replace Chris Dodd in the U.S. Senate. He definitely is proving himself to be Dodd-like, and much like Dodd's Democratic Senate colleagues Tom Harkin, Hillary Clinton, and, of course, John "Christmas in Cambodia" Kerry — as a bald-faced pathological liar.

Anyone who has repeatedly referred to himself as being among Vietnam War veterans "returning" to the U.S., anyone who has said "back when I served in Vietnam" — when in fact he did not serve in Vietnam, ever — cannot possibly have simply "misspoken." That one could make such a mistake innocently, even once, is impossible; that one could allow such a mistake to remain uncorrected is almost inconceivably, and certainly irrationally, dishonest. Rather, when Blumenthal repeatedly insists that he merely "misspoke" with no intention to deceive anyone, then he's lying again, as blatantly as possible, by denying that he was lying before.

My scorn for this lying ass-clown, this scum-stain masquerading as a man, also extends to every single willfully self-delusional Connecticut voter who votes for Blumenthal if he indeed tries to continue his misbegotten political career.


UPDATE (Mon Apr 18 @ 3:45pm): I commend to you, and associate myself with, AllahPundit's remarks.

Posted by Beldar at 02:08 PM in 2010 Election, Congress, Politics (2010) | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Friday, April 16, 2010

Obama only pretends to re-write every state's domestic laws to benefit gays & lesbians

As I write this, the online version of today's Washington Post has the following breathtaking headline and subhead:

Same-sex partners given hospital visitation rights:
President Obama mandates hospitals extend rights to partners of gay men, lesbians and allow same-sex couples to share medical power of attorney.

In the accompanying article, we read:

President Obama mandated Thursday that nearly all hospitals extend visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians and respect patients' choices about who may make critical health-care decisions for them, perhaps the most significant step so far in his efforts to expand the rights of gay Americans.

The president directed the Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation in a memo that was e-mailed to reporters Thursday night while he was at a fundraiser in Miami.

Administration officials and gay activists, who have been quietly working together on the issue, said the new rule will affect any hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding, a move that covers the vast majority of the nation's health-care institutions. Obama's order will start a rule-making process at HHS that could take several months, officials said....

Obama's mandate is the latest attempt by his administration to advance the agenda of a constituency that strongly supported his presidential campaign.

At first glance, this appears to be lawmaking by executive order. Of executive orders, Clinton aide Paul Begala gave us this memorable quote in 1998: "Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool." The reason the quote is memorable is its casual assumption — in two different senses of that word — of near-imperial power, power that's essentially independent of either chamber of Congress and, indeed, of the American people. 

Those with even a passing familiarity with the history of the civil rights movement will recall that Harry Truman's 1948 executive order desegregating the U.S. military preceded any significant congressional action on race relations by a decade or more. I expect we'll see today's announcement compared to that one.

But when one turns to the Obama White House's own website, and in particular to its "Presidential Actions" page, one finds that although there are other "executive orders" listed there which pertain to other matters, the new policy regarding gay rights and hospitals is labeled merely a "presidential memorandum," not an executive order. And when we turn to the memorandum itself, we find something considerably less impressive than that which the WaPo — and, dare I say? — the Administration's spinmeisters have jointly tried to project.

First, the memo directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to

[i]nitiate appropriate rulemaking, pursuant to your authority under 42 U.S.C. 1395x and other relevant provisions of law, to ensure that hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid respect the rights of patients to designate visitors. It should be made clear that designated visitors, including individuals designated by legally valid advance directives (such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies), should enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those that immediate family members enjoy.

Technically, then, this isn't a command, but a condition for funding: Were a hospital to decide to forgo Medicare and Medicaid funding, it could, if it wished, maintain visitation policies permitting only traditional visitor classifications that might exclude, for example, unmarried romantic partners of either sex or any sexual orientation. Most hospitals do accept that funding, and so will have to comply with the rules HHS attaches to that funding. But even so, this policy change doesn't protect only gays and lesbians, but rather empowers all hospital patients, whether gay or straight, at all federally funded hospitals.

Similarly, the second command in the memo directs HHS to

[e]nsure that all hospitals participating in Medicare or Medicaid are in full compliance with regulations, codified at 42 CFR 482.13 and 42 CFR 489.102(a), promulgated to guarantee that all patients' advance directives, such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies, are respected, and that patients' representatives otherwise have the right to make informed decisions regarding patients' care.

Again, this is a condition of funding, not a direct command. And again, it's directed not only to gays and lesbians, but to all patients, gay or straight, who've signed "advance directives" that give "patients' representatives" — gay or straight, family member or friend — the power to make medical decisions on their behalves. So what does it do, exactly? It says that HHS should make sure hospitals who receive federal funds comply with already existing federal regulations that respect state laws already on the books — laws that extend patient rights without reference to whether they or anyone else involved is gay or straight. This is supposed to qualify as a momentous step forward for gay rights?

The memo's third and final command is the only one specifically applicable to the gays and lesbians who are trumpeted as the beneficiaries of The One's actions — an entirely toothless requirement that the Secretary "[p]rovide additional recommendations to [Obama], within 180 days of the date of this memorandum, on actions the Department of Health and Human Services can take to address hospital visitation, medical decisionmaking, or other health care issues that affect LGBT patients and their families." Obama might as well have written: "Between now and the November elections, find me some other excuse to claim I've done something for gay rights."

Who can act on your behalf is, in general, not a question of federal law — not even the traditional kind of federal law where each chamber of Congress passes identical bills and the president then signed them. Instead, this is traditionally a matter of state law, an intersection of agency law and domestic/family law. That's why the (entirely laudatory) trend toward enforceable durable powers of attorney and health-care directives has come from the state legislatures, most of them enacting model legislation, but some of them experimenting with tweaks, in our "national laboratory" of continuing policy-making. In our system of federalism, writing or re-writing these kinds of laws is simply not part of the POTUS' job description. (Compare and contrast Truman's executive order on military desegregation, given to organizations over which he is constitutionally made commander in chief.) 

Indeed, doing what the WaPo's sub-headline suggests — simply "mandat[ing that] hospitals extend rights to partners of gay men, lesbians and allow same-sex couples to share medical power of attorney" — would, in my humble opinion, be unconstitutional if attempted by executive order. It would be quite possibly beyond the combined constitutional power of Congress and president. But when we have a president who wants to take credit for causing the seas to recede, we ought not be surprised to see him claim to have similarly exerted his lordly powers over some bigoted local hospital administrators.

Lest you have any doubt that this is all smoke and mirrors — a manufactured event cynically designed by the Obama White House as a sop to those who are otherwise growing unsatisfied with a perceived lack of action on "gay rights issues" by The One — read the penultimate paragraph of the memorandum:

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

This paragraph, friends and neighbors, is the equivalent of Emily Litella's closing lines to Chevy Chase in the old SNL "Weekend Update" skits: "Never mind."

And thus, in the giant Venn diagram of American politics, do two sets become ever more nearly exactly congruent: Those who support Obama, and those whom he's successfully duped.

I'm not against this very modest and mostly illusory policy tweak in favor of patient empowerment. I'm certainly not distressed that it benefits gay patients as well as straight ones. But I'm against charlatans. And Obama is one.


UPDATE (Fri Apr 16 @ 10am): Regarding the specific impetus for this action, the WaPo article reports:

Officials said Obama had been moved by the story of a lesbian couple in Florida, Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, who were kept apart when Pond collapsed of a cerebral aneurysm in February 2007, dying hours later at a hospital without her partner and children by her side.

Obama called Langbehn on Thursday evening from Air Force One as he flew to Miami, White House officials said. In an interview, Langbehn praised the president for his actions.

"I kept saying it's not a gay right to hold someone's hand when they die, its a human right," she said, noting that she and Pond had been partners for almost 18 years. "Now to have the president call up and say he agrees with me, it's pretty amazing, and very humbling."

But as reported by the New York Times in its May 2009 article about Ms. Langbehn, the Miami hospital in question denied that the grounds on which it prevented Ms. Langbehn access were that she was insufficiently related to the late Ms. Pond. Rather, her attempts to join Ms. Pond were at least initially frustrated on the basis that no visitors should be permitted in the trauma emergency room where hospital personnel were trying to administer life-saving procedures upon Ms. Pond. Later, when Ms. Pond was moved to intensive care, Ms. Pond's adopted children were also prevented from visiting — not because they had been adopted by a lesbian, but because they were 14 or under. After it received a copy of the medical power of attorney authorizing Ms. Langbehn to receive information and made decisions on behalf of Ms. Pond, the hospital did consult with Ms. Langbehn regarding Ms. Pond's medical options, including the placement of a brain monitor and possible surgery; Ms. Langbehn did not allege that she would have made any different decisions had there been any more thorough consultation. The only indication of any specifically anti-gay bias appears to have been a stray comment by a social-worker to the effect that Florida was an "anti-gay state." In a supposedly similar case from Washington State, Sharon Reed was restricted in visiting her dying lesbian partner, Jo Ann Ritchie, on grounds that Ms. Reed's particular actions were interfering with a nurse's provision of medical care — not on grounds that Ms. Reed was a gay partner (instead of a straight spouse). Nothing in yesterday's memo requires, either directly or (through federal funding approval) indirectly, that hospitals permit unlimited visitation everywhere and at all times even to traditional opposite-sex spouses; if "immediate family members" are restricted, so too may be gay partners. And whether the visitation restrictions placed upon either Ms. Langbehn or Ms. Reed were or were not reasonable as a matter of medical judgment in their particular circumstances, nothing in yesterday's memo would have changed either of those results.

I don't doubt that there have been gay partners who've been discriminated against by hospitals against on the basis of their being gay. There are indeed anti-gay bigots, and some of them work in hospitals, and no doubt some of them have made arbitrary and unreasonable decisions regarding visitation rights based on their animus against gays. But more often, hospitals make their equally arbitrary and unreasonable decisions for other reasons having nothing to do with anyone's sexual orientation, simply because they're imperfect and fallible human institutions. And there are surely a vanishingly small number of hospitals with formal policies requiring, or even permitting, the denial of visitation rights to a gay partner when a straight spouse's visitation would be permitted. I very much doubt that yesterday's presidential memorandum, or the HHS rule-making process it directs, will end up changing much of anything at a practical level.

Posted by Beldar at 07:15 AM in 2010 Election, Current Affairs, Law (2010), Obama, Politics (2010) | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Beldar on Fund on Perry's success in "nationalizing" a state race

With a sub-head reading "Texas governor Rick Perry's victory last night shows that nationalizing local races can work," John Fund of the Wall Street Journal — yet another analyst whose work and opinions I respect greatly — wrote this yesterday afternoon about Tuesday's Texas primary results:

The late House Speaker Tip O'Neill once said "all politics is local." Texas Governor Rick Perry won last night's GOP primary by standing that adage on its head and nationalizing the race. He pounded his main rival, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, as a Washington insider and tagged her as "Kay Bailout" for her support of the 2008 rescue of major financial institutions.

Mr. Perry said the results were a triumph for conservative principles: "Texas voters said 'no." They said 'no' to Washington bureaucrats making decisions that state leaders and citizens should be making for themselves." He won 51% of the vote, with Tea Party activist Debra Medina pulling in another 18% of the vote. By avoiding a runoff, Mr. Perry put himself in a good position to take on former Houston Mayor Bill White in the fall.

I agree with that as far as it goes, but — perhaps aided by the sub-headline, which Mr. Fund probably didn't write — there may be an implication that the same tactic of "nationalizing" a statewide race can work for Perry against Bill White in the general election, too. I'm not convinced of that, although I think it's certain that Perry will indeed try to make that happen.

As I've written repeatedly recently, I'm quite sure that Perry is going to do his very best to try to keep the focus not on Bill White's performance as Houston's (nominally nonpartisan) mayor, but on his service as Bill Clinton's Undersecretary of Energy. I've known Bill since the late 1970s when we were at Texas Law School together, and he's always been a mainstream Democrat, and he had a long-standing professional interest (even passion) on the topic of energy (and particularly natural gas) regulation even before he went to law school. Given that, I was utterly unsurprised to see him show up in that post. But I don't claim to know much about what he did in it — much less any specific things he did that would be particularly sensitive or objectionable if reconsidered now in the context of a Texas gubernatorial race. Nevertheless, for me, the mere fact that he was "one of them" — a "Clintonista," a committed Democrat, a volunteer and not a draftee — would be ample all by itself to prompt me to withhold my vote for him in any state-wide or federal election.

I'd guess that not many of the Houstonians who voted to elect or re-elect White as mayor knew about his service in the Clinton Administration. I'd further guess that — for that purpose, i.e., the mayoral race — most of them didn't care, and for that purpose, I didn't either. But being governor is different than being mayor. There are quite a few conservative Texans who, like me, consider themselves Republicans and believe in the two-party political system instead of believing in empty, ridiculously insincere promises about "crossing the aisle" and "being bipartisan" — like that's actually going to happen when it comes time for the 2011 redistricting, hah! White isn't going to get our votes for governor, regardless of how good a mayor he was, as long as he's a Democrat. (And yes, he is one.)

White is, however, objectively the best qualified and most attractive candidate the Dems have run in a state-wide race in more than a decade. He's going to get pretty much all of the Dem votes that are out there. White's going to benefit, oddly enough, from the fact that Barack Obama isn't on the ballot in 2010, because if Obama were, that fact alone would drive a huge surge of Texas conservatives to the polls for the sole purpose of voting against Obama. (I frankly suspect this was a factor in White's decision to switch to the 2010 governor's race instead of following his original post-mayoral plan to run for U.S. Senate in 2012.) White will easily pick up, then, most of the "reliable" Democrat votes, and he has enormous incentives to invest in targeted "get out the vote" activities from now until November.

Texas still being a red state, however, that won't be enough. White can't win unless he can persuade, and then motivate to vote, a sizable contingent from the "middle" — and yes, there is a vague and large (albeit not as "vast" as sometimes assumed) "middle" in Texas who don't regularly turn out to vote for Republicans and who might possibly be persuaded to vote for what they perceived to be an exceptional Democrat. By "exceptional," I mean exceptionally well qualified in terms of his credentials and experience, a standard that White can legitimately claim to meet, and "exceptional" in the sense of standing somewhat apart from conventional Democrats (especially as now typified by Obama, Reid, Pelosi, and the national Democratic Party).

And here, friends and neighbors, is where I think we must consider again the lesson of Debra Medina. I mean no offense to the good folks of Wharton County, whose local GOP Ms. Medina apparently was once the head of, but it's not exaggerating much to say that Ms. Medina's candidacy came out of nowhere. There was essentially nothing in her background or history to distinguish her from anyone picked at random from within the entire State of Texas. But by tapping into the same mostly inchoate rage and dissatisfaction that has found some expression in the Tea Party movement, she — even though she wasn't an "official Tea Party nominee" and was in fact opposed by some Austin Tea Partiers — went from zero to 18.5% of the GOP primary vote in the political blink of an eye. That's precisely why I've referred to her here as the "Neither of the Above" Candidate.

While Perry will rigorously and consistently attempt to frame the November general election in the same manner as he did the GOP primary — that is, as a battle between an untrustworthy Washington insider (White instead of Hutchison) against a down-home anti-Washington conservative (himself) — White's frankly a lot harder to put in that box than Hutchison was. During almost the whole of this decade, White's been attending Houston City Council meetings, not going to Capitol Hill or the White House. He's been quite literally handing out MREs to Hurricane Ike refugees and working on bayou drainage projects, not passing TARP or plotting the nationalization of American healthcare.

Some of my commenters have expressed grave skepticism over my assertion that White's service as Houston mayor will help him in other parts of the state. They argue that other parts of the state haven't watched the local TV news feeds during the hurricanes or seen the local headlines, and they're right about that. But White has between now and November to educate non-Houstonians about his performance as mayor, and I'm here to tell you, folks, he got enough accomplished that it's going to take a while for him to run out of things to talk about. It was not an accident that White won re-election with more than 80% of the vote in an extremely conservative city, and if you think he won't get any traction in the rest of the state from his record here, I respectfully suggest that (a) you have no real basis for that assumption, and (b) you've failed to account for the efforts the liberal media will make to assist White on this score between now and November.

Indeed, the obvious jiu-jitsu move for White to pull off will be to resist Perry's attempt to "nationalize" the Texas governor's race by turning it instead into a referendum on incumbency: By virtue of his ascension to the governorship when Dubya resigned in December 2000 plus his elections in 2002 and 2006 to two four-year terms in his own right, Perry is already the longest-serving Texas governor in history. Now, there's nowhere close to as much general dissatisfaction among Texans with what's been going on in Austin as there is with what's been going on in Washington. But that's not to say that Texans necessarily give much credit for that to Rick Perry in particular, either.

Perry, in short, had a perfect opportunity in this year's primary to exploit the Tea Partiers' anti-Washington rage in particular, and Hutchison's own efforts to make Perry's long incumbency never stuck (in part because of her own long incumbency as a U.S. senator). "Nationalizing" the primary race against Hutchison was easy, and Perry was successful in sidestepping the Tea Partiers' potential rage against himself. But White's not as vulnerable to that ploy as Hutchison was, and White may be far better positioned to use Perry's long incumbency against him.

When it comes to that one-in-five or so Texans whose votes are up for grabs, and whose votes could result in a GOP loss if all or most of them broke decisively for White, this is a new ball game, gentle readers. The November general election is not going to be like the 2002 or 2006 election — indeed, the 2006 election was so weird and exceptional that it's not much use as a predictor of anything — and it's not going to be like the 2010 primary elections were, either.

Posted by Beldar at 09:28 AM in 2010 Election, Politics (2010), Politics (Texas) | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Beldar on Barone on how Perry's Harris County showing bodes for White

Michael Barone is one of my favorite and most trusted political analysts, and he has a facility with polling data and places that I utterly lack. That makes me reluctant to second-guess this preliminary conclusion of his regarding yesterday's Texas primaries:

Perry won this not in rural and small town Texas but in metro Houston. This bodes well for him in the general election, since it indicates strength in the home base of the well regarded Democratic nominee, former Houston Mayor Bill White, who was nominated by an overwhelming margin.

I'm just not sure the "bodes well" conclusion connects to the premise. Perry did well in Houston, sure, and the GOP turn-out both here and state-wide was much, much stronger than the Democratic turn-out because of the contested GOP senatorial race. It's also fair to presume that a huge percentage of those who voted for Perry in this primary will vote for him again in the general election, and indeed, that some still very large majority of Texas Republicans who either didn't choose or bother to vote for Perry in the primary will nevertheless vote for him in the general election.

Tex. Gov. Rick Perry after GOP primary win on Mar. 2nd (image: Houston Chronicle)But you are still talking about a primary. Even the 12 percent or so of total registered Texas voters who voted, state-wide, in the GOP primary collectively represent only a small fraction of likely voters in the November election.

And as I'm sure Barone knows, the mayoral races in which White's won election and reelection by huge super-majorities were nominally — and to an amazing extent, genuinely — nonpartisan. It would be silly to assume that in a partisan race for statewide office this November, White would ever have gotten all, or mostly all, of the same individual voters who've voted for him for mayor in the past.

I don't think the main significance of White's history as Houston's mayor, in fact, is directly connected to how Houston/Harris County voters in particular will vote. I think that based on the reputation he's earned among Houstonians, he will indeed do at least somewhat better here than the hypothetical "average" Democratic candidate for governor; and since Houston is the state's largest city, even "somewhat better" will translate into some tens of thousands of votes. But it's not a big enough swing to win the state-wide race for him.

Bill White after Democratic primary win on Mar. 2nd (image: Houston Chronicle) Put another way, there are too many Houston voters (like me) who were perfectly happy to vote twice for a fellow like White for mayor (where the damage a wild-eyed liberal could do, even if he tried, is institutionally minimized), but who wouldn't vote for him for a state-wide or federal office (where a wild-eyed liberal could do vastly more damage). That White has been sympathetic to, or even fully on board with, pretty all of the values and positions of the national Democratic Party just hasn't been relevant in Houston's mayoral campaigns, but it's obviously much more relevant now that he's running for governor. For all those voters who apply different criteria to local races than they do to state or federal ones, White could never count on us as "a lock" anyway, even though we did vote for him as mayor. And that's true regardless of whether we voted for Perry or Hutchison or Medina yesterday in the GOP primary.

Instead, White's generally well-respected performance during two terms as mayor of Houston is important in the overall race (and not just in Houston/Harris County) for two reasons:

First, having been the mayor of the nation's fourth-largest city for eight years with generally conspicuous success — despite a direct hit by Hurricane Ike and a lot of collateral impact from Hurricane Katrina — is an attractive, conventional, and entirely legitimate credential for becoming governor. You can appreciate that whether you live in Houston or Waco or Dumas or Laredo. Without some comparable credential — and frankly, there aren't very many of those to go around, certainly not among Texas Democrats (who haven't won a state-wide election this Millennium) — Perry would have an enormous relative campaign edge, simply because he's been governor for the past decade and the state's still in decent shape (and compared to the rest of the U.S., incredible shape).

Second, keeping the focus on his record in Houston gives White his best opportunity to distance himself from Obama and from the national Democratic Party. You can guaran-damn-tee that between now and November, White will spend a whole lot more time reminding folks of his local service in Houston than of his time as Bill Clinton's Undersecretary of Energy. (He's also not going to spend a lot of time talking about his early 1980s law practice.)

White surely has always known he's an underdog. He's surely never imagined that Houston could be a "vote stronghold" for him as a Democrat in any state-wide race. Someone had to win on the GOP side, and by definition that candidate is going to have made a relatively strong showing among primary voters. I just don't see that Perry's relative success over Hutchison in the GOP primary here yesterday says much one way or another about the still-considerable (but never determinative) extent that White will be helped locally and statewide by his record as a two-term mayor here.

Posted by Beldar at 07:25 AM in 2010 Election, Politics (2010), Politics (Texas) | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

DGA's Daschle draws wrong lessons from Texas primaries: White has a chance in November, but it's despite (not due to) Obama and the national Dems

“Tonight’s results are a stark reminder that Republicans’ giddiness about 2010 is premature,” Daschle said. “Rick Perry is our nation’s longest serving Republican governor and yet he barely won 50 percent of the vote in his own primary. We need no more evidence to know that this is not a pro-Republican electorate; it’s an electorate that wants results over rhetoric, optimism over pessimism, and success over secession. I can only assume that tonight’s results send chills down the spine of Rick Perry’s campaign manager.”

So reads a congratulatory press release — celebrating Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White's overwhelming victory with 76% of the votes in the Texas Democratic Primary — issued tonight by the Democratic Governor's Association. The "Daschle" being quoted is not long-time U.S. Senator Tom Daschle (D-ND), whom John Thune beat in 2004, and who was last seen in early 2009 under the rear wheels of the Obama Administration's bus (when a tax scandal obliged him to withdraw from further consideration as Obama's nominee for H&HS Secretary). Rather, it's Tom's son Nathan, a 2002 Harvard Law grad who worked briefly as a litigation associate for Covington & Burling before joining the DGA in 2005. Now the DGA's Executive Director, we're told by its website that "Nathan previously served as the DGA’s Counsel and Director of Policy, a position in which he coordinated DGA’s legal efforts and advised governors and candidates on a wide range of policy matters," and that he "has also served in the legislative affairs office of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the Natural Resources Defense Council [and] also worked on the [unsuccessful] 1996 U.S. Senate campaign of Tom Strickland (CO)."

So do these credentials qualify Daschle the Younger as an expert on Texas politics? Could he be right in insisting that Bill White actually has a chance against Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry, whose 51% tally in Tuesday's primary won him renomination without a run-off in a three-way race against sitting U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and the vaguely Tea Party-affiliated newcomer Debra Medina?

I think the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race will indeed be interesting, and it may be closer than a lot of people are predicting — but if so, I'm very, very certain that won't be for the reasons spewed out by the likes of Nathan Daschle or other Washington Democratic machine politicians. And indeed, the message of this primary for the Democrats, if they're smart enough to heed it, was that so long as they keep quietly sending lots of money, career politicos like Daschle probably ought to stay the hell away from Texas in general and from Bill White's campaign in particular.


Perhaps only a Harvard Law-trained Democratic spin-meister could mock Perry for "barely [winning] 50 percent of the vote in his own primary." If confronted with that claim, I'm quite sure that Perry's first reaction — echoing Scott Brown's devastating point in the Massachusetts special election last month — would be to insist that this wasn't his primary, but rather the Texas GOP's primary. Only an idiot — or, perhaps, a Harvard Law-trained Democratic spin-meister — could trivialize a primary-election clash between a state's sitting governor (since December 2000) and its senior U.S. senator (since 1993). And indeed, this time last year, Perry trailed Hutchison by double digits in early polling for this race.

From Perry's 51% showing, Daschle argues that "[w]e need no more evidence to know that this is not a pro-Republican electorate." But surely even a Harvard Law-trained Democratic spin-meister wouldn't dispute that a GOP primary is indeed, by definition (even outside of Texas), a "pro-Republican electorate," so Daschle must have been talking about the combination of the two primaries held on Tuesday. So how does that work out for his argument? As of this moment, with 99.63% of the vote reported, the Texas SecState's tallies show that for the seven candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, a total of 676,795 have been cast, amounting to 5.19% of just over 13 million registered voters in Texas. In the GOP primary, by contrast, the corresponding numbers are 1,471,429 votes totaled for the three Republican candidates, amounting to 11.29% of the state's 13 million voters. Well over twice as many Texans came out to vote as part of the "pro-Republican electorate," in other words, as did in the "pro-Democratic electorate." ("Registered voters" here means all who are registered to vote in the general election, regardless of party; Texas has open primaries that aren't limited to "registered Democrats" or "registered Republicans," there being no such party-based registration here.)

Those figures compare to the March 2006 turn-out figures of 5 and 4 percent, respectively, for the GOP and Democratic primaries — so a bare one percent more of registered voters turned out for this year's Democratic primary, compared to a more than doubling of the percentage for registered voters who turned out for this year's GOP primary. The Dems actually had much more excitement in their 2002 primary, when they got over 8% of registered voters to vote in a slug-out between Dan Morales, Tony Sanchez, and two lesser-known candidates. (Yes, there actually were lesser known candidates.) Sanchez won the Dem primary with 62%, but then was crushed by Perry in the general election by a 58% to 40% margin.

No, Nathan, if there are "chills running down the spine" of Perry's campaign manager tonight, they're the good kind of chills — the very well-satisfied ones. Perry not only came from behind against a formidable, universally known, and well-financed opponent, but he managed what was probably, in context and overall, a substantially greater challenge as well: Perry effectively co-opted enough of the Texas Tea Partiers — or those generally sympathetic to the Tea Party's protests, which I think amounts to a vastly larger number of people than those who've actually attended a rally or protest — to prevent a "None of the Above"-candidate like Debra Medina from forcing a run-off.

And — with due, which is to say, not very much, respect to her — that's all Ms. Medina's candidacy ever was. She had no political track record. She had a laughable absence of credentials to demonstrate a basic capacity to serve adequately as the state's chief executive. When she was asked, in effect, "Whatcha think about them Truthers and them Birthers?" she couldn't even maintain enough discipline in her talking points to pass what's become, for better or worse, a political litmus test now used to identify the farthest fringes of the political fray. She confessed, in other words, to a fondness for fruitcakes, and if she's not a fruitcake herself, she offered no convincing proof to that effect.

(NB: I do very emphatically respect those who are thoroughly fed up with politics as usual, and especially Washington politics as usual, and whose rage opens them to careful consideration of non-incumbents. But she was a poor choice, a wholly inadequate vessel, for their hopes and beliefs. If new political voices are to inject new leadership into state and national politics, they can't just skip the "basic competency" category of qualifications.)

That Ms. Medina, despite her utter lack of credible credentials or experience, ended up polling 18.5% (to Hutchison's 30% and Perry's 51%) is still an incredibly important result from Tuesday's vote — something that should indeed grab the attention of incumbent politicians of both parties whether in blue, red, or purple states. But by calibrating his campaign rhetoric to run mostly congruent to the Tea Partiers' protests — and entirely congruent with the Tea Partiers' anti-Washington, anti-federal government themes — Perry was able not only to keep "None of the Above" from forcing a run-off, he was able to win the nomination outright with a majority vote in the first primary round.

And by doing that, Perry not only shored up his standing with a voting populace that will indeed be naturally skeptical of a former Clinton Administration cabinet undersecretary in November's general election, he eliminated the substantial risks of a runoff that he almost certainly was destined to win anyway. The risks were that he'd have to spend more time and money fighting Hutchison — and being tarred, perhaps indelibly, by Hutchison's negative advertising. (Some of Hutchison's ads were pretty effective, much moreso, I thought, than Perry's Democratic opponents have managed to put together in past races.)

It's not that Hutchison wanted to run against the Tea Partiers! Heavens, no, she would have loved to cuddle up with them, and she tried to remind them that she was preaching "limited government" and "fiscal responsibility" back in the 1960s, when John Tower and George H.W. Bush were about the only Texas Republicans who'd gathered any national prominence from a state still dominated by LBJ and what was then a very conservative Democratic Party. But she was indeed vulnerable to charges of being a pork-grabber, and Perry lashed her mercilessly (if, in my judgment, not entirely fairly) with her pro-TARP vote from the fall of 2008.

Can Republicans from less deeply red states win in November with the same model Perry has just used — one in which he never quite sought, and certainly never became, the "nominee" or "official candidate" of a movement that isn't quite yet an actual political party, but with whose sentiments he very diligently and aggressively and unashamedly identified himself? Obviously, Perry would have had a much harder time of this strategy if he himself had been an incumbent in a federal office rather than a state one. Thank goodness none of the scoundrels who make their livings in the legislative and administrative back alleys of Austin have figured out yet what a "trillion" means; as a result, most of the Tea Partiers' ire is still being directed, quite appropriately, at Washington. But in other states — can you say "Kah-lee-VORN-ee-ya"? — without the budget surpluses or economic prosperity that Texas continues to enjoy, the Tea Partiers' anti-incumbency mood may well blanket both state and federal politicians. And indeed, it should.


So why, then — after roundly mocking Daschle the Younger for being thoroughly out of touch with, at least, Texas voters — would I agree with Daschle's main point, i.e., that a Bill White win in November is at least imaginable?

Well, friends and neighbors, it's this: I happen to know that unlike Barack Obama and Nathan Daschle, Bill White didn't go to Harvard Law School. Instead, he went to good ol' Texas Law School — where he was editor in chief of the Texas Law Review, he actually did write and publish a fine student note for the Review, and he was the Grand Chancellor in Spring 1978 (meaning academically first in his class as of the end of their second year). He's a San Antonio native who's never lost his drawl or had to fake one. He will draw heavily, and with considerable appeal, on his record as a multi-term (and multi-hurricane) nonpartisan mayor of Houston. And he will fight tooth and nail against Perry's attempts to keep the focus on Washington and its single most prominent symbol, who's also quite probably the single most unpopular person among conservative and moderate Texas voters — Barack Obama. Tonight's exchanges from the two campaigns, as reported by the Houston Chronicle, are already sounding the themes we'll be hearing and reading for the next eight months:

White told supporters in Houston he expects Perry to try to “perpetuate” himself with politics of division and distraction to avoid talking about Texas issues, such as high unemployment, state government growth and unfunded mandates for local governments.

“Texans deserve a new governor,” a leader who is “more interested in the jobs of Texans than in preserving his own job,” White said.

White said he believes Perry will continue trying to put voters’ attention on political debates in Washington.

“They’ll point fingers at Washington and talk about the alarming growth in government in Washington so you won’t notice the alarming growth in government in Austin,” the Democratic nominee said.

Perry, speaking to supporters at the Salt Lick barbecue restaurant in Driftwood, signaled that he fully intends to continue the anti-Washington rhetoric.

“From Driftwood, Texas, to Washington, D.C., we are sending you a message tonight: Stop messing with Texas!” Perry said.

Perry said his challenges are to tell the story of a successful Texas, “defend the conservative values that made them possible” and “remain attuned to the threat of a federal government that continues to overreach,” as well as increasing its spending. “It is clear the Obama administration and their allies already have Texas in their cross hairs,” Perry said, referring to his expectations that national Democrats will support White.

In short, White will run away from Obama. He'll have all the money he could possibly want in order to fine-tune that image. He's objectively better qualified, with a more substantial record of public service, than anyone the Dems have run for state-wide office in years. And Perry does have some high negatives (some of which he's earned), even though he's now been spared the ordeal of further sniping from Hutchison in a run-off.

Do I think a White victory is likely? No — and I think that by dodging the run-off, Perry has indeed made a giant stride toward reelection in November. But could a White win in November happen, even in Texas, even without some sort of miracle in Washington that makes Barack Obama suddenly beloved of all Texans? Yeah, it could happen. White will have to avoid drawing the wrath of those who voted "None of the Above" (i.e., for Medina) yesterday, which he can mostly do by not looking or sounding like Obama, by staying well clear of the national Democratic Party, and by continuing to at least mouth platitudes that are pro-business, anti-taxation, and fiscally responsible. And Perry will need to shoot off a few of his own toes — or perhaps get caught in bed with the proverbial dead girl or live boy.

Posted by Beldar at 05:33 AM in 2010 Election, Politics (2010), Politics (Texas) | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bayh's decision to forgo re-election run can't help but highlight the spectacular incompetence of Obama-Reid-Pelosi

Handicapping the 2008 presidential race from way back on April 23, 2007, I predicted: "Thompson/Romney defeats Obama/Bayh." And I still respect three of those four — all except The One who won.

My respect for Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) — one of the most intelligent, articulate, and reasonable Democrats in public office — goes back to his days as a two-term governor of Indiana. (NB: "Respect" isn't the same as "support"; I have substantive policy disagreements with Bayh that would prevent me for ever supporting or voting for him.) Evan Bayh has never quite taken off as a national candidate, but he's been on the national stage for some time; indeed, he's the kind of solid and appealing alternative whose failure to catch on seems baffling as we watch bozos like Howard Dean and John Kerry seize the Dems' spotlights and microphones. Although former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats was perceived to be offering Bayh a tougher re-election challenge this year than Bayh had faced in previous bids, the fact is that Sen. Bayh remained well liked at home, he had already distanced himself from both Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership, and he has an unbroken string of elections and re-elections in Indiana.

Thus, Sen. Bayh's announcement today that he would not seek a third term in the Senate in 2010, just on the brink of the deadline for filing for his party's nomination, has stunned those who follow politics on both the Left and the Right:

Since 9/11, I have fought to make our nation safe with a national security approach that is both tough and smart. I have championed the cause of our soldiers to make sure they have the equipment they need in battle and the health care they deserve when they get home.

I have often been a lonely voice for balancing the budget and restraining spending. I have worked with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike to do the nation’s business in a way that is civil and constructive.

I am fortunate to have good friends on both sides of the aisle, something that is much too rare in Washington today.

After all these years, my passion for service to my fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so by serving in Congress has waned. For some time, I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should. There is too much partisanship and not enough progress — too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even at a time of enormous challenge, the peoples’ business is not being done.


To put it in words most people can understand: I love working for the people of Indiana, I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress. I will not, therefore, be a candidate for election to the Senate this November.

Dem spinners will blame Republicans for the "partisanship" that Sen. Bayh decried in his statement. But Bayh's party has overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Congress that Bayh has described as "disfunctional." Most voters are too smart to believe a pro-Dem spin in the face of that incontrovertible and overwhelmingly significant political fact. And one would labor fruitlessly in trying to find any explicit blame directed exclusively, or even mainly, at the GOP in Sen. Bayh's statement. To the contrary, the one fellow senator Sen. Bayh went out of his way to laud was fellow Indianan Richard G. Lugar, a Republican.

If Sen. Bayh were adhering to the party line, in fact, he would of course have blamed George W. Bush for his decision.

Re-reading my prediction from 2007, I'm tempted to wonder how differently, and potentially better, Barack Obama might have fared during his first year in the White House if he'd had Bayh as his Veep instead of the blithering idiot he actually picked as a running mate. Unfortunately — for Obama, and for America — I'm quite confident that the answer is: "Not much."

The reason is that Barack Obama's arrogance is boundless. There's simply never been, and there never will be, any chance that someone like Bayh will ever have Obama's ear in a significant way.

No, Obama insists on being Clown in Chief. He's eclipsed even Biden in that regard, and he's obviously determined to run his one-term presidency into the ground rather than change course in any significant way. There is, of course, a large silver lining in that fact as we inch slowly toward January 2013 and Obama sets new records for ineffectiveness in the meantime. But the dark cloud remains, and America will pay the price, literally and figuratively, for Obama's fecklessness for decades.

There was one obviously insincere sentence in Sen. Bayh's announcement today: "My decision should not reflect adversely upon the President."

Oh, Sen. Bayh, I can understand why you felt compelled to recognize the inevitability of observers drawing inferences about the Obama Administration from your decision. Likewise, I appreciate and applaud the fact that you couldn't bring yourself to tell a similar outright lie about whether, and how, your decision should reflect upon Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi. But were your fingers crossed behind your back when you wrote that line about the President? Or were you rationalizing it by recognizing that even your startling decision not to run for re-election couldn't possibly add meaningfully to what's already obvious — to all except the willfully self-blinded and -drugged — about the spectacular deficiencies of Barack Obama?

Posted by Beldar at 06:23 PM in 2010 Election, Congress, Obama, Politics (2010) | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Debra Medina and Farouk Shami have done Texans a favor by proving themselves unqualified

From an AP report printed in today's Houston Chronicle:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina, reeling from her remarks that questioned whether the U.S. government was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, on Friday blamed the ensuing firestorm on a "coordinated attack" that she speculated came from the campaigns of her better-known GOP rivals.

Medina also predicted "more of this" in her race against Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. She said there are no "high-profile kinds of scandals in my life that really are going to get people something to chew on. So they're going to have to make some things up."

"The political games we saw beginning to be played yesterday serve nothing but a diversion," she said, denying that her news conference in Houston — during which some questions were posed by Medina campaign staff seated among reporters — was an effort at damage control. "No. This is continuing doing what we've been doing, campaigning hard for months."

In response to a question Thursday from nationally syndicated radio talk show host Glenn Beck, Medina said there were "some very good arguments" that the U.S. was involved in the 2001 attacks that took down the World Trade Center and killed some 3,000 people. "I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there, so I have not taken a position on that," she said.

Medina also has told a Dallas TV station that besides her questions about 9/11, she similarly has questions about Barack Obama's birth certificate (meaning his constitutional eligibility to be President).

According to the same AP report, the candidate who trails Bill White in the polls for the Democratic Party's nomination (but could also make a run-off if White pulls less than 50%) has also jumped aboard the grand conspiracies bandwagon:

On the Democratic side, gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami said Friday he also had questions about the involvement of the federal government in the terrorist attacks, saying "maybe there is no smoke without fire."

"We still don't know who killed John F. Kennedy, who's behind it," Shami said during an interview with Dallas television station WFAA. "Will we ever find the truth about 9/11?

"It's hard to make judgments. I'm not saying yes or no, because I don't know the truth."

Those aren't just wrong answers, they're disqualifying answers. Public servants, to be effective at all, must be able to make good judgments. Indeed, they must be able to make good judgments even with less than perfect and complete information. And that's especially true of those in the executive branches of government.

As a mere blogger, I've tried hard to avoid making a snap judgment about Debra Medina, in part because I think GOP politics have gotten sclerotic, and because I believe we desperately need new talent that's genuinely committed to old values.

Debra Medina wasn't ever likely to get my vote, though: I was too troubled at the complete absence of any record of prior public service from which we might conclude that she is qualified to do the job required of the governor of Texas. It didn't matter to me how good a game she talked, because there's a complete absence of any proof that she's competent at the most basic level to undertake the task of governing.

But Medina's political self-immolation over the last few days now leads me to affirmatively recommend, for whatever that might be worth and to whoever's reading, that conservative Texans vote against her. I don't much care whether you vote for Hutchison or Perry. Just don't waste your vote on this kook.

It's not just a distraction, but a willful and malicious waste of political energy to fight over Barack Obama's birth certificate at this point, folks. It's water that's not only already flowed under the bridge, it's evaporated out of the river, floated across the continent, turned back into rainfall, and been soaked up into growing crops that have already been harvested, eaten, and excreted. When there are so very many legitimate and genuinely urgent concerns about Barack Obama and what he's doing as President, I'd rather not hear another freaking word about his birth certificate — not from anyone, not for any purpose, and most especially not from someone who is seeking my vote for service as a public official.

But the Truther stuff is far worse, at least as I judge things. For a public figure who wishes to be taken seriously, it's not enough to merely admit that radical Islamic terrorists flew the planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon; it is offensive and a mark of derangement to pretend that it's an open question whether the U.S. government was in any way complicit, either actively or through deliberate and knowing inaction, in the 9/11 attacks. State governors have serious public safety responsibilities. We can't afford to have in charge of the Texas National Guard, the Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Rangers someone who, as Texas state senator (and conservative radio host) Dan Patrick has reported (h/t Ace), thinks there's something suspicious about how policeman but not firemen were able to escape from the Twin Towers before they came down.

Medina's attempt to cast blame on her opponents for this kerfuffle is pathetic. Of course her opponents will make the most use they can of her screw-up — Hutchison because Medina had become perceived as a threat to knock her out of second place, Perry because he hopes he might squeak in with a majority and avoid a run-off. With this Obama-like refusal to accept responsibility, Medina has compounded her original offenses and further demonstrated her lack of political stature.

Similarly, insisting that she's just vindicating the public's right "to ask questions" is entirely disingenuous. "I support free speech, including the right to espouse crackpot positions," one can say. But this sort of wink and nudge and phrasing of ridiculous accusations as "mere questions" can fool no one.

I don't blame anyone who's been taken in by either Medina or Shami. But I can't excuse or understand anyone who still sticks with them. It's time to re-think, and to realize that you've been looking at your candidate through the political equivalent of beer goggles.

No, one can't play footsie with the Truthers and the Birthers and expect to be a serious candidate. Anyone who can't see that lacks the minimal basic judgment necessary to hold a public office. Debra Medina and Farouk Shami have done Texans a favor by confirming that they're not serious candidates, not even for purposes of casting a "protest vote." It's time for these two to return to the political obscurity whence they came.

Posted by Beldar at 09:12 AM in 2010 Election, Politics (2010), Politics (Texas) | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Is it Medina or "Neither of the Other Two" who's "coming on strong" for the Texas GOP gubernatorial nomination?

After a long blogging hiatus, I wrote last Friday about the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race. I was dismissive of the chances of GOP candidate Debra Medina, who's identified with both the Tea Party movement and, perhaps less closely, with the 2008 enthusiasts over Ron Paul's presidential candidacy.

Today InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds links a David Fredosso post in the Washington Examiner which, in turn, touts a Public Policy Polling report that "Medina is coming on strong," asserting that she's "now at 24%, just four points behind Kay Bailey Hutchison's 28%." Claiming to be a poll of "likely GOP primary voters," PPP's poll was apparently one of those telephone robo-polls.

Now, as I've written here before many times over many years: I hate polls and pollsters in general; I think they're pernicious and evil, that they've come to distort the American political process in ways that are usually bad, and that they're given undue weight by the media and pundits and (worst of all) by politicians. One of the things I liked best about George W. Bush throughout his presidency was that he absolutely refused to be driven by polls, in very dramatic contrast to his immediate predecessor in office. Agree with them and him or not, Dubya has principles, and he governed by them for the most part (albeit with some conspicuous exceptions, and he was most consistent with regard to his most passionately held principles, e.g., on matters of post-9/11 national security). I don't know or much care whether PPP is one of the "better and more honest" pollsters; as far as I'm concerned, that's like discussing "better and more honest" timeshare condo salesmen.

Accordingly, I'm especially skeptical of any poll that's automated and that relies on what is essentially offensively-oriented voicemail — using the word "offensive" there in both the sense of being unpleasant, and in the sense of being non-passive and intrusive.

But when you drill down into the actual polling questions and results, you'll find this question and answer that I think is hugely significant, but that PPP, Fredosso, and Prof. Reynolds all ignore:

Q5 Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Debra Medina? If favorable, press 1. If unfavorable, press 2. If you’re not sure, press 3.

Favorable........................................................ 40%
Unfavorable .................................................... 9%
Not Sure.......................................................... 51%

If there's a figure that's significantly understated in this entire poll, I suspect it's that last one. I would wager a Whataburger Patty Melt Meal, even a Whata-sized one with a milkshake and a hot apple pie, that nowhere close to 49% of likely Texas GOP primary voters could tell us one significant fact about Debra Medina other than, perhaps, at most, that she's not an incumbent state or federal politician.

I think that the appropriate interpretation of this poll, in the current political climate, is that most of the votes purportedly for Medina are actually for "Neither of the other two" — at least when the only other choices are Perry and Hutchison. Perry and Hutchison have been on the ballot over and over and over again; their names are extremely familiar to Texas voters in a year in which that's as much a curse as a benefit. Indeed, the poll shows that both Perry and Hutchison have roughly 50% job approval ratings, which I think is probably not too far off. But Perry has some high negatives — not all the voters who snicker at references to "Gov. Goodhair" are Democrats, and even some who like him are very uncomfortable with the ideal of a 10-year governor running for re-election — and Hutchison is widely perceived in some parts of the state as being part of the elite Bush-41-style RINOs who've been thoroughly corrupted by spending too long in Washington. (That's not exactly my own view of either of them, for what it's worth, but it's also fair to say that I'm not doing backflips over either's candidacy.)

It's very easy to blow off some steam in an automated telephonic robo-poll where pressing the button for an unknown or little known candidate costs you nothing. Taking the trouble to go to the primaries to cast a vote to match that phone button stab — whether as a protest or as a substantive endorsement of Ms. Medina's candidacy — is a whole 'nuther deal.

I can't rule out entirely the possibility, suggested by Freddoso and others, that Medina now threatens to beat out Hutchison for a spot in a GOP run-off, although I still think that's pretty unlikely. I wouldn't much mind seeing that happen, actually, if it served to help re-enforce the Tea Partiers' message to both major political parties that they can't just continue to give lip service to fiscal conservatism while spending like promiscuous frat boys at a strip club with Daddy's Amex Platinum Card.

But will a majority of Texas GOP primary voters actually cast their ballots, at the only poll which counts, for a political unknown with no prior experience in any public office — knowing that candidate will be running against a formidable and extremely well-financed Democratic candidate like Bill White? Nuh-uh, compadre. That's just not going to happen. Not in a state-wide race in Texas, anyway — not this year.


UPDATE (Fri Feb 12 @ 1:25am): As reader "Paul in Houston" commented below, Ms. Medina has, at a minimum, hit a speed bump when, in response to questioning on Glenn Beck's radio show as to whether the government was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, she answered: “I think some very good questions raised have been raised in that regard.” (DRJ has posted a transcript over at Patterico's.)

I'm inclined to agree with Ed Morrissey that her later written statement trying to walk this answer back is not very convincing, and Ed may also be right that the recent polling before this statement may have constituted "the apex of her political career."

If Ms. Medina had a track record of solid performance as a principled conservative in any public office, one might be inclined to say, "Oh, well, Glenn Beck — he's a big-mouthed rabble-rouser who's just out for ratings," which is unquestionably true, and to assume that this was just an unfortunate misstatement by Ms. Medina, a "gotcha moment" in which we ought to credit her written retraction over her spontaneous answer in the Beck interview. But if we take politicians at face value, then we'd all have to believe that Barack Obama is absolutely committed to fiscal conservatism and to reigning in government spending. Deeds trump statements; absent deeds, spontaneous words trump carefully rewritten words.

Although I think Beck's usually a clown, he stumbles upon or makes real news from time to time, and there's no doubt that he's high-profile enough now that this incident will dramatically increase Medina's name recognition among Texas GOP primary voters. But I think it probably will diminish the odds of her making a run-off to nearly nothing.

Posted by Beldar at 05:57 PM in 2010 Election, Politics (2010), Politics (Texas) | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Friday, February 05, 2010

Beldar handicaps Perry vs. Hutchison vs. White

Regarding Glenn Reynolds’ item, linking a Los Angeles Times blog post, about a new Rasmussen Reports Poll suggesting that in the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race, either incumbent Rick Perry, retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, or self-identified Tea Party supporter Debra Medina would defeat the likely Democratic challenger, Bill White:

It’s way, way too early to handicap the final Texas gubernatorial race with any confidence. But for now, as I see it, the two big questions are:

  • Will the Hutchison/Perry mud-slinging during the GOP primary seriously damage either of them in a way that affects the general election?

              — and —

  • Will Bill White’s success as Houston’s mayor permit him to dodge his eventual GOP opponent’s efforts to tar him as just another tax-and-spend liberal Democrat who would be a close ally to President Obama and the national Democratic Party leadership?

(I mean no offense whatsoever to Ms. Medina, and I am, in general, very sympathetic to the concerns raised in the various Tea Party protests around the country. But both Hutchison and Perry will work very hard, during the primary and, for the winner, after, to lure those voters. Perry in particular is already emphasizing his non-Washington status. I expect either of them will adequately co-opt those voters, such that a newcomer like Ms. Medina is not likely to have much more than a symbolic and incidental effect on the Texas GOP primary or the general election in November.)

Although he's unconventional in many respects, Bill White is the most viable and attractive candidate the Dems have run for any state-wide Texas office in quite some time. I know Bill reasonably well: He was the editor in chief of the Texas Law Review in 1978-1979, one year ahead of the editorial board on which I served. A few years later when I was at Baker Botts, I was heavily recruited by him and his then-law partners at Susman Godfrey. I like him and I respect him. Bill is industrious and just wicked smart — as smart as anyone I’ve ever met, period.

Had he not been term-limited, and had he wanted another term, there is no doubt at all that Bill could have been re-elected as Houston’s mayor again by another overwhelming margin. I’m not one of the local politics mavens who bird-dog every City Council meeting, and Bill’s performance as mayor generated serious critics whose opinions I also respect. But I’ve never known him to be, nor seen any credible accusation that he is, anything less than basically ethical. I think he’s used carrots more than sticks as mayor, but with no more larceny in the carrot-distribution than what's probably the necessary minimum. Compared to, say, Chicago, Houston’s local politics are still amazingly nonpartisan and usually even non-controversial; there’s a positive passion for “business as usual” here in a city of amazing opportunity, and a mayor who can preside as a reasonably good steward over that process, without screwing up too obviously, will end up looking pretty good in hindsight. Bill certainly at least met that low hurdle. But in particular, Bill ended up looking both competent and compassionate in the recent Gulf Coast hurricanes — both as the leader of an involved civic neighbor during Katrina and, even more dramatically in contrast to New Orleans’ awful leaders, as the guy on the hot seat during Ike.

White is not a natural politician by any means — he’s utterly lacking in the slick charisma that Bill Clinton sweats and breathes, and his wonky professorial streak isn’t mixed with the same arrogance that Obama exudes. He still has a boyish directness that’s quite disarming — and it’s helped him translate his lack of political slickness into a net-positive feature for his successful mayoral campaigns.

Thus, I’m one of many conservative and Republican Houstonians who happily voted for Bill for mayor twice. I wish him well in life. I’m grateful for the good he’s done. Yet I will not vote for him for any state-wide or national office — precisely because he is indeed a devoted member of the Democratic Party.

White was a cabinet undersecretary (Energy) in the Clinton Administration, and he’s now running for a place on the political ticket (Dems) that hasn’t won a contested race in a Texas state-wide election since the early 1990s. I believe he’d govern as a progressive Democrat at either a state or national level, in a way that Houston’s local politics simply wouldn’t have permitted him, or anyone, to do as mayor. And I just have no confidence that he would — or would even want to — stand up against the leaders of the national Democratic Party; I just can’t see him defying the national party line on anything important.

Perry and Hutchison both have had extremely broad support — translating to easy victories — in their past races, but I don’t think either of them has a fraction of the depth of support that Dubya had when he was in the Texas Governor’s Mansion (or the White House, for that matter). And both Perry and Hutchison have done a good job at identifying the other’s most likely Achilles heel — Hutchison claiming that Perry’s too close to lobbyists and particular business interests, Perry claiming that Hutchison has become too much a Washingtonian and one of those GOP incumbents who were fiscally irresponsible to the point of recklessness. Both positions are caricatures, but the point of caricatures is that they rely on (and simply exaggerate) definitive, if superficial, features. The problem for Hutchison is that right now, most Texans probably hate the idea of federal spending more than just about anything, and certainly more than they hate mere lobbyists.

The Perry/Hutchison brawl, while enthusiastic and probably sincere from both sides, strikes me as something akin to a brouhaha over whether the S.M.U. Pony Band unduly insulted the Fightin’ Texas Aggies or their mascot during a college football halftime performance. If you're not heavily invested in either camp, the fight's entertainment value begins to fall off pretty sharply pretty soon. If conservatives are looking for targets to demonize, there are lots better ones around than either of these two — both of whom can legitimately claim to have reliably served most of their constituents quite satisfactorily in most respects, as reflected by the fact that they've both had easy re-elections. I suspect that most Texas Republicans wish they’d both shut up and just flip a coin tomorrow to decide which one will pull out of the primary. At least, that’s pretty much the way I feel. But some of the mud will probably stick, certainly enough to cost the eventual GOP nominee a few points in the general election — and that’s damned unfortunate, but I doubt it will be determinative.

Texas wasn’t totally immune to The One’s hopey-changitudinosity in 2008 — Obama didn’t do badly at all in Harris and Dallas Counties, for example, and had enough coat-tails to help Dems win a surprising number of local offices in both. But the bloom and its fragrance, real or imagined, is decidedly off that flower now. I don’t think even Karl Rove — whom Dubya reportedly nicknamed “Turd Blossum” for his ability to make political miracles from a stinky, messy situation — could turn an Obama connection into a political plus in Texas today.

I don’t mistake White’s lack of conventional political charisma as being political naïveté, and indeed, I suspect he can be adequately ruthless. But I doubt that ultimately he will be able to overcome the label of his party and the implied associations with Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Dean, Dodd, Frank, etc. — not in a big-money campaign against either Perry or Hutchison. Even with a positive record as Houston’s mayor to capitalize on, I just don’t see him generating the image of independence and strength that he’d need to run convincingly away from Obama. And on substance, even if he runs as what Dems would consider a “Blue Dog,” with a “conservative-light” platform that pretends allegiance to fiscal discipline and entrepreneurial values, there will still be plenty of issues on which he’s compelled to keep to the Left — among them social issues like abortion and gay marriage — that are still hot-buttons for some Texas conservatives and even some independents. (And yes, there are at least some of the latter; they're the ones who put Ann Richards into the Governor's Mansion after her ill-starred GOP opponent, Clayton Williams, fed her the ammo to paint him as a sexist good-ole-boy in 1990.)

So if forced to guess today — that’s what Professor Reynolds did with his post, he’s practically forced me to blog again with this early February guess about a November election! — my best guess is that the general election will come down to a somewhat weakened Perry, who will still overcome a White who can’t quite disassociate himself adequately from Obama and the national Dems.

Posted by Beldar at 09:02 PM in 2010 Election, Obama, Politics (2010), Politics (Texas) | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack