Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Politics and pizza at the UW

At least as far as the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board is concerned, the allegations of "union busting" at Palermo's fomented by Voces de La Frontera are unsupported by the evidence.
Voces says it will appeal and,  I suspect, it will lose again. That isn't surprising. Voces is a political, if not partisan, organization with a point of view. I suspect that it will try and push the law in the direction that it thinks it ought to go. I don't fault it for that even as I disagree with the direction in which they want to take it.
I do find offputting the efforts at both the Milwaukee and Madison campuses of the University of Wisconsin to use their allocation of tax dollars to support Voces' position.
I remember what it was like to think I had the world figured out but picking the pizza to be served at Camp Randall Stadium is not a political act. I would rather not have my tax dollars used as a weapon by ideologues. I don't think I'm alone.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin

Monday, November 26, 2012

Redistricting reform and its limits

The Journal Sentinel editorial board thinks it has found an  egregious example of bizarre gerrymandering in the recent redrawing of the 21st and 22nd Senate districts. I beg to differ.

First, let's go to the "eye test." The board thinks that the new 21st district is an imaginatively shaped "barrel" that could not be found in a "natural" world of redistricting. But as these things go, the shape of the 21st is not all that unusual. While it is far from the most compact and contiguous district you could draw, there are plenty that are worse. If you really want to see bizarrely shaped legislative districts, look at some of these, .

Beyond that, it is not hard to defend the new 21st and 22nd on  traditional redistricting principles which are are not limited to drawing a contiguous and compact set of districts or respecting existing political boundaries. For example, it is often argued that redistricting should respect "communities of interest," i.e., there should be an effort to draw boundaries in a way that includes citizens with common concerns.

The new 21st and 22d districts may well serve that principle. Voters in the cities of Racine and Kenosha may have more interests in common than they have with the suburban and rural residents of their respective counties.
This is not to say that there is no political consequence of respecting such communities. One man's respect for "community of interest" may be another's deployment of the time honored redistricting device of "packing"  voters.
But splitting up - or "cracking" -  like-minded voters is another way of gerrymandering.

This is why the United States Supreme Court has effectively made court challenges to partisan gerrymanders impossible. There is no such thing as an "ideal" map. There are six or seven common "nonpartisan" redistricting principles. Unfortunately, they often contradict each other. For example, keeping "communities of interest" within the same district may require ignoring municipal boundaries or drawing a map which departs from the state wide partisan balance of power or which maximizes competitive districts.

One solution might be to put the drawing of maps in "non-partisan" hands.
Good luck with that.
The editorial board offers two alternatives. One is to create a nonpartisan commission such as California's - a commission which is now under fire for acting in a partisan fashion (as the paper's op-ed concedes.) "Non-partisan" solutions rarely remain non-partisan and often succeed only in driving the politics underground. It is notoriously difficult to drive the politics out of something that is inherently political.
It is not at all clear that a nonpartisan approach will not have partisan implications. Many people believe that a map which draws districts in a way that maximizes things like the regularity of their shape and adherence to municipal boundaries will tend to benefit Republicans. This is because Democratic voters tend to be "packed" together in a way that Republican voters are not.

If that's true, then we can expect partisan wrangling to continue in a non-partisan context. Indeed, the battle over the redistricting criteria to be used may become partisan.

The other alternative suggested by the board  is to restrict the legislature to alternatives presented by a putatively independent state agency associated with the legislature, such as the Legislative Reference Bureau. But whether such an agency would be free of pro-incumbent bias - or would not be captured by one party -  seems unclear. Again, there is likely to be a partisan fight over which non-partisan interests to employ.
At best, this alternative would certainly moderate the potential for a gerrymandered where one party has both houses of the legislature and the state house. At worst, it would be a recipe for gridlock.
This is not to say that redistricting reform is necessarily a bad idea. It may well deserve consideration. My point is only that the matter is not as simple as it may seem to be.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Social conservatives should remain in the tent

So when I was last here, I suggested that conservatives should not believe that the sky is falling. Since then, I have completed Sean Trende's fascinating book, The Lost Majority. Trende argues that political coalitions are inherently unstable - they require bringing together incompatible groups - and that there are no permanent victories in politics. He does a nice job of illustrating how narrow the Democratic coalition is (you can say the same thing about the GOP) and the closeness of three of our last four elections along with the dramatic swings in the midterms (compare 2006 with 2010) bears that out.

But to say that things are not awful for conservatives is not to say that they are just fine. Reexamination is in order. The Democrats did not turn things around until they addressed their weaknesses. Bill Clinton was a New Democrat - one who learned to adopt his party's traditional commitment to larger government to reflect current political reality. This entailed some substantive changes - ending welfare as we knew it and pursuing a more assertive foreign policy - and some repackaging of what were essentially the same positions - abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

I can think of three things that conservatives need to think hard about. But we should begin with a caveat. The party who loses an election should be loathe to take advice from the partisans of the winners. They don't really wish you well.

So I am not quite ready to get on board with all those well meaning folks on the left who think that the Republicans should throw the social conservatives under the bus. While Republicans cannot abandon their commitment to traditional values, they must understand that many people have a more nuanced view of how those values are lived and that too much of GOP rhetoric seems to ignore that. I don't believe that the GOP should cease being a pro-life party but it cannot appear to be censorious or extreme. One of the most effective things that the pro-life movement ever did was run the ads of women explaining how they came to be opposed to abortion. The ads treated women as moral agents and not subjects to be controlled.

There is a sense in which the Republicans got a raw deal this election cycle. Rick Santorum, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin were not nominees for national office. But the Democrats did a masterful - if nasty and misleading - job of using them to taint the GOP brand. This didn't move a lot of votes but it moved some. In close elections, every vote matters.
The Democrats strove mightily to create issues that did not exist. Republicans were not proposing to outlaw contraceptions and the notion that they would become "unaffordable" unless religious dissenters were forced to pay for them was a nifty bit of distortion.
Yet Republicans let them get away with it. They have, I think, spent so much time talking to social conservatives that many have forgotten how to talk about social issues in a way that doesn't assume the conclusion. Too many conservatives have forgotten how to address these issues with persuasion and not condemnation and condescension. They have forgotten the humility and kindness which is also a religious value.
There is a great irony here. Republicans are castigated by the left for insisting on tradiitonal values but, as Charles Murray demonstrated in his recent book, Coming Apart, the upper middle class members on the left recognize how important those values are to well being and live their lives accordingly.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Republicans should get a grip

After any Presidential election, there is a danger for both the winning and losing sides. The loser sorely disappointed, will be tempted to despair and overreaction. The winners may forget that there are no permanent victories and politics and gloss over their own weaknesses coming into the next war.

What should conservatives take from Tuesday's results?

First, they should not make into more than what it is. Incumbent Presidents are hard to dislodge. In two man races since 1900, the incumbent has won 15 of 17. Depending on the final total, Romney came the closest of any of the 15 unsuccessful challenges. Obama's re-election performance was historically weak.

It is hard, moreover, to see the election as a mandate for any particular set of polices. The President did not run that kind of campaign. He could have said that he supports a larger welfare state and is willing to advocate for the taxes necessary to pay for it. Had he done so, he would have almost certainly lost.

Instead, he ran on a fuzzy platform of incremental state "investments" that could be financed solely by asking the rich to pay a "bit more." This is, of course, fantastical. You can't even make much of a dent in the deficit by allowing the Bush tax cuts expire for those earning more than $ 250,000. The Buffett rule - as even Buffett admits - would raise very little money.

But it is, significantly, the most he would say. His major focus was to trash Romney as a Big Rich Meanie. He did it masterfully, driving down the GOP vote in swing states. There are three telling facts from this election. First, turn out was down. Second, Obama's drop off in voter percentage was markedly less in swing states than in the nation generally. Third, Romney garnered less votes than John McCain. If he could have found a way to counter Obama's negative ad blitz in the swing states over the summer and turned out the McCain voters who stayed home, the outcome might have been different.

Ironically, given the attack on him a plutocrat supported by other plutocrats, he didn't have the money - having spent it on a lengthy primary fight.

So Obama's victory is significant for what it was not. It was not a mandate for the welfare state that he did not call for and will not pay for. It is also significant for what it was. A very close win in which brilliant tactics and execution played a large role.

So conservatives can get a grip. Still there are some things that must be faced. More to come.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Prognostication whithers

I have a piece in Front Page Magazine reporting on the state of the race in Wisconsin. My sense is that the race is very close.

The conundrum, of course, is this. The national polls are dead even. The coin, as it were, is still spinning on its edge.

But the state polls seem to favor Obama. Let's look at RCP's analysis. It has 201 electoral votes for the Democrats and 191 for Romney. States with 146 electoral votes are called "toss-ups." But, RCP says, the poll averages in states with 102 of these 146 votes favor the President.
How likely is this to happen? Are almost all of the states on the knife's edge likely to fall off in the same direction?

One argument for that to happen is that the Obama campaign has played the swing states well - "poisoning" each of them with its early surge of negative ads.

Another would be to look for some campaign dynamic moving the vote in the same way. Sandy is the logical candidate, although a dismaying one. Anyone who decided to vote for President Obama because he did what any other President would "do" - really there is very little for a President to "do" - in such situations, i.e., turn on the money spigot and pose for holy pictures probably shouldn't vote.

But Sandy may have run its course, now that the relief efforts are - as they often will be - far from perfect.

We see predictions of electoral totals of over 300 for both Romney and Obama. Both are plausible. I think that Romney's edge in enthusiasm will carry the day. But no one knows.
But, now about this for an outcome, Romney's 191 electoral votes are augmented by Florida and North Carolina bringing him to 235. He takes Virginia to reach 248. He then wins Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Iowa (or loses these but wins Pennsylvania) and is at 268. He carries Maine's second district (not expected but we're playing here) and the election is ... an electoral tie and goes to the House.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin

Friday, November 02, 2012

Job report means little

What will today's job numbers mean for the election? I don't know but I suspect not too much.
What should they mean? Absolutely nothing.
The way in which we await these estimates during election cycles would be amusing were it not so wrongheaded. We act as if some oracle is about to give us the one missing bit of information that will permit the "independent-minded' to pass judgment on the performance of the incumbent.
We'll hear the normal spin today. There are new jobs but the unemployment rate is up. The unemployment rate is up but more people are in the work force. More people are in the work force but labor force participation rates remain down and the "real" rate of unemployment is still much higher than the official rate.
Here is what we know. We've known it for a long time. The recovery has been awful - historically awful. It is one of the worst in our history. There is no room to argue about that.
What we do differ on is why this is so. The President's supporters say it is because the recession was so deep. His critics point to evidence that this is a mistaken assumption - deep recessions tend to be followed by more robust recoveries. They argue that the President has spent mightily - turning the federal government into a fiscal basket case - with no discernible effect.
I believe that the critics have the far better case. You may differ. One month's job report is unlikely to - and really should not - cause either of us to change our minds.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin