Philosophical Anti-Pro-Natalism
December 14th, 2012

I can’t be sure, but I think this guy is really just trolling Ross Douthat:

I have been explicitly told three times over the past year, by young philosopher parents, that there are philosophical insights that one simply cannot have without living through the fundamental experience of parenthood. That such an expression of pronatalist normativity exactly mirrors the sort of bias philosophers are by now so well trained not to express, about other quodlibetal forms the intimate life can take, is something that is surely in need of explanation. I suspect it has something to do with the recent, massive success of the campaign, which I support, to deheterosexualize the idea of parenthood. Once this goal was largely reached, at least within pockets of our society, the academics who found it desirable felt comfortable reverting to an evidently innate sort of conservatism. The family unit has been shaken up a bit, and the role of fathers reconceived, but in the end the nearly compulsory philosopher-dad-with-kid pictures that now clutter the faculty profile pages of departmental websites are every bit as conventionally pro-family as the ‘at home’ pictures on the now-defunct Romney-for-President website. They send the message that to be a philosopher is largely, even principally, to be invested in the bringing up of the next generation, to be doing it all ‘for the children’.

It gets awesomer. Worth wading through the comments, too.


A Nation of Singles
December 3rd, 2012

Over at the Standard I’ve got a long-ish piece up about (1) what the data on Hispanic immigration looks like and (2) the more important trend toward singleness in America. There’s a lot to say on the subject that I just didn’t have space for so to some degree this is really mood-setting for What to Expect.


You know Jindal’s being a smart-ass because of the “many”
November 19th, 2012

In this line from Bobby Jindal about Romney and last week’s “gifts” remark:

“Gov. Romney’s an honorable person that needs to be thanked for his many years of public service, but his campaign was largely about his biography and his experience,” he said. “And it’s a very impressive biography and very impressive set of experiences. But time and time again, biography and experience is not enough to win an election. You have to have a vision. You have to connect your policies to the aspirations of the American people. I don’t think the campaign did that, and as a result this became a contest between personalities. And you know what? Chicago won that.”

That “many years of public service” is so sarcastic you can practically hear Gruden’s “That’s awesome.”


Dept. of Are You F@&$!G Kidding?
November 16th, 2012

I’m not familiar with Michael Tracy at the “Friendly Atheist” is, but here he is mounting a broad-based attack against Republicans, conservatism, et al with the following:

There are a number of reasons why U.S. “Conservative Movement” activists are suddenly declaringMitt Romney to be “the worst major-party nominee since World War II.”

The link, of course, is to me here.

“Suddenly declaring”? Honestly. (Don’t pull a muscle going through the full list, MichaelT. I’ll pull a highlight reel for you here and here and here and here and here and here and here. This is, of course, a partial list.)

Maybe Mollie Hemingway over at GetReligion should give the rest of the Patheos crew a talk about the dangers of parachuting in on subjects about which you know very little.


Dept. of Unintended Consequences
November 14th, 2012

Whenever the subject of tax reform comes up, someone suggests eliminating (normally by phasing out over time) the mortgage-interest deduction. Mitt Romney suggested he might like to do that. Will Saletan suggests sunsetting it 30 years from now.

This strikes me as a potentially really, really big decision. The home-mortgage interest deduction has been part of American economic life for a really long time. (Before it was carved out explicitly in 1986, all personal interest payments had been deductible since 1894.)

I assume that a bunch of smart people have created models about what killing the mortgage-interest deduction would do–not just to home prices, but to the overall mix of renters vs. owners, and all of the social indicators that normally get tied up therein. Crime, stability, family formation, fertility, etc.

But I haven’t seen any of that research and I’d be really nervous about enacting such a foundational shift in social policy without doing a whole lot of rigorous analysis as to what the secondary and tertiary effects might be.


Door #2
November 12th, 2012

What I have always admired most about Ross Douthat as a writer is his innate charity. It’s possible that he’s never been more charitable than in this post, where he gently describes me as a “longtime Romney skeptic.” There’s a special place in heaven for writers who can manage such restraint.

Douthat’s post is an exercise in grappling with the question I posited last week in my Romney post mortem:

It’s December 2011 and I come back to you in a time machine from the future. I won’t tell you whether or not he wins, but I will tell you that if Mitt Romney is the nominee in 2012, he will get more than 2 million fewer votes than John McCain did in 2008. Then I leave it up to you: You can go with Romney and hope that’s good enough, or you can pick whoever’s behind Door #2–Perry, Santorum, Pawlenty, Gingrich, Huntsman, whoever. We can’t prove counterfactual history, but I suspect most people would have rolled the dice with Door #2 on the theory of how much worse could it get?

You should read his entire response, but the short version is, If Santorum or Gingrich had been the nominee it could have been very much worse in the popular vote, if not in the Electoral College.

As support, Douthat notes:

[Romney’s] 48 percent of the vote wasn’t even close to the floor for Republican candidates this cycle: Out of eighteen high-profile Senate races,the Washington Post noted last week, Romney outperformed the party’s nominee in eleven of them, and was outperformed in only four — all in deep blue states he was never going to win anyway. “In five races,” the Post pointed out, “the GOP candidate under-performed Romney by at least nine points” — a number that includes not only Akin and Richard Mourdock, but also Republican candidates in Montana and North Dakota, “who both lost in states that Romney carried by at least 13 points.”

And describing the GOP nightmare scenario, Douthat adds:

If you think Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” sneer and Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments cost Republicans this year, imagine how the press would have covered the “war on women” debate if Santorum — who actually did speak out against birth control in the primary campaign — had been the top of the Republican ticket. If you think it was too easy for Obama to define Romney with a blizzard of negative ads over the summer, imagine how much material a Gingrich candidacy would have given the White House’s admakers to work with. If you think that Romney suffered from being perceived as too much like George W. Bush Part II, imagine if the Republican candidate in 2012 had been a yet more tongue-tied and more right-wing Texan governor whose debate performances made Obama’s Denver sleepwalk look Ciceronian.

I don’t disagree with any of this.

My point has never been to argue that any particular Republican candidate absolutely would have performed better than Romney, but merely to suggest that Romney’s electoral history suggested that his ceiling was so low that nearly any other candidate would have had a chance to perform better than he could.

In the market people talk about a stock’s “beta,” that is, the range of possible valuations it could reasonably be seen to hold. My theory throughout the entire race was that Romney’s long history of standing before a wide range of electorates, and facing a wide variety of candidates, and nearly always being turned away with support in the mid-40s suggested that there was a fundamental problem with him qua candidate. The range of probable outcomes for a Romney candidacy was reasonably small.

But just as Douthat paints the doomsday picture of an alternate candidate being crucified for war on women stuff, it doesn’t take a ton of imagination to picture a race where one of the other candidates dogs Obama by constantly making the case as to how Obamacare hampers the economy and how it can be rolled back while tying Obamacare to a larger moral critique about the size of government and freedom in a way which is not classically conservative, but rather quite populist.

All of which is why I suspect given the original Door #2 proposition, most disinterested observers would have been willing to gamble the downside of losing a couple million extra votes, North Carolina’s EC votes, and maybe an additional Senate seat for the chance of having a candidate whose appeal might have equaled the vote total of John McCain in 2008.


Dept. of Confusion
November 12th, 2012

So after advocating(?) on behalf of the Republican candidate with the most restrictive view of immigration, Jen Rubin now has some advice about what Republicans ought to do concerning immigration reform:

The next election, if Republicans are to win, must be waged with this wise counsel: “[T]he GOP seems willfully clueless. There’s a reason there are so few minorities in the party. . . . Compassionate immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, should be the centerpiece of a conservative party’s agenda. Marginalize or banish those who in any way make African Americans, gays, single women or any other human being feel unwelcome in a party that cherishes the values of limited government, low taxes and freedom. A large swath of conservative-minded Americans are Democrats and independents by default.”

This should probably be filed under the general topic of ignoring immediate post-election policy advice. It’s weird how no one ever thinks the path to electoral salvation goes through policies they don’t like.


The Day After Tomorrow Thread (Will Be Updated Throughout the Day)
November 7th, 2012

(1) Jennifer Rubin, 8/30/12:

Mitt Romney accepted the nomination of his party for president with a speech that showed he can rise to an occasion, and let us see a side of him that was compelling and heartbreaking. . . .

When Romney arrived, dramatically walking through the hall, it was a reminder how determined some in the party had been not to like him. No more. . . .

The speech was succinct and clear, providing a contrast to the president, about whom Romney said had no real plan to revive the economy. It was a mirror image of the speaker: well organized, sentimental, reasoned and optimistic. The irony is the Mitt Romney we’ve seen on the trail is not complicated or “weird” or lacking warmth or even out of touch. He is, like many men of his generation, somewhat reserved and in a cultural time warp. Tonight, he also showed some mettle and spine.

After nearly four years of high-flying rhetoric, “coolness” and a failure by the chief executive to execute, Romney is hoping that the convention, followed by the debates, will be sufficient to reassure voters who have had it with Obama. Tonight he took a step in the right direction.

Jennifer Rubin, 11/7/12:

Until October it was the Perils of Pauline campaign. It moved in fits and starts on foreign policy. The message was rarely consistent from day to day. Gobs of ads were aired to no apparent effect. The convention speech was a huge missed opportunity.

(2) Some people think I’m exaggerating when I say that Romney was the worst candidate to win his party’s nomination since WWII. Can everyone agree that John McCain was a terrible candidate, or at least that he ran a terrible campaign? (I love McCain myself, but that doesn’t mean he was a great candidate.) Can we agree that McCain ran in one of the most challenging environments possible–two wars, financial crisis, opposing the historic first black nominee? And Romney’s environment has been quite favorable–can we agree on that?

If Romney had merely been able to hold onto all of the McCain ’08 vote–he would have won the popular vote . Other candidates that we think of as being weak–Dukakis, Gore, Dole, Stevenson–what they all have in common is that before losing the presidency they won a bunch of elections.

On the other hand the 48 percent of the vote Romney won last night was one of his better electoral showings.

The first duty of a politician is to win elections. Mitt Romney spent the last 18 years losing contests, to a variety of opponents ranging, in terms of ability, ideology, and resources, from Ted Kennedy to Rick Santorum.

(3) Santino makes a good point:

One final note, to Republicans: Just remember, whichever pet issue you have that the base disagrees with, that’s the one we need to change in order to ensure success going forward. So, you know, argue extremely loudly, preferably on Twitter, about it for the next few weeks.

Oh yes. Remember: Always be suspicious of paths to salvation which track personal preference.

(4) On this same line of thinking, please understand that when I say Mitt Romney was a historically bad candidate, it’s not because I thought he wasn’t conservative enough, or moderate enough, or because I had someone else in mind. (Okay, that last one’s a lie. Mitch Daniels, obvs.) But I do think it’s important to knock down the canard that Romney was the best candidate available. For one thing, Romney himself heavily influenced the pool of candidates by sucking up money and firing warning shots across the bows of potential rivals. But for another, let me just pose you this hypothetical:

It’s December 2011 and I come back to you in a time machine from the future. I won’t tell you whether or not he wins, but I will tell you that if Mitt Romney is the nominee in 2012, he will get more than 2 million fewer votes than John McCain did in 2008. Then I leave it up to you: You can go with Romney and hope that’s good enough, or you can pick whoever’s behind Door #2–Perry, Santorum, Pawlenty, Gingrich, Huntsman, whoever. We can’t prove counterfactual history, but I suspect most people would have rolled the dice with Door #2 on the theory of how much worse could it get?

Finally, I hesitate to say this, because it’s basically an argument to authority, but I’d suggest that if you spent a lot of time following presidential candidates around it significantly reinforced the sense that Romney was not, qua candidate, the best available player. I suspect that most people who say he wasn’t so bad as a politician haven’t spent a lot of time watching these guys up close. In person, the glare off his shortcomings was blinding.

(5) Over the last few weeks I’ve missed my friend Dean Barnett even more than usual. Dean, who began writing as Soxblogger and came to work with me at the magazine, was Romney’s single best advocate. Totally, completely in the tank for Romney–but cheerful and transparent and funny; good-humored and straight-shooting. He didn’t insult your intelligence with idiotic spin. And he genuinely believed in Romney’s abilities as a governing executive.

For the most part, the media boosters who glommed on to Romney this time around were . . . less attractive. And persuasive. But the single most striking thing is that the arguments mounted on behalf of Romney were almost always about process: He’s the most electable. He’s the only one able to raise enough money. He’s the only one with a national infrastructure. It was rare to hear one of Romney’s boosters explain how Romney’s vision for the country or capabilities uniquely qualified him for the job of president.

There was, to my mind, only one qualitative argument generally made in favor of Romney: that his management experience made him uniquely qualified to be president. He was a “turn-around artist.” A “genius CEO.” Now even the claim that his private-sector ability to master organizations and rescue them was a variation on process. And it always struck me as a little dubious. For one thing, it’s not immediately clear how the skill set of the private-sector executive transfers to the job of managing the executive branch of the U.S. government. CEOs say jump and everyone around them says how high. The president says jump and half of Congress tries to countermand the order while getting him fired and the other branch of government gets to decide whether jumping is even theoretically allowed.

But at least this was a falsifiable claim. And the fact that Romney could not master even his own campaign organization in order to win an incredibly winnable election demonstrates–incontrovertiably–that it wasn’t true. If he was a turn-around artist, he would be president-elect right now.

Most political campaigns aren’t invalidated by a loss. A candidate puts forward an idea or a worldview and it can stand whether or not it’s embraced by voters. It has its own truth. But in the wake of his loss Romney’s campaign now looks ludicrous. He simply can’t be a “genius” of managing and salvaging and not win. (Orca.)

(6) Romney now exits public life, stage right, leaving the smallest footprint of any man to win his party’s nomination in, at least, a century. He was not a war hero like John McCain or a Senate bull like Bob Dole. He does not leave behind a guiding core ideology that others might nurture and grow, like Barry Goldwater. Even Michael Dukakis and John Kerry spent years in harness to public service. George McGovern served his country with distinction and issued warnings about the nature of government that look prescient today. Hubert Humphrey held nearly every office there was and Adlai Stevenson was a genuine intellectual.

Mitt Romney was a governor for two years before deciding to run for president. He passed a healthcare law that became the forerunner of Obamacare. He made a lot of money. Seen in this light, it’s still a little shocking that he was entrusted with the Republican party’s standard.

(7) Ann Coulter is very smart but I don’t even know how to respond to this:

Romney was the perfect candidate, and he was the president this country needed right now. It’s less disheartening that a president who wrecked American health care, quadrupled gas prices, added $6 trillion to the national debt and gave us an 8 percent unemployment rate can squeak out re-election than that America will never have Romney as our president.

Indeed, Romney is one of the best presidential candidates the Republicans have ever fielded. Blaming the candidate may be fun, but it’s delusional and won’t help us avoid making the same mistakes in the future.


Coffee is for closers, Mitt.
November 7th, 2012

I’ll have detailed thoughts later in the week, but some first blush thoughts:

* There will be fighting about ideology and demographics in the coming days, but I don’t buy it. For several reasons. The first being, no one actually knows what ideology Romney ran on. If you believe Romney’s ideology mattered, then what were voters rejecting? Romney’s hard-line on not giving in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants? Or the constant sly tips that he wouldn’t repeal Obamacare whole? Or the openness to raising effective tax payments by cutting personal income tax deductions in unspecified ways?

For the most part, Romney was an ideological Rohrschach test for voters onto which they could project whatever views they wanted.  As such, you can’t really say that they were uniformly rejecting some particular brand of ideology.

But of course, that’s not what these fights are about. One of the things you’ll see the coming GOP ideology wars is the very neat alignment between what a given analyst says Republicans must do to win and what that given analyst personally prefers. As always, I’m wary of those arguments. You should argue ideological positions on the merits, not on some belief in their political expediency.

* I continue to maintain that the 2012 election was determined not by ideology but by personality. Candidates matter. Not always, and not everywhere. But when you play at the highest level you need to meet some basic threshold of political ability in order to maximize the chances of victory that circumstances allow. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again: In terms of political ability, Mitt Romney is not only the worst major-party nominee since World War II (at least), but his weaknesses were particularly ill-suited to this particular race.

This isn’t to say that Romney had no chance of winning. But I’d argue he had the worst chance of any of the major candidates in the 2012 field.

* To gauge how terrible Romney was, consider this: The single biggest thing to jump out at me tonight is that, if the results hold up, Romney will have succeeded in flipping only IN and NC. That’s an amazing fact. In 2008, John McCain–viewed then (and now) as a lackluster candidate–ran a mediocre campaign in an environment where his party was being held responsible for two unpopular wars and there was an ongoing financial crisis hanging over his head. He was outspent by a large margin. Fast-foward to 2012 and Romney has none of that baggage–if anything, it’s the opposite. The environment is completely oriented against the incumbent president. The money is just about even. And all Romney can do is flip IN and NC?

That’s a damning indictment of Romney as a candidate. If you were to run the VORP numbers, it would suggest that Romney was a giant net negative relative.

And none of that was especially hard to divine. Anyone who has been around politics for even a few years, and saw Romney campaigning, should have understood how catastrophically bad he was.


Put . . . that coffee . . . down.
November 5th, 2012

Coffee is for closers.

One more reason Republicans are wrong to obsess over Nate Silver is that should Romney win tomorrow, huge chunks of the left will be caught totally surprised. They won’t just have to endure the horror of having Barack Obama rejected by America–it’ll be magnified by shock because they thought they were in such a strong position. Win-win, yes?

Update: Boy, this piece lays down a lot of markers.

Also, to the extent that I do any blogging today/tonight, I’ll likely just update either this thread or a new one.

2:16 pm: Great moments in law enforcement. Also, great moments in the franchise–the Truth Monkey votes!


More on Nate Silver and Polls
November 5th, 2012

A few notes on the polling in advance of tomorrow:

(1) So I now understand why some conservatives have it in for Nate Silver. It’s because of stuff like this, where Paul Krugman uses Silver’s work to say that anyone who disagrees with Paul Krugman is “stupid.”


But it isn’t quite fair to hold Silver accountable for the work of his friends. Silver is much more careful with his writing than his allies are in their use of it.

(2) If you want to criticize Silver, this is probably the way to go. But once again I’d suggest that anyone looking to use Silver’s work–or any model or poll–as an up-or-down means of predicting the future fundamentally misunderstands both the system and the tool. There are no crystal balls. When it comes to an election, the best view of the future you can hope for  is something that looks like a Picasso painting where the central figure is depicted from a dozen different vantage points, and appears distorted and, often, grotesque. But even that picture is better than nothing and I’m still happy to have as many lenses to look through as possible.

(3) What do we make of Silver’s final forecast, that Obama has an 86 percent chance of Electoral College victory? It does not mean that Obama will win. It does not mean, in any meaningful way, that the election isn’t very close to being a coin-flip, where the outcome is so uncertain that it could hinge on any number of independent factors and either Obama or Romney could easily emerge victorious.

One of the aspects of the polling overlooked at this point is that we’re so close to the margin of error that it would be completely unsurprising for Romney to win any of the given toss-up states where he’s behind by a point or so. That’s why it’s called the margin of error. Where it gets dicey for Romney is that he’s within the margin of error, but still behind in so many of these state polls. He could very well sweep them. But if you’re in Boston it would be nice to see him ahead in a couple of the averages, since the margin of error could swing the other way, too.

The simplest way I’d summarize what Silver’s “86 percent chance” prediction is this: The election could go either way, but if today you could choose to be in either Romney’s position or Obama’s position–based solely on the polling data–which would you pick?

I think that most people would rather be in Obama’s position, but that they’d still be very nervous.

(4) So how do we explain Jay Cost, Michael Barone, and George Will–three incredibly smart political minds, all of whom see a large Romney win? I’d suggest that they’re looking through a different lens, and viewing the state of the election not through polls but through more fundamental facts about the environment and political history. That’s a completely valid lens, too, and through it their view of a big Romney win makes all sorts of sense.

I’d suggest that whatever the outcome tomorrow, both worldviews are useful and that to the extent that we can understand a system as complicated as a presidential election it’s worth taking in both.


George F’in Will
November 2nd, 2012

Instant classic:

Energetic in body but indolent in mind, Barack Obama in his frenetic campaigning for a second term is promising to replicate his first term, although simply apologizing would be appropriate.

And then:

Biden, whose legal education ended well before he was full to the brim, was nominated for his current high office because Democrats believe compassion should temper the severities of meritocracy.

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