Monday, March 23, 2015

Cruising the Web

Mark Leibovich has fun with what he calls "Hillary's eternal quest for relatability."
“Relatable” is one of those perfectly awful words that has colonized the American vocabulary over an alarmingly short period of time. Writing in The New Yorker last year, Rebecca Mead described its rapid ascent in art and popular culture, but nowhere is it more perfectly at home than in the vacuous vernacular of campaign politics. It perfectly distills both the futility of the most famous woman in American politics embarking on a project to convince everyone that she can in fact relate to their everyday concerns and routines, and vice versa.

Perhaps even more so, it also reflects the tired constructs that so many political-media types apply to the “challenges” facing politicians as they try to escape the various pigeonholes in which they find themselves (often thanks to the same political-media types). As a presidential candidate in 2004, John Kerry tried to shed an impression of being “aloof”; George H.W. Bush battled a “wimp factor”; Joe Biden fought a “lightweight” perception, especially from early in his career. Now comes “relatable,” which Clinton owns in a big way — as in, she’s not. Too rich, too famous, too calculated. If she did not own this “relatable” stamp before, she does now, thanks largely to McKinnon and “S.N.L.”

So what is Clinton supposed to do? Make herself less familiar? Is she obligated to just go away? Can she help it if voters — or more to the point, the media — might be suffering from “Clinton fatigue”? Of course not. But whether or not it’s her fault, it is her problem.

Late in the “S.N.L.” skit, McKinnon’s Clinton showed a sonogram of her fetal self hoisting a “Hillary 2008” sign in her mother’s womb. She cackled and added, for good measure, “what a relatable laugh!” It was a gratuitous and perfect touch; completely absurd, and equal-opportunity in its cringeworthiness. You can imagine Clinton seeing this and wondering whether she is in danger of being buried by a cartoon — and you can just as easily imagine a pall of shame coming over the trope-meisters in political-media land who trade in these shallow notions. It’s easy to feel the pain on both sides. I can relate.

Twitch points to this great set of posts by the Weekly Standard's Lee Smith about all that might have happened "If it weren't for Bibi." Here's a taste:

Apparently, ridiculing Marie Harf's argument that the way to fight ISIS is to get them jobs is just sexism. Emily Zanotti responds,
Now, far be it from me to defend people who say mean things on Twitter. That platform may be second only to YouTube comments in its utter inanity and potential for vicious virtual warfare of the words. But let's make something crystal clear here: at no point was anyone saying that just Marie Harf was being wrongheaded about how groups like ISIS come to be. She was merely the person who vocalized the theory, albeit poorly, in a public forum that was easily accessible. She got raked over the coals simply because, as the State Department spokesperson speaking about State Department things, she was ultimately the person who had to put the ridiculous policy into words on cable television.

Not to mention, the reaction to the Jobs for Jihadis idea isn't simply directed at Ms. Harf. The reactionary public made very clear that everyone who holds this belief is, to put it nicely, willfully ignorant. They're not saying Marie Harf is an idiot. They're saying the whole administration is. But here, as in most cases, the easiest way to dismiss criticism that jabs close to the heart is to explain it away with institutionalized prejudice: everyone just hates the ladies, #waronwomen, etc.

Ron Radosh diagnoses the media and Obama's "Bibi Derangement Syndrome."
n order to weaken and neutralize him, it makes sense to paint him as a right-wing extremist with whom there can be no accommodation.

For that task, the compliant defenders of Obama in the press must paint a portrait of Netanyahu in the darkest of colors. To these writers of the mainstream liberal press, anything is fair game when it comes to demonizing Bibi. They suffer from what I call Bibi Derangement Syndrome (BDS).

First, they inevitably begin their argument by claiming that before the election he had cynically switched his position on the two-state solution from pro to con and that he had definitively stated that there would be no two-state solution and Palestinian state while he was prime minister. In doing this he had repudiated his 2009 speech in which he publicly stated that he favored two states living peacefully side-by-side.

In fact, Netanyahu had not changed his position nor repudiated his earlier statement. In 2009 he said at Bar-Ilan University that “in my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and existence.” The key is the last part of his statement, noting “mutual respect” and neither threatening each other, which is mandatory for any such treaty.

He sought to clarify his position after the election in a much-discussed interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, telling her:
I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state today, and evacuate areas, is giving radical Islam an area from which to attack the State of Israel. This is the true reality that has been created in past years. Those that ignore it are burying their heads in the sand. The left does this, buries its head in the sand, time and again.
Here, in his very first sentence, Netanyahu does not say he is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, but that today conditions in Palestinian society and the Middle East make it impossible to achieve and foolhardy to attempt. Netanyahu made it quite clear, as The Times of Israel reported, that he had not changed his policy or retracted his 2009 position at all. What has changed, he told Mitchell, “is the reality.” The PA united with Hamas, refuses to recognize the Jewish state, and insists on the right of return; hence, a “sustainable, two-state solution” is not on the horizon no matter how many offers Israel makes and land it is willing to hand over.

Despite Netanyahu’s clarification of his position, and his assurances in an interview with Fox News that he would continue to cooperate with the United States, the official U.S. position has not changed. Instead, White House press spokesman Josh Earnest harped back to the prime minister’s pre-election statements, and told the assembled media that “words matter” and that the administration would not back down on the charge that Netanyahu used “divisive rhetoric” and opposed a two-state solution.

As bad as the White House’s distortion of Netanyahu’s actual position is, the avalanche of editorials and op-eds demonizing him is even worse.

Marco Rubio has employed a different sort of strategy than the other Republican candidates.
Marco Rubio has a plan to build his national profile: Take on Washington's least sexy issues.

As he prepares for an expected 2016 presidential bid, the Florida Republican senator has released policy plans for a series of thorny debates including retirement security and higher education reform.

The latest installment is a tax reform plan, released this month with his colleague Mike Lee of Utah, that would slash the top corporate tax rate and give some families larger child tax credits.

It's a move that carries plenty of political risk for Rubio. Making big changes to the tax code is typically divisive and inevitably attracts criticism from across the political spectrum.

But in a crowded Republican primary that is likely to include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, his one-time mentor, taking on dense debates can help establish Rubio as an "ideas" candidate and boost his political and policy gravitas.

"He's not going to be the guy that organizes the most money or the guy that goes out to build the traditional coalition," said Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker and presidential candidate. "He's going to be the guy that says: Look ... if you think we need someone with big ideas about the future, I'm your guy."
Add in Rubio's eloquent speeches on foreign policy, particularly his attack on the Obama administration's antipathy to Israel, and Rubio is putting forth a strong argument for his candidacy.

Kimberley Strassel exposes the extreme position the Democrats have taken on refusing to vote for the anti-human trafficking law because of the language in it prohibiting federal funding for abortions - you know that provision that Democrats have voted for over and over again?
This is legislation, note, that is as bipartisan as it comes. It was jointly authored by Republican John Cornyn and Democrat Amy Klobuchar, and co-sponsored by much of the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell followed regular order, and Democrats gave unanimous consent to move the bill.

Yet suddenly faced with the real prospect of doing something productive—after six, long years of hiding from votes—the Senate Democratic caucus wigged out. (Debate? Vote? How does one do those things?) Desperate to revert to comfortable dysfunction, Democrats suddenly “discovered” language in the bill that upholds a prohibition against the federal funding of abortions.

Yes, it is language that has been in law for 37 years and yes, it was in the bill all along, and yes, Democrats had voted for it unanimously in committee, and yes they had voted for it unanimously last year in an appropriations bill. But Minority Leader Harry Reid needed a reason to balk, and the abortion language had the side benefit of allowing Democrats to revive the Republican “war on women.” They filibustered.
Mitch McConnell didn't cave as the Democrats expected; instead he tied the nomination of Loretta Lynch to Attorney General to the vote. And now we're hearing the screaming and all the blather about what a racist, sexist attack this is. Never mind how Democrats voted against Condoleezza Rice for Secretary of State. That wasn't a racist and sexist vote; that was on principle. Strassel cheers on the Republicans for tying something the Democrats want to something the Republicans want - you know - kinda like divided government is supposed to work.
Democrats are furious, though watching them try to shame Mr. McConnell into moving up a vote on the first black woman nominee for AG is amusing. Someone had the bad idea to roll out Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who compared Ms. Lynch to Rosa Parks, railing that Republicans were making her “sit in the back of the bus.”

This would be the same Dick Durbin who filibustered Janice Rogers Brown (the first black woman nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals) and who kicked off the bus Miguel Estrada (the first Hispanic nominee to that court)—filibustering him seven times over 28 months, until he withdrew his nomination. Progress, thy name is not Dick Durbin.

Similarly laughable are Democratic claims that Ms. Lynch has now waited longer than any AG nominee since Ed Meese in 1985. That number only works if it includes all the time last year that Mr. Reid, who was still running the Senate (remember that?), didn’t act on her nomination. He was too busy packing the courts with Obama judicial nominees. And it ignores that Mr. Reid spent weeks locking down the Senate over Homeland Security funding, and now over human trafficking.

Mr. McConnell shouldn’t budge. Because what is notable is how much Democrats want Ms. Lynch confirmed. They want something. In such scenarios, the Republican job is to transact, to make clear what the left must give in return. This is the model the GOP used in the omnibus last year, in which it ceded a few Democratic demands, and in return landed some key policy victories on issues like trucking regulations and endangered-species listings.

It’s a vast improvement over what it generally does. The party keeps trying to unilaterally take things away from the president—his health-care bill, his immigration executive order. Yet he has the power to say no, and Republicans have little recourse. (Give us what we want, or we will shoot ourselves with a shutdown!)

They’ve mainly highlighted their own divisions, making it even harder to press Democrats into a deal. And when they do actually transact, they don’t drive a hard bargain. House Speaker John Boehner just cut a deal with Rep. Nancy Pelosi for a “doc fix.” She’s getting a huge priority—an extension of Schip, the child health-insurance program. Why aren’t Republicans getting a repeal of ObamaCare’s medical-device tax?

Despite the appearance that Mr. Obama has no interest in working with Republicans, there are things he and his party want. They want their nominees. They want more domestic spending. They want approval for certain pet projects. They want cover on some issues. They want to avoid others. Many congressional Democrats simply want a chance to vote on legislation, so that they have something to show voters in the next election.

Democrats are still acting as if they own Congress and betting bluster will force the GOP to back down. Republicans can hurry along the left’s new acceptance of minority status by spelling out very clearly the terms of trade. Then maybe, just maybe, they can transact a few victories.

But of course. This is where we've come in the demands of student radicalism.
A black student organization at the University of California at Berkeley is demanding the university rename a building on campus after Assata Shakur, a former Black Panther, convicted cop killer and the first woman named to the FBI's Most-Wanted Terrorist List.

A jury convicted Shakur of killing a New Jersey State Trooper in 1979. She escaped prison and fled to Cuba. The FBI calls her a domestic terrorist. In 2013, the agency added her to the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List, alongside several members of Al Qaeda, airline hijackers and bombers.

But to the Black Student Union at Berkeley, Shakur is an "icon of resistance within oppressed communities (who) represents black resilience in the face of state-sanctioned violence." They demanded the university rename Barrows Hall, named after former Chancellor David Barrows, "Shakur Hall." In 2013, Shakur declared her innocence and called her trial in 1979 a legal lynching by an all-white jury. Shakur, formerly known as Joann Chesimard, belonged to the Black Liberation Army at the time of the shooting.
Why care about the family and friends of the murder victim when there are radical slogans to be slung?

As Rich Lowry points out, the Democrats' cries of sexism and racism are totally bogus. Their opposition to Loretta Lynch is based on policy, not race or gender.
This is demonstrably false. As all the Republicans opposing her nomination make plain, the issue is her belief that President Obama’s executive amnesty is lawful.

This isn’t a mere matter of policy or personal preference. It implicates her view of the constitutional order that she will be sworn to uphold.

Whether she thinks the executive branch can in effect write laws on its own is a threshold question.
Her answer in the affirmative should be disqualifying, no matter how impressive her career has otherwise been, or how historic her confirmation would be.

On the merits, when should Republicans bring her up for a vote — now delayed because Democrats are filibustering a sex-trafficking bill? Never. When should they confirm her? Never.

The Senate shouldn’t confirm any attorney general nominee, from whatever party, of whatever race, ethnicity or gender identification, who believes the president can rewrite the nation’s laws at will.

It doesn’t matter if the nominee graduated at the top of his or her class at Harvard Law School, or barely scraped by at the University of La Verne College of Law.

If the self-styled world’s greatest deliberative body can’t enforce this basic standard, and protect its most elementary constitutional prerogative, who will?

From the dawn of true representative government in Anglo-America, the legislature has used fights over executive appointments to try to protect the essentials of self-government.

Of course, if Lynch is blocked, Attorney General Eric Holder will stay in place. But there’s no helping that. The principle that would be upheld is the Senate not giving its imprimatur to an attorney general who thinks its lawmaking role is optional.

All of this is probably academic, because Republicans will eventually hold a vote on Lynch, and they almost certainly don’t have the stomach to defeat her, in part because they fear the dreaded accusation of racism-sexism — or is it sexism-racism?

The congressional fight against Obama’s executive amnesty will fizzle out, and congressional Republicans can move on to something else, sure to bring its own charges of an implicit hatred, perhaps more than one.

Matt K. Lewis explains why Obama's idea that we should have mandatory voting is a typical liberal solution, but is actually a terrible idea. Not that those two characteristics don't often co-occur together.
The problem for Democrats is that Obama's comments play into their authoritarian stereotype. Whether it's health care or voting, they want to mandate everything from cradle to grave. There's also an irony. President Obama suggests it is the poor and young who don't vote, and yet enforcing such a policy would require punitive measures, most likely fines....

America has, over the years, evolved a pretty effective and fair system of elections It's not perfect; we still have the occasional hanging chad -- but it has served us pretty well. That's not to say tweaks can't be made. Maybe we should restore voting rights to non-violent ex-felons? Maybe election day should be on a Saturday? But it is to say we shouldn't use the extreme elitism of the past to justify heavy-handed solution for the future.
While I don't want to live in a nation where only land-holding white males get to vote, I also don't want to live in a nation where my vote is effectively canceled out by someone who has neither the inclination nor the information to cast an informed ballot. Either extreme results in someone being disenfranchised.
Congratulations are in order to President Obama for inventing yet another way to divide Americans. A week ago, who would have guessed this would even be a relevant topic?

Even more controversy that the Clinton Foundation brings to Hillary's candidacy. Duane Patterson summarizes the problems the Foundation has created for itself in Haiti.

This is exactly what I think - Iowa doesn't deserve to be the first in the nation vote in the nomination fight year after year. Putting aside Iowa's unrepresentative demographics and its damaging focus on ethanol, as far as the Republicans go, as Sean Davis points out, Iowa isn't even good at picking the eventual nominee.
Going back to 1976, the Iowa GOP has hosted seven competitive presidential caucuses: 1976, 1980, 1988, 1996, 2000, 2008, and 2012. They picked the next president once, in 2000, making them a whopping 1-for-7.

Iowa Republicans are not even particularly adept at selecting the eventual Republican nominee when the race is competitive. They got it wrong in 1980 (Iowa Republicans wanted George H. W. Bush, not Ronald Reagan). They got it wrong in 1988 (they wanted Bob Dole, not George H. W. Bush). They got it wrong in 2008 (they wanted Mike Huckabee). And they got it wrong again in 2012 (Rick Santorum won by a hair over Mitt Romney).

So to recap: Iowa has voted for a Republican presidential nominee in November exactly once in the last 30 years (in 2004), and Iowa Republicans have nominated the next president exactly once in the last 30 years (in 2000). This is not exactly the kind of batting average you expect from your leadoff hitter.
Davis has a proposal of how the GOP could replace Iowa in its undeserved leadoff spot.
Thankfully, I have a solution to this problem: instead of operating under a primary handout system, the GOP should require state parties to compete for the top primary calendar spots. That solves the massive incentive problem that currently plagues the party primary system. Why should the Iowa GOP care what happens in November, so long as it can guarantee that all current nominees bow down to Big Corn and all potential future nominees pre-emptively bite their tongues whenever they might be tempted to slander ethanol mandates and subsidies?

Republicans are supposed to believe in markets and competition, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t apply that to their own presidential selection process. Pick a handful of key metrics that will be used, be transparent about the formula and weights used to calculate results, and then let the winners divvy up the choice calendar spots among themselves.

What performance measures could be used? Perhaps percentage increases in the number of new voters registered, percentage increase in actual turnout, and percentage increases in money raised might be useful. An ability to deliver the state when it matters should count as well (sorry, Iowa, you get low marks on that one). A state’s bubble status—how close was the most recent presidential election—might also be a good factor to consider so you end up with a candidate who can appeal to voters across the political spectrum.

The point of a system like this is to align the incentives of the national party and all the state parties. When state parties register large percentages of new voters, everybody wins. When state parties turn out more of their own voters, everybody wins. When state parties are able to raise more money for candidates, everybody wins. And when a state can deliver its electoral votes to the party’s candidate in November, everybody wins.

Except Iowa, that is. An Iowa Republican party that’s batting .143 when it comes to picking Republican presidents in contested caucuses is not a party that will come out ahead in a competitive process that demands results. If the Republican Party really believes in free markets and competition, it should require states to compete for the privilege of hosting the nation’s first presidential contest. And if Iowa Republicans really believe that ethanol is the best, most economical solution to the world’s energy problems, they shouldn’t need to hold a presidential nominating contest hostage to get their way.

Competition works. Republicans should try it some time.
This is an excellent idea. Why should Iowa and New Hampshire have such a stranglehold on their opening positions. The Republicans (and Democrats) should aim for holding the opening primaries in the states most geared to picking eventual general election winners. And that is another problem with Iowa. Caucuses are a dang stupid way to pick a nominee. They are deliberately designed to lower voter turnout. How many people desire to spend a couple of hours on a wintry evening discussing politics? The turnout is geared to most committed political activists, not to those most likely to turn out in a general election. It discriminates against the elderly who might not want to come out on an icy evening or to young parents who need to pay a babysitter if they want to come out for a couple of hours of caucusing. No wonder that Iowa's victor is so often not the eventual nominee.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz examines how nepotistic a society we are by looking at several professions and seeing how many sons excel at the same professions as their dads. Guess what, sons have a better chance of succeeding at their father's profession than a man attempting a profession in which his father was not also a leader. And politicians do even better when their fathers were also politicians than those sons in trying to follow other professions.
I went through a wide range of fields and found a consistent pattern: greater success for the sons, but nothing like the edge a winning politician provides.

Here is the estimated parental edge for other big American prizes and positions. An American male is 4,582 times more likely to become an Army general if his father was one; 1,895 times more likely to become a famous C.E.O.; 1,639 times more likely to win a Pulitzer Prize; 1,497 times more likely to win a Grammy; and 1,361 times more likely to win an Academy Award. Those are pretty decent odds, but they do not come close to the 8,500 times more likely a senator’s son is to find himself chatting with John McCain or Dianne Feinstein in the Senate cloakroom.

THE Bush story is also telling, when we compare it to familial success in other fields.

Has any modern family dominated a meritocracy the way that the Bushes dominate politics? I could not find one. The Mannings, in football, probably come closest. But while Archie Manning, the father of two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Peyton and Eli, was a solid N.F.L. player, he was hardly the football equivalent of a president.

Internationally, the greatest father-son, merit-based, same-field accomplishment is probably Niels Bohr’s son Aage matching his father’s Nobel Prize in Physics. But neither the Bohrs nor the Mannings dominated physics or football the way the Bush family dominates American politics.

Regression to the mean limits family dominance in any meritocratic field. If you have a well-above-average dose of a trait, you can expect your child to be closer to average.

Regression to the mean is so powerful that once-in-a-generation talent basically never sires once-in-a-generation talent. It explains why Michael Jordan’s sons were middling college basketball players and Jakob Dylan wrote two good songs. It is why there are no American parent-child pairs among Hall of Fame players in any major professional sports league.

The Bush family’s dominance would be the basketball equivalent of Michael Jordan being the father of LeBron James and Kevin Durant — and of Michael Jordan’s father being Walt Frazier.

In other words, it is virtually impossible, statistically speaking, that Bushes are consistently the most talented people to lead our country. Same for Chelsea Clinton or any other member of a political dynasty thought to be possible presidential timber.