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Looks like Denmark is about to swing to the right, continuing the year-plus string of parties of the left just getting hammered around the world. Not that I think this is a portent for 2016 necessarily, and I think it quite likely that general elections in Canada and Spain should counter this trend before the end of the year. Certainly, local elections in both of those countries are just about the only non-awful things on the electoral front for quite some time.

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My basic view is that Israel has already passed the point of no return on West Bank settlements and is doomed. It’s not clear to me what it turns into–either an illiberal religious apartheid state that ultimately crumbles under the weight of a demographic bomb or a binational state of Jews and Palestinians are both possibilities–though it’s certainly possible we’ll see one after the other. But even if a center-left government is elected, the interests pushing the policies dooming Israel in its present form are hardly going to be sidelined or marginalized–they will certainly be represented in a Herzog-led cabinet. There’s no way out of this. That said, there are strong short-term reasons to hope for a Labor-led coalition government, in order to marginalize and diminish the international standing of Netanyahu, and wrongfoot opponents of Iranian diplomacy.

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I'm happy to see some items like this one, pushing back on the notion that Democrats are destined to have big losses in two years:

Only three of the last seven two-term presidents who were in office for both midterms had a bad second midterm in both chambers — George W. Bush, Dwight Eisenhower and Franklin Roosevelt. Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan both lost control of the Senate in their second midterms but actually performed better in the House the second time around.

None of this is to say that Obama has a good chance at his party winning back the House for the final two years of his term in 2014. In fact, over the past century, only one president’s party has gained seats in the sixth year of his presidency — Clinton. (He only gained five seats in the House and the Senate stayed the same.) […]

But the idea that there is something perilous about the sixth-year midterm, as opposed to the second-year midterm, isn’t really borne out by the numbers — particularly in the House. And if anything, the fact that Obama sustained huge losses in 2010 suggests his worst midterm is behind him, and the itch has been sufficiently scratched.

This is one of those anecdotal stories that bugs me. If you look at all the two-term presidents we've had since FDR (this won't take long, because not many actually served two full terms) and try to explain the "six-year itch" for each of them, here's what you get:

  • Bill Clinton: didn't have one. Democrats did well in 1998 and Clinton would have won another term if possible.
  • G.W. Bush: had a disastrous itch thanks to Iraq and other factors, like corruption/scandal.
  • Ronald Reagan: had a bad one, due to Iran-Contra and a general sense he wasn't really up to the job anymore. Also, while the economy was recovering, it was still particularly awful in rural areas. Which is how we got Tom Daschle, among others.
  • Dwight Eisenhower: another diastrous sixth year, but this was due to a recession also, particularly in rural areas.
  • Harry Truman: pretty bad sixth year, due to Cold War setbacks, corruption/scandal and limpid economy.
  • FDR: suffered bad losses in his sixth year due to his meddling with the Supreme Court and a noble but doomed effort to make the Democratic Party less racist , won a third term in 1940 anyway.

The thing about the "six-year itch" is that it assumes all of these are somehow connected, that there's some sort of inevitable trend to them. But as Blake argues, there isn't one, and plenty of presidents (*coughcough Carter) exhausted their goodwill within four years. Others, like Roosevelt, Clinton and arguably Reagan, were still in good enough shape to run again. There's nothing magical about the number six. This list doesn't have a coherent theme running through it, other than that if you're a Republican and you preside over a rural recession, you're in for a pretty rough time at the ballot box. In some cases, the president's party lost because of military mistakes. Other times, like FDR and Woodrow Wilson, bad political decisions are to blame. Or it could be economics. Or, perhaps something that hasn't come up yet. Or nothing! This is such a small dataset that any grand theory extracted from it is going to be crude, and would have to have outliers. In scientific terms, this is a non-publishable finding.

This is how I see it: Barack Obama seems to run a pretty tight ship in his White House, so serious scandals are less likely, though obviously always possible. The economy is visibly starting to recover, which could obviously stop any time, but we're starting to get into the time period after a financial crisis where even the most stubborn economies start to bounce back (cf. Reinhart-Rogoff). Obama intends to scale back Afghanistan operations in 2014. I don't expect big gains in 2014, because the rare times the presidential party has done that in a midterm (like 1934 and 2002) clearly had more to do with frazzled, dumbfounded opposition than with the strength of the president's popularity, but I hardly see the makings of a rout there. Midterms are usually about voters letting off steam, how bad the circumstances are usually predict how much is let off. Holding all else equal, if trends continue 2014 should probably see some nominal Senate losses for Democrats as well as single-digit House gains, as Democrats are pretty close to their floor in that chamber and there are more vulnerable Republicans than Democrats remaining there. The one area where we could see significant turnaround is for governors: most of the 2010 class of "Red Squad" governors are quite unpopular, today's batch includes John Kasich and Nikki Haley, remarkably. Rick Snyder is also busy immolating himself politically. The sheer number of Tea Party governors who face significant obstacles to another term is staggering, and it includes Rick Perry, Rick Scott, Tom Corbett of PA, Paul LePage of Maine, and possibly Nathan Deal of Georgia. Add in the steep climb Ken Cuccinelli is going to face to hold onto the Virginia statehouse, and it's very plausible that a lot of prominent GOP talent will be wiped out in 2014. Though obviously much depends on the quality of opposing candidates, perceptions of the economy, primary challenges, etc.

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Ed Kilgore gets this just about right:

[…] I don’t think conservative activists much care whether they get their way via stealth as opposed to a grand national repudiation of the New Deal and the Great Society. After all, the very core of today’s conservatives—the so-called “constitutional conservatives”—don’t much believe in democracy to begin with, unless it happens to be useful at some particular point in restoring the Eternal Verities that must be permanently enforced through public policy.

There’s no need to phrase it in subjective terms. Republicans have made this their strategy repeatedly in recent years. Oh, you could look at Mitch Daniels breaking his campaign promises and moving to dismantle Indiana’s labor unions, or Scott Walker breaking his word and targeting public sector workers when he said he wouldn’t in the campaign, or Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder running as a self-conscious moderate and then moving to the hard right on pretty much every issue. The latter issue, admittedly, is complicated since Snyder’s moderate campaign helped him win a landslide that swept in a right-wing Republican legislature, which set the tone far more so than the politically inexperienced “outsider” governor. But it’s not as though those legislators felt the need to honor the campaign promises that indirectly got them into office. But I digress…

So, there are plenty of examples showing the emerging Republican strategy: say what the voters want to hear in public, do what the Kochs want done in private. Romney seems to be transparently going for the same thing on a national level, and is an even more ideal vessel for it since he actually was a moderate a decade ago, and dumbasses like Michael Gerson and David Brooks are so thirsty for Republican moderation that they’ll drink the sand of Romney. Them and most of the institutional media, I guess, hence the “Moderate Mitt” meme’s emergence in spite of no real factual basis to back it up. None of this should be considered shocking (I mean in the sense of being surprised–it is shocking in and of itself) since this is what you get with a party with a, shall we say, culture of deceit. It’s the way of things that, not only do powerful, cynical people not feel bad about lying, it’s positively a thrill to put one over on the dumb yokels out there who are too dumb to figure it out. I suppose I should link to this again. Needless to say, when a party is at a point where its major actors find lying about their policy positions a feature and not a bug of their strategy, you really have got to wonder how long they can really last. P.S.Kilgore also makes this worthwhile point:

The whole grand strategy for conservatives this cycle was to get a Republican Congress and a president pliable enough to agree to sign the aforementioned reconciliation bill implementing the Ryan Budget (not to mention make and get confirmed the fateful fifth vote on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade). No, Romney wasn’t their dream candidate, but he made the requisite promises not to stand in the way of a Republican Congress’ will, as Grover Norquist explained earlier this year. And they didn’t even need to trust him, because the real power would be at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. I honestly don’t think it occurred to anyone in either party until fairly recently that there was a decent chance Republicans could fall short in the Senate even if Mitt Romney won the presidency. The landscape, after all, was so incredibly in their favor, with only 10 of 33 seats to protect and seven Democrats retiring, two of them in deep red states. But then Snowe retired and then Lugar lost his primary and then Akin imploded and then GOP candidates underperformed in Florida and North Dakota and New Mexico and Arizona and Hawaii, and now the Mourdock time bomb has gone off, and it’s just a friggin’ fiasco!

This is a big story, though there’s more to it. Romney has outperformed his party for a number of reasons, even if he’s underperformed what people expected of him personally. But it’s important not to forget that the GOP is, just, incredibly unpopular. Senate candidates can’t escape their party affiliation, so even good candidates who haven’t run terrible campaigns (like Linda Lingle in Hawaii), or decent candidates in red states, have struggled to close the deal because of how toxic a reputation their party has. The Tea Party is a component of this because of the ways their influence has led to the selection of lousy candidates in some of these races, too, but that feeds into the broader dynamic, since the public perception of Republicans isn’t helped by your Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks. It does appear that presidential candidates are able to transcend party affiliation to some extent based on personality and other factors, which is utterly silly but that’s how it is, and House races get much less attention paid to them so paid media can really make a strong difference there, perhaps trumping party in many cases. But Senate races get a good amount of attention, and the Republican label just isn’t an asset these days. We might well be headed toward an era where Republicans can’t put together a winning electoral map for the presidency and are hopeless in the Senate, but are able for a while (thanks to redistricting) to hold onto the House because of these factors. Like a mirror reflection of the Reagan era.


I rather like this framing of how Obama has operated during his first two years:

It’s the best that the Obama administration could do, given a political landscape where corporations completely control Republicans, and where it takes superhuman efforts to get most Democrats to vote against corporate interests.

Idealism aside, it sure seems difficult to imagine much better progress over the last couple of years – all things considered…

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Sully explores the deplorable incarceration numbers in the U.S.:

In 1970 one in 400 American adults was behind bars or on parole. As of 2008, the number was one in 100. Add in probation, and it’s one in 31. The number of people behind bars for drug crimes has soared from 40,000 in 1980 to about half a million today. States today spend one of every 15 general fund dollars on maintaining their prisons. According to the King’s College World Prison Population List (PDF), the U.S. is home to 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly a fourth of its prisoners. Judging by these official numbers, America’s incarceration rate leads the developed world by a large margin, although it’s doubtful that authoritarian regimes such as China’s are providing accurate data, especially about political prisoners. But among liberal democracies, the competition isn’t even close: As of 2008, the U.S. incarceration rate was 756 per 100,000 people, compared to 288 for Latvia, 153 for England and Wales, 96 for France, and 63 for Denmark.

He points out that a big reason why this is the case is the fact that we have the insane practice of electing attorneys general and state judges:

As New York Times reporter Adam Liptak pointed out in a 2008 article, America’s soaring incarceration rate may be largely due to the fact that we have one of the most politicized criminal justice systems in the developed world. In most states, judges and prosecutors are elected, making them more susceptible to slogan-based crime policy and an electorate driven by often irrational fear. While the crime rate has fallen dramatically since the early 1990s, polls consistently show that the public still thinks crime is getting worse.


On Fareed Zakaria’s show this morning, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski drew a fascinating parallel between American Neocons and the Iranian regime:

In Iran, we have two different forces at work. You have those who are for more democracy but who are also nationalistic and you have those who are supporting the regime who in many respects are … very similar to our Neocons. They are Manichean, they look at the world as divided into Good and Evil and many of them see America as the personification of Evil…

[Obama] has struck exactly the right note. He’s offering moral sympathy, he’s identifying himself morally and historically with what is happening in Iran but he’s not engaging himself politically, he’s not interfering, because that would turn out badly and it could be exploited by the Neocons in Iran to crush the revolution, to wipe it out. I don’t know if the revolution will prevail, it may take time, but the longer it lasts the better are its chances. But we don’t want it to escalate into a total showdown because if there’s a total showdown now, the chances are that the worst elements, the Iranian Neocons, will prevail.

Transcript by me – Here’s the official transcript.

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