December 24, 2011
Gingrich, Perry and the Problem of Organization

Not that Politicalprof — and lots of other political scientists as well — has ever made this point before, but in presidential elections, organization matters.

See, for all the endless discussion of issues, and personalities, and shifting coalitions that might support or oppose candidates across the length and breadth of a campaign, the plain fact is that the American presidential election process is long, hard and complicated. Each party has a structurally different process; each state has different rules for how its elections will be run; federal campaign finance law shifts over time. There is much wrong with the way we select our presidents, but one thing is true: no one who gets elected president can run a badly organized, underfunded and under-staffed campaign. You simply can’t get through the maze of the presidential election process on the fly: you need a large, professional, well-funded staff to get you through to the nomination and then the presidency.

Which helps explain the fact that both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry failed to qualify for the Virginia ballot. As it happens, Virginia has relatively stringent ballot access rules: to get listed as a presidential candidate, one has to get the signatures of 10,000 registered Virginia voters. This, as you can understand, is hard. So you have to have staff in Virginia well ahead of the actual election systematically working to collect enough signatures to even get listed as a candidate. Note that this has to be done well before you as a candidate are ever likely even to enter the state in campaign mode. It is one of many pieces of background work that has to be done by any campaign if it expects to succeed in a run for the presidency.

Neither Perry nor Gingrich (nor Cain before them) had close to what it takes. And so, whatever else is going on on the day of the Virginia primary, regardless of whether either is leading in the Republican primary or national polls or not, no one in the state of Virginia will have the chance to vote for either Perry or Gingrich. Simply because they lacked the organizational moxie to pass the first hurdle on the path to getting the nomination.

Note that this is why Sarah Palin was just wrong when she hinted the other day that there’s still time for someone to get in. While a Palin candidacy would draw lots of heat and fire, the simple fact is that what it wouldn’t draw is lots of votes—she’s not on the ballot, and wouldn’t be able to get on the ballot in lots of states.

It may not be sexy, but organization matters. If all  you do is focus on the policy profiles and personality clashes of various candidates, you’re missing the deeper question of who is actually likely to be able to sustain a candidacy over time. Only those candidates with real organizations and real staffs can win the nomination these days. Everyone else is a media star with no effective political muscle.

November 30, 2011
The Rick Perry Style of Management

Work for the federal government? Don’t agree with Rick Perry’s plans? No problem: he’ll just reassign you to a truly unpleasant place.

Click the headline for the video.

h/t: AM

November 16, 2011
Rick Perry so loves the Constitution he promises to change it

So Rick, “maybe Texas should think about seceding” Perry has offered a couple of new proposals for his campaign that stand as Constitutional howlers.

In the first, he has promised to end lifetime appointments to federal judgeships. In the second, he has promised to cut Congress’ pay in half.

And no, I am not making this up.

At least two things stand out about this for me.

First, there are real, historical reasons that federal judges get lifetime appointments and Congresspeople are paid meaningful salaries. As for judges, anyone who has ever read the Declaration of Independence in full—in other words, almost no one—would have read that one of the King’s techniques to abuse the colonies was to remove judges for political reasons, or otherwise manipulate their jurisdictions if they took actions the King disapproved of. The federal court was given lifetime appointments in the Constitutional system in order to ensure—or enhance the probability—that court actions were taken without political considerations. It doesn’t always work, but that was the intent.

Similarly, members of Congress get paid to make it possible for relatively ordinary citizens to have a chance to serve. The whole notion of paying the legislature was to open it to middle class people who would otherwise have to work full time to pay their bills, and so could not engage in public service. Again, this doesn’t always work as intended, but it’s certainly the case that if you cut Congressional salaries, it is even more likely that only the well-to-do could possibly afford to serve in Congress. I get why Perry might think this is a good idea, but whatever visceral joy there might be in squeezing Congressional salaries, it won’t make Congress work any better.

Second, Perry appears to have little to no understanding of how the amendment process works. As it happens, the president has no—zero, zilch, nada, keine—formal role in the process of amending the US Constitution. There are two paths by which the Constitution can be amended: 1) Congress proposes an amendment which then has to be ratified by 3/4 of the state legislatures; and 2) 2/3 of state legislatures call for a Constitutional Convention, and if any proposed amendments emerge from that Convention, they require the approval of 3/4 of the state legislatures. (Note that process 2 excludes Congress from the amendment process. It has never been used.)

Likewise, he appears to have no political sense of how Congress gets paid. Like it or not—and pretty much no one likes it—Congress decides how much Congress gets paid. Notably, under the terms of the 27th Amendment Congress can’t raise its own pay until an election has passed—e.g., after we have a chance to toss them out. But otherwise, it’s an act of Congress that sets Congressional pay, and while the President does have to sign the bill to make it a law, presidents always sign the Congressional pay act as the result of a simple political calculation: exactly how much of his or her legislative agenda is a President likely to get after vetoing Congress’ salary?

So, what exactly are the odds that Congress will approve a law to reduce its pay? Or to end lifetime appointments to the federal bench? 

Some proposals are indeed sound and fury signifying nothing. Others are tales told by idiots. It takes a special mind to combine both: to make Shakespeare’s MacBeth real:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

MacBeth, Act V, Scene 5

November 10, 2011
On Perry Going Blank

I find myself angered and annoyed that the political left in the United States has chosen to focus on and mock Rick Perry for going blank for a few moments in the debate last night.

In part, this is because everybody does it. Hell, I did it in class yesterday. It happens. Perry’s misfortune was to do it in public … or, not all that in public given the CNBC crowd, but public in our Youtube age.

But that’s not what really makes me mad. What really goats me is that last night that stage was filled with people saying things that I thought were hateful, injurious to the public good, and down right stupid. And in response, the political left decided to make fun of Rick Perry.

There are reasons Republicans have dominated American political life and rhetoric for the last 30 years people. One of them is the stupidity and silliness of the political left. Fight the real fight, folks. Not the dumb ones.

October 7, 2011
"… . What is striking about this in Perry’s case—and indeed in the case of many tea party candidates—is that they no longer seem to feel any need to even offer lip service to the notion that education is important to building success and opportunities for peoples’ lives. Where once the notion was that getting a good education was key to creating and maintaining a large middle class in America, now the emphasis is on boot strapping one’s way to the top. Indeed, many tea party types seem resentful that their tax dollars are used to educate “others” at all—whether illegal immigrants, or the poor who “belong” here. Education is a “cost” to be limited or eliminated, not a “good” that pays itself back in untold and often immeasurable ways… ."

I’m with you (and Perry) on the illegal immigrant issue, as I’ve posted here before. First draft = incomplete. But Texas, like many states, is slashing support for higher ed, increasingly pricing it out of the reach of more and more people. (My own university has almost tripled tuition and fees in the last 10 years in the face of staggering budget cuts—and no, we haven’t seen big pay increases, fancy offices or big time sports here. It’s about a dollar for dollar swap, with tuition paying for cuts in state support.)

Also, the business groups Perry relying on for his reform proposals seem dedicated to the proposition that college is little more than jobs training … and given that Google did not exist the year I joined my current university (1994), I question the notion that a university can train someone to a job. We’re trying to help people develop an array of skills that can help them with a globalized world and to do jobs that don’t exist yet. And I’m not sure Perry believes that.

Politicalprof: Why Rick Perry’s Grades May Matter …

 Wait … isn’t Perry taking flak for supporting in-state tuition for non-legal residents?  And hasn’t Perry been pushing hard for a $10,000 college degree, precisely because he feels eduction is extremely important, and that it out to be affordable for everyone?  You can blast certain elements of the Tea Party all you want about this, but lumping Perry into the mix seems unfair to me.  He’s arguably been more focused on the importance of a college education than our President.

I’m no Perry supporter, and there are plenty of legitimate grounds that ought to disqualify Perry from office.  This isn’t one of them.

(via jeffmiller)

(via jeffmiller)

October 7, 2011
Why Rick Perry’s Grades May Matter …

In general, I am of the opinion that there is little to no correlation between one’s college grades and one’s chances of success in one’s chosen career. As a practical matter, if you can get past the first gatekeeper of your chosen field—and this, as all of us who have struggled to make it know, is HARD—the rest of your career is largely shaped by how well you do the job you have, the opportunities and options you have available to you, and a little bit of serendipity—the stuff that happens by accident but leads you down some paths and not others.

So at one level I am not particularly bothered by the fact that Rick Perry was a not very interested student/big time party boy at Texas A&M. Nor was I particularly bothered that his gubernatorial predecessor, George Bush, was likewise disinterested in school. After all, FDR was a playboy in his younger days, and Lincoln never went to college. Being an A student does not mean you will be an A president. (See, for reference, Jimmy Carter.)

But I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve missed an important point about grades, at least in the case of people like Rick Perry. I’m beginning to think that, for Perry, the fact that he has been highly successful despite his poor school performance means that school basically doesn’t matter for anyone.

I’m still teasing through these ideas, so consider this a first draft of an evolving idea, but I think I’m on to something here. For example, an attitude that “school doesn’t really matter” seems to me to be  a helpful explanation for Texas’ education “reforms” under Perry. Whether at the elementary and secondary levels, or at higher education, Texas’ schools have been riven by ideological and budget challenges that seem likely to weaken the system substantially. 

What is striking about this in Perry’s case—and indeed in the case of many tea party candidates—is that they no longer seem to feel any need to even offer lip service to the notion that education is important to building success and opportunities for peoples’ lives. Where once the notion was that getting a good education was key to creating and maintaining a large middle class in America, now the emphasis is on boot strapping one’s way to the top. Indeed, many tea party types seem resentful that their tax dollars are used to educate “others” at all—whether illegal immigrants, or the poor who “belong” here. Education is a “cost” to be limited or eliminated, not a “good” that pays itself back in untold and often immeasurable ways.

We seem to have grown a generation of persons who believe that they are successful despite their educations rather than because of them. Which may be the biggest educational failing of them all.

October 5, 2011
DC Decoder: Perry's big bucks

This is why the media meme that Rick Perry is over is wrong:


Drudge has the scoop on Rick Perry’s third quarter fundraising haul: He raised more than $17 million, from more than 20,000 unique donors, half of whom were from outside Texas. It’s worth noting that Perry’s timeframe for the quarter was shorter than everyone else’s, since he didn’t actually…

(Source: dcdecoder)

September 27, 2011
What Made America Great

The context for this post is the recent Republican debate in which Texas Governor Rick Perry defended Texas’ decision to educate the children of undocumented immigrants for the same price Texas educates children who are resident in Texas when they enter college. In other words, Texas charges such students “in state” instead of “out of state” rates. 

Rhode Island just decided to do the same thing, by the way.

For this point of view, Rick Perry got booed by at least some of the Republican audience for the debate.

The anti-Perry case seems to boil down to the notion of incentives: if the state does anything nice for undocumented people, whether it’s offering education or housing or healthcare or anything else, such help both: 1) provides incentives for undocumented persons to come to the “friendly” state; and 2) means that legal residents’ taxes are taken to benefit illegal persons. And since we don’t want undocumented persons in the US (or a state), and we don’t think it’s right to take tax dollars in general, much less to take tax dollars to assist undocumented persons at all, then providing public services to undocumented persons is a priori immoral. It is wrong as a state of being.

Which is all fine well and good until you think about what made America great. And the answer is: other people’s smart, innovative and entrepreneurial people.

I’m obviously talking about immigration. Think about like this. Most of us have an “at home” bias. We grow accustomed to the routines and mores of our way of life, and even when things aren’t great, we stick with it. Inertia is, as Issac Newton well understood, a very powerful force in the universe.

So who moves? Who gets off their lazy butts and strikes out towards a better life? The research into this question finds pretty much the same answer over and over: people who are smarter, more creative and more entrepreneurial than the people who stay home and put up with their crappy lives.

What Perry understands, and indeed what America used to understand, is that it is the continual influx of talented, engaged, hard working people that has made America great. People bring their skills and their talents—and, yes, their troubles, too—to the United States, where these skills and talents find new and often surprising outlets, whether in their own lives or in the lives of their children.

What Perry understands, in other words, is that people have potential, and that a society can choose either to nurture and profit from that potential, or they can seek to repress and deny it. More, he seems to understand (and believe me, I hate that I am being sympathetic to Rick Perry) that we are all better off if we let people explore their potential regardless of the stamps on their documents.

America used to understand this too. It used to understand that its greatness lay in its ability to draw people of extraordinary skills and talents to the US, and while the movement of persons across borders always brings social tensions, that on balance the exchange has been to the profound benefit of the United States.

Now we’re booing people who just want a chance to use their skills and talents to help the United States be better. It’s insane. Unfortunately, in this election cycle it seems to be the Republican way.

September 23, 2011

Declines in support for Rick Perry since his announcement of his candidacy for president. So far, the better he is known, the worse he does. He may yet turn that around, but it’s a problem for his campaign.

From Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.

September 22, 2011
Five things to know for the Google Debate


Welcome to the Fox News-Google Debate, the third in fifteen days for the GOP presidential hopefuls and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson’s first trip to the debate stage with the national spotlight firmly on the primary. 

Decoder has prepped debate primers before - see our tea party debate primer, and Iowa debate bit - but this time we’ve lassoed some of Tumblr’s most interesting political commentators for their perceptions, expectations and questions about tonight’s debate. (For the questions they would ask, see our prior post with commentary from Bart Hinckle, MostlyPolitical and HipsterLibertarian.)

Below, you’ll hear from:

1. Will anybody knock the Perry-Romney showdown narrative off track?

For a view of the debate from 10,000 feet, who else would you turn to but a Political Prof?

Will anything happen that destabilizes the media narrative that it’s a Perry vs. Romney race? Nothing - not Ron Paul’s standing in the polls, not the exclusion of candidates like Gary Johnson, has managed to break through the media frame that it is a two-person race for the nomination. Two candidates have been anointed months before a single Republican votes. This isn’t reporting. It’s taking charge. Will this tale get knocked off track?

2. Will social media doohickeys and other debate gizmos obscure the discussion?

Take it away, Ernie of Shortformblog:

To put it simply, tonight’s debate should prove interesting from the perspective of attention spans — who gets the time to talk? That doesn’t just break down to the politicians on the podium (though clearly Rick Perry and Mitt Romney will get most of it), but to the crowd and to all the social media doodads that made the first CNN debate a teeth-gritting experience.

Google is actually sponsoring this event, assuring we’re going to see some of this social media seep in. But it can’t be social media for the sake of it. These voters have real questions to ask these candidates, from Perry on down, and we worry that questions from YouTube users and instant polls of social media users take away from the debates.

You know who we’d like to see sponsor one of these events? Politifact. Instant fact checking? That would be awesome. Instead, we’re in serious danger of getting distracted from the real issue at hand, which is that in 14 months, we’re going to have to vote for one of these people, and we need to know more about them than if they prefer iPhones over BlackBerrys. We hope Fox News finds a balance

3. Ron Paul has a fellow libertarian candidate on stage for the first time - Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico. Johnson is more eloquent than Paul, in Evilteabagger’s estimation, but “needs to make sure he can portray himself as more than the ‘Pot Candidate.’” Moreover,

Read More

(Source: dcdecoder)