January 28, 2008

Hillary and competence

A couple of people have observed that the recent flurry of senatorial endorsements for Barack Obama raises questions about whether Hillary Clinton really would be vastly more competent as President. This seems to be missing the mark a bit. What Hillary's touting above all is her experience and dexterity at managing the bureaucracy, not so much shepherding legislation though Congress. To her credit, I think the bureaucracy is something that she really does understand--better than Bill ever did, in fact. Here she is talking to George Packer about how power works in government:

“The water will flow downstream, and often pool in great reservoirs of power that will then be taken advantage of by those who have been smart enough to figure out how to pull the levers. And I know from my own experience, and certainly watching how deeply involved Bill was in those areas that he thought were important, what it takes to try to get the government to respond. It’s not easy. We’re talking about this massive bureaucracy . . . and you have to be prepared on Day One to basically wrest the power away in order to realize the goals and vision that you have for the country.”

I think that Hillary's great fault is that she sees this task as the primary work of the presidency, and fails to grasp the importance of communicating with citizens and winning meaningful support for her ideas. But she's absolutely right that the task of managing the bureaucracy is critical, and no president can succeed without mastering it. This, incidentally, is the area where I worry most about Obama. Mark Kleiman agrees:

"Those 100 Regent University Law School grads in the Justice Department are now civil servants; they don't leave automatically when the White House changes hands... it's possible that [Obama's] extensive reading didn't include Neustadt's Presidential Power, and that he doesn't know how to do — or doesn't even know that a President needs to do — the part of a President's job that involves wrestling with the various bureaucracies to get them to perform in the public interest. That would be bad."

In addition to Presidential Power, I also recommend The Best and the Brightest for a primer on how easy it is for bad policies to gain an unstoppable momentum within the government, regardless of what the president wants to do.

January 25, 2008


a not-exactly-inspirational pitch from Bill Clinton:

"The reason I think [Hillary's] the most electable Democrat has nothing to do with race or gender,'' he said, adding he believes his wife is the most electable because she has ''a lot of scar tissue and knows how to handle it.''

Adventures on Facebook

This evening I discovered that there are not one, but four Facebook groups with some variation on the title: "If Hillary Clinton is elected, I'm moving to New Zealand."

January 24, 2008

Obama against the machine

Here is a fascinating article from the Wall Street Journal about the very different campaigns that Obama and Clinton are running in South Carolina. Basically, the key distinction is that Clinton is relying on the age-old model of essentially paying for black voter turnout -- giving lucrative consulting contracts to prominent leaders and handing out "walking-around money" to local politicians responsible for getting out the black vote on polling day. This kind of thing has been going on ever since the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, but as the WSJ notes, it "hasn't been effective at fostering sustained black participation in state and local politics. In South Carolina, blacks make up nearly a third of the population, but they are significantly underrepresented in elected office, even in areas where they are the majority. "

Obama, in contrast, "is trying something many observers say has never been done here: He is circumventing entrenched local leadership and building a political machine from scratch. His staff consists largely of community organizers -- many from out of state or with no political experience -- who are assembling an army of volunteers. It is a strategy often used by labor organizations and in neighborhood and town politics... Mr. Obama's team says his grass-roots approach -- tapping younger African-American voters who have never been engaged in elections -- has the potential to permanently change the way politics are practiced here."

Obama's strategy may or may not work -- the Clinton campaign remains dubious. But it displays a desire to engage with voters in a meaningful way that, to me, is the most ambitious and interesting aspect of Obama's candidacy.

January 21, 2008

Mitt Romney would like you to inform you that he is conversant in jive

"Governor Romney paid tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. when speaking to a group of employees at Gate Petroleum today and then shook hands and posed for photos with African-American families at a parade...

He jumped off the Mitt Mobile to greet a waiting crowd, took a picture with some kids and young adults and awkwardly quipped, ”Who let the dogs out? Who who.”

He took pictures with many in the crowd and greeted one baby wearing a necklace saying, “Hey buddy! How’s it going? What’s happening? You got some bling bling here!”

Horrendous. (via Andrew.)

January 7, 2008

Holiday snaps II

Ever since watching The Big Lebowski I have always wanted to go to Pismo Beach, because it sounds funny when Walter mentions it in his awesome eulogy for the hapless Donnie (which you can watch here -- just fast forward a little). And now I, too, have explored the beaches of southern California, all the way up to Pismo.

Holiday snaps I

The gorgeous LA River...

January 4, 2008

Happy New Year!

What better way to resurrect this long-neglected blog than with this terrifying photo of a Fred Thompson supporter who looks like she knows a thing or two about returning from the grave?

(thanks, CH!)