Tag Archives: Republicans

What Reality are Trump People Living In?

If you are anything like me, you don’t quite understand what to make of the Trump phenomenon.  Sure Hillary is winning, but what is more interesting to me is that over a third of Americans still plan to vote for this guy.  Why?  I’m bored with demonizing Trump and Trump supporters.  I want to understand the world they are seeing because I don’t get it.

As luck would have it, I happen to be a researcher at Penn who studies the impact of primal world beliefs, which are beliefs about the nature of reality writ large such as “the world is fascinating.”  Primals are the most super simple, essential, and general beliefs we have.  As of a few months ago, we can now measure 28 primals (yay!).  To give away the results, 24 of them mostly collapse into three big ones (Safe, Enticing, and Alive) and these in turn collapse into 1 big one (Good, defined hedonistically).  Currently, I’m trying to publish all these measures and look at psychological correlates (super happy…lots of big effect sizes and highly significant findings… primals predict depression, wellbeing, life satisfaction, etc.), but I had some data on current politics and, in this season of absurdity, I thought some people might find it interesting.  I’m also learning how to report and conduct these analyses, so it’s good practice. What follows is a summary and an appendix with all the numbers.  Keep in mind that all findings below come from one online sample of 533 people [so place grain of salt here].  Eventually, I plan to publish a peer-reviewed journal article with much of this information.

What reality are Republicans and Democrats living in?

So I had this fantastic theory that Republicans would see the world as way more dangerous than Democrats.  I though that might explain Republicans’ “irrational” a) fear of criminals which manifests as interest in law and order and support for mandatory minimums, b) fear of ISIS, c) fear of Mexicans, d) fear of people coming to take their guns, e) fear of government, and f) fear of out-group members generally.  At their last convention, and indeed for every single Republican debate, it seemed like candidates were always trying to out-terrorize each other (“No, I understand the great peril we are in!”…”No, no.  I understand it better.”)

However, this theory was wrong.  True, Republicans see the world as slightly more dangerous, but way less than I thought.  It’s a small relationship.

Furthermore, both parties see the world as about more or less equally good, revolving around them, abundant, acceptable, beautiful (Dems were slightly higher), changing, pleasurable, improvable, improving (Dems were slightly higher), interesting, meaningful, needing them, fragile, understandable, and against them.  There were so many similarities!

Ok.  So where do they differ?  Republican reality differs from Democratic reality in 9 ways, 4 small, 4 medium, and 1 big.  Let’s get the small ones out of the way first.

  • On average, Democrats see the world as less competitive.  That is, on average, their honest opinion is that collaboration, and not competition, makes the world go round.  In turn, this would make sense of why Republicans tend to see Democrats as more naive “kum-by-ya-ists,” and Democrats tend to see Republicans as more merciless cutthroats.
  • On average, Republicans see the universe as more atomistic while Democrats tend to see the universe as more of an interconnected whole.  Perhaps this helps Clinton’s slogan of “Stronger Together” have traction among those with a worldview in which deep interconnection and cooperation is more of a felt reality.  Perhaps this allows the issue of climate change to find more fertile ground among Democrats.

I predicted the two above.  They make sense of Republicans emphasizing free markets and American exceptionalism, among other things.  I did not predict the two below:

  • On average, Dems see the world as more funny.  Republicans tend to think that funny things are fewer and farther between.  I wonder if this partly explains why virtually all comedians and entertainers are Democrats.
  • One of the primals I measured is what I call “Characterizable.”  Basically, do you think the world has an overall nature or not?  On average, Republicans tend to think it has a nature while Democrats do not.  Again, however, these are all fairly small differences.

Moving on to the 4 differences that are a bit bigger:

  • On average, Republicans see the world as more alive, which means they see the universe as more imbued with intention and that the world is interacting with them personally.  However, these sorts of views correlate with increased religiosity, so I’m not sure if seeing the world as alive is relevant to political views or just a side effect of religion.  My intuition says it’s probably more of a side effect, so I don’t talk about it as much in the analysis below.
  • On average, Republicans see the world as less worth exploring.  This is essentially a gut level sense of return on investment for the worthwhileness of exploring or learning more about any given thing, place, or person.  Democrats do not necessarily actually explore their worlds more; it just means that they think most everything is more likely to be worth exploring.
  • On average, Republicans see the world as more just.  Does the arc of life trend towards justice.  Does life find a way to reward those who do good and punish those who do bad?  Is the world a place where working hard and being nice pays off?  Republicans tend to say ‘Yes,’  and Democrats say ‘No.’

    Demi are top. Reps are bottom.

    Dems (top) tend to see reality as unfair and Republicans (bottom) tend to have the honest opinion that life will find ways to reward those who work hard and help others.

  • Finally, the second biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans live in a reality marked by decline, and Democrats think the world is getting better.  On the one hand, this makes sense of why such vague rhetoric as “We don’t win anymore” appeals to Republicans and not Democrats, because even though it’s a super vague statement, it corresponds to a primal world belief that distinguishes these groups.  On the other hand, this distinction between Reps and Dems might be to some degree an artifact of who’s in the White House.  I imagine that when Bush was in charge, Republicans might have seen the world as in less decline and Democrats’ views would have changed a bit too.  Still, I doubt this distinction would disappear.

All this, however, except for decline, is relatively small potatoes.  Let’s talk about the biggest difference, because it both makes sense and doesn’t make sense: hierarchical.  

hiear

Democrats are on top, and Republicans are below. As you can see, despite plenty of overlap between the two groups, there is a striking difference.

What the hell does “hierarchical” mean?  Out of all the primals we have identified, this one is the least intuitive.  For me, it was also super fun to see it “pop” in relation to politics because Hierarchical wasn’t related to depression, anxiety, optimism, curiosity, income, education, or really any of the other variables I looked at.

The “hierarchical” primal concerns the nature of differences.  Namely, does difference imply that something is better or worse?  For those who believe that reality is hierarchical, if two things are different that usually implies that one is better than the other.  Likewise, for those who see reality as nonhierarchical, differences are likely surface and meaningless distinctions and probably distractions.  Under the latter view, any attempt to organize the world into “better” or “worse” things will either fail or be inaccurate and superficial.  However, for folks who see the world as hierarchical, most things can be fairly usefully ranked and ordered from better or worse.  This includes objects, from knives to landscapes, and people, from individuals to ethnic groups.  The biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans, on average, see the world as more hierarchical, or, to put it a different way, Democrats gloss over differences.

Are Trump supporters particularly strange Republicans?  

In a nutshell, no.  Trump people, as opposed to old Cruz and Kasich people, as well as independents, are fairly similar on every primal except 4.  Trump supporters out-Republican their Republican peers by seeing the world as even more Alive, Just, and  Hierarchical.  Also, Trump people think the world isn’t changing quite as much.

just2

All Republicans/independents on top. Trump folks on the bottom.

So what does this all mean? 

I’ve been trying to wrap my head arounds what this means, but it is starting to make some sense.  I’d love input:

  • Those who see the world as hierarchical and just will tend to assume in small ways that successful people are better people.  This suggests susceptibility to infatuations with billionaires.
  • If we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, then political correctness appears foolish.  PC culture is a real problem because it glosses over differences that really matter.  This might explain a deep frustration on the Right about political correctness that the Left just doesn’t get.
  • I’ve often been confused by why Americans need to talk about their country like it’s the best country in the history of the world.  But, if we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, and America is the most powerful country in the world, then it stands to reason that America is also the best.  It would feel false to say, “America is unique” without also saying, “America is the best.”
  • If we assume that the world is hierarchical and just, then we will have more difficulty mixing with and including out-groups.  Obviously, hispanic or African American culture is different than the culture of small-town white America where, according to Haidt, sanctity concerns matter more.
  • Jon Haidt identifies 5 political values: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, & sanctity/degradation.  Democrats score higher on two–care and fairness–while Republicans score more equally on all of them.  It may be useful to understand how primals interact with these values.  For instance, if, like many Republicans, you see the world as more just, then pursuing fairness should be less of a priority.  Likewise, if you see the world as hierarchical, then it is natural to value authority and submit to it.  Indeed, investigating the relationship between the values and primals of political ideologies could be a fascinating line of research.
  • The difference between Dems and Reps regarding Worth Exploring may be merely a manifestation of the much bigger difference on Hierarchical.  For Dems, the tendency to assume that differences don’t speak to value may be a tendency to gloss over differences in how worth exploring things are too.  In turn, for Republicans, seeing the world through the lens of rankings and hierarchies can’t allow every thing to be equally interesting because some things got to be boring.
  • Finally, the very definition of conservatism entails conserving something.  This is not an urgent priority for someone who sees reality as improving.  But, if the world is going to the dogs, then we need to hold on to the more just hierarchy of yesterday.

Ok.  Pretending this makes sense for a second, where do these primals come from?  

We don’t know.  I speculate that they come from many sources, including religion and numerous life experiences.  But what seems promising for explaining Hierarchical is simply where one lives.  Ask yourself, if you wanted to design an intervention that encouraged people to see the world as less hierarchical, what would you do?  Well, we would want to expose people to many different types of people and things that were quite different from each other, but not necessarily better or worse.

Where better to do that than in cities?

With all the talk about red and blue states, we forget that the political divide in America is likely better described as the rural-urban divide.  Check out the map below of the 2012 presidential election results by county.  You will find, of course with plenty of exceptions, that rural areas are red and urban areas are blue.  For instance, Oregon is a reliably blue state, but what’s really happening is that a redder countryside surrounds Portland and Eugene.  In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Erie, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Allentown, and Harrisburg are blue dots in a mostly red state.  In Texas, Dallas (up there on its own), Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and Beaumont are particularly striking.  This seems to hold for Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and others.  Of course, there are plenty of exceptions.  If I remember correctly, Oklahoma City is particularly conservative.

2012-usa-election-map-by-county-nyt

In other words, belief that the world is nonhierarchical could be a side-effect of urban life.

Could Democrats or Republicans use my data to help win this election or future elections?  

I think so, but should we?  Full disclosure: as a missionary kid who grew up overseas and is quite intercultural, I see the world as deeply nonhierarchical.  Adopting the lens of hierarchy does not come naturally to me, and of course I’m very much a fan of making everyone more like me.  Woohoo! Let’s do it!  Further, as a scientist, we’ve discovered no evidence so far that seeing the world as hierarchical helps or hurts wellbeing that much (though that’s not saying much… we’ve just started looking at this).

However, for a Democrat, I’m also a bit of an outlier on the belief that the world is just.  I tend to assume that life finds ways to reward those who work hard and do good.  As a scientist, I should note too that belief in a just world is the most studied primal to date.  It is connected to wellbeing, being more productive, being kinder to those around you, and numerous other good things.  Unfortunately, it’s also tied to blaming victims for their misfortunes, whether the victim is poor, sick, or disenfranchised.

What about Decline?  Way before I got into primals, and as a history super nerd (seriously friends, audiobooks and lectures on history are almost exclusively what I listen to in my spare time; I’m currently working through 3 books on medieval England), I have had a strong view that the world, in almost every way, is improving.  For example, Harvard’s Steven Pinker makes a case that violence has declined over human history.  Reasonable people can disagree, however, including Democrats like my wife, who happens to be much smarter than I am!

So, though I’m personally not down for changing Just beliefs, I could get excited about changing Declining and Hierarchical.  For the former, I would suggest that, in school, we study social history more and the history of those in power less.  Much of the improvements across the ages have been in such things as health, how we treat the mentally ill, women’s rights, human rights, legal systems, etc.  In my view, the facts speak for themselves (but that, I suppose, is how all of us think about all of our primals).

For Hierarchical, the big trick, as implied above, seems to me to be exposure.  One could seek to expose individuals to very different people, places, and things.  The logic being that this is why going to college, immersive overseas travel experiences like the Peace Corps, and moving to big cities tends to manufacture liberals (nothing new here).  These sorts of activities expose us to gays, jews, jesuits, rich, homeless, etc.  They become our friends, and we realize that the differences between us are very visible and fairly superficial. Who knows?  Maybe the DNC should think about supporting reality TV shows like Wife Swap (I’ve never seen it).

Finally, assuming we (Democrats) want to get more Republicans to vote for Hillary by capitalizing on primals already in place–to appeal to primals for political purposes without changing them–it seems that the Clinton folks were right to seize on how the Trump convention was pessimistic about America and then, at the Democratic convention, do more than the usual “America is the best” fanfare.  In other words, in order to appeal to those who see the world as more hierarchical, just, and in decline, it may be useful to be seen, to some degree, as the party of and celebrating the successful in-group.  I’m not sure if it’s worth it though.  It could alienate all those Dems who see the world as unjust and nonhierarchical.

In the meantime, I think it is important to not be condescending.  My original hypothesis had been that Trump people are essentially scared children, and that drove them, their politics, and their party into the arms of a demagogue.  This paternalistic theory was wrong.  The major difference between me and Trump supporters is more interesting and, hopefully, more useful.

Appendix

  • On average, Republicans see the world as a tad more dangerous.  There’s a small difference between Republicans (M=2.31, SD=.96) and Democrats (M=2.53, SD=.92), but it’s barely significant t(321)=1.96, p=.05; g=.24.
  • On average, Republicans see the world as more Alive than Democrats (M=2.69, SD=.76; M=2.42, SD=.86; t(321)=-2.67, p=.008; g=.32).  This means they live in a reality more imbued with purpose and intentionality (M=2.63, SD=.91; M=2.2, SD=1.01; t(321)=-3.7, p=0.0003; g=.45).
  • On average, Republicans see the world as more easy to characterize than Dems (M=2.86, SD=.72; M=2.55, SD=.74; t(321)=-2.36, p=.019; g=.29).
  • On average, Dems see the the world as less competitive than Republicans (M=2.74, SD=.9; M=2.5, SD=.9; t(321)=2.2, p=.029; g=.27).
  • On average, Dems see the world as more funny than Republicans (M=2.88, SD=.91; M=2.66, SD=.93; t(321)=1.99, p=.047; g=.24).
  • On average, Dems see reality as more interconnected (M=.303, SD=1; M=2.74, SD=.91; t(321)=2.43, p=.016; g=.29).
  • The 2nd biggest difference is that, on average, Republicans see the world as more just (M=.2.58, SD=.84; M=2.86, SD=.93; t(321)=-2.78, p=.0057, g=.34).
  • When it comes to primals, the biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats is that whereas Republicans on average see reality as full of things that are meaningfully distinguishable from each other, Democrats tend to see all differences as not better or worse, but just different (M=2.73, SD=.82; M=2.17, SD=.91; t(321)=-5.23, p<.0001, g=.63).  You can think of this as “hierarchical.”  Republicans on average see hierarchy as more natural.  Everything is different from each other in ways that can make the object or person truly better or worse.  Democrats see hierarchy as more unnatural because the differences between things are not typically good or bad.
  • On average, Democrats see the world as more worth exploring (M=3.35, SD=.8; M=3.05, SD=.1.16; t(321)=2.8, p=0054, g=.34).
  • On average, Republicans tend to see the world as in decline (M=2.66, SD=1.32; M=2.12, SD=1.15; t(321)=-3.73, p=.0002, g=.45).
  • Compared to other Republicans/independents, Trump supporters see the world as equally good, safe (not even a little different), enticing, scarce (not even a little different), acceptable, beautiful, characterizable (Trump people see the world as slightly more characterizable), competitive (Trump people see the world as slightly more competitive), pleasurable, funny, improvable, improves, interesting, interconnected, meaningful, needs me (Trump people think the world needs them a little bit more), fragile, harmless, understandable, worth exploring, against them, and declining.
  • On average, Trump people see the world as even more Alive (M=2.69, SD=.76; M=2.38, SD=.91; t(303)=-2.94, p=.0036; g=.36).  And thus even more intentional (M=2.77, SD=.91; M=2.4, SD=1.12; t(303)=-2.9, p=.004; g=.36) and about them (M=2.22, SD=.84; M=1.96, SD=.83; t(303)=-2.57, p=.011; g=.31).
  • On average, Trump people see the world as even more hierarchical (M=2.62, SD=.9; M=2.31, SD=.9; t(303)=-2.85, p=.005; g=.35).
  • On average, Trump people see the world as even more just (M=2.77, SD=.94; M=2.54, SD=.93; t(303)=-1.99, p=.047; g=.24).
  • On average, Trump people don’t think the world is changing all that much (M=2.99, SD=.81; M=3.18, SD=.71; t(303)=2.12, p=.035; g=.26).

Note: After this post got approximately a bazillion more views than I expected (actually just 15,000), I thought I would double-check my analysis.  So, FYI, the above has been updated in light of a further review of effect sizes.  

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10 Saddest States all Republican?

As you may have heard, I am getting a degree in well-being, the psychology of optimal human flourishing, and all that jazz.  So I found myself perusing Gallups new data on well-being which compares the 50 states.  Each receives a score averaging six categories: life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment, and basic access—a reasonably holistic assessment methinks.

blog chart of states wellbeing

As I perused the state rankings, I found myself thinking about red and blue states, and correlating political affiliation with these well-being numbers.  So I downloaded the data, color coded the states according to how they voted in the 2012 presidential election (blue democrat/red republican), and then took a look at the swing states according to Politico.  Some items are worth sharing.

First, of the 10 happiest states, seven are democratic states and three are Republican.  However, if we take out the swing states, it is five and five.  Which tells us little it seems.

The states in the middle seem fairly mixed, there are just more Democratic ones (these days).

Rhode Island is striking for being a solidly blue state so low on the list.  Its geographical neighbors are much higher, and the other blue states near it on the list (Nevada, Michigan, and Florida) are in truth pretty nominally blue.

It is also worth noting that Hawaii is not just on top, but 1.4 points away from #2.  Likewise, West Virginia is not just at the bottom of the pile, it is, somewhat strangely, also a  full 1.4 points away from #49.  This is huge: all 48 other states are packed into a band from 62.7 to 69.7; only a 7-point range.  West Virginia and Hawaii are major outliers.

Finally, by far the biggest takeaway here is the mass of red at the bottom.  Of the 10 saddest states in the union, 9 are Republican.  In fact, these states might be appropriately described as “uber” Republican.   The only democratic state is Ohio, which is very much a swing state.  If we take out all the swing states, all 10 slots at the bottom of the well-being pile go Republican.  However, 8 of these 10 are also southern states, which means this might be a regional thing over and above a Republican thing.

So what do we make of this?  Is there a correlation between one’s political views and subjective well-being?

I am not sure, but I spent some time this afternoon thinking about it.  Here is the same Gallup well-being data from a geographic perspective:

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index score is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment, and basic access.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index score is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment, and basic access.

I noticed that having “very religious” people seemed to correlate negatively with well-being (the more religious people in your state, the less happy our state is).  Of course, there are marked exceptions, especially Utah.   Also, West Virginia is not the most religious, nor is Hawaii the least; religion is not super relevant.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index score is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment, and basic access.

The percentage of state residents who say religion is important in their lives and say they attend church weekly or nearly weekly

I also looked at a number of other factors.  Underemployment did not seem to correlate at all, neither did hiring rates, or firing rates.  Economic outlook did seem to correlate a bit, except for the incredibly obvious exception of Wyoming.

Gallup's Economic Confidence Index is based on state residents' views of economic conditions in this country today, and whether they think economic conditions in the country are getting better or getting worse.

Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index is based on state residents’ views of economic conditions in this country today, and whether they think economic conditions in the country are getting better or getting worse.

So, after this afternoon’s intellectual adventure, I do not have an answer for you: I do not know why the 10 saddest states in the Union are all Republican.  I set up a question, I explored it, I brought you to the stream to drink, and the stream is dry.  What a cruel thing to do!

I wanted to still post this not only to point out an interesting data point I observed (the 10 saddest states are Republican), but also to say that I do not have all the answers and continually look for them.  I think that is why many of you read my blog; my mind is not made up and I do my best to treat the data honestly.  I am constantly playing with live fire because I really do believe I can change my mind at any point as I go about learning more about the world.  Which means you can change my mind too.  A malleable worldview makes intellectual adventures more fun.

In other news, I just finished a Yale lecture series on the Ancient Greeks and am now working through another Yale series on the American Civil War.  I want to post on my masters thesis topic, a speech I want Obama to give, and also my buddy Whit has one more post on gun control.  Looking forward to reporting on these ongoing intellectual adventures!  Thanks for reading everyone.  You rock!  


Political Jedi Master: Bush Tax Cuts & Romney’s Returns

Politics is intellectual football.  Here are two recent and brilliant Obama plays.

#1 Extending the Bush Tax Cuts in 2010

I was pretty upset in 2010 when Obama let the Bush tax cuts be extended without much of a fight, but it was genius.  Not only did it coax a little more stimulus out of the Republicans for an insipid economy, money he could not have gotten for anything but tax cuts, but Obama timed the new expiry date for the extension perfectly.  Right before the 2012 election the Republicans were going to publicly position themselves against the middle class: “if we can’t cut taxes for the wealthy, than nobody gets a tax cut.”  And here we are!

Early on Obama’s team had to know, as all political operatives do, that re-election prospects would most likely be tied to how quickly the economy recovers, and how good the Republican candidate would likely be on economic issues and  related experience.  Even if the economy did poorly, an economy-deaf candidate like Mccain would likely mean an Obama victory.  If the economy did well, Obama’s broad like-ability would mean an Obama victory too.  Foreseeably, the only possible way that Obama could lose a 2nd term is if the economy continued to stagnate and an economic “can-do” Republican was nominated (I think this is why Herman Cain ran).  So, in 2009, what economic “can-do” guys were out for the Obama team to worry about?

In 2008, it was obvious to everyone Romney was that man and that he was going to run again.  In fact, I told people at back then, not because I am brilliant but because it was blindingly obvious, that Romney is likely the only Republican candidate who could seriously have a chance at beating Obama, because he could win on Obama’s only serious weak point.  Afghanistan was not likely to become a big enough problem.  ObamaCare riles Republicans, but not many others.  Pro-life or anti-gay issues?  No way.  That is a losing demographic battle.  Obama’s team was only worried about a Republican economic guru; and a guru happened to be the frontrunner at the time.

So how do you neutralize Romney’s economic bonafides?  Simple: by making him and his party look more like robber barons than Mr. Fix-It.

So, in addition to timing the debate, the 2010  Bush tax cut extensions was a brilliant move by Obama for another reason: while Republican Party holds middle-class tax cuts hostage to upper-class tax cuts, but the standard-bearer for the party, Mitt himself, is one of those wealthy individuals for whom his party is sacrificing the middle-class.  Do you think this debate would be as big of a deal if Rick Santorum was the nominee? If anything, a middle-income standard bearer would give this fight for the wealthy some integrity (though a middle-income standard bearer also would probably not have experience in the economy making millions of dollars).

Finally, while health care was a major campaign issue in 2008, Obama needed a new issue to excite his base.  The obvious alliance between the Republicans and wealth was ripe for political exploitation.

Well-played sir…well-played.

#2 Having Harry Reid Accuse Romney of a Decade of Tax Evasion

According to Harry Reid, a Bain investor called his office and told him that Romney has not paid taxes in 10 years.  Reid then said as much in an interview last week with the Huffington Post and then in a speech on the floor of the United States Senate.  Republicans have gone postal, demanding “dirty Harry” take it back, and have attacked the Obama Team for not denouncing this unsubstantiated claim.

But the Obama team has played it super cool and asked, why doesn’t Romney take 10 seconds, reach into his filing cabinet, and cough up some tax returns to the nearest reporter.  He could prove Reid a liar in seconds; why would he not want to so easily discredit the 2nd most powerful Democrat in the country?

If Romney does not release his taxes, then he, the richest man ever to be a major party nominee, as his party fights for his tax cuts, is seen as hiding something (especially because, between the precedent set by his dad and Nixon, and every presidential candidate for the past 50 years of releasing 8 or so years of returns, he already looks like he is hiding something).  But, if he does release his tax returns, then the media gets to tell lots of stories about how rich he is and how he got his wealth.  (He did not create a conventional business from the bottom up, like Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford.  Instead he bought and sold businesses themselves, often after lay-offs, re-organizing, and ‘stripping them for parts,’ though admittedly it is more complex than that.)

Now, I have no evidence for this, but I find it hard to beleive that Reid, an early supporter of Obama who initially encouraged the man to run for President in 2007 when everyone thought Hillary had the nomination locked up, who depended on Obama for his own re-election campaign in Nevada, who is Obama’s staunch ally, would get this phone call from a Bain investor and unilaterally take it straight to the Huffington Post and put it in a speech.  Assuming he got the call at all, he probably g-chated Obama immediately and asked,

Harry_#1Senator:          What should I do?”

Ice.cold.Obama:            Do what you think is best ; )

Well-played sir…well-played.


The Three Necessary Ingredients to Getting Things Done as President

A good friend of mine just wrote me, mentioned that she was a Herman Cain supporter, and asked my opinion on the Republican presidential nomination race so far.  In short order, I made this little schema for picking a president.

People are rightly obsessed with finding a presidential candidate who can “get things done” in Washington.  I know I am.  I believe that the ability to get things done is more important than the positions one holds on policy issues or having amazing character.  If you can’t implement and make stuff happen, who cares if we agree?  So, instead of picking the best person or the one most right on the issues, we should pick the best player at the game called “politics.”

First, we need someone who knows the system in Washington.  This runs against the grain for many who want a Washington outsider, thinking that outsiders are not “corrupted” by DC cooties.  In truth, you want someone who knows the system very well and can work the system very well.    Part of why Obama struggled as much as he did the first term, and perhaps why Clinton might have done better, is because Obama was not an experienced Washington insider, wasn’t really all that experienced at national politics generally, and had never been an executive (having executive experience, like that of a governor, helps too, though it is best combined with DC background).  So, I would rank Republican presidential candidates as follows with 10 being the best:

Newt Gingrich, 9, vast DC experience, former speaker of the House, has been around forever, he knows government and can work the system.

Jon Huntsman, 8, has no DC experience as a politican, but he has plenty of DC experience as a civil servant, a former governor, and seemed to be a successful one.

Mitt Romney, 7, no DC experience, but he was a governor, and is generally government savvy (I think).

Rick Perry, 6, governor, does not seem savvy like Romney.

Michelle Bachman, 3, has DC experience, but only in the House and no executive experience.

Hermain Cain, 1 or 2, no political experience.  It doesn’t matter if you agree with his 999 plan, or really anything he says.  He would likely be unable to implement it.

Secondly, most people long for their President to be a “real” guy and not some sleazy politician.  But the fact of the matter is that only sleaziness, or what some might call sleaziness, gets things done in politics.  We need a presidential candidate who is politician enough to not alienate themselves from their constituents and to hold different groups together.  This means, quite simply, being good at being a politician, at keeping a majority of people mostly happy with you.  This is why Herman Cain would be an awful president (I think), just like Michelle Bachman, or Rick Perry would be.  They say too many dumb things, which will erode public support (and in all three of their cases already has).  This would be a big blow to them especially, because if you are not good at working the system in Washington, you can make up for it by maintaining popularity.  But these politicans are not politician enough to maintain this sort of support over the long term.  Being a politican is hard, maintaining popular support is harder still, and that is why support has been swinging so wildly from Bachman to Perry to Cain and now to Gingrich.  Of course, I say dumb things all the time, as we all do, and we can give people the benefit of the doubt, but even a fervent Herman Cain supporter who loves how “real” he is has to admit that it is unlikely that he can remain self-controlled, prudent, on-message, a clever communicator, committed and also non-committal enough…politician enough to maintain popular support.  So, here is a cursory ranking based on political skills:

Mitt Romney, 9, super disciplined, has hardly had much of a gaffe, stays on message; he’s a smart robot, has experience being a politician.

Jon Huntsman, 7, has experience being a politician, and in fact just as much as Romney, though not as a frontrunner presidential contender for two election cycles, so he is still a little bit of an unknown.

Gingrich, 6, political experience but is also a gaffe machine.

Rick Perry, 5.

Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain, 2 or 3, woefully undisciplined.  Could unlikely maintain support over the long haul.

Third, successful presidents cannot be beholden to uncompromising constituents.  This means that the more idealogical your base, the less likely you are to be able to get things done.  That is simplistic, of course, but holds true generally.  In order to get things done, the President, like any politician, has to be positioned in such a way that he can compromise with his opposition, and even his own party, without fear of  losing his own supporters.  In a republic, leaders cannot get anything done unless they can compromise with others.  So the following ranking is merely based on how moderate the candidate’s base is likely to be:

Jon Huntsman, 9; he would be a 10, but he has been having to pretend to be more conservative than he really is to have even a smidgen of a chance in New Hampshire.

Mitt Romney, 7; I’m not sure where to put him really.  I can’t really predict how conservative he would be in the White House.

Newt Gingrich, 6.

Rick Perry, 5.

Herman Cain, 4.

Michelle Bachman, 3.

Once you have established who would be most unable to get things done, then you can cross them off your list (Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachman are likely gone).  As for me, if I do not dismiss those individuals most unlikely to get things done, then I would have to seriously reflect on whether or not I care about my issues in the first place.  Too often, people are narcissistic and vote for the person most like them instead of the person most able to do good.  So, in order to be moral, let’s lose the likely losers.

I would probably then look at the top three, assuming they are all roughly comparable, which in this case they are (Huntsman, Romney, and possibly Newt, though he might have too much baggage), and pick the one who best represents your values, opinions, etc.

So who do I like these days?  My opinion has stayed the same.  If I was a Republican, which I am somedays but usually not, I would be a Jon Huntsman fan.


The Debt Ceiling Debacle and the New Political Order

In debacles of this sort there is usually plenty of blame to go around, but, this time, the majority of the blame is uncharacteristically concentrated.

Since 1917, the debt ceiling has been raised 102 times.  From what I can tell, these raises have been more or less bipartisan and routine.  More recently, both sides have flirted with playing chicken with the debt ceiling.  Indeed, Reid’s, Durbin’s, and Obama’s voting records in the Senate were nearly perfectly partisan, as they voted against raising the debt ceiling when Republicans controlled the Senate, and for it when Democrats were in the majority.  Shame on them!

However, the Democrats as a whole never really came close to stopping a debt ceiling raise except for a couple times under Bush (under whom it was raised seven times) when the votes were close.  Overall though, it is fair to say that debt ceiling nay votes were cast on both sides of the aisle nearly exclusively to make a political point.

This changed in 2009.  Here’s some numbers: 55 republican senators in 1997 voted for a debt ceiling increase, then 31 in 2002, then 50 in 2003, then 50 in 2004, then 51 in 2006, then 26 in 2007, then 34 in 2008, then 33 again in 2008.  In 2009, 2 Republican Senators voted in favor of it.  For the second time in 2009, there was 1.  Finally, in 2010, there was 0.  This is how things stood when Republicans took back the house and a showdown was set.  Furthermore, the Republicans returned to power in large part because of the rise of the Tea Party, the majority of which, and please correct me if I am wrong here, see compromising as unprincipled behavior.  No longer were the days when a few errant politicians used the debt ceiling to make a point.  Now it was, “give us what we want or we’ll blow the country up.”  Certainly, both parties were headed in the direction of giving this ultimatum, but the Republicans got there first.

This put the Democrats in the position where they would have to choose between default or letting the Republicans take control of government.

What would you do?  The Democrats, from what I could tell, mostly gave in to Republicans, but they did it too late, so we still had a credit downgrade.   If I was President, maybe I would have fought crazy with more crazy and said, “The debt ceiling is sacred.  If you attach any conditions on raising the debt ceiling, even if it is one lousy $25 appropriation for free Fritos at a movie night for disabled children of veterans who also happen to be Hurricane Katrina survivors, I will veto it.  I do not care.  Don’t f#ck with me.”    But who knows if that would have worked.

What all of this does reveal is what I see as an ongoing fundamental shift in contemporary politics.  While Republicans are being monopolized by their extreme right wing, especially the Tea Party, the Democrats are not being monopolized to the same extent by the extreme left.  What this means is that every moderate in America is now left with a choice: Am I a Democrat or not?  Regardless of your answer, moderates will be Democrats practically, but will bolt as soon as the Republicans uncrazy themselves.  Indeed, I am proud to be one of these reluctant Democrats.  With this perspective, I start to feel sick watching a slew of “I told you so” grins on the faces of 2012 republican presidential candidates.  You get the sense that, after breaking the government, Republicans are claiming, “See, government doesn’t work, so we should make it smaller.”

Yet Obama seems to be getting most of the blame, even from Democrats.  Sometimes it makes me think I am taking crazy pills, “Why do people hate this guy so much?”  and it gets me thinking that maybe I should hate him too.  Why doesn’t he stick up for himself more?  Why isn’t he as disappointed with this process as I am?  Why is he so quick to compromise?

And as I lie here, asking those questions, and thinking about the 2012 election at 7AM, I found this video and I realized this: Obama is still the man.    Seriously, watching it was a spiritual experience.

My conclusion: I need to calm down.  Everyone needs to take a breath.  It’s going to be OK, and we all need to keep compromising.

“Compromise” shouldn’t be a dirty word.  Alicia and I compromise with each other when we disagree.  If we do not, we jeopardize our marriage.  If politicians do not compromise, they jeopardize the country.  But, if they do, for many of them, they jeopardize their job security too, and this gets back to my point about the new political alignment: Republican politicians are dependent on people who think compromise is villainous, and that’s why, right now, all moderates are Democrats.


My Favorite Republican Hopeful

Now that I am done with my Habitat temp job, it’s time to get down to what’s really important: crudely assessing the Republican presidential field.  I tend to think it’s pretty weak, and, to be honest, a bit embarrassing for Republicans.   Three big heavyweights are sitting out this round: Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie.  I think the main reason is that they realize how little of a chance anyone stands of beating Obama in 2012.  Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are young, and despite what Christie recently said to my old pals on Fox & Friends, they both would make great VPs.  However, let’s look at who’s running.

In general, I think that there are three types of candidates.  For the first, it’s a publicity stunt, a way to sell books, raise your profile, and advance your career (think Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain).

In the second group are those that have very little or no chance of achieving the nomination, but they hope to shape the debate.  Ron Paul is the quintessence of this group.  Gary Johnson joins Paul in his love for most things libertarian, and I tend to like him.  He seems interested in solving problems and is refreshingly thoughtful on policy issues.  For example, in the June 13th CNN debate he proposed a kind of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants which centered around making it easy to achieve work VISAs.  I find it sad that it takes guts to suggest this in the Republican world of absolutist solutions (e.g. send everyone back!).  He’s also a fan of legalizing many types of drugs, which I agree with wholeheartedly.  Newt Gingrich has such high negatives that he really has little chance of being president, but he hopes to shape the discussion and be the Republican ideas man.  This hope betrays an intent that indicates a firm footing in the first group as well, as he hopes to sell more of the 21 books he’s published.  Really, the guy has very little chance, and you better believe that he knows it too.  Finally, Rick Santorum is in this group as well.  He wants to shape the debate by bringing the pet issues of the religious right to the forefront.  The problem is that he cannot distinguish himself as everyone seems on board.  There is no front runner like Rudy Guiliani who is pro-choice.  Nonetheless, I do believe that Santorum thinks Santorum has a shot at winning everything.

The third type of presidential candidate is actually running for president.  So far, only three people populate this group: Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Jon Huntsman.  Mitt is the frontrunner I suppose, but these early polls are extremely meaningless.  I think he’s the frontrunner in large part because he is the only one of these three with larger name recognition, a holdover from the last presidential contest.  However, I remember him primarily for conveniently flip-flopping on abortion, viciously attacking John McCain in the primary debates last time around, and spending a shit-ton of money in Iowa and losing to an insurgent, relatively poor, and likable Huckabee.  I am comforted by the fact that even Romney’s supporters don’t really seem to like him, and may easily defect.  These numbers won’t be replaced, because he can’t get much tea party support with his record on health care reform, which is so toxic to the extreme elements in his party.  Tim Pawlenty seems like a serious candidate, but he seems to be continually trying to feign outrage in order to grab some share of the Tea Party.  But he’s not an angry guy, and he’s not really that confrontational, as was shown by how he sidestepped his Obamneycare line at the June 13th debate.  Also, I just disagree with him about most things he says.  So that leaves us with Jon Huntsman, my current fav.  I’ll talk about why in my next post.


Birther Brilliance

I just want to mention some of the profound ways that not being born in the United States would have affected the quality of Obama’s presidency.  He clearly would not have been able to truly understand the country or be capable of talented, decisive leadership.

My confidence in this knowledge stems from observing my own inabilities brought on by not being born in the US.   It has rendered me an imbecile in regards to all things American.  For example, I sometimes get the words wrong when saying the pledge of allegiance.  Americans even think that I stutter, when really I am just talking like everyone not born in the United States.

I’ll miss the Birther movement.  I find crusades for meaningless truths amusing (or depressing, depending on my mood).  Who could have better publicized the idea that citizenship jus soli (by the soil) is an idiotic idea in the first place?  I remember in 8th grade Social Studies when I found out that an illegal immigrant can have a kid in the US and that kid is automatically a citizen.  I thought my teacher was joking, but apparently dirt has magical properties, at least in America.

At the same time, there is a myth in the missionary kid world that those like me who were not born in the US can’t be President.  From what I can tell this isn’t true.  I did some research for the sake of Obama and I.  Please, correct me if I am wrong.  Article 2 section 1 of the Constitution says this:

“No person except a natural born citizen…shall be eligible to the office of president.”

Ok.  What is a “natural born citizen”?  In the fourteenth amendment, section 1, it says this:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

That didn’t really help.  Finally, title 8 of the US Code fills in the gaps in section 1401. It says a couple of things but most importantly for our purposes it gives citizenship at birth to:

“a person born outside of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents both of whom are citizens of the United States and one of whom has had a residence in the United States or one of its outlying possessions, prior to the birth of such person.”

Ok.  This means that I am good to go right?  My mom grew up in Ohio and my Dad in Virginia.  Yay!  I can be president.  What about Obama even if he was born outside the country?  Secion 1401 of title 8 goes on to say that someone is born a citizen if he or she is:

“a person born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years.”

Shouldn’t this apply to Obama also?  His dad was from Kenya who came to America to study.  His mom was from Kansas where she lived, presumably, more than five years.  What am I missing?

I’ll miss the Birthers.  They were off-base technically (I think Obama would still have been eligible for president), meaningfully (Obama would still have been capable of being president), and factually (Obama was in fact born in the US).   Nonetheless, in March one quarter of all Americans believed Obama was not born in the states, the majority of Republican primary voters believed he was not, and 49% of all Republicans nationwide.  Obama and his advisors must have been wondering when to release the long-form birth certificate. This would have been the best opportunity ever to make your political opponents look dumb.

What do you think?  I think he blew it.  He played his ace prematurely.  If he would have waited, I think he could have painted an abysmal picture of the entire Republican party right before an election (BTW, 83%/12% of Republican birthers viewed Palin favorably compared to 41%/52% of republican non-birthers).  Some Republicans, Karl Rove for instance, did try to discourage this preposterousness, but most leaders, such as John Boehner, did not.  When asked about it on Meet the Press he said, “it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people.”

That’s the sort of inspiring leadership that magic soil is capable of.


Ron Paul & Republican Reluctance

It looks like Ron Paul is running for President again.  Why not?  There is no way he can actually get elected, so round #2 is another campaign of ideas hoping to repeat and strengthen the success of round #1.

But if your goal is actually to get elected, and you happen to be a Republican, 2012 might be a bad year for presidential campaigning.  Ron Paul notes this point, and it is one I have been thinking about for a while: where are the Republicans?  This time last election cycle we had several major names who had already thrown their hats in.  I think Republicans are wary because even if they get the nomination, I think it is highly unlikely that anyone beats Obama in 2012.  Here’s my 2 main reasons:

1) The economy is doing better.  This point cannot be overstated.  If the economy does better, Tea Partiers are less excited; there are fewer angry people with time on their hands (not that Tea Partiers are all just a bunch of angry people with time on their hands [but not entirely unlike that either]).  If we are on the upswing, people won’t want to mess with that.

2) Obama’s polls don’t reflect his electability.  I would say that there are a good 20% of Democrats, probably more like 30%, that are disgusted with Obama.  They might “disapprove” in polls, but when it comes around time to vote they sure aren’t going to vote for anyone further right.  The truth is that Obama remains a centrist in many ways, and continues to have broad appeal.

Also, keep an eye on Texas this election cycle.  It has always been solidly red, but it’s getting less.  If a Democrat can win Texas while hanging onto California, the two electoral juggernauts, there’s no way they lose.  Why am I talking about this?  Texas picked up 4 electoral votes in the last census, and 89% of the population increase was minority growth, mostly in the hispanic community, which voted 63 to 35 for Obama in 2008.  Now, Mccain won the state by 11 percentage points in 2008, so there is still a long way to go.  Also, there is the question of getting them out to vote.  However, if it becomes competitive, if a Republican presidential nominee has to spend time campaigning there, that will be interesting.  More interesting: if Republicans nominate a northern, business-savy, slick-haired Mormon, or someone else equally un-Texan, we could have a Democratic realignment.

BTW, I’m giving up on Ayn Rand having become thoroughly disenchanted after about 7 hours of listening to her life and ideas.  More to come on that later.

BTW, I got a temp job at Habitat for Humanity until the end of June.  Woohoo!   But that might mean less blogging.