Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Election: What Does Obama Want? What Do I Want?

I want the Republicans to take the House, since I view divided government as a good thing—the less the government does, ceteris paribus, the less damage it does. I am less sure of my desires with regard to the Senate. Are we better off with House and Senate fighting each other or both of them fighting the administration?

Obama's (hypothetical) preferences are more interesting. Everyone takes it for granted that he wants the Democrats to do as well as possible, and it may well be true. On the other hand ... .

Suppose he believes that most of the things that are going badly now, most notably the unemployment rate and the deficit, will still be going badly two years from now. If the Democrats retain control Congress there will be nobody but the Democrats to blame, which could have negative consequences for an incumbent running for reelection. If, on the other hand, the Republicans control one or both houses ... .

Returning to my preferences, there is one more factor. The better the Republicans do, the more emphatic the public rejection of Obama's policies. Since most of the policies in question—stimulus, bailout, Obamacare, and cap-and-trade—strike me as bad ones, that would be good. It would make it less likely that later politicians will repeat what I view as his mistakes.


Unknown said...

Prof. Friedman makes some good points, but makes the common error of overestimating the political sophistication of the median voter.

No matter what happens, the incumbent president will run against the congressional opposition. The president did in 2008, does in 2010, and will in 2012. Whether this is an effective tactic depends on a variety of factors.

One factor, however, which will play virtually no part is whether the opposition has a majority in one or two or none of the bodies of Congress. The reason this doesn't matter is that most voters will have no idea which party has which Congressional majorities and a substantial number of voters is willing to express firm counter-factual beliefs on this issue.

So running against Congressional opposition can fail as it did in 2008 (when the opposition did have strong majorities in both bodies of Congress), can fail as it appears to do in 2010 (when the opposition is a rump minority in both bodies), and may or may not succeed in 2012 regardless of the composition of Congress.

In short, hoping for a split Congress in order to gain tactical advantage in 2012 is over-thinking the issue.

William H. Stoddard said...

I'm still debating what to do about candidates (I've at least tentatively figured out all the ballot propositions). On one hand, I don't much like the Republicans. On the other, the Libertarians are generally Republicans lite; we even have one who advocates enhanced enforcement of drug laws. But on the third hand, the Democrats have really been doing some massively offensive things in the past two years. I vote Democratic in 2008 (mostly) because I thought the Republicans had earned a sound thrashing; but the Democrats have earned an even bigger one in a lot less time. So I'll be very gratified if the Republicans take over Congress and many state governments, especially when Obama can still veto them. Do I vote for the party I'd like to see win?

I can see a case for not trying to find anyone good to vote for, but voting to punish the people who last did something I hate, and right now that's the Democrats. On the other hand, the Republicans still strike me as repulsive and untrustworthy.

dWj said...

My brother, at least a year ago, suggested that the Republicans run on the campaign slogan, "Back into the frying pan!" Which would have made me feel better about supporting them than the Pledge to America does.

That's more of a response to Stoddard than to Friedman, though. I think the Republicans could do well enough in the Senate to send a clear message about the errors of the Democrats' recent political ways without getting too terribly close to 50 votes. 2000 notwithstanding, the party that wins a presidential election usually gains seats in the Senate as well; thinking to 2012, then, I think it's safest to have Democrats controlling the Senate with a safe margin and Republicans controlling the House by a safe margin to prevent coattails from reuniting Congress and the White House.

Garg Unzola said...

In my view, Obama largely won the past election because the mean voter was scared that McCain might become ill during his tenure and leave the reins to Palin.

Just like Bush won primarily because he was more vocally opposed to gay marriage.

In short, I agree with Æternitatis in that the mean and median voter is not very sophisticated. The ultra sophisticated voters don't vote at all.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Stoddard): "I can see a case for not trying to find anyone good to vote for, but voting to punish the people who last did something I hate..."

I would just love to see ballots for election look like initiative ballots, that allow voters to vote "yes" or "no", where "yes" equals +1 and "no" equals -1, with the candidate with the highest total winning. If the Democrat gets 5000+ -8000 (= -3000) and the Republican gets 7000 + - 11000 (= -4000), the Democrat wins. This would not make any difference in a two-candidate election, but it could make a difference in a multi-party election. It would also give a lot more people a reason to vote.

Anonymous said...

One can only wonder how long it will take the Stoddard's of the world, many of them quite intelligent, to realize that shooting yourself in the belly to show how much you hate someone isn't really a good idea.

The Republicans sure got a sound thrashing. You showed them. Well done. I guess it was too much trouble to vote for Obama for president but Republicans for Congress? Just in case there was a tiny probability that Hope and Change turned out to be other than as advertised? Can I have some prosperity back now?

(Yes, I fully realize that Stoddard's vote was insignificant. But let us grant his premise that it wasn't, for argument's sake.)

William H. Stoddard said...

dracovonfaust: On one hand, you seem to forget how utterly dismal the Republicans looked in 2008. Economically they had abandoned the free market in favor of "compassionate conservatism," deficits that (then) looked huge (especially after the Clinton era), and, at the last minute, a push to bail out large financial institutions that had made bad decisions. Had they gotten into power, given John McCain's statist tendencies, I don't believe they would have even thought of changing their ways.

On the other hand, the protest against this, which began in 2008, grew into the Tea Party movement under Obama, and we have seen an extraordinarily large share of the electorate unhappy with "government as usual." I cannot suppose that McCain would have come close to stirring up such passionate opposition.

I don't claim to be a brilliant political strategist. But it looks clear to me that voting for candidates because they can be expected to be good officials is a waste of effort: what they say while campaigning has little connection with what they do in office. Have you ever heard the saying that cleaning up government by electing honest men to office is like cleaning up prostitution by sending virgins into whorehouses? On the other hand, voting against the partly that has most recently and most egregiously abused its power has some chance of getting their attention, and also of weakening it enough so that new people can get in.

The two big parties are respectively dominated by theocratic authoritarians and progressive authoritarians. I detest both. It seems that a lot of independent voters at least dislike both, and are thrashing back and forth as each faction proves just how evil and inept it is, like an unbalanced load in a horizontal washing machine. This will go on until one of the parties figures out that it has to actually change its behavior in office, not just its shiny packaging, to avoid losing the independent vote. Likely enough this will go on for a few more elections.

As to the practical effect of my vote, I'm a Californian. You figure it out.

Anonymous said...

As far as the next presidential election, it may actually help Republicans to hold both houses. They can force Obama to veto popular bills and the Republican nominee can run on "Elect Me, I'll sign them!"

I honestly believe this will be a coordinated Republican strategy and if executed with sufficient competence, Obama will become The OneTermer we've been waiting for.


Unknown said...

@anonymous You word in God's ear. But Intrade still has Obama at 60% for 2012 and I don't have any material non-public information which would incline me to disagree with the market price.

Unknown said...

It is a mistake to automatically assume that Barack Obama is seeking his second term in 2012. He is presently on a stepping stone to the world stage. A second term simply delays that journey, and in some ways the potential of a return to the oval office is more of a threat than being an over-the-hill former President. It is in his interest, however, to run for reelection, so as to gain the street cred of being CHEATED out of a second term. The legacy media will provide this important story line. Also, a later reelection will lead to the legacy media continually harping for a "no more than two consecutive terms" policy for the 22nd Amendment(since the amendment should apply to just white guys.)

On the world stage Barry Dunham will be with his peers, folks of similar vision. He will then manage to present as Good Cop, in contrast to more presumably malevolent Bad Cops.

A single term is quite sufficient to make clear his vision for America. He can later repeatedly reflect on how his wonderful endeavor was rejected and subsequently sabotaged. Also, Democrats in general and liberals/socialists in particular can carry forth his cause. By not having to win reelection in 2012, he can more aggressively pursue his agenda. This approach of pushing his agenda full-bore, without let-up, manages to separate the half-hearted supporters from those who are his true leftist believers and honor guard(i.e., who is willing to go down in flames?)

Rex Little said...

In my view, Obama largely won the past election because the mean voter was scared that McCain might become ill during his tenure and leave the reins to Palin.

I don't think so. Obama won because after eight years of the W*O*R*S*T P*R*E*S*I*D*E*N*T E*V*E*R, no one but the hard-core Republican base was going to vote for anyone whose name ended in (R).

Anonymous said...

"But Intrade still has Obama at 60% for 2012 and I don't have any material non-public information which would incline me to disagree with the market price."

Intrade is nugatory that far out. Only half a year ago or so they showed Democrats keeping the House.

It's a solid gauge of current sentiment but useless for long-term prognostication.

As I said, even a competent effort by the Republicans should result in a one-term presidency; nothing brilliant is required.


none of the above said...

My vote for Obama in 2008 was mainly the result of the Republicans' war on terror excesses--which the Obama administration has been pretty much on-board with, maybe dialing back the crazy a bit, but not fundamentally changing direction. But I voted for Obama figuring that his governance would be a lot less appealing than his rhetoric, which definitely turned out to be true.

The problem I have voting Republican is that, for most of the candidates, and especially those at a national level of prominence, their rhetoric is so bad. I suspect many of them will govern better than their rhetoric (for example, stupid anti-Muslim bigotry isn't consistent with a war on terror in which we work heavily with the governments of Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, etc.). But I'm not convinced I'm right. What if their ideological purity arms race-selected candidates actually stick to some of their rhetoric?

Andrew said...

Stimulus, bailouts, and cap-and-trade. All devices created by the Republican party that now controls the House.

The king is dead, long live the king.

(Of course, it is far easier to be a critic than to get things done; to get things done in a democracy you need to ally yourself with a lot of stupid and unlikable people)