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By Jay Cost

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Dear Friends,

This is my final entry for the Horse Race Blog here at RealClearPolitics. Starting later this week, I will begin work at The Weekly Standard.

I'd like to thank John McIntyre and Tom Bevan for the opportunity to contribute to this outstanding site. Five years ago, I was struggling to produce an insignificant proposal for an indifferent dissertation committee at the University of Chicago when I received an enigmatic invitation to meet John for lunch at the Wishbone on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. Little did I realize at the time that I was being interviewed for a job, let alone one that would alter my professional trajectory forever. And so much for the better! I am forever in the debt of John and Tom for the opportunities they have offered me, for their generosity in always giving prominent placement to my columns, and for the trust they have had in me to write about whatever was on my mind.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. It's time for a change, and I am moving on. I wish everybody at RealClearPolitics all the best. And while I'll no longer be a contributor here, I shall remain a regular and devoted reader. And a friend.

Finally, I would like to thank my readers. It is a rare privilege to write about American politics for a living, and it would not be possible without your continued support. Thanks so much for following me for all these years!

All the best,
Jay Cost

Today, Let Us Give Thanks for Our Union

Amidst a monumental struggle for the preservation of the American Union, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the final Thursday of November, 1863 to be a day of Thanksgiving. He declared:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God...

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens...

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

That Americans in 1863 would give thanks to God for all His blessings just months after the horrors of Chancellorsville, Gettsyburg, and Chickamauga is a testament to the great faith of this great people.

In the midst of so much political division, consumed as we are today by sharp disagreements over health care, the economy, and the environment - It is easy to forget what binds us together: the simple and true fact that all of us - Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, blue states and red states - are so privileged to live together in the United States of America. Today is a day to put aside our differences, to praise God for the blessings of this American Union, and to remember with gratitude those Americans who labored to bring it into being and who saved it from the malevolent forces of secession and slavery.

What would our lives be like without the Union? The unhappy times of the 1780s give us a hint. That was an age when foreign powers played state governments off one another, when no state had the power or authority to stabilize the economy, when the territorial integrity of our nation was under threat, when it appeared as though civil unrest would destroy America's experiment in self-government shortly after it had begun. Statesmen like George Washington, James Madison, John Jay and others recognized that for America to survive, the Union had to be strengthened beyond the measly provisions of the Articles of Confederation. And so, fifty-five men gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 with the purpose of forming "a more perfect union," one that would "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

Historians have called the fruits of their labor the "Miracle at Philadelphia." And what a miracle it was! The Framers drafted an ingenious document that bonded the 13 diverse, far-flung states together in a Union strong enough to secure the blessings of liberty without threatening liberty itself.

In the decades that followed, it became clear that slavery posed a grave threat to this Union. As the divide between North and South grew wider, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, the "Statesman for the Union," offered a Great Compromise in 1850. During the debate over this consequential measure came the most eloquent defense of the American Union any person has ever offered. On March 7, 1850 Daniel Webster of Massachusetts rose to address his country thusly:

Mr. President, I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States. . . .I speak to-day for the preservation of the Union. "Hear me for my cause."...

Secession! Peaceable secession! Sir, your eyes and mine are never destined to see that miracle. The dismemberment of this vast country without convulsion! The breaking up of the fountains of the great deep without ruffing the surface! Who is so foolish, I beg every body's pardon, as to expect to see any such thing? Sir, he who sees these States, now revolving in harmony around a common centre, and expects to see them quit their places and fly off without convulsion, may look the next hour to see heavenly bodies rush from their spheres, and jostle against each other in the realms of space, without causing the wreck of the universe...

And now, Mr. President, instead of speaking of the possibility or utility of secession, instead of dwelling in those caverns of darkness, instead of groping with those ideas so full of all that is horrid and horrible, let us come out into the light of day; let us enjoy the fresh air of Liberty and Union; let us cherish those hopes which belong to us; let us devote ourselves to those great objects that are fit for our consideration and action; let us raise our conceptions to the magnitude and the importance of the duties that devolve upon us; let our comprehension be as broad as the country for which we act, our asperations as high as its certain destiny...

As it happened, the Compromise of 1850 only postponed what William Seward would term "the irrepressible conflict." Shortly after the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in 1860 - South Carolina seceded from the Union, perceiving that the advocates of slavery were now to be in the minority forever. Other states followed, and the country would soon be consumed by a horrific conflict in which more than 600,000 Americans would perish.

It would have been easy for President Lincoln to lose focus amidst the unprecedented death, devastation, and horror that was the Civil War. Yet he never did. As a lawyer in Springfield, he had followed the debates in 1850 closely, and he arrived in Washington determined to carry on the noble work of Clay and Webster: the preservation of the Union at all costs. Like those great statesmen, Lincoln understood that there was no such thing as "peaceable secession." A division between the states would eventually endanger all Americans - North and South. This was unacceptable. The Union had to be saved.

Lincoln also knew that the survival of the Union ultimately hinged upon the question of slavery. Back in Illinois in 1858, he stated:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South.

Lincoln had campaigned for office on a platform of keeping slavery out of federal territories - and in his first inaugural address he averred that he had no intention to abolish it in the Southern states. Yet by 1862, with the bloody toll of that dreadful war increasing every day, the President had come to believe that this existential threat to the Union had to be eliminated once and for all. The war must not only be won to preserve the Union, but to perfect it. And so, on January 1, 1863, the President proclaimed:

I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion...do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

With his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln made clear his intention that the United States would become all free - that from so much death, "this nation, under God, shall have a new birth in freedom." Less than three years after Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution would abolish slavery forever. Later, the 14th Amendment would ensure that all Americans have the full rights that citizenship entails, and the 15th Amendment would secure the right of all men to vote. Future generations of Americans could thus enjoy the fresh air of Liberty and Union, as Daniel Webster said.

Tragically, Abraham Lincoln would not live to see his vision of a more perfect Union enshrined in the Constitution.

Four American presidents have been murdered while in office. Yet only one has been martyred for the cause of the American Union. Abraham Lincoln. Like the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who perished during those horrible years of Civil War, he sacrificed his own life not only to save the Union, but to strengthen it. And indeed, Lincoln's heroic efforts ensured that the notions of secession and slavery were placed on the ash heap of history, where they rightly belong. None of us need worry that the Union will come under such a threat ever again; all of us are committed to the principle that government of the people, for the people, by the people shall never perish from the earth. For that, we owe a debt of gratitude to the sacrifices of Abraham Lincoln and the soldiers who lost their lives while under his command.

So today, in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine, and of the independence of the United States the two hundred thirty-fourth, it is altogether fitting and proper that we give thanks to the Almighty for this American Union, and those whom He has guided over the centuries to secure its blessings for us. Let's give thanks for the equanimity of George Washington, for the persuasive pen of Thomas Jefferson, for the keen mind of James Madison, for the eloquence of Daniel Webster, for the political craftsmanship of Henry Clay, and for the sacrifice of Abraham Lincoln, who gave the last full measure of devotion to preserve, protect, and defend this Union against the greatest threat it has ever faced.

Follow me now on Twitter!

-Jay Cost

Quote of the Year

If you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don't win the Super Bowl...Maybe in the next four or five years, maybe year six when we don't win it, I guess. But we're probably gonna try to run it up maybe four or five years. Get ten, eleven rings.
-James Harrison, on when President Obama should invite the Steelers to the White House.

Ten, eleven rings? Awesome.


-Jay Cost

Biden's Absurd Presentism

Joe Biden last night:

"This president has inherited the most difficult first 100 days of any president, I would argue, including Franklin Roosevelt.

"Let me explain what I mean by that. It was clear the problem Roosevelt inherited. This is a more complicated economic [problem]. We've never, ever been here before - here or in the world. Never, ever been here before."

Hardest first 100 days ever? I disagree on FDR, but there is certainly no contest between Obama and Honest Abe.

Abraham Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861. By that point - South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas had seceded from the Union. Additionally, Jefferson Davis had already been named President of the Confederacy. About a month after Lincoln was inaugurated, the Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter, ultimately prompting Virginia to secede. By early June (still within Lincoln's first 100 days) - Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee had also seceded.

Unlike Obama, President Lincoln had little help during the much longer transition (not shortened until after the 20th Amendment was ratified in 1933). From Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenburg:

During the awkward four months' interval between Lincoln's election in November 1860 and his inauguration on 4 March, a period in which Southern states seceded and the Confederacy was formed, the timid Buchanan was President. His cabinet included three secessionists, and only one strong nationalist, Jeremiah Black, after Cass resigned in disgust (12 December). Buchanan had the same power to defend property and collect federal taxes within states that obstructed federal law as President Jackson possessed in 1832, but the President did nothing. [Emphasis mine]

Additionally, there was a conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore prior to his Inauguration. Unlike President Obama, who was able to enjoy great pomp and circumstance at the Lincoln Memorial prior to his Inauguration, the 16th President had to sneak into DC, "like a thief in the night" (his words), to the embarrassment of himself and his supporters - and to the joy of his political opponents.*

That is the "most difficult first 100 days of any president, including Roosevelt."

* - FDR came closer to being assassinated. After the election but prior to the Inauguration, he was traveling with Chicago Mayor Antoin Cermak, who took a bullet and died a few weeks later. This is one of many reasons I would place Obama's 100 days behind FDR's. I would also place Obama far behind Truman, who was left badly unprepared by FDR (he didn't even know about the Manhattan Project). Though the following occurred just outside his first 100 Days, Truman had to stare down Joseph Stalin at Potsdam and make a final decision to drop the Bomb, all before Labor Day (he was sworn in on April 12).

-Jay Cost

Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go!

In just a few days, the Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. The Steelers, who are favored to win, were the first franchise to have won four Super Bowls. If they win on Sunday, they will be the first and only to have won six.

I have been following the Steelers since the beginning of the Cowher era, and impressionistically this is the best Steelers defense I have ever seen. Numerically, this impression has merit. The '08 defense allowed on average 237.2 yards per game and 13.9 points per game. That yards per game stat is better than any defense from the Cowher era (though the '01 Steelers allowed slightly fewer points per game). In fact, the only Steelers defense since the merger to allow fewer yards per game was the '74 defense.

So, as all-time great Steelers defenses go, this one has to rank up there with the very best of them. Unfortunately for Steelers Nation, this is not a guarantee of victory. Ask lifelong Pittsburghers about great Steelers teams of yore, and you should get an answer that might surprise you. Though the '74, '75, '78, and '79 teams won Super Bowls, many think the '76 team was the best ever. That team led the league in rushing behind the dual attack of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, both of whom ran for over 1,000 yards. Meanwhile, the defense was preternaturally good. It led the league in total defense and rush defense, and allowed just 9.9 points per game. The '76 team started out 1-4, then went on a 9-game winning streak, posting four shutouts along the way. They didn't allow a touchdown in 22 consecutive quarters, or in eight of those nine games. In the postseason, the Steelers crushed the Colts at Baltimore, 40-14, but Harris and Bleier were injured in the game. The next week, Oakland defeated the Steelers handily, 24-7.

Football is a cruel sport in that way - the team that posts the best numbers doesn't always win the championship. Just ask the '07 Patriots.

This '08 team has a troubled offense, which posted just 21.7 points per game and 311.9 yards per game. This is the worst showing by a Steelers offense since the '03 season, when they went 6-10 under Tommy Maddox. Ben Roethlisberger might look great on Sports Center highlights, but the fact is that his play this season has been average at best. His completion and efficiency ratings are down, his touchdown passes are way down, his interceptions are up, and he is still getting sacked as many times as ever. Big Ben has to shoulder much of the blame, but a lot of it falls on the offensive line, which has missed Alan Faneca this year. Plus, thanks to injury, Willie Parker has had his worst season to date.

Of course, when you have a defense that is this good, a weak offense isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. Compare, for instance, the championship '74 Steelers against the '08 Steelers. They look almost identical on both sides of the ball:

Steelers - 1974 vs. 2008.jpg

Changes in the game make it tricky to do direct comparisons, but the '74 Steelers were a relatively unbalanced team: fantastic on defense, but limited on offense (passing was the problem that season). If the '08 Steelers win, they would fall into the same category.

Frankly, I didn't think my beloved Steelers would make it this far. Like everybody else in town, I was peeved last summer to learn that they had the hardest schedule in football. They fell to the Eagles, the Giants, the Colts, and the Titans in the regular season. But their postseason schedule has been as easy as the regular season was hard. Amazingly, they didn't have to play any of these four squads in the playoffs, though all four made it into the playoffs. Instead, they got a game against the 8-8 Chargers, and then the Ravens. The latter is a fantastic team, but historically the Steelers have dominated their division rivals in the playoffs.

Now, the Steelers play a 9-7 team from the NFC West that nobody thought anything of until a few weeks ago. They're in the playoffs because somebody from the NFC West gets to go every year, and they were the only team with a winning record. They've had a good run in the playoffs, and now face the Steelers in the franchise's first Super Bowl appearance.

Actually, the Steelers have faced such a foe before. In the 1980 Super Bowl they played the L.A. Rams. The Rams were 9-7, the only team in the NFC West with a winning record. They beat Dallas and Tampa Bay on the road, then went on to Super Bowl XIV. The Steelers won by 12 points, but trailed as late as the fourth quarter before Terry Bradshaw connected with John Stallworth on a 73-yard touchdown pass, and then again on a 45-yard pass that set up a 1-yard TD run by Harris.

So, as playoff runs go, this year's has been about as easy as the Steelers have ever had it. No Vikings or Cowboys in the Super Bowl, no Raiders or Oilers or Colts or Patriots on the way to it. This is a game they should win.

Go cage those birdies, Black 'n' Gold, and bring home the one for the other thumb!

-Jay Cost

Return to blogging

Just a quick note to readers that I've returned to regular blogging after a few months doing research on the election results. In case you missed them, the first results of that research can be found in my four-part election review (here, here, here, and here), co-authored with Sean Trende. I have other plans for the research I've conducted on the election, and when the time is right hopefully we'll get an opportunity to review these fascinating results in more depth.

-Jay Cost

At Princeton This Week

This week I will be participating in a conference entitled "The American Electoral Process," sponsored by Princeton University's Center for the Study of Democratic Politics. The conference runs from Thursday to Saturday.

I am tentatively schedule to participate in the opening panel of the conference, with Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Thomas Mann, entitled "Overview 2008: Where We've Been and Where We're Going."

The details of the conference can be found here. The program schedule looks very promising, and there are some superb scholars participating.

If you live in the area and find this of interest, I encourage you to check it out.

-Jay Cost

In Hot 'lanta after Super Tuesday

For those of you who live in and around Atlanta, I thought you might find this notable. Joseph Knippenberg of Oglethorpe University has invited me to participate in a conference on February 6th. It looks to be quite a fun evening with a very august group of thinkers. I'm looking forward to it. Maybe I'll see you there!

Here are the details:

On Wednesday next, the day after Super Tuesday, I've put together a little conference to pick through the entrails of the isms (liberal and conservative), the parties (Democrats and Republicans), and the nominating processes. To be held in Lupton Auditorium on the Oglethorpe University campus, "The Future of Liberalism and Conservatism During and After 2008" will be keynoted by our friend Jonah Goldberg, who will be speaking at 7 p.m.

Festivities will begin at 11 a.m. with a student panel, featuring bright lights from Berry College, Mercer University, and Oglethorpe. After a lunch break, we'll reconvene at 1 p.m. to discuss the isms. This roundtable will be chaired by the distinguished Peter Lawler, and will feature Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Matthew Franck, Bryan McGraw (currently of Emory, soon to be of Wheaton College), and Susan McWilliams of Pomona College.

At 3 p.m., we'll discuss the nominating process led by a roundtable chaired by Berry College's Eric Sands. We'll hear from Alan Abramowitz, who writes here, our friend Jon Schaff, and Jay Cost. After dinner, we'll hear from Jonah at 7 p.m. After Jonah, who knows? There's a nice pub down the street, but drinks, unfortunately, aren't on me.

Our big sponsors are the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and several offices at Oglethorpe, with additional support from Berry College.

-Jay Cost

Ravenstahl Wins in Pittsburgh

A race that I had my eye on yesterday was the Pittsburgh mayoral race. This was a contest between incumbent mayor Democrat Luke Ravenstahl and South Side businessman Republican Mark Desantis.

At first blush, this might seem strange to care about. There has not been a Republican mayor in Pittsburgh since 1929. Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters by 5:1. A Republican candidate has not cracked 35% since 1965. Why care?

Well - for a while it looked like it might have been a real race. Ravenstahl, who is only 27 years old, was elevated to the position in 2006 when Mayor Bob O'Connor died. He has had a bumpy two years in office. In January of this year, there were reports that Ravenstahl got into a shoving match with a city of Pittsburgh police officer at Heinz Field back in 2005. Ravenstahl also took an SUV funded by the Department of Homeland Security to a Toby Keith concert, and he participated in a celebrity golf tournament that worried the Pittsburgh city ethics board.

Enter Mark Desantis, who spent a good bit of money (a quarter million dollars, something never seen on the GOP side of the ledger here in Pittsburgh). He also picked up the endorsement of the Pittsburgh police union as well as the Post-Gazette, which has not endorsed a Republican since 1969. A lot of Republicans in this city hoped that Ravenstahl's youth and perceived incompetence might swing the election to the GOP. The fact that no independent polling was commissioned gave the race a sense of mystery. Could Desantis win?

No way. Ravenstahl won last night 63% to 35%. This just goes to show that, while some elements of the original FDR coalition have broken from the Democrats, urban voters really have not. They are still loyal to the Democratic Party. Last night in Pittsburgh, party registration trumped all else.

-Jay Cost

I'm Back

Dear Readers,

I apologize for my light blogging over the last few days. I was busy helping a buddy of mine get back some sports memorabilia in Las Vegas. It didn't go too well.

Just kidding.

Actually, I have just completed a move from the City of the Big Shoulders to the City of Champions (a.k.a. the most livable city in the country). The missus took a promotion in an industry governed by this committee. So, I shall now be dissertating-from-a-distance, which is not so bad. The dissertation is about the relationship between parties and candidates in congressional elections - and PA 04 is probably a better vantage point than IL 04.

That reminds me. I apologize to those of you who have emailed me expecting a response, only not to receive one. I was finalizing a draft of my dissertation from roughly August 1 to September 1, and after that I was packing up my belongings. Between these activities and the blog, there was not a great deal of time for email.

Jay Cost

Some Thoughts on Rove

There has been a lot of commentary on the exiting of Karl Rove from the White House. This is not surprising. Over the last six years, he has been a powerful and polarizing figure.

At this point, I do not think it is possible for people to offer comprehensive assessments of him. The reason is that he is a partisan guy who had a partisan vision for the nation - one that he sought to implement. There is nothing wrong with this, but the fact of the matter is that his vision inspires in all of us some kind of emotional response. The thought of a permanent Republican majority akin to 1896-1932 induces some kind of reaction from you. And, my intuition is that analyses of Rove are correlated with those emotional responses. There has, in other words, been far too much praise and far too much condemnation of Karl Rove over the years. I think we're only going to get real about the politics of this White House when the stake that we all feel in the whole thing diminishes - which means, in turn, that analyses of Rove are going to be far from final for quite a while.

Accordingly, I'll just make two impressionistic comments about Rove.

1. Minimally, Karl Rove is going to be remembered as an innovative political campaigner. We all take integration of any kind for granted - but we should not. Bringing two disparate items together for a single purpose is very hard to do. Ultimately, it takes a lot of guts, vision, and (at least if you do it right) talent. Karl Rove was one of the key players in integrating precision marketing methods and computer-enhanced data analysis with the campaign for office. The result was one of the most effective voter mobilizations in the contemporary era.

In the postwar era, there have been an innumerable number of changes in the way that political campaigns have been fought. These have altered the role of the American political party. It used to be a mass party - in large part because it needed lots of average people participating so that the campaign could actually be waged. This mass party induced a great deal of participation in our system. Long before America had a modern government, it had a modern democracy in which the public was highly involved. But the rise of the contemporary campaign, most notably the introduction of television as a medium for communicating campaign messages, changed the focus of the party, which now needs expert consultants rather than a mass of volunteers. Thus, the party's role in voter mobilization declined.

Enter Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman, and the Republican apparatus. They took the technology and the sophisticated knowledge of marketing, statistics, etc - many of the things that swung the party from a mass-based organization to a media-based organization - and applied them to voter mobilization.

The political value of this cannot be underestimated. What is more, it is a good thing for democracy. The party used to be the entity that got people thinking about and participating in politics. We have lost too much of this in the transition to the contemporary campaign. Thanks in part to the efforts of Karl Rove - we've returned to a least a measure of what we once had. He made it a more central focus of the Republican Party to get people out to the ballot box. That is a good thing.

2. If voter mobilization and electoral strategy were Rove's great strengths, I think that one of his weaknesses was poor image management. Indeed, this is a problem from which the entire Bush White House seems to have suffered.

I do not think that Rove is the devil that the left has made him out to be. Again, I think it is simply a matter of conflict displacement. He's a partisan guy with a partisan vision that he is trying to implement. This vision makes some people happy, other people angry.

I think that Rove and the Bush White House have not appreciated just how angry they could make people with their vision for the nation - and just how much political damage those angry people could do to them in return.

Now, this is not a critique of their vision for things. Again, I am avoiding that subject because it is simply too hot right now. The point is that I do not think that they fully anticipated the response of their political opponents, and the possibility that those opponents could thwart them in their implementation of that vision by casting them in a bad light.

This is exactly what has happened to Rove, who is now wrongly a "devil" in the mind of many. This is a sign that Rove and the Bush White House allowed the former's image to be co-opted and used against the administration. They did not take sufficient steps to control and manage that image.

Could it have been controlled? I think the answer is yes. After all, there is no person in politics today about whom people are more hyperbolic. This is a sign of an image problem. Meanwhile, the White House itself is the greatest power source for the construction and maintenance of political images. The only way the president becomes more powerful than the ridiculously slender powers of Article II is through the creation and maintenance of image - and, accordingly, the institution of the presidency has developed an innumerable set of tools to develop such images (look at the White House itself, for goodness sake!). So, Rove had an image problem and the White House has the capacity to manage image problems.

This indicates that the Bush administration chose not to use those tools to manage Rove's image. Karl Rove was always just himself while at the White House. He should not have been. He should have been like a high-profile senator. He was a public figure with a public image that should have been managed. I think that the administration never realized that - as the President's chief political adviser - Rove's image would come under fire, and that this attack could potentially damage the credibility of the White House.

And this hints at what I take to be the central failure of the Bush administration. Its second term has vaguely reminded me of the tenure of England's Charles I, who thought that he possessed a monopoly of political power in the realm. He was wrong, of course. Eventually his government needed more money than his feudal estates could supply, and he had to come crawling back to Parliament, which was not too pleased to have been dismissed for a decade or so.

The problem of the Bush White House is similar. The Bush administration has failed to appreciate that, even though its party enjoyed control over two branches of the federal government from 2003 to 2007, it did not have a monopoly on political power. It failed to understand that the other side had tools in its toolbox that it could use against the administration. That's federalism for you. The minority is always down, but never out. It always has some power.

The vote at the ballot box makes one coalition or another a majority. But it is only through the careful application of political skills that the majority coalition governs effectively. Effective majority coalitions are effective largely because they disarm the other side. They recognize that there is rarely if ever a mandate at the ballot box - and that battles over policy must be won by out-politicking the opposition, even though the opposition is in the minority. For instance, effective governing coalitions use their power to set the agenda to pass bills that unite their side and split the other side. They solve the problems of the other side's constituency to peel away their voters. And so on.

What they should never do is inspire the other side to take up their arms or, relatedly, dishearten their own side. They should not unite the other side or divide their own side. They should be conscious of the fact that the other side is laying traps for them, and that they must be careful in all that they do and say. They must be aware that those on their side do not guarantee unconditional loyalty, let alone affection. Generally, they should recognize that the minority retains some power that can be used against the majority, and that politicking does not end when the votes are counted.

At least since the 2002 midterm, the Bush administration has not politicked very well. Bush's early domestic policy agenda seemed to me to take these basic facts into account. Ditto his early response to 9/11. But after the 2002 midterm I do not think that the administration believed it had to play this kind of politics anymore. It stopped appreciating just how much its actions could inspire its political opponents to come after it, and just how many powers the minority possesses to facilitate the attack. Accordingly, it walked into trap after trap. Time and again - Iraq, Katrina, Harriet Meyers, Dubai, the Attorney General, Social Security, immigration - the White House has displayed a political ineptitude that is explicable only by the fact that it feels as though it need not play politics. The Bush administration is in the weakened position it is in now not just because the voters weakened it in November, 2006. It is weakened also because the opposition, which was in the minority before November, had done a good deal of damage to it before the midterm. The minority managed to turn the White House into a target of the public's ire - at least partially because the White House allowed this to happen by believing that it was somehow above politics.

The failure of the White House to manage Rove's image is part and parcel of this general failure to respect the power of its opponents. The White House allowed the opposition to recast in its own terms both Rove in particular and the administration in general because it did not respect the opposition's ability to do that. Today, the administration is paying the political price for this failure: its only source of power now is that ever-so-slender Article II.

-Jay Cost

On Gerson and Hitchens

I read with bemusement the back-and-forth between Michael Gerson and Christopher Hitchens in the Washington Post last Friday and Saturday. It is disappointing to me that this is what counts for theological discussion in the popular press. Between the two of them, not a single point of value or interest was made.

On Friday, Gerson offered a rather lame defense of religious belief. He began by asking:

Proving God's existence in 750 words or fewer would daunt even Thomas Aquinas. And I suspect that a certain kind of skeptic would remain skeptical even after a squadron of angels landed on his front lawn. So I merely want to pose a question: If the atheists are right, what would be the effect on human morality?
This question, of course, is a non-sequitur. There is no way to demonstrate that "the atheists are right." The veil can never be lifted. Atheists can never be found to be right. And, if they are objectively right, we shall never know. The question therefore has no answer.

Gerson seems to me to frame his argument in this strange way so that he can vacillate between two points, both of which are weak. On the one hand, he seems to want to argue that morality itself is proof of God's existence. He goes out of his way (oddly, twice) to note that morality is not proof of God's existence - but he essentially argues that it is when he asserts that atheists cannot explain morality without recourse to cruel irony, nor can they offer any reason why morality is binding. Of course, this is a highly problematic proposition - the whole thrust of modern moral theory implies that God's existence is not a necessary condition for moral maxims to have influence and value.

This is why I think he seems also to argue a related point - which is that belief in God's existence has a salutary effect on morals. But this proposition is much more problematic than Gerson seems to realize. Belief in God is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for moral living, as Gerson admits. If Gerson wishes to offer a generalized empirical claim that certain religious beliefs have a salutary effect on morals - I would be interested in the argument. However, consider the massive size and problematic scope required for the task. He would have to (a) operationalize and then catalog the diverse religious beliefs across cultures, (b) operationalize and then catalog the diverse moral behaviors across those cultures, and (c) determine whether the two correlate with one another, i.e. whether certain religious beliefs imply more salutary morals.

At any rate, this argument is also subtly condescending to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The God of the Old and New Testaments has not involved Himself in the world solely so that we might all be nice to one another. Rather, He has done so to redeem humanity and restore it to its intended position in creation. Niceness enters into it, but there is much more going on, as Gerson of course knows. However, defending religion by discussing the salutary effect it has on morals misses - and diminishes - many of both Testament's central points, which are eschatological in nature.

And so, in shifting a discussion of Judeo-Christian theology from its central themes to an ancillary consideration - Gerson gives the indefatigable Christopher Hitchens an opportunity to do what he never fails to do: condemn religious belief by attacking a convenient mischaracterization of it. Hitchens reminds me of the sophists against whom Plato so often railed. It does not matter how mellifluous your adverbs and adjectives sound when they roll off your droll English tongue - attacking a straw man is still attacking a straw man.

This is precisely what Hitchens does in all of his many, repetitive polemics against religious belief. As a believer, I find him so completely unpersuasive because he always mischaracterizes my positions as a prelude to his snide attacks upon them.

I have long inferred that Hitchens holds firm to that tired pretension that naturalists are the only rationalists and "free thinkers." Indeed, he seems convinced that non-believers are the only ones who have thought seriously about issues like the theodicy problem, or the role that God plays in His church on Earth, or exactly what Christ accomplished on the cross, or what posture we should have toward those whose beliefs diverge from our own, and so on. What else to make of his laundry list of religion's sins? The implication is that nobody on the other side has a compelling explanation for them. Well, of course they do. Those of us who hold to considered beliefs are happy to stipulate his facts (as well as the instances - oddly short-shrifted by Hitchens! - where belief has had a benevolent effect) so that we may have a discussion of how we should understand them. We are more than ready for this debate - as the understanding of his laundry list is one of the purposes of theology.

It might come as a surprise to Mr. Hitchens that those of us who believe can do so without rejecting facts or logic. His ignorance notwithstanding, I am glad to report that we can. He'd know this if he'd just exercise a little care when considering the arguments of those who dare to disagree with him. He reads as a man who does not do this, as a man who is so infuriated by the very idea of theism that he cannot sit still until the end of a work by Augustine - who was far more clever than he. If he took a deep breath, ceded the possibility that his own judgments might be in error, and thoughtfully read those who disagree - he would see that, while it might still be the case that he is right and they are wrong, it certainly is not the "slam dunk" that he thinks it is. He would see that, as it turns out, those who dare to disagree actually have some decent points to make.

In that instance, he might say something of value on the question of religion. But, so long as he refuses to show his opponents any respect, his arguments will be what they were last Saturday - adroit non-sequiturs that titillate rather than edify. Attacks against straw men appeal to the party base, but they do nothing to advance the cause.

-Jay Cost

Did I Read This Correctly?

Did Jay Carney argue today that McCain's campaign for the Republican nomination is in trouble because the national Washington press corps does not like his stand on the Iraq War?

There's a word I'm looking for. What is it...what is it? Ahhh...yes. Here it is:

solipsism, n: the theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing

-Jay Cost

Power Outage

A power outage has knocked Jay offline and unable to post. The HorseRaceBlog should return sometime tomorrow (hopefully).

On The Warm Bucket...

Several readers have chimed in to note that Vice President Garner did not, in all likelihood, say "warm bucket of spit." It was likely a more...ahem...colorful metaphor he made use of.

Indeed. However, my mother visits this site every day. So, I choose to keep this a strictly PG-rated blog - even at the expense of literalism. The only curse words used here are "damn," "hell," and - of course - "Semprini."

-Jay Cost

Consensus, Not Courage

I must admit that I am a fan of Joe Klein. His politics and my politics are not really in sync, but he seems to "get" much of the big picture of American politics. I like that.

This was on display in his new Time column. This is what he writes about Bush's second inaugural address.

These days Bush's inaugural oratory seems, at the very least, a tragic overreach. It was foolishly messianic. It didn't reflect the reality on the ground, or even the reality of U.S. policy, which still supports oppressive regimes around the world. It came after years of grandiloquent sloganeering: "the war on terror," "the axis of evil," wanton talk of crusades and evildoers and an ill-conceived war with Iraq. Furthermore, the President's speech was based on a simplistic vision of America's role in the world, one firmly rooted in American infallibility. And finally, there was a fundamental mismatch between the grandness of Bush's oratory and his unwillingness to summon the nation to an actual war footing, in which real sacrifice was required. "I think the American people are sacrificing now," the President said. "I think they're waiting in airport lines longer than they've ever had before."

Still, if Bush's sense of national greatness has been misguided, his impulse is perfectly American: the U.S. has always thought of itself as something special, has always sought new national challenges in order to "form a more perfect union." It is a frontier impulse firmly rooted in the American DNA, subtly essential to the nation's growth. The mere "pursuit of happiness" can never be enough; we must also go to the moon. Ten years ago, the political writer David Brooks decided that there was a need for "national greatness," for larger national goals, but as a conservative, he had trouble responding to a very basic question: What are those goals? "It almost doesn't matter what great task government sets for itself," he wrote, "as long as it does some tangible thing with energy and effectiveness."

I think there is a lot of truth to this, though the idea of government being the agent that accomplishes this great American thing is a 20th century innovation. Nevertheless, this is what I like about Joe Klein. It is a rare feat among columnists these days to offer some insight that is not reducible to one party or another's talking points. Mr. Klein can do that, which is why I enjoy reading him.

Unfortunately, Mr. Klein makes a major analytical mistake later in the article. He goes on to list several policy initiatives that are at the top of his agenda. When implicitly posed with the question of why our system has not yet accomplished much at all on any of these initiatives, Mr. Klein blames the politicians for their lack of courage. He writes:

None of these goals are impossible; some may even be achievable. All that's required is some political courage, which is not a natural commodity in an election year. Indeed, there is only one sure way to inspire courage in politicians. We must demand it. If they choose to avoid these and other serious issues, we should make it clear that we are going to avoid voting for them.
This is where he loses me. Lots of people like to view politicians through the lens of courage vs. cowardliness. I do not.

Courage is the ability to face danger without backing down. The idea that I think that Mr. Klein is reaching for is that of a great man or woman who leads the nation through these problems without fear of opposition. Somebody who can pick us up, and carry us across to the other side despite the dangers involved in such a rescue operation.

This is a quality that our system usually renders irrelevant.

Regardless of our politics - most of us believe that there are entrenched interests that prevent substantive change for the general good. [The ironic feature of our politics is that the right is convinced that the left is the entrenched interest and the right is out for the general good, and the left is convinced that the right is the entrenched interest and the left is out for the general good!] This is indeed the case. There are entrenched interests - i.e. interests who will have to be overwhelmed if the greater public good is to be accomplished. If they cannot be convinced to pursue the greater good, change will have to come against their wills. This requires courage on the part of our political leaders.

The problem with this narrative is that these entrenched interests possess vetoes. This is what federalism implies. By dispersing power, our system makes it so that you really cannot accomplish much of anything without the assent of most all of the entrenched interests. If you cannot convince enough of these interests that your way is the best course of action, you are not going to accomplish your goal. So, courage is quite irrelevant for success. You can be as courageous as you want; you still are not going to accomplish what you wish to.

What Klein is reaching for here is the "great man" theory of political progress - he wants a great leader who can move us toward a greater good. It was a theory that our Framers explicitly rejected as a basis for sound Republican government. They thought that great men would not always be in steady supply, and that - even when great men are around - they are not always going to succeed. They cannot be relied upon. Thus, the system must be designed with the thought in mind that less-than-great men would possess the mechanisms of power. They instituted a system that effectively thwarts would-be great men from accomplishing what they could accomplish in an action-oriented system.

It is not coincidence that our truly great presidential heroes - Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt - governed at periods when the normal functioning of our system had broken down. Lincoln had a Congress that was essentially bereft of opposition. Roosevelt governed a nation that had, at least for a moment, achieved an unparalleled unity in its demand for systematic change in the relationship between the government and the citizen. Both men could succeed because they governed at what might be called non-Madisonian moments. This is when the courage of great men can be effective - when there is an absence of entrenched oppositions with decisive vetoes.

At the heart of Klein's argument is a fallacy of division. He argues that our inability to accomplish great things is because nobody has the will to accomplish something. While I would agree that our system as a whole lacks this kind of will, it does not follow that no person in this system has such a will. Rather, the lack of a will on a national level speaks to the fact that, on a "sectional" level, there is a multiplicity of conflicting wills. Our system was designed to resolve these differences by making it so that no will trumps another.

This is not an assertion that our government never actually does anything. Not at all. Obviously, our government has done quite a bit. The point is that - if we are interested in accomplishing great things, we need to build consensus. We need to develop some kind of common ground that unites us. Without that, we can expect our system to thwart our efforts, and to sustain the status quo. Consensus, not courage, is the key that ignites our lumbering, awkward, 18th century political system.

-Jay Cost

Defending the Sopranos Finale

I have to admit, I liked the final episode. As several have argued, it fit the idiom of the show very nicely. Matthew Zoller Seitz gives the best analysis I have seen.

I would add that I was very nervous going into last night's show. The reason was that, as far as I was concerned, the show had been adrift in Season Six. There was never a broad point that the show was making, there was never a trajectory toward a final conclusion. Crises and confrontations would pop up, Tony et al. would deal with them, and they would die down. The show was worth watching not because of its broad trajectory, but the engrossing episode-to-episode stories. The problem with Season Six, I thought, was that the show's writers seemed to have run out of ideas. None of the plots were all that interesting. None of the threats all that menacing. Thus, I would have been disappointed if, for instance, Phil Leotardo - of all people! - were to take Tony down. It would not make much "sense" for Tony to have survived conspiratorial machinations from all kinds of parties, including his mother and uncle, except Phil Leotardo. After all, Tony was so much smarter than Phil. Allowing Tony to die, or go to jail, thanks to the efforts of Phil Leotardo would have been consistent with the show's implicit argument that life has no arc, but it would not fit well with the characters as they had been developed.

So, I am glad that the the writers did not allow Tony to succumb to inferior forces for the sake of a splashy finish. A splashy finish would have taken some of the characters out-of-character, and that would have been disappointing. I will say that the final episode was not great, but then again Season Six was pretty mediocre, so there was only so much they could do.

Some people have suggested that the cut to black at the end is an indication that Tony has died. As evidence, they cite his conversation with Bobby at the beginning of the second part of Season 6, who wonders if you don't see the end coming - if it is just cut-to-black and that is it. While I agree that the end of last night's episode was indeed a reference to that conversation, I think the inference that Tony is finished is exactly backward. It is not that Tony is dead. The audience is "dead." The story goes on, but we're no longer a part of it. It just ends for us - without fanfare, without resolution, without narrative satisfaction. Just cut to black, as Bobby imagined it. This is consistent with David Chase's overarching argument in the show. There is no grand narrative or story arc to life, no tragedy as the Greeks would have it. You live. You die. That's it. The timing of your arrival on the scene is arbitrary and meaningless, so also is the timing of your exit from it. Life goes on after you are gone, just as it went on before you arrived. The Sopranos family was alive and well before we started watching in 1999. It will continue now that we're gone. It wasn't Tony's turn to go. It was our turn to go. So, we cut to black. Tony didn't.

The last one "whacked" on the Sopranos was the audience.

-Jay Cost

From a Reader

In response to this morning's post, Seth from Washington writes:

I wanted to pat you on the back for two posts in the past few days - one about why the failure of an immigration bill to pass isn't "a sign that the system doesn't work," and the one today that questions the DC media consensus that decries "partisanship" in favor of broad, vague "bipartisanship."

It's as though Senator A says, "we need to punch Joe in the face 100 times," Senator B says "we shouldn't punch Joe in the face," and the mainstream media's response is to assume that voters wish that those bitter partisans would stop their ideological pandering and pass a reasonable, centrist proposal to punch Joe in the face 50 times.

I imagine we don't agree on much politically, but we can both agree that it serves voters well when candidates and leaders actually take positions about questions of policy and advocate for them. So thanks for sticking up for that weirdly neglected point.

Well said, I think.

-Jay Cost

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Michael Barone, 2007:

Listening to the recent debates among the candidates, monitoring their Websites and reading the poll numbers, one gets the impression that the Republican and Democratic primary electorates are living in two different nations -- or the same nation that faces two very different threats.

The Republicans want to protect us against Islamist terrorists. The Democrats want to protect us against climate change. Each side believes the other's fears are largely imaginary. Rush Limbaugh regularly treats global warming theories as a "hoax." A prominent political scientist dismisses Republican candidates' appeals as sounding "like the day after Sept. 11." When asked about possible new attacks, Democratic candidates -- with the exception of Hillary Clinton -- talk about seeking international support and understanding. Asked about climate change, Republican candidates -- with the exception of John McCain -- talk about getting more information.

V.O. Key, 1952:

To assert that all men who regard themselves as Republicans or as Democrats share a common "interest" would be an absurd oversimplification as well as an attribution of a higher incidence of conscious and rational choice than actually prevails among voters. Yet each of the major parties is erected on a solid foundation of a concert of interests, if not a single interest. That interest is by no means solely economic, although the significance of economic drives in political action is not to be denied. Temperament, status, social inheritance, and every factor that enters into human behavior find their way to the political sphere.

In the America of which Professor Key made such a great study, the division of the interests of the parties was almost entirely sectional. It was so much the case that America did not really exhibit a true two-party system, but rather multiple one-party systems. He writes:

The sectionalism inherent in the American national two-party system almost of necessity dictates that many states shall have no parties for state affairs. Each of the two national parties rests on a foundation of states and districts persistent in their loyalty to its candidates. The Solid South has remained Democratic in its attachments through the party's adversities and through its lush days. Rural north-eastern areas provide the same sort of hard core for the Republican party. The development of predominance in a state by a particular national party has the con-sequence that the state is apt to elect consistently that party's candidates to state and local office

Of course, both parties are essentially competitive nationwide now. I would wager that a Republican or a Democrat could win at least a single office of significance in any state. This is not how it was several decades ago.

One would expect this to diminish the effects that Key outlined. Indeed, I think it has. Partisanship does not serve nearly the same kind of psychological function for the voter that it used to in, say, the late 19th or early 20th century. Political campaigns - especially for Congress - turn more upon voter evaluations of the candidates, and less upon unconditional partisan support, than they used to. The rise of split ticket voting is also a sign that voters are not as slavishly tied to one party or another. What is more, both parties are sufficiently organized in every state to wage a competitive campaign at least when the political winds favor their side, and very often when they do not. The sectionalism that Key outlined is still extant, for sure, but it has been on the wane for some time.

Nevertheless, the implied psychological effect of such a sectional system seems similar to what we often see in some quarters of our class of political elites. As Professor Key implies, Republicanism simply made no sense to Southerners for a very long time. Similarly, following Mr. Barone, many Republicans today see Democrats as being simply crazy; many Democrats feel the same way about Republicans. The partisan passions on both sides seem to me to be as intense as ever.

I can't but think that the segmentation of the media generally, and the rise of cyberspace in particular, has facilitated this phenomenon. Many of our political elites - broadly defined to include those who are activists and high demanders of political information - evince what might be called a cyber-sectionalism. Cyber-communities exist where it is essentially a "no go zone" for the other party. These communities remind me a great deal of the regional sectionalism that Key delineated. If our political elites have not actually become more partisan than voters were during the height of sectionalism, I would wager that they have at least not become less partisan.

Mind you, I'm not passing judgment on any of this. If anything, I endorse it as a sociological phenomenon. For my money, I prefer "hot" partisans on both sides of the aisle. Intense partisans imply parties that take clear issue positions, offer the voters distinct choices in the election, and endeavor to enact their programs once elected. These are all good things. Personally, I would much prefer the messy, "mean-spirited," politics of the late 1940s than the bland, everybody-got-along-but-nothing-got-done-while-problems-festered politics of the 1950s. Intense partisans induce strong political parties, which are - I think - a clear benefit to the American people, even if each side's partisans annoy the hell out of the average voter.

I tend to think that the mushy, why-can't-we-all-just-get-along attitude toward politics that many political elites, usually in the mainstream media, endorse can sometimes be a narrow-minded unionism disguised as a broad-minded nationalism. A world where all partisans are bipartisan is a world where the party label no longer serves as an informational cue for the voter. Guess who in that world becomes the only true mediator of political information? The media!

-Jay Cost

A Challenge to My Methodology

As I wrote in the introduction to myself on the blog, my intention here is to analyze and not to boost. However, as I indicated, the line between the two can sometimes get blurry.

I failed to mention one instance where maintaining said distinction might be downright impossible. This is from The Politico's Congress blog earlier in the week:

A Swann for the House?

Following his unsuccessful run last fall for governor of Pennsylvania, former NFL great Lynn Swann is now considering a bid for the House seat held by freshman Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire.

According to GOP aides, Swann huddled Tuesday in the Capitol with a number of House Republican leaders to gauge their support, including Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio, Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

None of the leaders endorsed Swann, the aides said, but they did encourage him to seek the seat. Swann could not be reached for comment.

A Steeler...in Congress? Be still my black-and-gold heart!

Also, Tom Rooney - son of Steelers owner Dan Rooney (and, of course, grandson of the Chief) - is running for Florida's 16th congressional district. You know what that means? There might very well be a Congressional Steelers Caucus in the 111th Congress! This, of course, would be the first congressional caucus with a fight song:

Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Betty Sutton. and Steve LaTourette had all better look out. You too, Steve Chabot! The Steelers might comin' to Congress!

-Jay Cost

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