Don’t be surprised if you catch David Plouffe, the senior White House political strategist, reading press accounts of Harry Truman’s campaign.
Surgical analysis of election/economic math from Nate Silver.

George W. Bush became wildly unpopular because he tried to politicize everything. He wanted loyal, true-believing cronies in positions of power. Most of these folks weren’t competent. So lots of things — from Iraq to the Justice Department to New Orleans — were ruined. People noticed; Bush left office with an approval rating of only 22 percent.

Barack Obama also tries to politicize a great many things. He does so differently: he plays politics by compromising on everything, so that he can appear to be reasonable and the adult in the room. He scaled back economic stimulus in early 2009 because he wanted a bipartisan deal (which he didn’t get anyhow). Because his political calculation caused him to propose an insufficient stimulus, the economy didn’t create enough jobs. Lo and behold, Democrats became less popular and lost control of the House in 2010.

Now, he’s focused like a laser on the deficit — even though we’re mired in a severe recession — because he thinks that’s what swing voters want. Read this new expose from Elizabeth Drew:

It all goes back to the “shellacking” Obama took in the 2010 elections. The President’s political advisers studied the numbers and concluded that the voters wanted the government to spend less. This was an arguable interpretation. Nevertheless, the political advisers believed that elections are decided by middle-of-the-road independent voters, and this group became the target for determining the policies of the next two years.

Although the debt-ceiling negotiations are a mess, Obama’s political calculus will likely lead to fiscal policies that take trillions out of the economy, stifling the already anemic recovery. The awful economy, of course, will be what voters think about in 2012, not his “adult-like” attempt to reduce the deficit the year before.

The moral of the story — for George W. Bush, and now for Barack Obama — is that policy outcomes matter. Not just for their own sake, but also for political gain. Those who shun policy for politics tend to fail at both.


A few months ago, in a speech at Columbia Journalism School, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver warned about the need for journalists to “learn[] how to distinguish between cause and effect”: 

This is especially problematic when it comes to polling data. Say that the unemployment rate is increasing and because of that, Barack Obama’s approval ratings are declining. What you’ll often see is literally dozens of stories which are framed as “Barack Obama’s [blank] problem”. Barack Obama’s approval ratings are declining among women! Among men! Among Hispanics! Among whites! Among soccer moms! Among NASCAR dads! But really, all of these have the same root cause - it’s the economy, stupid. The bigger picture is lost.

Since then, there’s been some new polling, and you can guess how it’s being reported. Describing the results of its recent poll that showed slipping support for the President (including among various demographic groups), AP warned that “[w]hites and women are a re-election problem for President Barack Obama. Younger voters and liberals, too, but to a lesser extent. Others (such as Politico) joined in the fray, blaring headlines like "Poll: Obama loses ground with white voters, women, liberals."

Although these are technically accurate descriptions of the poll results, they do not attempt to address the root causes of this eroded support. And in discussing the “voter outreach operations” aimed at these groups, the analysis suggests that the problems are group-specific, rather than the economy as a whole.


Today, Gail Collins tackles Herman Cain. After examining his personal history and electoral strategy, she stumbles upon this:

For instance, on the matter of immigration, Cain says that he thinks it would be a great idea to build an alligator-filled moat between the United States and Mexico. (“And make it a real big moat.”) So, in the spirit of political fact-checking, I called an expert, Frank Mazzotti of the University of Florida, who said that the cost of keeping the alligators alive in that climate “would be astronomical.” If there turned out to be a spot along the border where the alligators were comfortable, Mazzotti said, they could escape, multiply and create “all sorts of economic problems.” Not to mention the danger to household pets.

Of course, the likely infestation of alligators along the U.S./Mexican border increases the importance of clarifying the answer to this question.


In an interview with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register, Perry criticized the “eight unelected and frankly unaccountable judges” on the Supreme Court, briefly forgetting there are nine members.

In the same meeting, Perry also struggled to recall the name of Sonia Sotomayor, Obama’s first appointee to the Court.

Per Talking Points Memo, further evidence that Rick Perry might not be the thickest up top.
That’s what Americans care about. They are not looking for a robot that can spit out the name of every Supreme Court justice, or someone that is going to be perfect in every way. They are looking for somebody who’s got values that are based with a deep rudder in the water.
Rick Perry, the Felix Frankfurter of his generation. (Courtesy of TPM.)

I grew up in New Jersey. Lawyer types are well aware that an entire doctrine of constitutional law—the dormant commerce clause—developed around my home state’s ill-fated attempts to avoid becoming the nation’s sole repository for trash. All of which is to say, I know junk. 

And this weekend was full of it. For one, today’s New York Times has a nifty article about (the growing problem of) space junk, which threatens to interfere with exploration, satellites, and other productive extraterrestrial activities. There are, however, some silver linings: 

Just last week, researchers at a top Swiss university, the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, announced that they were designing CleanSpace One, a sort of vacuum cleaner in the sky — an $11 million one — that will be able to navigate close to a satellite and grab it with a big claw, whereupon both will make a fiery death dive.

The Swiss have only two satellites in orbit, each smaller than a breadbox, but they are concerned about what to do with them when they stop operating in a few years.

“We want to clean up after ourselves,” said Anton Ivanov, a scientist at the institute’s space center. “That’s very Swiss, isn’t it?”

But it gets worse, alas. Acolytes of Edward Tufte know of his legendary disdain for Chartjunk: infographic adornments that waste ink and add nothing to—and often obscure—the reader’s understanding of the data. 

Yesterday Mashable published an infographic about the 2012 presidential candidates’ use of social media. It contains just 30 statistics—6 candidates, 5 stats apiece—that could have easily fit in a simple table. Instead, we got this!

(Disclaimer: strong stomach required.)

All of this, perhaps, calls for the assistance of New Jersey’s most famous practitioner of waste management—IFF, in fact, he’s still alive.

Seated in front of a wall that was decked in campaign signs and instructions for volunteers with titles like “Canvas 101,” Mike Pederson of Nashua reviewed the talking points that had been handed to him by the [Obama] campaign. The focus of the phone-banking operation on this day was on how the health care reform law would affect Medicare, and he stayed on message as he ignored the full spread of Girl Scout cookies, soft drinks and vegetables that had been set up on a nearby table.