No Panaceas

Thursday, March 04, 2004
The 9/11 Convention: Back when the Repubs announced they were breaking with tradition and holding a September convention most of the press trumpeted it as a brillant move. My first reaction was, "What a really really dumb idea!" The media craves -- absolutely lusts for -- controversy at national conventions. Modern conventions are so anticlimatic and so completely staged that the slighest bit of controversy will get way overplayed. (They've got to fill up that airtime and newspaper space somehow.) It won't be at all hard for the press to find all kinds of 9/11 victim's families willing to go on camera and completely and dramatically slam Bush for the crass political exploitation of 9/11. The Republicans will have to spend so much time and energy refuting these charges, that the impact from the locale and timing will be minimal if not negative. (Bush will probably still get a convention bounce, it just won't be the Grand Slam he thinks he can get because it is in NYC right before September 11th.)

These early complaints from 9/11 families are just the beginning.

Veepstakes 2004: Now that the Democratic nomination contest is over it's time for the quadrennial veepstakes. Most of the time it's the only interesting election topic between the end of the competitive primaries and the convention. So who will it be this time? I asked my Presidency class this morning. Here's the list of possibilities they produced:

John Edwards, Bob Graham, Bill Richardson, Evan Bayh, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Wes Clark, Mark Warner, Tom Vilsack, Dick Gephardt, Jay Rockefeller. I also tossed in John McCain, since this Slate article talks about him. A few other people are getting mentioned in the press. Edward Rendall is notable. A bunch of female governors and senators are getting mentioned too. It's the season of the great mention.

As I've said before, when choosing a VP candidate presidential nominees should follow the dictum, "First, do no harm." There is not much evidence that voters vote for a presidential candidate because of the VP nominee. But I think there is reason to be believe that a poor VP choice can lose a candidate votes, e.g., Quayle in 1988 and Ferraro in 1984. Basically, if the VP becomes the news story then chances are it is because something bad is going on.

So what do you want?
1. You want someone with no skeletons.

2. You want someone with the poise, experience, and skill to handle a national campaign.

3. Relatedly, you want someone that people (and the media) can actually imagine as president. The last thing you want is a series of articles about how X isn't ready for primetime.

4 Next you want someone who won't alienate your base.

5. You don't want someone who will alienate moderates and independents.

6. Finally, if the person can help you win an otherwise difficult or impossible to win state then great. This last criteria is probably overrated and stuff like geographical balance is nonsense.

Quayle failed at 2, 3, 6, and perhaps 5. Ferraro failed at all but 4 (the skeletons had to do with her husband -- fairly or not). Eagleton, unfairly, failed at 1. Dole in 1976 failed at 2 -- by his own admission -- and perhaps at 3 and 6, too. Lieberman failed at 4 and 6, and I think cost Gore more votes than did Nader. Really good recent choices include Gore, Kemp, Mondale, and Bush. Gore especially was a very shrewd move on Clinton's behalf. He recognized that the need for geographic balance is a canard in modern America. I think Cheney and Bentsen were both a bit iffy. Cheney's health problems -- probably unfairly -- called into question #3, despite his unbeatable resume. Bentsen was an obvious and rather pathetic geographic pander.

Unless he chooses Zell Miller I don't think Kerry has to worry about alienating his base. Bush has effectively united the Dems. Heck, Kerry might even get by with McCain, though that isn't going to happen anyway.

So who fits these criteria? Lots on the list. I think both Clinton's run the risk of scaring off moderate and independent voters, Hillary especially. (The Bill Clinton idea is just plain nuts.) Here's my take on the above list. Note that obviously I don't know for sure who has skeletons and who doesn't. But obviously some of these people have been nationally vetted, i.e., faced a tough press, and some haven't.

If you look at the list I think the safest bets are Gephardt and Bayh. Richardson brings an intangible element since he would be the first Latino on a national ticket, but I think he is a rather unknown quantity when it comes to holding up in a national campaign. Bayh is not well known nationally but he has an impressive resume, has consistently excelled in a Republican state, and I suspect he would do very well in a national campaign. I think Edwards is rather vulnerable on 3 but he'd probably work as well. Frankly I don't see any female possibilities that wouldn't run astray of either 2 or 3. Dianne Feinstein is probably too old, otherwise she would be a terrific and safe choice.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004
More on Scalia and recusals: Here is an interesting piece from the Legal Times about the Court and recusals. One thing it does is provide data on recusal frequency. On average Rehnquist and Ginsburg recuse the least (7 times per year) while Breyer recuses the most (42 per year). Scalia averages 12 per year. Most of the article recounts well known anecdotes about particular recusals, but the bottom line is that we know little systematically about why justices recuse and, as important, why they do not recuse. Plus it is a matter that remains thoroughly unregulated -- or, to be a bit more correct, self-regulated. My gut feeling is that this is something that does not really need to be regulated and that ultimately this particular little episode will self-correct because the other justices will convince Scalia to wake up and smell the hoisin sauce.