Monday, January 25, 2010

Quick answer

MoveOn e-mails me this afternoon -- subject line "Quick question for you?"

It's no longer clear whether Congress will pass a comprehensive health care reform bill this year.

The White House and Congress will decide within days whether or not to go forward with reform—and before they do, it's critical they know the impact that decision will have in terms of participation in the next election.

So we're polling MoveOn members: If Democrats do not pass comprehensive health care reform this year, will you donate to Democratic candidates in the 2010 elections? Just click the appropriate link below to let us know:

  • Definitely won't donate
  • Probably won't donate
  • Probably will donate
  • Definitely will donate

I clicked Probably Won't. But I wished for a 50/50 option, and I also wished for a comment field to say the following:

Let's be honest, I don't have a lot of discretionary cash for political contributions, so I wouldn't be "making it rain" in a midterm election anyway. The best I could conceivably answer is Probably Will.

However, if the Congressional Dems walked away from the health care bill, I would likely conclude (1) they were acting like a minority party anyway -- like a de facto opposition party to Obama, and (2) they were acting as if special interests were more important to them than the "un-organized" support of individual base voters like me. So I'd be inclined to treat them the way they're asking to be treated.

I'd vote for my Democratic candidates, sure, but give money to the DCCC or DSCC? Give financial expression of enthusiasm for the national party's efforts? Not bloody likely.

Well, that was quick! More later.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Forty-one! Forty-one!"

This was the victory chant at Scott Brown's rally last night. How completely absurd: (1) that the revelers were so giddy at their party's strengthened ability, still as the opposition minority, to prevent anything from getting done; and (2) the idea that this is the magic number in modern day Washington. 41 No votes out of 100, in the most dubiously democratic assembly in the developed world.

Mark Schmitt argues that a 59-vote Democratic caucus will be an improvement.

Sixty votes not only put Lieberman and Nelson in charge, it meant that every little twist and turn in political life became the difference between total policy deadlock and historically breathtaking progress. A butterfly flaps its wings in Uruguay, and health reform survives or dies. Just as a few hundred votes in Minnesota created the 60-vote majority, a bizarrely incompetent candidate in Massachusetts took it away, but if it had not been that, it would have been something else.

Certainly the main lesson I've gotten from the health care reform debate is the need to reform the Senate and do away with the supermajority.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Thoughts and prayers for the people of Haiti, which was struck by a major earthquake yesterday.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Higher ed reform

Via Ezra Klein, an interesting piece by Kevin Carey in Democracy about the need for reform in American higher education.

The main takeaway: The marketplace in US colleges operates on reputation, not information – there is a paucity of comparative outcomes data on how well, e.g., business departments’ graduates perform in business – and the elite colleges (via a powerful lobbying shop in Washington) do their best to keep useful outcomes data from seeing the light of day.

Carey notes the huge boom since World War II in the number of Americans who attend college. Some of the younger institutions founded in that time frame deserve more credit, and some of the older brand-name institutions are coasting. I am the parent of a high school student, soon-to-be tuition payer, and as a matter of fact the college she expresses most interest in is in the “young and possibly on the rise” category. So color me intrigued.

I've been seeing the end-of-decade spate of retrospectives, mostly gloomy. Also, I'm working through James Fallows's Atlantic cover story which is an anti-jeremiad: why Americans shouldn't be pessimistic about our national future. I still worry that America has slipped into a state of decadence preceding a steep fall. One reason is the harmful influence of lobbying. Carey's story may not be the best example, but it is a data point. The US has lost focus on producing goods and services. Our economy is founded on real estate flips, other forms of financial sleight-of-hand, and lobbying for regulatory relief and/or government-sponsored obfuscation. Add college presidents to the list of classes of leaders who would rather pay lobbyists to sustain the corrupt and ultimately unsustainable status quo, rather than seriously re-vision and reform their way of working.

Also, I want to highlight this passage that compares the arrogance and self-protectiveness of colleges to that of churches:

Colleges are often lumped in with other non-profit entities like charities and hospitals in the public mind. But they actually most resemble the institution from which many of the oldest and most renowned colleges sprang: organized religion. Like the church, colleges have roots that pre-date the founding of the republic. They see themselves as occupying an exalted place in human society, for which they are owed deference and gratitude. They cherish their priests and mysteries, and they are disinclined to subject either to public scrutiny.

Interesting to me largely for the view of religion being expressed. Not saying it’s right or wrong, either the view of contemporary religion or the college-church analogy. It bears thinking about.