Politics: October 2006 Archives

If things go according to the way the polls are reporting, the Democratic party will take over the U.S. House of Representatives in January. The pundits are all saying this and then laughing at a few key Republican politicians who are saying they're not as sure of such an outcome. I've been reading a number of poll-watching blogs every day, and I'm not convinced such an attitude deserves the derision it's getting. I'm not ready to say this is a sure thing at this point, for four reasons.

1. The first piece of information people usually present is the generic polls. The generic polls strongly favor Democrats, but people don't vote for generic representatives in Congress. They vote for their incumbent or an opponent (except in open races, where they still vote for actual people and not generic party candidates). There's a reason Congressional candidates rarely mention their party (and despite Senator Charles Schumer's claim that it's only Republicans that fail to do this, Democrats fail to do it just as much). The best way to get votes from members of the other party is to distance yourselves from the party and emphasize your individuality. Hardcore partisans will of course not be much affected by this. However, independents who are angry with Republicans and marginal Democrats who like their district's Republican representative in general are another story. They often report that they would vote for a Democrat over a Republican but then manage to vote for their particular Republican candidate anyway. So I don't think generic polls tell us as much as some people are taking them to tell us.

2. Every few days another couple seats that looked as if they would turn red to blue have been switching back to red. The movement is clearly back in the direction of the Republicans, with one election projection site even reporting only a three-seat advantage for the Democrats if the election were held today. Other sites are reporting a larger gap still, but this is the site that most accurately predicted the 2004 election results, and he takes into account factors that other sites don't seem to me to be considering (see item #4 below for one of them). The mainstream media (including Fox News) seem unwilling to mention this about the House races (some of them are saying it about the Senate) in any news reports about polling, and almost all of the pundits they give a place to seem not to be aware of this. The governor races do seem to be going leftward in the polls, with two more shifting to blue in the last week, but he movement I'm seeing in House and Senate polls is not by and large leftward. It's rightward. Only a couple of the poll-watching blogs are not acknowledging this, and those are by very partisan Democrats who I think are just in denial. This does not mean that enough seats will move back to red to put a halt to a Democratic takeover, but it's surprising that I'm not hearing much about this anywhere except on blogs.

Impeachment Questions

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I'll probably say something tomorrow about why I think there's some reason to be a little skeptical about whether Democrats will take over the House of Representatives, but something occurred to me yesterday about the potential consequences of a Democratic takeover that I thought was worth blogging about.

If Democrats will occupy the majority of the seats in the House, it's most likely that Nancy Pelosi will become the Speaker of the House. It's possible that some other candidate will gain that position in an election among the Democratic representatives, but I don't find that extremely likely. As Speaker, she will almost certainly be inundated with requests from Democratic members of Congress to pursue impeachment hearings for President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. She has so far said that should would not pursue impeachment.

But she will surely be pressured to do so. What happens if she gives in or if her resistance is merely to maximize the chances of Democrats taking Republican seats in this election? What happens if the Democratic takeover of the House gives Democrats enough seats to succeed in issuing impeachment charges (since surely some Democrats will not support impeachment)? Two issues regarding conflicts of interest were worrying me. One turns out not to be an issue, but the other remains a worry for me.

Senator George Allen (R, VA) has come under a lot of fire recently for being unwilling to say that he had Jewish ancestry. He he may have been just respecting his mother's wishes, considering his obligation to her saying this in confidence to outweigh the interest of the public in knowing his ancestry (and I can see how people might disagree over which moral issues are more decisive there). He also used the word 'macaca' to describe an Indian American. He called it a term of endearment that had no meaning, but it's known in some places as a racial epithet, including in French North Africa, where Allen's mother is from, although she claims never to have heard it. Allen has been slipping in the polls for his reelection to the Senate, and I think this is might end his chances at a potential presidential run for 2008.

But the latest news is that anyone switching their vote from Allen to his opponent, James Webb, had better not be doing it out of an expectation that Webb is more racially sensitive. Webb has been unwilling to say whether he has ever used the N-word. [hat tip: Racialicious] People who knew him in his youth have said that he did use it in those days, and his unwillingness to own up to it is ruffling some feathers. He says he knows he's never used it as a racial epithet but can't recall if he's used it in another way. I had first thought that he might just be confusing use and mention, and he wasn't willing to say that he'd never used it, thinking that just mentioning the word to talk about the word counts as using it (which it doesn't), but the allegations do not involve simply mentioning the word. They involve using it as a racial epithet (which is what he says he knows he never did).

Dahlia Lithwick seems to think Justice Scalia's comments in the following quote offensive. Interestingly, there's no explanation at all of what is supposed to be offensive. Here is his comment (via Orin Kerr, who gives the broader context and says some similar things to what I'm about to say):

We have a case involving standing which says that -- you know, the doctrine of standing is more than an exercise in the conceivable. And this seem to me an exercise in the conceivable. Nobody thinks your client is really, you know, abstaining from tequila down in Mexico because he is on supervised release in the United States, or is going -- is going to apply having been deported from the country for criminal offenses, he is going to apply to come back -- and look, these are ingenious exercises in the conceivable. This is just not the real world.

I can think of several reasons someone reading this quote out of context might think it offensive, but I'm having trouble seeing how any of them is both (1) a good interpretation of the justice's words and (2) offensive in the right sort of way to justify the way Lithwick describes the offense.

The latest factcheck.org entry by Emi Kolawole points out some misleading and inaccurate information in a recent ad for Michael Steele, a black Republican running for Senate in Maryland. Most of the writeup is the standard fact-checking of misleading or inaccurate information of the sort most political ads have that the site generally does well at. But one thing about Ms. Kolawole's writeup strikes me as unusual. She makes a big deal out of the fact that Lt. Gov. Steele doesn't say that he's a Republican. She says it's pretty clear from his opponent's ads that Steele is a Republican (though what she points to is not about political party but about some conservative views he has, an important distinction). But she seems to think he has an obligation to identify his party affiliation.

I wonder about Ms. Kolawole's emphasis on Steele's party. After all, most political ads I've seen this year do not mention the candidate's party. This isn't something just Republicans are doing. In the current divisive environment, candidates appreciate the opportunity to associate their name with positions they hold that might win them support, and if they can do that without the potential of a party name turning people off immediately, they often will. This seems to me to be a pretty standard practice. I don't see factcheck.org pointing it out every time other candidates do this. So why spend so much time emphasizing it in Steele's case?

The only reason I can think of is because he's one of those somewhat rare black Republicans. Perhaps Ms. Kolawole thinks black Republicans have some special obligation to point out that they don't think and vote the way black people are "supposed" to think and vote. I hope this isn't what's driving this, but I really can't think of any other reason. It doesn't make me very confident of her ability to write for a non-partisan fact-checking site if a political agenda could lead her to do this sort of thing. I'd have no problem with emphasizing someone's party when the candidate doesn't say it. It's just that Steele seems to have been singled out especially for this. I can't think of any motivation to do that unless it's out of some immoral desire to take black politicans at face value only if they are liberal Democrats, and otherwise they must make their party affiliation clear in a way that other candidates regularly do not. Non-partisan websites should not be operating by that kind of double standard. Is there some explanation for why his party affiliation would be so important to her when the factcheck.org site doesn't normally complain about this sort of thing?

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