the COGENT PROVOCATEUR
free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English
reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.
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COGENT PROVOCATEUR Archives
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NOTE to READERS:
All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.
the COGENT PROVOCATEUR:
free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.
OTHER GOOD STUFF:
Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Wednesday, November 06, 2002
--- A Tide, and a Wake ---OK, what happened back there?
Forget all that "historic occasion" BS. It's not a mystery, and it's not a "jinx". A normal presidential election sweeps in weak candidates in weak seats. Some of these weaklings get flushed out in first re-election cycle. Bush finished second in the popular vote, had no coattails, and his party lost House seats in 2000. Also, decennial redistricting with statehouses under GOP control gave them inside track to a few more 2002 pick-ups.How about my predictions?
I suggested the new VNS exit polling system was "not quite ready for prime time". Bingo!So, what happens now?
Unified government with a presidential mandate, for the first time since LBJ 1964. (You could argue for Carter 1976, but "throw the bums out" is not a governing mandate.) But that's not the half of it ...Pitt and the Pendulum. Former SEC Commissioner nailed it a few days back: "If this is the Death of a Thousand Cuts, we're about done". Harvey went quietly in the middle of election night, nearly invisible in the fog of democracy. Interesting to see what happens to the rest of the economic team and corporate oversight structure.
IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti -- one of the genuine good guys -- wraps up a 5 year term. Look for some less-restrained comments on big-ticket tax avoidance now that he's out of office.
In local developments, Washington (the state) opted for another round of civic self-mutilation. Traffic congestion is a limiting factor in the Puget Sound economy, but projects have been politically gridlocked for term after term. A coalition of no-growth Greens and no-tax conservatives beat back a bipartisan statewide compromise package. (The measure held favorable margins only in San Juan County ... the Orcas islands, routinely accessible only by ferry and float plane.) A tax-protest initiative slashes tires on public transit. (It held positive margins everywhere except King County, where transit is indispensable to the local economy -- which directly accounts for 40% of the state economy, and indirectly accounts for way over 50%.) At last tally, Seattle voters are still narrowly approving a Monorail system -- a nice appendage to basic transport solutions, but a goddamn expensive white elephant if you don't HAVE basic solutions.
Monday, November 04, 2002
--- Election Outlook 2002, Overview ---The Big Story: unfinished business. A campaign season compressed into one week by snipermania and GWB's Iraq gambit. The trailer has momentum in several races. Issues are off the table ... cut to the attack ads. Congress gridlocked on most items. Wars, investigations, environmental and fiscal disasters loom just over the horizon, the economy is teetering between recovery and W-ness, but this was the Year Of No News.
One Sure Bet: the Senate gets smarter. Mondale (MI) is a Titan, Lautenberger (NJ) is a figure of stature. even by pure random replacement, Pryor (AR) projects an improvement over the terminally lackluster Hutchinson. Strickland (CO) likewise over Allard. Anybody (NH) betters Bob Smith. Either Bowles or Dole improves on Jesse Helms (NC). Either Kirk or Cornyn improves on Phil Gramm (TX). Gordon Smith (OR) is not just campaigning to the center, he's moving to the center. [Can't say Lindsey Graham (SC) betters centurion Thurmond -- the guy sends my weasel-detector off the scale.] Only one projected legislative dumb-down -- Lamar "cut their pay and send them home" Alexander (TN) never developed any mature perspective on governance. Over all, the Senate emerges with improved maturity, moderation and sense of mission.
Another Sure Bet: Senate Dems get a new attitude. More proactive, less intimidated, with more "wiggle room" to raise issues and craft legislation. Pick up two or more seats, demonstrate competitiveness in "safe" GOP territory, and the caucus need not dance gingerly around DINO Zell MiIler (GA) and vulnerable incumbents like Baucus (MT). More votes -- and more ideas -- are "in play". GOP mavericks -- McCain, Hagel, others -- gain important liberties, and Daschle can shop for 60 cloture votes without visiting the GOP leadership superstore. Dems can rebalance committee ratios and staffing in their favor, increasing their ability to drive the agenda, while GOP looks to maintain the same low-wattage leadership.
Most importantly, WIN OR LOSE, 2002 clears the slate of vulnerable incumbent Dems (either by confirmation or by elimination). The pendulum is now swinging Blue in Lincoln's Red State bailiwick (AR 2004). Dorgan (ND 2004) is a 10-time winner in statewide races. Oily, malleable, unpredictable, Breaux (LA) is a natural fixture in his home state. Miller (GA) retires. Blue State Republicans are the new boys on the bubble, and will carefully calculate the cost/benefit of "distancing" from a diminished and vulnerable President. It's a whole new ball game for Daschle & Co.
Good Bet: the House gets meaner. Moderate/maverick ranks are depleted. Redistricting sculpted most districts as safe seats ... cut out for the red-meat wing of either party. Key moderates retired, lost in uphill districts (Morella?) or got beat in bids for other office (Ganske). If Dems take the majority (unlikely), it's probably thinner than the GOP has now. If GOP keeps it, it's probably thinner. Plausible alternative scenario: GOP loses 2-3-4 seats, and surviving moderates rebel against DeLay's Hammer. GOP leadership could be bent to the center, but that's far from their center of mass, and I'm not sure they have enough moderates left to fill out a leadership slate. Dems might then snub outspoken liberal Nancy Pelosi, setting up leadership camp closer to the Great Divide to round up defectors and swing votes. (Note: many observers expect 2-3-4 GOP gains.)
Almost Sure Bet: Bush loses clout. By injecting his personality and agenda into the races (as Dick Morris points out) GWB depletes political capital and tarnishes the Presidential Aura. Most of his hand-picked candidates are going down. Bush spent lavishly from the WH discretionary goodie bag ... he's not tapped out, but he'll be wheeling and dealing from a shorter barrel of pork. He hit the campaign trail against almost every Dem who helped secure the necessary 60-40 margin for his one major policy win (tax cuts). This just isn't done -- least of all by a "uniter" -- and it carries a high "fool me once" price in future bargaining leverage.
The $5.6T surplus is gone, the "trifecta" political bonanza is shot, the economy is running "like Herbert Hoover wrote the Beige Book" (Art Cashin), the states are in fiscal crisis. Mistakes and short-term gimmicks (steel tariffs) are catching up with Bush, who avoided a GOP massacre only by adroit timing, using Iraq to eclipse the campaign cycle and weaseling around "privatization". What will he use to eclipse Iraq, or the deficit, or "private accounts", or Rx drug insurance? He's sold out, he's stuck in damage control mode for two more years. Once more for emphasis -- Bush43 might not even be the candidate in 2004.
Mischief and Mayhem. Jesse Ventura has thrown his last folding chair into the political ring -- appointing a replacement Senator who's been rejected 20-to-1 or more in past races. If Carnahan loses MO, GOP will be tempted to go hog-wild with their half-seat advantage in a lame-duck session. This might spur Chaffee (RINO-RI) to switch ... which might (less likely) spur Zell Miller (D-GA) to switch. If Murkowski (AK) wins the Governor's race, he chooses his own successor in the Senate ... but must absent himself from part of the session to do so. If the remaining races break status quo, and Landrieu (LA) polls under 50%, her seat (which then determines EVERYTHING) goes to a run-off, where the full weight of national political machinery grinds away on one race in one state. [Predicted outcome: Louisiana secedes, then auctions itself on eBay.] Dems may win the VT Gov's race, but lose when the under-50% run-off goes to a GOP legislature. GWB's recess appointments automatically expire at end of session, raising new confirmation battles. Aggressive voter registration, voter intimidation, dirty tricks ("remember to cast your ballot on November 10"), new voting systems, fraud accusations all hold potential for post-game instant-replay controversy.
Even VNS exit polls are shaky ... they're launching a new! improved! system on the heels of 2000 debacles, and teh system's not quite ready for prime time. A great shame, because there will be much left to analyze when the last chad drops.
Dark Horse, Dark Rider. Election Day is always dominated by riptides that emerge late, undetected, undetectable. The D-vs-R "Generic Ballot" has jumped all over the map this year ... not sure it means anything, but GOP is showing late upticks. My between-the-lines read of the same polls, plus anecdotals, hints at the contrary ... the unverifiable possibility that Dems are drastically underpolled and/or underweighted in "likely voter" adjustments. If so, we may see a Dem tsunami, with stunned Republicans swept out and drowned in the undertow ... despite Dem failure to actively capitalize on "wrong track" sentiment or nail the GOP on weasel-wordage.
One More Sure Bet. It'll be an interesting night, and week, and month.
--- Election Outlook 2002, State by State ---A commentary grab bag, pertaining to the Senate contest unless noted otherwise. Apologies if I found your state uninteresting.
Alabama. No big race here except for Gov, where GOP may beat out an incumbent Dem. Just a convenient place to note that Gov's matter ... setting agendas, test-flying policy innovations, fund-raising, appointing replacements for dead Senators (about one a year). Remember, the political landscape would look radically different today but for Paul Coverdell's untimely death and Georgia's Governor of the opposite party. Over all, 2002 is a boom year for Dem Gov's ... just in time to enjoy budget disaster (most states can't borrow, they have to spend reserves or cut spending ... and tax revolters already ate their way through most states' prudent reserves). Bonus points for capturing the majority of states (Dems narrowly favored), setting agendas at National Governors Conferences and such.
Alaska. A peculiar state ... a vast expanse of public land represented exclusively by government-bashers. A cold state ... without cheaper, cleaner (alternative) energy it has no economic future, but today's economy is the oil economy. Its Congressional delegation is set on expanding the present and preventing the future. Murkowski is in a toss-up race for Gov ... if he wins, he gets to appoint his own Senate replacement. A chance to wheel a deal, but he'd have to resign, leaving a GOP seat open for a brief interval in the lame duck session.
Arkansas. Character issues terminate yet another professional Clinton-basher. Dem pickup.
California. Notable for lack of interest. 53 House races, only one contest (Condit's old seat). A serious malfunction in small-"d" democratic data flow.
Colorado. The most badly-represented state? One incumbent is a novelty act Republican with a pony tail and a Harley. The other incumbent is derided as "Senator Dullard" even by prominent voices on the Right. If Dem challenger Strickland was any ball of fire, he'd be way ahead. How does this happen in a resourceful realm like CO? Something broken in the farm system? A stuckfault along the usual cityfolk/countryfolk divide? With both candidates polling low 40's, look for Allard's leaners to break Libertarian, Strickland's to break Democrat. Dem pickup.
Florida. "Jeb!" has breathing room after McBride took a good run at him. [A good test of polling and turnout models if it comes out the other way around.] McBride mishandled a debate question on funding class-size limitations, and mishandled the ensuing spin war. Jeb got away without answering the same question (and still refuses to answer). McBride never got back on message, i.e., Jeb's bungling ... a case study in big races turning on small occasions. The real drama -- vote count fiascos, dirty tricks, erroneous purges of qualified voters (using the same bogus purge lists as 2000). GWB loses either way -- big embarrassment if Jeb loses, an endless stream of little embarrassments if Jeb stays in office.
Georgia. Incumbent Max Cleland is running scared from Republican Saxby Chambliss "you're no Zell Miller" campaign. On a fair representation basis, GA should have one Zell and one not-Zell ... the not-Zell would be Max. Chambliss ran an effective race, probably no change but an early evening indicator of major trends in turnout and sentiment.
Illinois. Dems coming on strong statewide, with big futures, but GOP Gov candidate is coming back from way behind.
Iowa. Liberal Tom Harkin cruises to a win. In the House, multiple swing seats up for grabs. Iowa did the only redistricting of this 10-year census cycle that was NOT calculated to preserve incumbents. Result: multiple interesting races in non-gerrymandered swing districts, and potentially more electoral "signal" from IA than the next 49 states combined.
Kansas. Dem favored in Gov race, going boldly where no Dem has gone in a good long while.
Louisiana. Is this a great country or what? No primary, everybody in the general election pool, top two finishers go to a 12/7 run-off if nobody gets 50%. Dem incumbent Landrieu survived 3-against-1 tag team debates, is a toss-up to break 50% and a favorite in the run-off. Shenanigans beaucoup but no change with or without run-off.
Massachusetts. Gov's race is a squeaker ... Romney (R-MA/UT) one of my three "great nominee, terribly candidate" picks. (Others were Liddy Dole and Lamar Alexander.)
Minnesota. I figure "memorial service blowback" plays bigger nationally than locally ... it's a story custom-made for the mediatarian Kool Kidz Klub. Minnesotans understand, they'll do the right thing for Paul. Ventura stepped in it himself by appointing a Senate replacement out of pique during the Coleman-Mondale debate. The oxymoronic "Independent Party" is in rapid decline, which may torpedo Tim Penney's bid for Gov. Coleman looked strong in debate, probably dominating the "time of possession" statistic, but still an edge to Mondale.
Mississippi. A fun incumbent-vs-incumbent House grudge-match. Dem Ronnie Shows has been the piont man in holding GWB's feet to the fire over veterans benefits. Chip Pickering is a Trent Lott protege in the WorldCom orbit. (Senate nixed Chip Sr.'s judicial appointment.) The district was designed (with GOP judiciary support) to eliminate Shows ... now the Chip is ahead by a mere sliver. Trent Lott is favored to retain the Minority Leader position (confounding my earlier change-of-horses prediction), for reasons I may never understand.
Missouri.Two-year incumbent Carnahan remains unproven but promising, after coming into the job cold with a competing agenda of grieving for her life partner of many decades. I like Carnahan -- likely a better Senator than candidate. Challenger Talent is a champion of Gingrich "neat ideas" so lame they had to be taken out and shot. Flashback to December 1996, as conservative commentator Arianna Huffington enthused
"Margaret Thatcher ... laid down a challenge ... Gingrich rose to it. ... At Heritage, Marshall Wittmann has worked hard to bring together the Renewal Alliance ... to promote an ... agenda of non-governmental solutions ... Together with Sens. Dan Coats, John Ashcroft and Spencer Abraham, [Sen. Rick Santorum is] providing the Senate leadership ... on the House side, the effort is spearheaded by Reps. Jim Talent, J.C. Watts, David McIntosh and John Kasich."Fast forward to 2002. Huffington is an ex-neocon. Gingrich is ex-Speaker. Wittmann is ex-Republican. Coats retired (1998), Ashcroft lost (2000), Abraham lost (2000), Talent retired and failed in a race for governor (2000), Watts retiring (2002), McIntosh retired and failed in a race for governor (2000), Kasich retired (2000). Santorum is the sole survivor.
All in all, GOP's best shot at a pick-up. No call ... election day riptides carry this one in or out.
Nebraska. No feature race, but an emerging center of gravity in the new landscape. Nelson (D) is as close to center as it gets, and Hagel (R) is a potential alternate GOP power center and 2004 challenger if Bush fades.
New Hampshire. Shaheen demonstrates that all campaigners are not created equal, and races are not won on paper. Dem pick-up.
New Jersey. A late replacement (Lautenberg) for a Dem with ethics problems (Torricelli) beats a late replacement (Forrester) for a GOP'er with ethics problems (Treffinger). What more could be fairer?
North Carolina. Dole is fading, Bowles on a roll ... if the season was a week longer he'd win by a length. It's a toss-up Tuesday night.
Oklahoma. Gay-baiting choir-boy Steve Largent said "bullshit" on-air. He could lose a "safe" GOP Gov race.
Oregon. Early on I would have put Gordon Smith in the "no sale" bin with Allard, but he out-maneuvered and out-spent the Dem challenger. OR has a tradition of maverick Republicans (Hatfield, Packwood), and there are liaison advantages to preserving one GOP senator on the Left Coast. Good keeper, good race, while the battle for Oregon's political heart and soul continues.
Rhode Island. Chaffee is Dem's ace in the hole if the Senate leans right, even temporarily. He'd like to help the GOP to move back toward center ... but that could be a long wait. On the other hand, post-election realignment could turn GOP moderates into players while marginalizing official GOP "leadership".
South Carolina. Dem candidate Sanders is fading, and resorted to a gay-baiting shot at Giuliani (who made a campaign stop for Lindsey Graham). Graham is fading and thrashing, too. Figure GOP to win, with declining positives. After that, my gut says Graham is the biggest weasel in the whole ecosystem.
South Dakota. Bush bashing Daschle is a mistake ... they like Tom. Dirty trickery in an everybody-knows-everybody state is a mistake. Libertarian hold-outs may tip this, if it needs tipping. A Dem win, and a Bush embarrassment.
Tennessee. Lamar Alexander was one of my "great nominee, terrible candidate" picks. He has stumbled (the hand-squeezing incident) but not fallen. He'll probably make it.
Texas. Great story, tightening senate race, definite GOP advantage but the pro's make it "no call"! Sanchez for Gov is toast, but his GOTV program is delivering votes for Kirk. No surprise which ever way it goes Tuesday ... which is a BIG surprise in a solid Red State. Dems can pick up the Lt. Gov spot -- more powerful than the Gov in TX's peculiar system. Disappointment: nobody really challenged the Bush legacy ... programs that looked great in real time, but look bad in the rearview mirror. Perry/Sanchez attack ad war drove real issues off the screen, where they remain ... unfinished business.