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.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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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.


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.

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.

GOP won the spin derby, rapaciously exploiting a smattering of over-the-top outbursts at the Wellstone memorial. There are decent ways and indecent ways to respond to lapses of decorum ... and the GOP spin machine went for "indecent". Good score, bad karma.

Failures of leadership. Low-balling the message and standing with the President while running against GOP opponents. Not as obviously wrong as it looks now with the advantage of hindsight. A better candidate here (Kitzhaber, OR), an earlier infusion of organizational support there (MO). A bet that didn't pay off (gunning for Jeb). I don't fault Gephardt here ... he had to play second fiddle to the Dem's Senate majority ... and I thought Daschle played the cards he was dealt. It was a reasonable game plan. It didn't work, and the other side did better.

Failures of citizenship. The informed exploit the uninformed. The organized exploit the unorganized. At some level, it's up to voters to look out for their own interests, to sort through the accusations and obfuscations, or find somebody who can translate for them. They didn't. They assumed somebody would do it for them. Somebody didn't. Citizenship is in decline ... this was one little episode in a long-running story.

Failures of journalism. Bush played the Iraq card. Fine. Then the sniper business, fine, and then what was the excuse? Horserace coverage, what there was of it, and clucking over these terrible attack ads. What was Winona wearing today? Did Robert Blake make a funny face in court? Do we have a car chase we can go to? The usual straining at Dem gnats and swallowing GOP camels. Cynicism is cool and sophisticated ... idealism is laughing stock. Slogans good, ideas bad. Money good, taxes bad. Leadership good, direction ... uh ... oh, so confusing, sorry. Simple self-interest, good (when you're on deadline), social responsibility, bad.

Homeland rope-a-dope. The proposal was deliberately crafted to get stuck in the Senate, as I suggested here in June. Bush never needed more authority over Homeland than he had over Defense. He knew that. He knew Senate Dem's couldn't hand over budget authority and gut civil service protections without a fight. Bush had legitimate differences with Wellstone/Mondale, but he beat Red State Dem's over the head with a phony Homeland Security issue ... Dem's who supported Bush all the way down the line on taxes, budgets, Iraq. (Democrats originated the Homeland Security initiative seven months before Bush came on board, and GOP filibustered to prevent passage in the Senate. Now we see why.) Brilliant. Evil. Unpatriotic.

Distrust of government was an atmospheric factor, as was cynicism about politics. Events to follow will reinforce both attitudes. This reflects the GOP's asymmetric advantages. They gain power by disparaging government; once in government they make sure it's inefficient and ineffective. They believe (and want everybody to believe) politics is merely a commodity market for preferential treatments, and a corrupt market at that. No qualms and no ideals to interfere with message development ... "All's fair in the war of words". Dem's tend to see governance as productive, and communication as information-sharing. Cynicism is a one-sided advantage.

Ron Kirk made a great run, but ran behind his polls ... true-to-form for black candidates, sad to say for us all.

On the surface, Green spoilers didn't account for any major losses ... but it's hard to quanitfy the sit-smugly-on-your-hands vote. Neither did voting irregularities, though there were irregularities enough to go around.

With the Senate out of play, Louisiana is spared a full tilt F5 political storm, but I would still expect as much broadcast coverage of this race as all the others put together. It's nice environs and a cute, nonthreatening story. (Winona got near as much coverage as Election 2002.)

Dem's captured fewer Gov spots than expected, especially in states where their more senior members are susceptible to natural attrition and gubernatorial replacement. That's the virtual equivalent of another -1 seat.

A good night, if you're a weasel.
The chickenhawk jogger with bad knees made "national security" mincemeat out of the guy who jumped on a grenade. (He had help ... Gov's race hoisted the Confederate battle flag ... did black voters still sit on their hands?)

The guy who simply brushed off the "how are you going to pay for it?" question won Florida, beating the guy who groped for an answer. (The class-size referendum passed, Jeb will have to come up with an answer now.)

Jim Talent, and other P-word dissemblers.

Lindsey Graham -- if there's any such thing as a thoroughbred weasel, he's it.

Lamar Alexander ... cut his pay and send him packing.

Norm Coleman ... I know those facial gestures, I recognize those verbal dodges ... seen 'em on the chameleon facades of countless clueless fast track executive PowerPoint jockeys ... the Senator from Dilbert. (His "St. Paul Miracle" was smoke and mirrors ... in DC the smoking lamp is lit.)

The runt of the Pickering litter trounced veteran's champion Ronnie Shows.

Mike Huckabee, who turned loose a recidivist rapist because his victim had ties to the Clintons.

Virginia's debt-ridden, gambling-addicted Moran was re-elected ... no longer vying for the majority, Dem's should invite him to retire.
Speaking of weasels ... as kingmaker, GWB had full authority to call off Chambliss' attacks on Cleland's courage and loyalty. A decent man would have.

Weasels didn't come out unscathed. Katherine Harris polled only 55% against a token opponent ... honest folks in her bulletproof GOP district sent a definite message. Hutchinson learned you can't have your family values cake and eat out too. Steve "The Man From God" Largent was 'buked and scorned out of the OK statehouse. Impeacher preacher George Gekas lost his redistricted seat ... but he'll probably cadge a well-paid job as money-mule for the policy cartel.

Mixed grades to Sununu. He weaseled outrageously in avoiding the P-word itself, but he made his privatization intent crystal clear.
How about my predictions?
I suggested the new VNS exit polling system was "not quite ready for prime time". Bingo!

I predicted a couple of Dem pick-ups in the Senate, and a possible Dem groundswell based on polling discrepancies. Wrong-o!

I predicted a feisty new attitude from Senate Democrats, and I'm sticking with it for reasons as stated -- win or lose, Dem's eliminate vulnerable incumbents.

I also predicted GWB would emerge a diminished figure, and I stand by that one, too. Oh, he's feeling good today. He took real risks and showed real clout. He gets a bump in the polls. But he sold out to the bare walls to win control ... and with uncontested control, he's fresh out of excuses. Plot summary: Doofus finds magic wand, hilarity ensues.

All three of my early "great nominee, bad candidate" selections (Dole, Lamar!, Romney) won their races, but by narrowing margins.
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 ...

Machine politics on national scale. The White House, the House and Senate. The Supreme Court and lesser tribunals, with justices coming to the bench as conscious agents and advocates for faction with well-defined ideologies, interests and clients. Courts and other oversight structures packed to exercise more influence on voter eligibility and election outcomes. Fully-captive regulatory entities, "independent" and otherwise ... including the FEC as it administers McCain-Feingold. A Homeland patronage army on US payroll, 170,000 strong. A virtual patronage army, 1,000,000 strong, contract NGO mercenaries in "faith based" social pogroms programs. A lockdown on contested GOP primaries and freelance candidates ... Bush (or Rove) is the kingmaker-in-chief. Control of the oily machinery that grinds money into favors. Back when the playing field was level, GOP played extreme hardball with lobbyists and contributors ... with the skids greased, you grease the wrong palm at your mortal peril.

The pendulum no longer swings. It ratchets rightward, for now, probably 'til the machinery breaks and backlashes.

Forget Congressional investigations, "A Culture of Minimal Disclosure" prevails. Pressing questions on many fronts will have to wait for regime change. Public-interest legal eagles, whistleblower suits, state AG's may chew around the edges, but they'll do so in stacked courts against effective assertions of privilege and strategies of procrastination.

Corporate side of the health care table bet big and won big. The world's most diseconomic H/C system is a continuing drain on US GDP (2-3% deadweight loss, not counting excess mortality/morbidity, reduced labor mobility, etc.). No vision. People will perish.

Privatization wolves can safely shed the sheep's clothing. This could get interesting, since W's Social Security task force failed to devise any plan where the numbers worked.

More tax cuts, targeted higher on the economic ladder, trying to juice the stock markets back into the hypersphere. (Do you know what sustains stock prices in the long run? Among other things, it's the economy, stupid.)

"Terrorism insurance" (and the Trojan Horse liability provisions therein) will pass ... so pass it ASAP. Let's see if those 300,000 jobs materialize overnight.

Among other bogies, GOP House leadership already approved a slate of legislation designed not to be enacted, so Bush could blame the "obstructionist" Senate. Somebody got some 'splainin' to do when that stuff either gets backed out or passed forward.

Marx/Nader's long-awaited crisis of capitalism is coming ... hope that makes somebody happy.

And looks like we'll have that war now ... perhaps a war to ignite a century of war, with increasingly horrific weapons and tactics on all sides. Or maybe not. Bush secured his advantage only by amping peacetalk in October. How are the polls running now, Karl? How's the market?
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.