45!

Remember that number.  That’s about the figure that a number of midterm election models predict for a gain in Republican House seats regardless of anything actually done by the Obama administration. Though Political Science prediction models use various approaches, all rely on data that is incredibly generic: e.g., presidential approval, the current balance of Congress, real income growth, etc.  So, without a single thing about health care, cap and trade, the Tea Party, etc., we could expect Democrats to lose about 45 seats (and more than 50 in some models).  So, when you hear all those pundits going on (and read stupid journalists’ accounts) that all point to health care, Obama’s failure to communicate, cap and trade, Tea Party enthusiasm, the truth is that these factors really can only be considered responsible for what will be a very small portion of the Republican seat gain.

Ezra Klein makes a similar point:

But since I’m interested in the counterfactual, let me offer it: How many seats do the Democrats lose in a world where everything is the same — that is to say, health-care reform passed, and it was an ugly process — but unemployment is 5.5 percent? How about in a world where unemployment is the same, but health-care reform was never attempted, and the Obama administration instead sought a price on carbon?

I.e., it’s the economy, stupid.  And Chait:

I’ve been emphasizing the role of structural factors like these in determining the midterm election. The point is not that structural factors determine everything, and that policies or communication or other tactical decisions have no impact. The point is to center the discussion around a realistic baseline. Political pundits generally ignore structural factors and interpret elections as either a contest of tactics or an ideological mandate. (Generally the former style prevails before the election, the latter style after, so that in October we read that one party’s brilliant system for contacting voters in Ohio or a candidate’s boneheaded gaffe will determine the outcome of the election, and afterward we read grandiose pronouncements about an electorate embracing the winner’s political philosophy.)

In any case, without dismissing the post-election punditry altogether, it’s worth keeping in mind beforehand a clear sense of what sort of result we would expect if the president’s policies and political strategy made no difference at all. That’s about a 45 seat loss.

Keep that in mind Wednesday morning.  Of course, if Republicans manage to pick up 65 seats in the House, you can say that there really was a good bit going on beyond structural factors (but even then, 2/3 would be structural factors).

Big picture

One of my favorite things about Matt Yglesias is his tendency to look beyond petty and transient political disputes to the bigger picture.  I think he does a great job on this post about how voting for health care reform may have hurt the Democratic majority:

I would, however, add the obvious point that passing important laws is thereason you try to win elections in the first place so I don’t think “you might lose the next election” is ever a very good reason to avoid passing one.

If you want to look at a really poor use of a congressional majority, try to recall the 109th Congress of 2005-2006. You probably can’t remember it because they didn’t do anything. And the Republicans lost their majority anyway. Or maybe they lost their majority because they didn’t do anything. Either way, they didn’t do anything and the nature of political majorities is that they all vanish sooner or later. Suppose they’d done something better and had held on for two more years to do nothing as the 110th Congress. What would have happened then? Well, they would have lost in 2008, right? So . . . so what?

Now obviously you don’t want to risk a congressional majority over something trivial. But the Affordable Care Act is not a trivial law. It’s one of the most important laws of the past thirty years. So then the question becomes, was it important in a good way? I think it was. And that’s the job of a congressional majority—to pass important bills that change the world for the better.

Yep.  Come Tuesday, many Democrats who voted for ACA will be voted out.  They can at least take pride in helping pass historic legislation which will genuinely help millions of Americans.  On that same day, many Democrats who voted against ACA (Larry Kissell? Mike McIntyre?) will also lose their jobs, but what will they have to show for it.

Really– don’t go to law school

Given the number of law school recommendations I write, I’ve long seen the high numbers of people going to law school who should not.  It’s amazing the number of people who go to law school who have no real interest in the law, but just think it is a guarantee to a good salary in three years.  Increasingly, there’s no such guarantee:

The job market for lawyers is terrible, full stop—and that hits young lawyers, without professional track records and in need of training, worst. Though the National Association for Law Placement, an industry nonprofit group, reports that employment for the class of 2009 was 88.3 percent, about a quarter of those jobs were temporary gigs, without the salaries needed by most new lawyers to pay off crushing debts. Another 10 percent were part-time. And thousands of jobs were actually fellowships or grants provided by the new lawyers’ law schools.

The big firms that make up about 28 percent of recent grads’ employment slashed their associate programs in 2009 and 2010, rescinding offers to thousands and deferring the start dates of thousands more. Worse, the profession as a whole shrunk: The number of people employed in legal services hit an all-time high of 1.196 million in June 2007. It currently stands at 1.103 million. That means the number of law jobs has dwindled by about 7.8 percent. In comparison, the total number of jobs has fallen about 5.4 percent over the same period.

At the same time, the law schools—the supply side of the equation—have not stopped growing. Law schools awarded 43,588 J.D.s last year, up 11.5 percent since 2000, though there was technically negative demand for lawyers. And the American Bar Association’s list of approved law schools now numbers 200, an increase of 9 percent in the last decade. Those newer law schools have a much shakier track record of helping new lawyers get work, but they don’t necessarily cost less than their older, more established counterparts.

I definitely have seen many of my student apply to these newer law schools that have no reputation and you really have to wonder just how successful their graduates will be.  There’s plenty of students I have no problem recommending for law school– due to either a strong and genuine interest in the law or a clear career goal of which a law degree is typically a necessary step– but far too many people go to law school for lack of any better ideas.

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