Bringing the Political Science

Count on an actual Political Scientist, Jonathan Bernstein, to bring the PS in thinking about the 2012 elections in Congress.  Bernstein nicely explains the role of quality challengers and how this affects election outcomes.  Since you are probably not going to read Gary Jacoboson’s Politics of Congressional Elections, this is a pretty good summary of key points as they relate to 2012.  Anyway, shorter Bernstein: Democrats need to work their butts off to make sure they have strong challengers in 2012.  When the climate was favorable in 1996, Democrats didn’t have the quality candidates to take advantage.  Excerpt from longer Bernstein:

What political scientists have learned is that this is a case in which party prophesies are to a large extent self-fulfilling.  Believe that the party is going over a cliff, and you’ll wind up with third-rate candidates, who will then lose — not because of the general environment, but because bad candidates lose Congressional elections.  Believe that your party is about to benefit from the wave, and you’ll wind up with excellent candidates who will win regardless of whether such a “wave” actually existed.

It seems to me that the GOP did a great job of selling their own potential candidates that 2010 would be like 1994.  That’s behind the data that Brendan Nyhan reported last week about the large spike in quality GOP candidates, especially challengers.  I strongly suspect that when all is said and done, that’s going to be the controllable variable that made the most difference, much more than choices about pushing the agenda for the Democrats or opposing it for the Republicans (with the possible exception of economic policy, but it’s always hard to know the effects of any potential changes, there).

Now, it’s the Democrats’ turn to react to adversity with confidence…

So, whatever they actually believe, Democrats should pound the 1996-2012 analogies, remind themselves that reversals are not only possible but happen all the time (I bet there are all sorts of other historical examples easy to dig up: liberal bloggers, consider that a challenge!), and convince themselves and anyone who will listen to them that good times for Dems are, once again, right around the corner.

At least until candidate recruitment season is over.

In Congressional elections, candidate quality is huge.  One of the reasons I remain frustrated– and surprised– by Renee Ellmers victory over Etheridge.  The quality honestly doesn’t get much lower than Ellmers.

Quote of the day

Via Kevin Drum:

I guess all’s fair in love and politics, but seriously? One of their official strategies, memorialized in a PowerPoint presentation, was to harrass Democrats with video cameras until they got so sick of politics that they just gave up? Did we really just hand over control of Congress to a bunch of seventh graders? [emphasis mine]

This, in reference to the fact that the Republican Party was actually behind the harassment of Bob Etheridge that led to this infamous video (and given how incredibly close his loss was, may very well have been the difference):

The Worst News for the Country

is that the Republicans are clueless on how to actually improve the economy and, in all likelihood, will make things worse.  More tax cuts and less regulation?  Seriously?  That worked so damn well as wage growth completely stagnated for 8 years under Bush.  Jon Cohn:

Of course, this is also what’s so worrisome about the next two years and beyond. It’s not as if the chances of improving the economy went up with this election. If anything, they went down. As even many conservative economists now agree, the economy needs more stimulus. The ascendant Republicans don’t believe in stimulus, unless it’s in the form of tax cuts for wealthy people that aren’t very stimulating. Unemployment will likely stay high. Voter anger will, too…

Judging by their agenda, such that it is, these Republicans are unserious, dishonest, and nihilistic. They also happen to be winning. And they may keep winning if the White House keeps doing what it’s been doing.

Mark Schmitt (in a terrific piece, you really should click through and read the whole thing):

This year, though, right-wingers barely even pretended to have a comparable program-cutting agenda. Their main talking point about health reform was that it would cut Medicare benefits. They railed about TARP and the auto bailout, but the former originated in the Bush administration, and they will not attempt to repeal it. They talked about creating jobs by reducing the deficit, which is economic nonsense. Moreover, not one of the policy plans the Republicans produced would reduce the deficit by a penny. Tea Partiers ranted about constitutional and economic schemes that they probably won’t even introduce, much less pass.

The biggest downside to all this is that election do, of course, really matter, and the outcome of this was is almost surely to make our country worse off than it otherwise would be.

Wire monkey mothers

I think the blog needs a little break from politics, so let’s switch over to a couple of my other favorite topics: Psychology and This American Life.  TAL from a couple weeks ago had a terrific episode on “Unconditional Love” which I listened to via podcast today.  The prologue segment tells the story of Harry Harlow and his wire monkey experiments.  If you are not familiar with these groundbreaking experiments, you should be.  Here’s a snippet:

The most amazing thing is that Harlow went against the entire Psychological establishment at the time which truly believed that physical affection for children was a bad thing.

And here’s a link to Deborah Blum’s terrific book on the subject.

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