What to expect from the debate?

I have no idea.


Okay, kind of.  Here’s the thing, it is so obvious what Trump needs to do.  John Dickerson laid it out during a recent Gabfest and Seth Masket quotes:

Yet over at Slate’s Political Gabfest, John Dickerson reminds us that quite a few voters will not be watching the debate as it airs, but will depend upon news coverage of it, which will largely boil down to a few key moments. He offered some suggestions as to how Trump could exploit that feature to change voters’ perceptions:

You should do all the things that people said you have not done. Be self-deprecating, be generous. Show some set of qualities that nobody’s ever associated with you throughout this entire campaign. And if you show them, you will get 100 million people watching, and all the coverage will be about that…. Do that, and you’ll get several days of: “Oh my gosh, look, he can restrain his impulses. Hecan fulfill the role that’s being asked of him. And if he can do that in a debate, he can do that in the presidency.”

That could change the campaign somewhat. But it’s dependent upon Trump’s own discipline as a campaigner, something that’s not really been detected in abundance. Just as that scenario could benefit him, so a lapse into misogynistic slurs could hurt him, and we know he’s prone to that.

Yes.  That’s what scares the hell out of me.  Trump being given a stupidly low bar, and easily exceeding it.  Also, Ezra:

This is the Donald Trump curve. Hillary Clinton needs to answer every question perfectly and make people laugh while she does it. Trump needs to stop lying and bragging so much. It defies parody. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. [emphases mine]

MSNBC is simply echoing the conventional wisdom. Clinton “faces higher expectations than Donald Trump when the two square off for the first debate on Long Island,” reports Politico. This is the conclusion of Politico’s “insiders poll,” which surveys a select group of political elites. The responses — Politico provides anonymity to participants in the survey — are darkly comic.

“To win the debate, all Trump really needs to do is meet expectations, keep his cool, and look presidential,” says one Republican.

A Democrat adds: “The question we are all waiting to have answered is: Can he be serious? Can he answer questions directly? How will he react (or overreact) when he is directly challenged? Can he control his temper?”

So here is where I think we are on the morning of the first presidential debate. For Hillary Clinton to win the debate, she needs to be perfect. For Donald Trump to win the debate, he needs to avoid embarrassing himself.

Do you see the problem?

So, there you go.  But, I think is is very much an open question whether Donald Trump can even pull this off.   I strongly suspect Hillary Clinton will perform well (though, not perfect).  She’s good at these and she’s had plenty of one-on-one debates.  Trump has pretty much never done this and not seen particularly adept at curbing his worse instincts in the moment.

So, I cannot wait to see what happens.  But, I’m horrified that if Trump meets this minimally low bar he will be rewarded with media coverage on a severe curve.

And, because I don’t have any more time to blog today, Drum with a reminder on what happened to Gore in 2000.

Wow. Gore kicked ass! Bush kept sniffing! He also seemed a little lost—a fairly common real-time assessment. As it turns out, Cooper’s prediction was pretty close: Gallup’s overnight poll had Gore winning by 48-41 percent and others gave him an even bigger margin. So why is Gore widely remembered as the big loser in that debate? Here is Alfredo Lanier of the Chicago Tribune a couple of weeks after the debate:

Polls scored both candidates just about even, but that shifted after media analysts picked over the inconsistencies in some of Gore’s statements—and nitpicked about his annoying huffing, puffing and eye-rolling while Bush spoke. [emphasis in original]

Among people who actually watched the debate, Gore seemed fine. He knew his stuff, he attacked without seeming mean, and no one seemed to notice any sighing. But then the analysts put together a mix tape of every one of Gore’s sighs, and it was game over. Gore was a laughingstock.

Overnight polls are hardly infallible. But there’s not much question that the media reaction in the two or three days after a debate can make a big difference. Gore won the first debate in 2000, but only for a few hours. He lost it in the following week.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Was prepared to not like this piece blaming feminists for anti-feminism.  But really liked the bit about “mansplaining.”  I have way too often simply seen this term as a way to shut down discussion than as a legitimate critique of unnecessary explanation.

Whatever the reasons for the current cycle of misandry — yes, that’s a word, derided but also adopted for ironic use by many feminists — its existence is quite real. Consider, for example, the number of neologisms that use “man” as a derogatory prefix and that have entered everyday media language: “mansplaining,” “manspreading” and “manterrupting.” Are these primarily male behaviors that justify the gender-specific terms? Not necessarily: The study that is cited as evidence of excessive male interruption of women actually found that the most frequent interrupting is female-on-female (“femterrupting”?).

In fairness, though, I still think plain old misogyny is responsible for most anti-feminism.

2) Sonia Sotomayor is taking on our criminal justice system through her dissents:

Justice Sotomayor would go on to write eight dissents before the term ended last Monday. Read together, they are a remarkable body of work from an increasingly skeptical student of the criminal justice system, one who has concluded that it is clouded by arrogance and machismo and warped by bad faith and racism.

3) In New Jersey, even death does not get you out from under your student loans.  It’s ugly.

4) Apparently Amazon is moving away from even showing (typically misleading) list prices on it’s items.  Really interesting discussion of pricing and business practices.

5) I think this piece over simplifies, but I don’t doubt at all that the nature of human communities shapes the fundamental values of those communities.  In this, “farmers” and today’s working class are the authoritarians and the elites and their egalitarian values are the modern day “foragers.”  Alas, no discussion of the fascinating idea that honor cultures are an extension of herding societies.

6) Jeffrey Toobin on Clarence Thomas’ unique take on the Constitution:

The abortion dissent explains why Thomas is so cut off on the Court, even from his fellow-conservatives. He doesn’t respect the Court’s precedents. He is so convinced of the wisdom of his approach to the law that he rejects practically the whole canon of constitutional law. It’s an act of startling self-confidence, but a deeply isolating one as well. Even his ideological allies, who mostly come out the same way on cases, recognize that they must dwell within the world that their colleagues and predecessors created. Thomas, in contrast, has his own constitutional law, which he alone honors and applies.

7) A pretty entertaining take on the meaning of “Make America Great Again.”

8) This was a bit of a pain to set up, but given that I have unlimited free Google Drive space through NCSU, this is my new automatic backup system.

9) Turn your anxiety into excitement.  I’ve got a progeny or two to whom I’m going to show this video.

10) Poor Donald Trump.  The liberal media always making up his antisemitism and all-around bigotry out of whole cloth.

11) The headline says it all, “The FDA’s Abstinence-Only Approach to Eating Cookie Dough Is Unrealistic and Alarmist.”

12) Loved this column from Josh Levin explaining the logic of Kevin Durant’s decision.  Levin is generally about 2-3 analytical planes beyond most people who write about sports.

13) Where ordinary people and nutritionists disagree about what’s healthy (people way over-estimate the healthiness of granola and orange juice, among others  And seriously, people actually think frozen yogurt is healthy?!).

14) Great Pete Wehner column on the theology of Donald Trump and his troubling embrace by evangelical leaders:

This fulsome embrace of Mr. Trump is rather problematic, since he embodies a worldview that is incompatible with Christianity. If you trace that worldview to its source, Christ would not be anywhere in the vicinity.

Time and again Mr. Trump has shown contempt for those he perceives as weak and vulnerable — “losers,” in his vernacular. They include P.O.W.s, people with disabilities, those he deems physically unattractive and those he considers politically powerless. He bullies and threatens people he believes are obstacles to his ambitions. He disdains compassion and empathy, to the point where his instinctive response to the largest mass shooting in American history was to congratulate himself: “Appreciate the congrats for being right.”

What Mr. Trump admires is strength. For him, a person’s intrinsic worth is tied to worldly success and above all to power. He never seems free of his obsession with it. In his comments to that gathering of evangelicals, Mr. Trump said this: “And I say to you folks, because you have such power, such influence. Unfortunately the government has weeded it away from you pretty strongly. But you’re going to get it back. Remember this: If you ever add up, the men and women here are the most important, powerful lobbyists. You’re more powerful. Because you have men and women, you probably have something like 75, 80 percent of the country believing. But you don’t use your power. You don’t use your power.”

In eight sentences Mr. Trump mentioned some variation of power six times, to a group of individuals who have professed their love and loyalty to Jesus, who in his most famous sermon declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are the meek,” who said, “My strength is made perfect in weakness,” and who was humiliated and crucified by the powerful.

15) I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time several times.  Never had put much thought into the meaning of the giant, evil brain, though.  Constance Grady does in Vox.

16) Dylan Matthews extensively details just horrific bull-fighting is.

17) In discussion about Trump’s potential VP pick on the most recent Slate political gabfest, John Dickerson pointed out that basically anybody with any hopes of a real political future in the Republican Party has withdrawn from consideration.  Whomever it is, should definitely be interesting.

18) Hippotherapy is awesome.  Need to do more of this with my son, Alex.

19) Open tab for too long… There’s way too many lame non-profit, private colleges.  Or, as this article states, “The Quality Crisis at America’s Private, Non-Profit Colleges.”  Or my take– non-elite private colleges: the worst value in higher education.

Hearing what you want to hear

So, I was listening to last week’s Slate Political Gabfest when special guest, former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (and object of David Plotz’s fandom) casually mentioned that the study showing that conservatives are more authoritarian had been retracted for getting it’s findings 180 degrees wrong.  This definitely caught my attention as I had noticed in some earlier comments (before I stopped reading them) to my Washington Post piece that a number of readers were entirely skeptical with our findings regarding an “authoritarian” parenting style.  I didn’t expect the respected-for-his-relative-Republican-sanity to just be parroting misguided talking points, but I guess I gave him too much credit.

Anyway, here’s the deal, the evidence that Republicans and conservatives are more authoritarian than liberals and Democrats is quite overwhelming (nice summary of it in Vox).

Now, there was a study not long ago in AJPS about Psychoticism (not quite what it sounds like) that originally found this:

Having a high Psychoticism score is not a diagnosis of being clinically psychotic or psychopathic. Rather, P is positively correlated with tough-mindedness, risk-taking, sensation-seeking, impulsivity, and authoritarianism [emphasis mine] (Adorno et al. 1950; Altemeyer 1996; Eysenck and Eysenck 1985, McCourt et al. 1999). In social situations, those who score high on P are more uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, and socially withdrawn, but lack feelings of inferiority and have an absence of anxiety. At the extremes, those scoring high on P are manipulative, tough-minded, and practical (Eysenck 1954). By contrast, people low on P are more likely to be more altruistic, well socialized, empathic, and conventional (Eysenck and Eysenck 1985; Howarth 1986). As such, we expect higher Pscores to be related to more conservative political attitudes, particularly for militarism and social conservatism.

Now, notice that this study is about psychoticism a personality trait that, despite being published in the pages of the 2nd most prestigious PS journal, I’ve literally never heard anybody discuss in relation to real-world politics– in marked contrast to authoritarianism.  So, interesting, but really nothing much more than that.  And again, it is only correlated with authoritarianism, among many other correlates.

So, things get interesting when it turns out the authors had an absolutely monumental screw-up (and one I mentioned in quick hits a while back):

 The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed. Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response. [emphasis mine] Specifically, in the original manuscript, the descriptive analyses report that those higher in Eysenck’s psychoticism are more conservative, but they are actually more liberal; and where the original manuscript reports those higher in neuroticism and social desirability are more liberal, they are, in fact, more conservative.

Whoa.  Amazingly embarrassing and appalling.  Nice summary of the matter at Reason.  Am I now abashed that liberals are more likely to have the anti-social tendencies of psychoticism?  Nope.  Again, interesting but not like this is a personality trait that has proven particularly interesting or useful in explaining politics.

Anyway, what is quite interesting to me is how it has clearly become very widespread for conservatives to believe this somehow refutes the link between conservatism and authoritarianism despite the fact that this present research is only tangentially related while there is a whole body of unchallenged scholarship finding that key relationship.  Just search for– conservatives authoritarian retraction– and you fill find a whole host of articles/posts like this from the Washington Examiner:

Who would have guessed that a study conforming to every liberal media narrative about conservatives would turn out to be complete and utter garbage?

It turns out that the study, titled “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies” got its conclusions switched, meaning what it determined to be personality traits of conservatives were actually the personality traits of liberals.

The paper originally stated that, “In line with our expectations, P [for “Psychoticism”] (positively related to tough-mindedness and authoritarianism) is associated with social conservatism and conservative military attitudes.”

Surprise! The authors set out believing conservatives were authoritarian and they “proved” they were right. [emphasis mine]

So, there you have it.  The conservative world is now entirely convinced that the authoritarian-conservative link– a very real, very consequential phenomenon– is just a made-up liberal academic fantasy.  Of course, it is also fair to wonder how the ideology of the authors of the AJPS study affected their long delay in uncovering their mistake.  Hmm, I guess we can all go on keeping believing what we want to.  Social science got it horribly wrong in this case.  But given the alternative, I’ll stick with it.

Republicans want government to fail

Seriously.  How can their be any doubt about this from an objective observer.  I was listening to last week’s Slate political gabfest yesterday and David Plotz was making the point that Republicans are actively sabotaging government so they can make the claim that government doesn’t work and thereby undermine the Democratic agenda to effectively use government for the common good.  Sadly, to a considerable degree, this project is working.  I was about to simply link to a Drum post that highlights how Republicans are refusing to properly fund the federal bureacucacies that handle immigration— all the better to foment a “crisis.”

Obama has tried to get funding for more judges as part of the annual budgeting process. No luck. He’s tried to pass comprehensive immigration reform that included funding for more judges. No luck. Now he’s trying to get emergency funding for the border crisis that would include money for more judges. So far, no luck.

There are, obviously, multiple causes of the current border crisis. As usual, though, Congress is one of them—and, in particular, obstructive congressional Republicans who aren’t really much interested in doing something that would fix an ongoing border crisis that provides them with useful political attack ads. If Congress needs someone to point the finger of blame at, all they have to do is look in a mirror.

Okay, good enough post.  But then just before I was going to post this, I came upon this Wonkblog post actually titled, “One political party is actively working to make government fail (guess which one!)”  And this is not just some blogger musing, the post is based on a study by esteemed Political Scientist, Paul Light.  Here’s the key:

Republican contributions to government failure, on the other hand, have been “very deliberate.” Here Light minces no words, and its worth quoting him at length:

Republicans exploited the Democratic cowardice by doing everything in their power to undermine performance. They stonewalled needed policy changes, and made implementation of new programs as difficult as possible; they cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum, proving the adage that the logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing; they used the presidential appointments process to decapitate key agencies, and appointed more than their share of unqualified executives; and they muddied mission, tolerated unethical conduct, and gamed the performance measure process to guarantee failing scores for as many government policies as possible.  [emphasis mine]

Again, Paul Light is not exactly Daily Kos.  This comes from a fair, reasoned analysis.  And, honestly, this is truly shameful.  Republicans are actively working to make things worse for the American people.  Sure, they convince themselves that this is just collateral damage for a greater good of a smaller government led by Republicans.  But honestly, this is just truly deplorable.  And sadly, quite effective as most Americans just don’t pay enough attention to realize what’s going on and who to blame.  They just know government is not working.  Are Democrats partially at fault?  Of course.  But let’s be clear, there’s only one party in America that is actively undermining attempts to make government work for the American people.

The problem is not too many bad teachers, but too few really good ones

So, last week, a California judge struck down California’s teacher (K-12) tenure law.  Regadless of the legal points, this was a really, really dumb law.  Dana Goldstein:

Here’s where the judge is right: It is difficult—actually, close to impossible—to argue that California’s teacher-tenure system makes sense. Research shows that most first-year teachers are mediocre at best. But good teachers tend to make huge jumps in effectiveness by the end of their second year on the job, and those improvements are often visible through classroom observation and students’ rising test scores. Yet California evaluates teachers for tenure in March of their second year of work, before two full years of student-teacher data are available.

This means that under current California law, principals are forced to make high-stakes decisions about teachers without enough evidence. This disadvantages students, who might get stuck with sub-par instructors, but it also hurts teachers, who aren’t given enough time to prove their skill. Once a teacher earns tenure, it can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars—and countless administrative and legal man-hours—for a district to permanently remove him from his job. And in the event of budget cuts or school closings, California law mandates that the least experienced teachers be laid off first, even if they are more effective than their older colleagues, a policy known as “LIFO,” or “Last In, First Out.”

That said, I actually learned some things about teacher tenure I had not known:

Tenure has existed in K-12 public education since 1909, when “good-government” reformers borrowed the concept from Germany. The idea spread quickly from New Jersey to New York to Chicago and then across the country. During the Progressive Era, both teachers unions and school-accountability hawks embraced the policy, which prevented teaching jobs from being given out as favors by political bosses. If it was legally difficult to fire a good teacher, she couldn’t be replaced by the alderman’s unqualified sister-in-law.

And also from a great column by Katherine Rampell

Weakening job security in the absence of other reforms may even discourage good people from entering or sticking with the profession.

That’s because job security is one of the key forms of compensation that we still offer to educators as their salaries have gotten less competitive over time, thanks to a pesky combination of women’s lib and stingy taxpayers.

Think about it this way: Once upon a time, if you were a talented, educated, ambitious woman who wanted to work outside the home, few career options were available to you – basically teaching, nursing and not much else. Women’s opportunities have widened considerably over the past few decades, which, of course, is a very good thing. But this also means that teaching (still a predominantly female profession) is no longer the default path for the United States’ best and brightest women or, for that matter, for the best and brightest Americans of either gender. In the United States, only about a quarter of new teachers come from the top third of their college classes, and just 14 percent of those end up in high-poverty schools…

Part of the reason that teacher salaries have stagnated is that taxpayers are unwilling to shell out the dough required to give them raises today. So instead, politicians offer higher compensation tomorrow – funded by future taxpayers who can’t yet vote them out of office – in the form of more generous pensions. Which is where tenure becomes so important in retaining talent: The only way to credibly guarantee to teachers that they won’t get fired before their pensions vest is by giving them strong job protections.  [emphasis mine]

Both Rampell and Goldstein point out that firing bad teachers is only a small part of the problem.  Rampell:

But improving the quality of teachers who work with poor kids seems more about insufficient inflow of the talented than insufficient outflow of the untalented. One study, based on a policy change in Chicago, found that even when dismissal rules are relaxed, many principals still choose not to fire anyone – including at the worst-performing schools – perhaps at least partly because of the challenge of finding decent replacements.

And Goldstein:

But here’s where Judge Reulf’s theory is faulty: Getting rid of these bad laws may do little to systemically raise student achievement. For high-poverty schools, hiring is at least as big of a challenge as firing, and the Vergara decision does nothing to make it easier for the most struggling schools to attract or retain the best teacher candidates…

The lesson here is that California’s tenure policies may be insensible, but they aren’t the only, or even the primary, driver of the teacher-quality gap between the state’s middle-class and low-income schools. The larger problem is that too few of the best teachers are willing to work long-term in the country’s most racially isolated and poorest neighborhoods. There are lots of reasons why, ranging from plain old racism and classism to the higher principal turnover that turns poor schools into chaotic workplaces that mature teachers avoid. The schools with the most poverty are also more likely to focus on standardized test prep, which teachers dislike. Plus, teachers tend to live in middle-class neighborhoods and may not want a long commute.

Educational equality is about more than teacher-seniority rules: It is about making the schools that serve poor children more attractive places for the smartest, most ambitious people to spend their careers.

The most recent Slate political gabfest also had a great discussion on this issue.  They made the point (borrowing from Goldstein’s other writings, I believe) that the best performing school systems around the world have teacher tenure, teacher’s unions, etc.  These are not the problem.  The problem is that we do not treat teaching as a highly-skilled, highly-professionalized, highly-compensated career.  All the best educational system do.  We need to start there.  Of course, that means more taxes.  Oh well, so much for improving education.

Value of the convention

I was interviewed by the local news yesterday on why we even still have conventions and isn’t it crazy that the public subsidizes them (I love WordPress in general, but their minimal support for embedding videos other than youtube really drives me crazy).

I must say, my comments ended up being heavily influenced by reading this post from Seth Masket earlier in the week:

I rather enjoyed Hanna Rosin’s thoughts on this question during last week’s Slate Gabfest:

Look, most Americans pay no attention to politics, and then comes the convention, and then it’s like a pageantry, and that’s as interesting as politics is going to get. I feel it’s slightly bogus when political reporters say things like, “Oh, no policy happens.” Like you were going to write about policy if it did happen? All you do is write about image and message for the entire year and then the convention comes and you complain because it’s only about image and message.

I agree with Rosin: the pageantry matters! This is the part of the election cycle where normal Americans (read: not political junkies) begin to pay attention to the candidates, the parties, and the issues, and the conventions are a big part of how that happens.

Along these lines, conventions serve as an opportunity for a party to present its candidates and its stances to the general public. Those who only learn about the current election from advertisements are getting a somewhat abbreviated and decidedly negative perspective; the conventions are the parties’ chance to define themselves and lay out their arguments for why they should be in charge. We also get to see some of the up-and-coming candidates in a party; the next two weeks will give most Americans their first opportunity to hear from some of the likely 2016 presidential candidates.

And Jonathan Bernstein:

But really, the reason I think that the conventions are worth saving is because both a democracy and its political parties need rituals, and we really don’t have that many left. Indeed, the rise of the parties over the last 30 or 40 years has been accompanied not by renewed and updated rituals but by a political culture that continues to demand we vote the person and not the party and which considers independent voters to be superior to partisans. Against that, the funny hats, the balloon drops, the roll call of the states and the rest of it aren’t much … but at least they’re something. Until someone can come up with good 21st century customs and rituals appropriate to our modern parties, I’m all for hanging on to what we have – and so I’m very glad that the conventions have survived 40 years after their original political function was stripped from them.

Now, I think you could make a good argument that when parties are raising tens of millions of their own for the convention that the public subsidies may be out-dated, but even if no real “news” happens, conventions remain an important part of our democracy.

The Shame of Wall Street

So, I was listening to this week’s Slate Political Gabfest and Slate editor David Plotz went on a fabulous anti- Wall Street rant in response to this instantly famous Op-Ed by former Goldman employee Greg Smith who went off on his former employer for basically lying to their clients to maximize Goldman’s profits.  Clearly an entity where the primary goal was short-term profit at any cost.

The main point of Plotz’s rant was that hopefully it would become an at least somewhat shameful thing to work for Wall Street firms such as Goldman.  These are not engines of capitalism, but simply entities that make profits through ever-more convoluted ways of making financial transactions more opaque and therefore less efficient.  Absolutely not the place and purpose we need American’s best and brightest working for.  Alas, that seems to be the preferred destination of all too many Ivy League and MIT, etc. grads.  How much better for America’s best mathematical minds to be designing new software algorithms for medical research, or heck, just video games, than using their abilities to get an additional 1% return for Goldman.   Anyway, this NYT article was far too anecdotal for my preference, but essentially argues that students are increasingly defensive and embarrassed about pursuing Wall Street jobs.  Hooray!

Photo of the day

During this week’s Slate Political Gabfest, David Plotz mentioned this movie poster that struck him as hilarious.  I have to agree.  The movie is now in my Netflix queue.

A Mike Nichols film, no less.

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