Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Reading

Could Ted Cruz Beat Hillary Clinton?  — Jonathan Bernstein at Salon thinks he could… assuming he gets past that whole born-in-Canada thing.

Ted Cruz 04-30-13What I hear from many liberals about Cruz’s chances are two things. One is just disbelief: Republicans wouldn’t really do something like nominate Cruz, would they? The key is that Ted Cruz isn’t Herman Cain or even Michele Bachmann; he’s a United States senator, and that counts for something (that is, conventional credentials count for something) in presidential elections. So, yes, they really could do something like that.

The other thing I hear, however, is perhaps even more wrong. Some liberals react by actively rooting for Cruz. The theory? The nuttier the nominee, the worse the chances of Republicans retaking the White House. Indeed, in conversation I’ve heard all sorts of justifications: Cruz couldn’t possibly win Florida! Therefore, he couldn’t win the White House!

Don’t listen to it.

The smart money play for liberals remains to root, in the Republican primary, for whichever candidate would make the best – or perhaps the least-worst – president.

The bottom line is that candidates just don’t matter all that much in presidential elections. Yes, a reputation for ideological extremism hurts, but it appears to hurt maybe 2 or 3 percentage points. Yes, George McGovern and Barry Goldwater had reputations for ideological extremism and were buried, but in both cases it was by a popular president during good times. Ronald Reagan wasn’t slowed much (although, still, some) by his conservative image. Don’t get me wrong: There’s no evidence for the opposite theory, that avoiding the squishy center (in either direction) will magically produce an avalanche of new voters who otherwise would have stayed home. Going moderate is better. It just isn’t all that much better.

Now, on top of that, it’s an open question whether Cruz would really wind up with a reputation as more of a fringe figure than any other plausible nominee. For one thing, the Republican nomination process may bring out inflamed rhetoric, but it’s also likely to create converging policy views among the candidates. Indeed, it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario in which Cruz wins the nomination as the hero of conservatives, which then leaves him far more free to pivot to the center in the general election race than a less trusted candidate might have. Granted, the other possibility is very real as well – Cruz spends the nomination fight solidifying his conservative reputation, and then finds it sticks with him no matter what he does later. And it’s worth noting that Mitt Romney’s reputation as relatively moderate managed to survive everything he did in in the entire 2012 election cycle.

The bottom line, however, is that Ted Cruz is unlikely to drop more than a couple points to the Democratic nominee. And that’s not likely to swing the election. Could it? Sure; even a small bump would have sunk the Republicans in 2000, for example. But most elections aren’t narrow enough for a couple of points to make a difference.

The only exception to this would be for someone who doesn’t even have conventional credentials. Nominate Cain or Bachmann, and it’s not difficult to believe that the penalty would be very large. There’s no way of knowing, however, because no one like that ever gets nominated. So, sure, root for them, but it ain’t gonna happen.

So what it all comes down to is if you really believe that Cruz is more dangerous as president than Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie or the rest of the likely field, then you most definitely don’t want him in place just in case 2016 turns out to be a good year for Republicans.

[Steve M. offers a rebuttal.]

Before Barack Obama was Barack Obama — Garance Franke-Ruta remembers the time when the future president was mistaken for a waiter at a party.

Obama’s frank remarks on race and how he also has been seen as someone less than who he is led journalist Katie Rosman of the Wall Street Journal to resurface a 2008 piece about a 2003 garden party at the Manhattan home of media luminaries Tina Brown, now editor of the Daily Beast, and Harold Evans. The gathering just a little more than 10 years ago was to celebrate Sidney Blumenthal’s book The Clinton Wars. Wrote Rosman:

Standing by myself I noticed, on the periphery of the party, a man looking as awkward and out-of-place as I felt. I approached him and introduced myself. He was an Illinois state senator who was running for the U.S. Senate. He was African American, one of a few black people in attendance.

We spoke at length about his campaign. He was charismatic in a quiet, solemn way. I told him I wanted to pitch a profile of him to a national magazine. (The magazine later rejected my proposal.)

The following year I watched as he gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and then won his Senate seat that fall. On Tuesday, Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States.

But it’s her kicker that really stands out in light of Obama’s comment today that “there are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.”

“What I will always remember,” Rosman wrote in 2008, “is as I was leaving that party … I was approached by another guest, an established author. He asked about the man I had been talking to. Sheepishly he told me he didn’t know that Obama was a guest at the party, and had asked him to fetch him a drink. In less than six years, Obama has gone from being mistaken for a waiter among the New York media elite, to the president-elect. What a country.”

Indeed.

And yet even as that country elected and then reelected its first black president, the easy assumptions about who black men are have yet to vanish.

Frank Rich — Spying is only spying when the subject doesn’t want to be watched.

The truth is that privacy jumped the shark in America long ago. Many of us not only don’t care about having our privacy invaded but surrender more and more of our personal data, family secrets, and intimate yearnings with open eyes and full hearts to anyone who asks and many who don’t, from the servers of Fortune 500 corporations to the casting directors of reality-television shows to our 1.1 billion potential friends on Facebook. Indeed, there’s a considerable constituency in this country—always present and now arguably larger than ever—that’s begging for its privacy to be invaded and, God willing, to be exposed in every gory detail before the largest audience possible. We don’t like the government to be watching as well—many Americans don’t like government, period—but most of us are willing to give such surveillance a pass rather than forsake the pleasures and rewards of self-exposure, convenience, and consumerism.

R.I.P. the contemplative America of ­Thoreau and of Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, who “would prefer not to”; this is the America that prefers to be out there, prizing networking, exhibitionism, and fame more than privacy, introspection, and solitude. And while it would be uplifting to believe that Americans are willing to sacrifice privacy for the sole good of foiling Al Qaeda, that’s hardly the case. Other motives include such quotidian imperatives as ­shopping, hooking up, seeking instant entertainment and information, and finding the fastest car route—not to mention being liked (or at least “liked”) and followed by as many friends (or “friends”) and strangers as possible, whether online or on basic cable. In a society where economic advancement is stagnant for all but those at the top, a public profile is the one democratic currency most everyone can still afford and aspire to—an indicator of status, not something to be embarrassed about. According to the Pew-Post poll, a majority of Americans under 50 paid little attention to the NSA story at all, perhaps because they found the very notion of fearing a privacy breach anachronistic. After the news of the agency’s PRISM program broke, National Donut Day received more American Google searches than PRISM. There has been no wholesale (or piecemeal) exodus of Americans from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Skype, or any of the other information-vacuuming enterprises reported to have, in some murky fashion, siphoned data—meta, big, or otherwise—to the NSA. Wall Street is betting this will hold. A blogger on the investment website Motley Fool noticed that on the day PRISM was unmasked, share prices for all the implicated corporate participants went up.

If one wanted to identify the turning point when privacy stopped being a prized commodity in America, a good place to start would be with television and just before the turn of the century. The cultural revolution in programming that was cemented by the year 2000 presaged the devaluation of privacy that would explode with the arrival of Facebook and its peers a few years later.

Doonesbury — History repeats itself.