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Obama’s Presidential Character

Friday, 18. October 2013 9:25

Angry Obama

When examining the nature of the presidency, we have discussed the importance (or lack there of) of presidential character — the personal and psychological characteristics of the men who have served in the office. In the course of that discussion, we assessed and criticized the most famous (infamous?) effort in that vein: James Barber’s “Presidential Character,” which schemes presidential character in a two-dimensional (four category) typology. One dimension is active/passive, assessing essentially whether they are looking to use the office to accomplish political goals, and the other dimension is positive/negative, essentially refering to their personality (dour and tending toward paranoia versus optimistic and cheery). One of our criticisms of the application of this scheme to presidents by Barber is that it suffers greatly from confirmation bias –tending to rate presidents in the ‘good’ categories based on partisan disposition rather than an objective assessment of their character. See, for example, John Dean’s effort to place Mitt Romney in the Active/Negative category along with George W. Bush. The scheme also suffers from “backfitting” — i.e. identifying bad characteristics with failed presidencies (Nixon) or those which ended badly (LBJ) and identifying good characteristics with those that were successfull (FDR).

All that said, a new article at the National Interest looks at President Obama’s presidential character and attempts to place him in the typology based on his behavior in office over the past five years. In the author’s view, President Obama belongs in the Active / Negative category — the ‘worst’ category for presidents.

Here he makes the case that Obama belongs in the Active category:

He took office with big ambitions and a manifest resolve to change American society in very significant ways. This was manifest particularly in his Affordable Care Act, designed to transform the way we dispense health care in America and increase federal intrusion into a sixth of the current economy (projected to be 20 percent of the U.S. economy by 2020). And he was willing to do this without a single opposition vote, which reflected an almost breathtaking political audacity. His energy bill represents another reflection of his ambitions, and multiple actions in the regulatory realm (some of questionable constitutional validity) reflect also Obama’s preference for America as a European-style social democracy. Since the country has generally shunned such a course since the early years of the New Deal and a brief spurt of federal activity under Lyndon Johnson, Obama’s presidential temperament clearly falls into the Active category.

And here he makes the case he belongs in the Negative category:

But is he a Negative or a Positive? The Positive presidents relished the job and the grand necessity to move events by persuading, cajoling, bargaining with and perhaps occasionally threatening other players in the political arena. The great Active-Positive presidents all had fun in the job. They showed a zest and enthusiasm that was infectious, not just with the American people but, more significantly, with members of Congress.

We sure don’t see any of that with Obama. Edward Klein, a former New York Times Magazine editor and author of a book on Obama called The Amateur, has written that Obama “doesn’t learn from his mistakes, but repeats policies that make our economy less robust and our nation less safe.”

Do we see any presidential zest or political joy in this chief executive? Hardly. He seems always stern, beset, frustrated and angry. It’s as if he expects the opposition to join him in whatever he wants to do for the simple reason that they should want to make his life easier. After all, he’s the president.

Here’s how Barber describes the Active-Negative: “…relatively intense effort and relatively low emotional reward for that effort. The activity has a compulsive quality…His self-image is vague and discontinuous. Life is a hard struggle to achieve and hold power, hampered by the condemnations of a perfectionistic conscience. Active-negative types pour energy into the political system, but it is an energy distorted from within.”

Nothing illustrates this more starkly than Obama’s insistence on shirking his responsibility as president to lead the way out of Washington’s increasingly dire fiscal deadlock, with the government partially shut down and a possible financial default on the horizon. His political petulance is so far from the Positive traits, as defined by Barber, that his categorization as an Active-Negative is unavoidable.

What do you think? Does President Obama belong in the Active/Negative category?

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A Preference Cascade – Part II

Tuesday, 23. October 2012 16:08

As I mentioned in Part I, there is mounting evidence that the first presidential debate initiated (or at least correlated) with a preference cascade for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. First let’s look at the evidence which suggests this might very well have happened. The first presidential debate was on October 3rd, 2012. So in order to assess the debate as an inflection point, we want to look at polling on or before October 2nd on the one hand in comparison to polling on or after October 4th. With tracking polls we will want to compare polling on October 2nd with polling reported all they way out to October 10th in the case of 7-day averages. Finally, we will want to look at the current polls. Our questions: 1) Was there a Romney surge post-debate? 2) Has that surge continued/snowballed or has it receded? I have included all polls cited in the RCP average where there is at least a poll before the first debate and a poll after the first debate. Ideally, we will look at polls immediately before, immediately after, and current polling.

polling evidence of preference cascade

This table depicts the Romney deficit or surplus in support for president in polling before the debate, after the debate, and currently. The trend columns indicate the difference in Romney support between the pre-debate numbers and the post-debate numbers as well as the pre-debate numbers and the current numbers. A positive number (green) in the trend column means that Romney has gained support between the two polling periods. Note, I compare within polls so that we can observe trends irrespective of the sampling technique and likely voter screen differences between the included polls.

One fact that should be immediately apparent is that there has unquestionably been a Romney surge. No poll included above shows Obama gaining, within their poll, over the last four weeks. The best Obama does is in the Hartford/Courant and IBD/TPP polls, both of which show no change in the race. Among the polls that have a pre-debate poll and a current poll on the race, the average Romney surge is 3.7%. That’s strong evidence that Romney’s surge out of the first debate has been durable — not a bump based on favorable media coverage. Note, the media consensus over the last 3 debates (1 VP, 2 Presidential) have been that the Obama/Biden ticket “won” the debate (at least narrowly). Despite this, Romney has seen his surge in the polls stabilize. In fact, it is even better than that for Romney if we focus on the polls that have a pre-debate, post-debate, and current poll in the above table. Those five polls are here:

preference cascade evidence 2

Note that among these polls, the trend to the current polling (which has baked into it the VP and 2nd presidential debate performances) from the pre-first debate polls is larger than the trend to the polling immediately after the debate. The average gain from the pre-debate polls to the immediate post-debate polls is 4%. However, the average gain from the pre-debate polls to the current polls is 5.33%. Romney is doing better now than he was in the immediate aftermath of his unamimous first debate victory by a little less than 1.5% points — a 26% improvement on his post-debate surge. This suggests that despite two Obama/Biden “victories” in the debates, the Romney surge has, in fact, deepened. Why might this be? A big part of the story is the misunderstanding of what the first debate performance was about. Alot of the debate analysis has focused on “winning on points”…in other words, analysts have looked at the debates as a competition. If one participant “out scores” the other, then that participant won. The consensus after the first debate was that Romney won — i.e. out-performed Obama. He certainly did that, but that is not what instigated the surge towards Romney in the polls. What instigated the surge was a preference cascade – an inflection point that established Romney as a credible alternative to Obama.

What many missed in the coverage of Obama’s lead up until the first debate was the fact that, despite that lead, Obama never topped 50% in the RCP average. Let’s look at the trend here:

As you can see, most of the Obama’s lead in the RCP average was built on depressing Romney’s numbers below 47%…not on Obama getting above 50%. Only at one time in the race over the last 6 months did Obama approach 50%, and that was a consequence of the bump he recieved after the Democratic National Convention. Those numbers quickly dissapated, with Obama returning to that 47% equilibrium. In contrast, Romney’s numbers are improving even 2 weeks out from that debate performance. The answer to the puzzle lies in this observation: A majority of the voting public had already decided they did not support President Obama. What they had not decided, before the debate, was whether or not they could support Romney as an acceptable alternative. What that first debate performance accomplished for Romney wasn’t a victory on points — it wouldn’t have mattered if Obama had performed well (as he did in the second and third debates). What mattered is that Romney painted himself as a viable alternative to Obama — and that’s exactly what a majority of the electorate is looking for. And that’s why things are looking up for Romney…and very gloomy for President Obama. And it is also why the subsequent debates and debate performances have failed to slow/suspend the Romney surge.

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Obama’s Job Speech

Friday, 9. September 2011 11:26

Keynes Flipping in Grave

President Obama gave a speech presenting his new jobs program, called the American Jobs Act (AJA), to a joint session of Congress last night. Here is a round-up of the reactions to the speech. The price tag for the bill comes in at about $447 billion.

AP’s fact checkers rate President Obama’s claims that the AJA is paid-for, bipartisan, deficit-neutral and immediately effective as false.

Critics of the president have made much of the fact that Obama repeatedly called for them to “pass the bill” in his speech. The count? See for yourself:

Captain Ed over at Hot Air notes the curious absence of any mention of “energy” in President Obama’s job proposal. Meanwhile, Robert Reich, Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor, gives the speech two cheers and one jeer. Reich believes it was a step in the right direction, but not bold enough.

Elanor Clift, a liberal supporter of the president, argues Obama made a clear and compelling case for his new jobs program. She argues it is a “common sense” mix of bipartisan proposals that amount to a sound program to stimulate the economy.

If President Obama’s speech were only about economics, its proposals would pass easily in both chambers of Congress. Though bigger and bolder than expected, it is still at its core a common-sense mix of ideas that both Democrats and Republicans have supported.

Jay Cost argues that the AJA is Stimulus, part deux.

Much of Obama’s speech from last night was directly imported from other addresses. It was full of his usual tropes – strawmen characterizations of his opponents, a soaring paean to American greatness that only ever mentioned big government, and the typical denunciations of “politics as usual,” implicitly defined as everything that hurts his political prospects in 2012.

John Podhoretz, a critic of the president, agrees and is underwhelmed. Podhoretz argues that Obama’s “jobs” plan is no different from his original stimulus bill in 09, which did nothing to “stimulate” the economy or help with unemployment.

But Obama’s fetishistic invocation of the glory of infrastructure projects is directly related to his unyielding certitude — a certitude unaltered despite the failure of his last stimulus — that the federal government needs to take a lead role in thecountry’s employment crisis by employing people directly itself.

Whatever the merits of Obama’s job proposal, the politics are clear. Given the failure of the first stimulus to actually stimulate the economy and the continued threat of a double-dip recession, Obama’s re-election bid is in serious jeapordy. The below graph, which shows the actual unemployment rate versus the post-stimulus projections of the Obama administration in 09 illustrate why many congressional leaders have either dismissed Obama’s new plan or are highly skeptical of it. Obama’s credibility on the economy has taken a serious hit and it may be too late for him to do anything about it:

Obama vs. Reality

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Should we celebrate OBL’s death?

Tuesday, 3. May 2011 12:59

That question has been raised in the wake of the spontaneous celebration that occured in response to OBL’s demise. I certainly understand those of faith who hesitate to cheer the end of any life, and I understand those who are uneasy with the ‘party’ atmosphere that emereged on Sunday.

But I celebrate.

I celebrate the end to his reign of destruction.

I celebrate the justice obtained for his innocent victims.

I celebrate the unparalleled courage of our military forces.

I celebrate the awesome skill Seal Team 6 displayed in taking OBL down.

I celebrate the fact they gave him an opportunity to surrender.

I celebrate the fact they minimized civilian casulties and collateral damage.

I celebrate Presidents Bush and Obama for their dogged pursuit of this monster.

I celebrate the intelligence personel who worked for years, unheraled, to bring him down.

I celebrate the countless innocents, Muslim and Christian, who will now not be victims of his murderous terrorism.

I celebrate the untold number of young pople who won’t be poisoned by his evil ideology.

I celebrate the fact OBL had to face his Maker and account for his actions in this life on Sunday.

I celebrate. D.GOOCH

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Anthology of Interest 2011, Part III

Friday, 25. February 2011 13:57

Lot’s of interesting things going on in the world. The Chinese have a saying, “may you live in interesting times.” It’s not something you say to people you wish well of. ;)

Labor Rally in the Rotunda

In Wisconsin labor battle news, the Wisconsin state assembly voted to pass Walker’s budget, which includes the elimination of some collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions. It passed 51-17. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin state senate Democratic delegation is still AWOL somewhere in Illinois and defiant.

The labor battle that started in Wisconsin has spread to a number of other Western and Midwestern states. Indiana, Iowa and Ohio are now in the mix, both Indiana and Ohio with newly elected Republican Governors and recently formed Republican majorities in the state legislatures. While the protests have been fairly large and raucous, and sometimes nasty and violent, including a mass rally in Wisconsin’s state house rotunda, public opinion polling indicates the public is fairly divided on labor unions.

On the current labor unrest, there is a mixed bag in the polling world. A majority of the American public, 67%, are opposed to the “fleebagging” of the Wisconsin and Indiana Democrat state legislative delegations, and supportive of Governor Walker in Wisconsin, there is majority opposition to the elimination of collective bargaining rights for public unions, though I wonder how many Americans understand the distinction between public and private unions and how that impacts the budget. Still, numbers like that should give the GOP pause. However, there’s no question that support for labor unions has been in a free fall over the past twenty years, and that certainly has implications for the current battle.

Clearly both sides see a political opportunity here, as both Obama and Speaker Boehner have spoken out on the issue. The stakes are high, as Democrats depend on unions for their GOTV (get-out-the-vote) operations.

As far as the ideological debate goes, some have gone so far as to call for a banning of public unions, reversing JFK’s executive order from 50 years prior. Krauthhammer, concuring with Goldberg, sees this as a moment of blinding clarity. Krugman thinks its a crass partisan power grab. Others suggest it is hypocritical to focus on union influence in politics when wealthy entreprenuers such as David Koch can get a 20 minute conversation with Governor Walker…well, at least that’s who the caller claimed to be. Still, is the fact that a rich GOP doner can get Walker on the phone actual influence? We’ll talk about the difference between access and influence when we get to interest groups in section 3.

In a bit of older news, did Thucydides, the reputed Father of Realism, hate Realists?

Wither Libya? And is Saudia Arabia next?

$5.00 a gallon gasoline by 2012? Ho boy. Oil is approaching $120 a barrel. There’s no question the Mideast unrest is having a substantial effect on oil prices, but don’t underestimate the effect of Obama’s moratorium on Gulf oil drilling. Remember, candidate Obama was perfectly OK with increased eneregy prices if that’s what it took to reduce cabron emissions, and his Cap & Trade policy undoubtedly would have sent gas prices up had it been enacted.

Are we headed towards a government shut down? If so, who will be to blame? Republicans have urged Democrats to accept a $4 billion cut, but if they don’t the government may shut down. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all. York believes the GOP shouldn’t fear a government shutdown. There are some indications Democrats are moving in the GOP direction, as reports indicate they are drafting their own proposal for cuts. I think alot of the “well, the GOP got blamed in the wake of the Gingrich / Clinton shutdown, so they’d be blamed this time” meme is fairly unconvincing. Not only is this a different electorate, 15 years later, but it is also a very different setting. The Gingrich / Clinton shutdown happened when 1) the GOP controlled both Houses in Congress, 2) the economy was booming and 3) Clinton had failed to pass health-care. None of that is true today. I don’t know who the public would blame for a government shutdown, and I’m not even sure they would be that upset about it. Certainly there is some polling that suggests that the public wants to see significant cuts in the budget.

Is Obama’s decision to not have the Justice Department defend DOMA in court a violation of his oath?

Five personality flaws that science will cure in our lifetime.

87% of movies would be better with Micahel Keaton in them? I certainly liked Batman. Multiplicity…eh, not so much.

What political and social lessons are there in The Forbidden Planet?

Shew! That’s a lot going on! Tune in next time for the ANTHOLOGY of INTEREST!!!!!

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