Thursday, December 19

Hiatus

I'm going to take a break for a bit. People tend to think that this is one of the easy stretches of the academic calendar, but by tomorrow afternoon I'll have 150 essay exams to grade. I'm also teaching Legislation for the first time next semester, which requires some extra preparation. I'm teaching Evidence—seven hours of new lectures—for a bar review course in the second week of January. I'm giving a special lecture at the law school on January 21. I have some deadlines for scholarly work approaching. And of course I'd like to be able to spend some relaxed time with my family.

Other bloggers have taken breaks only to return with renewed energy and enthusiasm—witness the great work that Ted Barlow has done in the last week or so. I hope the same will be true for me when I return after the new year. And I will be back; otherwise, I've just spent some money for nothing (yes, that's a hint).

In the meantime, best wishes to all for a safe and happy holiday season.

Wednesday, December 18

Not Just Lott

Glenn Reynolds writes:

It's clear that people knew for a long time that Lott had, to put it charitably, issues: issues of racism, and issues of the tin-eared, foot-in-mouth sort. Put those together, and he was a disaster waiting to happen. Some people even said that before the elections. Yet somehow he would up as Majority Leader anyway.

Pick the wrong people for important jobs, and you have problems every time. That's a lesson worth remembering.

An interesting observation. Why do I find myself thinking of a certain other public official, one with an undistinguished and ethically questionable past, a history of falling upward, and a tendency to make foolish statements? One whom a large segment of the electorate believed was a disaster waiting to happen?

I, at least, don't think that the person of whom I'm thinking disproves Glenn's point.

Coach Arena

Andrew Racine notes that Bruce Arena, who led the US men's soccer team to the World Cup quarterfinals last summer, will remain as coach of the squad through the 2006 World Cup. This is great news for US soccer. Arena has now proved himself a winner at both the club level (having led D.C. United to championships in Major League Soccer's first two seasons) and the international level, and it is a stroke of good luck for the American team (although a sign of the continuing disrespect for American soccer in Europe) that he was not snapped up to manage an English club. The 2002 US squad represented a dramatic improvement over previous editions, and with Arena remaining at the helm they are well positioned to continue their advance.

O.R.

With the Trent Lott story continuing to shift daily—sometimes hourly, it seems—RonK of Cogent Provocateur previews the battle over the new Senate's organizing resolution, a battle that will do much to shape the way the Senate conducts business for the next two years.

Rose

I've never liked Pete Rose, at least not since I saw him attack Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson in the 1973 National League Championship Series. I recognize that beating up a New York Met isn't grounds for being banned from baseball. But there are plenty of reasons why, having been banned for betting on baseball while manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Rose should not now be reinstated, as Commissioner Bud Selig is contemplating. Charles Kuffner, Dan Lewis, and Eric McErlain explain.

Tuesday, December 17

Vote!

The polls are now open at Dwight Meredith's P.L.A. for the Koufax Awards, dedicated to honoring the best in lefty blogging. Vote Chicago-style.

I'm truly honored to be nominated for best writer. But I'm not voting for myself; I'm voting for Jeanne d'Arc. Writing like this shows why.

Going Negative

David Orentlicher's path to the Indiana House of Representatives was never going to be easy. His Republican opponent was Jim Atterholt, a two-term incumbent, a smooth campaigner with strong ties to the Indiana Republican establishment. Redistricting had moved Atterholt from a safe seat to a more competitive district, but one that retained a small Republican majority. And David, for all his sharp intelligence and his strong grounding in law, health care, and public policy, was a political neophyte.

That David ultimately was able to win the election, by a 37-vote margin, is a tribute to his 18 months of intense work and his rapid ascent of the political learning curve. David knocked on every door and went to every neighborhood meeting that he could. In candidate forums, despite Atterholt's polished presence, David largely kept Atterholt on the defensive. As election day drew near, David was confident of victory. And yet, when initial returns were completed on election night, David trailed by 28 votes. A double-check of the precinct totals gave David the victory (confirmed by a subsequent recount), but it was a near thing. What happened?

In my view, David was nearly undone by a negative ad. Not one against him, but one that his campaign ran against Atterholt.

In the last couple of weeks of October, Atterholt brought his campaign money to bear, blanketing the airwaves with advertising, more advertising than I've ever seen for a state legislative race. The advertisement was content-free, but it bathed Atterholt in a warm, soft-focused light, David attempted a similar ad, but it was less effective, in part because it ran far less frequently and in part because David projects a less cuddly public persona than does Atterholt. The Orentlicher campaign needed to find a way to draw a clear distinction between the candidates on matters of policy, and to do so within the context of a 30-second television ad.

This shouldn't have been difficult. Attherholt is a career politician, a protégé of unpopular Congressman Dan Burton, and over the course of two terms he had compiled a remarkably conservative voting record, one out of step with the well-educated professionals who made up a large percentage of the district's Republican voters. On a number of issues, especially education and health care, Atterholt's voting record, combined with David's background and experience, left Atterholt vulnerable.

The campaign chose guns.

At one level, I understand the decision—the closing weeks of the campaign were conducted in the immediate aftermath of the D.C.-area sniper shootings, and so it was thought that guns would be on the voters' minds. It was, however, a politically tone-deaf choice—it failed to recognize that in the last few election cycles the terms of the gun debate have shifted. Worse, the resulting ad hewed closely to the standard negative script: it foreswore the unflattering picture of Atterholt, but it juxtaposed a small photo of Atterholt with grainy footage of masked men wielding firearms, with ominous music and a voiceover warning that Atterholt had voted to put guns back into the hands of criminals. As if Atterholt actually wanted to give guns to criminals. As if there had been a "Put Guns Back in the Hands of Criminals Act of 2001," for which Atterholt had voted.

My sense, based admittedly on limited anecdotal evidence and my own observation, is that the ad backfired. It may have played acceptably to the Democratic base (although I for one thought it was terrible), but it alienated a number of Orentlicher-leaning Republicans and independents, and it left David open to the inevitable, and effective, counterattack ad. When I worked the polls on election day, a number of voters went out of their way to tell me that the gun ad had cost David their vote.

As it turned out, David survived, albeit by a sliver of a margin. And I don't think the ad was entirely his choice—in the closing weeks of the campaign, he was bombarded by advice from the state Democratic party, which had an intense interest in the outcome in this battleground district. My impression is that he got some bad advice and, as a political newcomer in the heat of a campaign's closing weeks, took it. But I hope that the experience will serve as a cautionary note, because I am convinced that David won not thanks to the ad, but despite it.

There's a reason commercial entities don't advertise like this: it can backfire, and badly.

(The full Doonesbury strip appears here.)

Monday, December 16

Farewell, My Friend

This morning I placed Pippin, my curly-coated retriever, on a one-way flight to Philadelphia. Noah, it turns out, is allergic to dogs; we explored a number of options, but in the end the only viable option was to remove him from the house. Finding a new home for a nearly six-year-old dog with health problems isn't easy. Fortunately, his breeder agreed to take him; unfortunately, his breeder lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Pippin is now out of my house, out of my life, a long way away.

In the early months of Pippin's life, before I met my wife, Pippin was the principal focus of my nonworking life (as can be seen at the website I created at the time). For a time he was literally my best friend—sometimes, it seemed, my only friend—in Indianapolis. While he soon had to compete with K for my attention, and later had to cope with Noah's arrival as well, the close bond of those first months remained. K told me that when I left the house, he would usually do nothing but lie near the door, virtually immobile, waiting for me to come home. Now I won't be returning to him at the end of the day, and the thought of him awaiting my arrival makes me want to cry.

On Pippin's first night in Indianapolis, more than five and a half years ago, I slept on the living room floor next to his puppy crate, so that he wouldn't be alone in a strange place. Last night, I decided to bookend his time with me, and so I slept on the basement sofa, with Pippin beside me on the floor. It wasn't a particularly restful night—every hour or so I would be awakened by a wet snout in my face or a tongue lapping at my chin. When the alarm went off early this morning, Pippin was as happy as he'd been in months—all that attention!—and he bounded enthusiastically into the back of my car for the trip to the airport. This just compounded my pain. He trusted me, and I was betraying that trust.

Pippin has now landed safely in Philadelphia, where he was met by his breeder; later today he will see his mother for the first time since May 1997. It would be easy to anthropomorphize that moment, to envision a tender reunion. But while dogs are intensely emotional creatures, there's no reason to think that Pippin will view Jade as anything other than just another curly. His emotional ties are to me. And now those ties have been torn apart.

Farewell, Pippin. I hope that you will enjoy your new life, and that the company of other dogs and a new family will let you forget me in short order. For my part, I won't—can't, wouldn't want to—forget you. You will always be my best dog, my good friend, my sweet puppy.

Sunday, December 15

Gore Bows Out

When I watched last night's Saturday Night Live, and saw Al Gore's biting portrayal of Trent Lott in a spoof of Hardball, I thought, "Boy, that's pretty out there for someone thinking about running for president." And today it turns out that he's not running after all.

Many Democrats (not all, but many, and myself included) viewed Gore's 2000 candidacy as a grim inevitability. Outraged as I was by the press's treatment of Gore throughout that fall's campaign, I was unable to generate much genuine enthusiasm for him; my support was based more on opposition to George Bush, and concern for what a Republican presidency would mean for the Supreme Court, than anything else. And while I understood Gore's need to take some time out of the public eye after the bitter outcome of the election, I was angered by his failure to speak out against some of the administration's excesses. But, against my will, in the last few weeks I was beginning to find Gore a compelling figure—he seemed relaxed and at ease with himself, he possessed a clear command of policy questions that George Bush has never demonstrated, and he was willing to answer questions with more clarity and fewer soundbites than most politicians will permit themselves (the contrast to, say, Mitch McConnell's evasive, mindlessly repetitive performance on today's This Week was striking).

Gore's withdrawal creates an interesting situation, because Gore had promised to unveil a series of policy proposals after the new year. The Democrats, adrift under the aimless leadership of Tom Daschle, desperately need to put together a coherent position from which to oppose the Republican agenda for the next two years, and Gore's initiatives offered the possibility of such a base. Now, it's unclear what role his proposals can play. No Democratic presidential aspirant could adopt them fully, lest he be seen as no more than a puppet. And yet, those presidential hopefuls currently serving in the Senate or the House are ill-positioned to offer their own broad visions at this point—they need still to work within the framework of the party leadership on the Hill. The only candidate with a similar ability, at this point, to step back from the minutiae of everyday politics and think in broad policy terms is Howard Dean. And while Dean was an effective governor in Vermont and is an appealing potential candidate, his limited experience on the national stage makes it unlikely that he would be able, at this early stage of the campaign, to match the former vice president when it comes to national policy vision. If Gore goes ahead, in other words, his ideas might help to reinvigorate the directionless Democratic party, but they might also deprive those still planning to run of the breathing space they need to establish their own presence in the runup to 2004. But if he doesn't go ahead, the policy void at the heart of the congressional Democratic party threatens to persist.