Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Based in Reality?

Ezra Klein writes:

TAPPED: FINALLY. It looks like someone tipped off The Washington Post to the existence of a major primary in Rhode Island, as they sent Ruth Marcus to cover hyperconservative Stephen Laffey's attempt to dethrone Lincoln Chafee. Most polls show him within spitting distance of succeeding -- a far more significant act than anything Ned Lamont pulled off, as a Laffey victory will almost certainly flip the seat to the Democrats. But the Laffey campaign isn't fueled by blogs, and Markos Moulitsas has nothing to do with it, so Chafee's looming defeat has attracted nearly no media attention. That's a shame because the fall of the most prominent Rockefeller Republican would be significant, and the victory of the Laffey campaign, which relies on a "Time to Change Washington" slogan, would be further evidence of the vibrant anti-incumbent sentiment rippling through the electorate. And that doesn't even get into the potential importance of Laffey's populist message -- he claims Teddy Roosevelt as his personal hero, favors permitting Medicare to bargain with drug companies, and mentions eliminating corporate welfare every time he talks about government waste. In many ways, Laffey's potential victory is more portentous than Lamont's was, both for the Republican Party and this election. It's nice to see the press finally noticing it.

Ezra doesn't say that page A-15 is the op-ed page, not a news page. There is a difference. Len Downie's news shop--the shop that focused so much attention on Lamont-Lieberman--continues to downplay Laffey-Chaffee. It is a more important story than Lieberman-Lamont. This is about the ongoing destruction of the reality-based wing of the Republican Party: Laffey gives his allegiance to the real loonies. As Marcus says, Rhode Island is potentially far more momentous than Connecticut

Yet Ruth Marcus takes some steps to keep the focus away from the differences between Lieberman-Lamont and Chaffee-Laffey. Lamont is not to the left of Lieberman--Lamont is a Greenwich good-government type and Lieberman is an interest-group liberal. Laffey is far to the right of Chaffee.

Lamont's principal beef with Lieberman is not ideological. Lamont's principal beef with Lieberman is that Lieberman is not reality-based--that his views on what is going on with Iraq come from the Gamma Quadrant, that his eagerness to support Bill Frist's long-distance diagnosis that Terry Schiavo's brain was intact and potentially functional was both cruel and stupid, that he casually presumes that the voters back home will never notice that the really key votes in the Senate are the votes to close debate.

By contrast, Laffey's key beef with Chaffee is ideological: that Chaffee is too pragmatic. Laffey's beef with Chaffee appears to be that Chaffee is reality-based--as Marcus implies but does not say, when she writes that dealing with the deficit "isn't nearly as simple--or as painless--as Laffey asserts.

Lieberman Redux in Rhode Island?: Lieberman Redux in Rhode Island?By Ruth MarcusWednesday, September 6, 2006; A15WARWICK, R.I. -- Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey doesn't run for office, he bounds -- up steps, across lawns, in his quest to unseat Rhode Island's incumbent senator, Lincoln Chafee, in next Tuesday's primary."If one of the other candidates knocks on your door, vote for that guy, but they won't," the 44-year-old Laffey assures voters. He's accompanied by his wife, four of his five children and a posse of high school friends, all decked out in trademark Laffey yellow and blue, right down to the double stroller for the youngest Laffeys and his wife's custom-made "Laffey 2006" Converses. (The candidate, who has a Harvard MBA and isn't shy about mentioning it, read a study finding this the optimal color scheme for communicating.)

"This will probably be the first time in 40 years we haven't voted for a man named Chafee, but we've just about had it," Richard Carr, a 62-year-old construction company manager, tells Laffey, referring not just to the current senator but to his late father, John, who was a senator and governor.After Laffey sprints on, Carr explains his distaste for the younger Chafee: "He is a Republican and he doesn't vote for the president," he says, referring to the senator's 2004 presidential write-in vote for George H.W. Bush.

Is Steve Laffey to Linc Chafee as Ned Lamont was to Joe Lieberman?

Once again an incumbent senator who often breaks with his own party -- this time a Republican -- could find himself toppled. Once again, the opponent is an energetic businessman-turned-politico, milking discontent among the base and disgust with Washington. Once again, outside groups -- in Connecticut the liberal blogs, here the anti-tax Club for Growth -- are stoking voter anger.

It was inevitable, then, that Laffey-Chafee would be cast as the GOP replay of the Connecticut Democratic primary. Yet the analogy goes only so far. The Rhode Island race is more complex, certainly odder and potentially far more momentous.

For angry Democratic voters, a Lamont vote was all but risk-free. Rhode Island is Connecticut with consequences: A Laffey nomination in this heavily Democratic state could imperil GOP control of the Senate. A general election race between the Democratic nominee, former attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse, and a bruised Chafee promises to be close. But nearly the only one who thinks Laffey would beat Whitehouse is Laffey. "I'll crush him," he asserts.

That's doubtful, but Laffey has a serious shot at ousting Chafee. Precisely how serious is unknowable, because the population of Rhode Island Republicans is so minuscule (just 10 percent of registered voters) and so much could turn on the wild card of independent voters.

Greeting voters outside the Warwick Stop & Shop, Chafee himself doesn't sound terribly confident. "What I've been surprised at is having a parade of Republican luminaries come in to help me -- highlighted by the first lady -- that didn't have a really strong move from the conservative base in my favor," Chafee says. "Even after that, still the Laffey people were Laffey people."

Hence the spectacle of the Washington Republican establishment rushing to the defense of a man who voted against all the Bush tax cuts, the war in Iraq, the Medicare prescription drug plan and Justice Samuel Alito, and who favors gay marriage and abortion rights and opposes the death penalty for Osama bin Laden.The Republican Senate campaign committee has plowed hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race, savaging Laffey with ads as brutal as those deployed against any Democrat. One particularly ugly anti-immigrant spot attacks Laffey's acceptance of Mexican matricula cards as identification. (No matter that Laffey opposes the Senate immigration bill -- which Chafee backed -- as too permissive.)

If Connecticut was about unhappiness with Iraq and President Bush, the issues here are more nebulous. The candidates are vying to outdistance each other from Bush, and while Chafee opposed the war and Laffey supports it, Iraq hasn't been a focus.Instead the race has been partly about personality ("If you looked up demagogue in the dictionary there would be a picture of Steve Laffey," Chafee says), partly about a generalized sense of dissatisfaction with what Laffey terms "big-spending Washington insiders."

Laffey temporarily raised taxes to help rescue Cranston from bankruptcy. "Well, duh, what was the choice?" he says. But he rules out the possibility of any national-level "well, duh" moment. "The corporate welfare gets you $150 billion and [freezing] the nonmilitary discretionary spending gets you $63 billion," he says, throwing in $27 billion more from cutting earmarks. "I just gave you $250 billion and I haven't blinked my eye. So that's where the waste is right there." The solution isn't nearly as simple -- or as painless -- as Laffey asserts.

Still, Laffey, a toolmaker's son who was the first in his family to go to college, is no cookie-cutter conservative. He says his role model in the Senate would be Bobby Kennedy, and he describes himself as a populist reformer, "more of a Teddy Roosevelt kind of Republican." A Senator Laffey would push the federal government to negotiate prices with big drug companies and promote tax breaks to encourage a solar panel on every roof. "By the way, that doesn't sound like a conservative Republican, does it," Laffey asks, part of the running self-commentary he provides.

Whitehouse, for his part, plans to run a similar campaign against either man -- arguing that either would provide a vote, quite possibly the critical one, to empower a Republican majority. Still, he says with the grin of a man who sees a long-shot Senate seat within reach, "I can't wait to find out which."


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