Jonathan Bernstein

Coming Soon: A Younger Senate
September 17, 2010

Of the last several decades, Congress -- all of Congress, although I'm just going to talk about the Senate in this post -- has become old. Really old. Sometimes scary-old, as in the final years of the late Robert Byrd or the late Strom Thurmand. More often, run-of-the-mill old, as with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (b. 1939) or Mitch McConnell (b. 1942). Certainly, record old. The (current) 111th Senate when it began hit a record average age of 63.1 years.

Glenn Greenwald is Still Wrong about Nepotism UPDATED
September 16, 2010

You know, we all make mistakes, and blogging is, alas, a perfect breeding ground for errors. Me too: I had a whopper just yesterday. Not just factual errors, either; we guess wrong about what will happen next, we interpret something in ways that turn out to be undermined by new information...that’s just the way things are, even for the most cautious bloggers who are commenting on current political events.  Of course, the real difference is what happens when we err.

Is O'Donnell's Win in Delaware a Big Deal Nationally? Maybe
September 15, 2010

Just some quick notes on the Republican Senate primary in Delaware yesterday, with Christine O’Donnell defeating Mike Castle and, in doing so, turning the seat from a very likely GOP gain to a very likely hold for the Democrats (as of now, the New Hampshire Republican Senate primary hasn’t yet been called, but it looks as if NH Republicans have probably chosen the pragmatic candidate over the purist).  1. You remember the Letterman bit, “Is This Anything?“ Cue the hula hoop girl and the grinder girl: no question, Paul, that this is something.

Yes, Pols, It's (Mostly) Safe to Ignore Playbook
September 14, 2010

I’m not sure exactly what Henry Farrell is getting at in his partial dissent to Ezra Klein and John Sides, but I think I’m with them on this one. Farrell: But to say that Politico, cable news etc are (a) trivial and (b) unimportant to the vast majority of voters is not to say that they may not still be important to politicians. This is because the belief in their importance is a collective one rather than an individual one.

Throwing Some Cold Water On Ezra Klein's Otherwise Excellent Column
September 13, 2010

I hesitate to do anything other than praise Ezra Klein’s terrific WaPo column over the weekend, in which he asked political scientists “what they wished politicians knew about politics” (disclosure: I was one of those he asked, and I was absolutely useless -- John Sides was the other person there with me at the time, and he nailed it). Each of the findings Klein used in the column was in fact worth knowing, and I’m very glad that terrific policy journalists such as Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn are listening to what academics are learning.  Ah, but the caveat.

Is the Senate Really Paralyzed and Dysfunctional?
September 08, 2010

Via Bouie, Elizabeth Drew says: It's time to retire the overused — and inaccurate — words "dysfunctional" and "paralysis" that have appeared in a recent spate of articles and commentary propagating the fashionable view that the current Congress has gotten little or even nothing done. In fact, this has been one of the most productive Congresses in decades.  I think it's clearly correct to say that the 111th Congress was extremely productive (see also last month's similar defense of the Senate from Jill Lawrence), and so I agree that "paralysis" is the wrong word to use to describe it.

Just How Strong Are Political Parties?
September 07, 2010

 How strong are American political parties? Party scholars disagree about how to go about thinking about that question. For me, the way to think about party strength is to think about how much of overall political activity goes through the parties. That is, pick an important political activity: writing laws, electing public officials, carrying out laws, political communications, civic rituals, and so on.

Getting Party Fighting Right
August 31, 2010

[C]hallenges to one authority in the party are coming from another power center in the party. Parties are not strongly hierarchical organizations to begin with, so the way in is just to start playing. Whatever else she is, Sarah Palin is the party’s most recent nominee for vice president. That’s not an outsider position. And so neither are the candidates she backs. And these candidates are contesting party primaries. But “outsiders” like outsider rhetoric, but they are in the tent.

A Dem Palin? Not Needed
August 30, 2010

The Sunday NYT carried an unusually useless op-ed yesterday, asking for a "Palin of Our Own" for the Democrats. Anna Holmes and Rebecca Traister note that Sarah Palin generates a lot of publicity, and conclude: The left should be outraged and exasperated by all this — but at their own failings as much as Ms. Palin’s ascension. Since the 2008 election, progressive leaders have done little to address the obvious national appetite for female leadership. And despite (or because of) their continuing obsession with Ms.

Show Me the Judges
August 27, 2010

Last time I visited the question of judicial nominations, there were 50 district court and six court of appeals vacancies for which Barack Obama had not even nominated anyone. That was two months ago. Today? District court vacancies without a nominee have reached 53; circuit court vacancies without a nominee are up to 9. Why? No idea. Yes, Republicans are obstructing judicial (and exec branch) nominations in the Senate. Why shouldn't they? After all, Obama has signaled again and again that he doesn't really care about them.