Thursday, March 31, 2011

Presidents at Prayer

ABC's Diane Sawyer interviewed the president:

DIANE SAWYER: Someone pulled the Lincoln quote again, thinking of the immeasurable stresses awaited every day. About being on his knees sometimes, because he was in search of wisdom that -- his own wisdom was insufficient for the day.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I do a lot of praying. Absolutely. Every night, right before I go to bed. You know, and I am praying that -- I'm making the best possible decisions, and that I've got the strength to serve the American people well. And frankly as President of the United States, you know, your responsibilities extend beyond beyond our borders. And these decisions are difficult. Look, I think it's important to understand when -- when people look at a situation like Libya tend to recognize that there are no easy alternatives there. There are no, you know, smooth, painless options.

Gingrich and Shutdowns

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich talks to House Republican freshmen about the lessons of a 1995-1996, when a budget stalemate led to a partial shutdown of the federal government. In his 1998 book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way (pp. 49-50), he wrote:
The idea of a grand showdown on spending had long been a staple of conservative analysis. Even before Reagan's inaugural, he had been approached by one prominent conservative who urged him to force a showdown over the debt ceiling and simply refuse to sign on to one until the Democratic Congress reined in its spending plans. Reagan rejected this idea with a comment I wish I had understood better at the time. "I wear the white hat," he said, "and the man in the white hat doesn't force that kind of crisis." The conservative activist who told me that story was convinced that Reagan would have won such a showdown. For fifteen years I agreed with him, but I was to learn something about the American people that too many conservatives don't appreciate. They want their leaders to have principled disagreements but they want these disagreements to be settled in constructive ways. That is not, of course, what our own activists were telling us. They were all gung ho for a brutal fight over spending and taxes. We mistook their enthusiasm for the views of the American public.
In hindsight, Gingrich acknowledged President Clinton's political skills (p. 56):
To underestimate such a politician is a serious error, and it is, I am afraid, an error we committed in 1995-96. The test was whether we could force Clinton to sign a budget agreement by refusing to pass bills that did not contain our reforms. Well, we went head-to-head with him over the budget and lost ... We not only lost the battle over the legislation itself, but the far more important one for the public's understanding and approval of what we were trying to do. The second shutdown, which stretched for three weeks over the 1995 Christmas holidays, seared into the public's mind a deeply negative impression of our efforts.
He also praised RNC chair Haley Barbour (p. 60):
Haley Barbour understood the situation far better than the rest of us. For six weeks he tried to persuade us that our strategy was wrong. We were not going to get a budget agreement, he said, and every time we met with Clinton to negotiate, we were only strengthening his position. Haley would have had us cut off negotiations by late November, never meet at the White House and never close down the government ... Haley of course turned out to be right. The longer negotiations went on the stronger Clinton became.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Six Sigma

Our chapter on bureaucracy discusses management techniques in government. At Politico, Kendra Marr writes:

Tim Pawlenty's got a secret weapon for reforming the federal government: It's called "Six Sigma."

The former Minnesota governor and 2012 GOP hopeful is a true believer in an arcane — and controversial — business management strategy that's popular with Fortune 500 companies, but not many politicians.

Even its supporters take pains to note that it's not a "secret society" or meaningless slogan.

Just hours after launching his presidential exploratory committee, Pawlenty was on a conference call with supporters ticking off the ways he'd reform the federal government — "Six Sigma principles," he said.

"I couldn't be more excited about it," Pawlenty told listeners.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, is much less excited. He has skewered Six Sigma in a number of strips:


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Liberal Arts Education and the Military

Our textbook discusses the military in a number of places, including our chapters on civic culture, bureaucracy, and national security. Inside Higher Ed points out the value of liberal arts education to the armed forces:

A graduate of Dickinson College serving as an infantry platoon recently leader praised -- of all things -- his liberal arts education for helping his unit make military gains in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.

One day, as he recounted in an e-mail that he sent to Dickinson President William G. Durden, the graduate, who was commissioned through Dickinson’s Reserve Officers Training Corps and majored in Middle Eastern history, found himself sharing small talk with five village elders. After he recited the first chapter of the Koran (which he learned as part of a class assignment), the first lieutenant earned the men’s trust, he wrote to Durden.

Soon after, one of the men handed over five small papers which appeared to be “night letters,” or notes left by the Taliban on local mosques or the doors of homes. Typically, such letters urge resistance or threaten violence to those who cooperate with American forces. These, however, were asking for help. “The three letters this man gave to me thus signaled a major shift in Taliban morale in our area of operations, and at the end of the day became very valuable intelligence information,” the unnamed lieutenant wrote. This episode -- which demonstrates how core liberal arts subjects, such as foreign language, cultural studies and history can yield better-trained, more culturally sophisticated soldiers and officers -- illustrates the kind of thing that Dickinson’s administration and military analysts want to see happening more often. And, by ensuring that future military leaders learn on campus alongside more typical students, higher education and military officials hope to start bridging the divide that separates servicemen and -women from the rest of society.

On Monday, the college announced that Dickinson had received $100,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to organize forums (one next month and another in the fall) that will help liberal arts colleges collaborate with neighboring military institutions of higher education. The forums will draw upon and look to strengthen several existing relationships between neighboring institutions: Dickinson and the nearby U.S. Army War College; Bard, Union and Vassar colleges and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; St. John’s College and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; and Colorado College and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Understanding International News

Kirk Johnson writes at The New York Times:

Many Americans find themselves scratching their heads about America’s military intervention in Libya, and part of the reason, they say, can be summed up in one word: overload.

People interviewed across four states said that at a time when the world seems to stagger from one breathtaking news event to another — rolling turmoil across the Middle East, economic troubles at home, disaster upon disaster in Japan — the airstrikes on military targets in Libya can feel like one crisis too many.

...

Cara Vonderbruegge, 23, an event coordinator and actor in Los Angeles, said the earthquake and tsunami in Japan had simply absorbed all the attention and emotion she could spare these days. She feels remiss about that, she said, and plans to catch up soon on what she has missed about Libya.

“I’m still concerned about people in other parts of the world, but with everything that’s going on in our lives, we only have so much time,” Ms. Vonderbruegge said.

...

“One day it’s this story, and then, oh, more information comes out — if there was one or two things going on, it would probably be easier to get caught up,” said Kevin Kilgore, 34, who works at a smoking lounge in Dearborn, Mich. “As one backs up to another that backs up to another that backs up to another, it’s just really difficult.”

...

Greater connection or familiarity with some parts of the world than others also plays a role.

Woody Wiginton, 45, a coffee roaster in Birmingham, Ala., who said he relied on Twitter as his main news source, said he knew Japan and the Japanese, with whom he does business. Libya feels much more remote.

“I don’t know anyone who’s been to Tripoli,” he said of the Libyan capital. “You just don’t know anybody there. North Africa has always been this mysterious place.”

...

Eric Heisser, 21, a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said he was relying on friends to keep him in the loop on Libya.

“My roommates are kind of keeping me informed,” he said. “They have a little more time to watch Jon Stewart than I do.”

Religion and the Death Penalty

At The New York Times, Samuel G. Freedman writes on the decision of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to sign a bill ending the death penalty in the state.

But on that decisive morning of March 9, he laid aside the secular factors and opened his Bible to a passage in II Corinthians about human imperfection. He prayed. And when he signed the bill striking down the death penalty, he cited one influence by name: Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.

The cardinal has been dead for nearly 15 years. To the last days of his life, he advocated what he termed a “seamless garment” or “consistent ethic of life,” which charged Roman Catholics with the task of ending abortion, poverty, nuclear war, euthanasia and capital punishment. For of all his eloquence, however, he had never built the constituency to transform theological precepts into public policy.

With the stroke of the governor’s pen, the cardinal has been posthumously vindicated on at least one piece of that seamless garment. In doing so, Mr. Quinn, a Democrat, also ratified the cardinal’s belief that religious thought has a place in the formulation of law, a premise the governor’s fellow liberals generally resist.

“I think it’s indispensable,” Mr. Quinn said in a telephone interview this week. “When you’re elected and sworn into office, that oath really involves your whole life experience, your religious experience. You bring that to bear on all the issues.”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Union Members Are More Likely to Be Democrats

Gallup finds:

Union members, whether they work for the government or the private sector, are more likely than nonunion workers to be Democrats than Republicans. The gap is greatest among unionized state government workers, who are twice as likely to be Democrats. State workers are also more likely to be Democrats than are federal, local, or nongovernment workers, regardless of union status.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Inequality Data

Steven R. Cunningham of the American Institute for Economic Research writes:

Government data, if misunderstood or improperly used, can lead to many false conclusions.

For example, from 2000 to 2009, inflation-adjusted household income fell 4.5 percent, but consumer spending increased 22.4 percent. This raises an obvious question: How did people dramatically increase spending on shrinking paychecks?

The answer is: They didn't.

They did increase spending. But paychecks weren't shrinking. Instead, the number of individuals per U.S. household was shrinking, which lowered the average.

Real disposable income, which is essentially total after-tax income, rose 25.2 percent from 2000 to 2009. At the same time, however, households got smaller, as more people divorced, or rejected or delayed marriage. So total spending went up, while average household income - due to the larger number of households - went down.

Like household income data, income distribution data often are misunderstood. For purposes of analysis, the Census Bureau divides households into fifths - or quintiles - yielding the bottom 20 percent of income earners, the next 20 percent, and so on, up to the highest 20 percent.

While this is a reasonable approach, it can be extremely misleading.

We often hear, for example, that the top 20 percent of U.S. households receive roughly 50 percent of total income, while the bottom 20 percent receives less than 4 percent. According to the Census Bureau's household data and quintile distribution, this is correct.

The problem is that we are not told that the top 20 percent of households includes four times as many workers as the bottom 20 percent, and nearly six times as many full-time, year-round workers. Knowing this makes a lot of difference in interpreting the original statement.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

US Global Leadership

Our chapter on national security and foreign policy presents data on international views of the United States. Gallup offers new numbers:
The United States continues to achieve higher global approval ratings than China, Russia, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Gallup's worldwide surveys document a noticeable change in the U.S. global leadership position from 2007 and 2008, when the U.S. trailed other major powers. The increases the U.S. saw in 2009 did not necessarily carry over into 2010, and approval suffered double-digit declines in 14 countries, including Egypt, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
...
Another way to look at the image of a country's leadership is by the percentage of people who would like to move to that country permanently. From year to year, even when global ratings of U.S. leadership were lower, people worldwide who said they would like to leave their country permanently if they had the opportunity most frequently named the U.S. as their desired destination. Gallup calculates that based on surveys between 2007 and early 2010, roughly 166 million people would like to move to the U.S. permanently -- more than would like to move to any other nation. People who would like to leave their countries permanently also mention Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Australia all as places they like would to move.


Presidents and Volunteers

At SoHealth, Jeremy Shane writes:
It is a once-a-decade kind of gathering – four living ex-Presidents in one room to celebrate one of their own. Monday night, HealthCentral had an opportunity to help underwrite one of these rare moments, supporting an epic fundraiser and tribute by the Points of Life Institute to President George H.W. Bush. The event featured Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Bush ’43, along with a bevy of top-flight entertainers and musicians. Characteristic of Bush ‘41’s personal modesty, the Kennedy Center event was less about his personal legacy than a celebration of great volunteers and volunteering.
...

From my vantage, a few rows behind the Presidents, both Mrs. Bush’s, and Mrs. Carter, the event underscored the decade-long shift through the 1990’s from The Greatest Generation to the Baby Boomers. In manner and meaning Presidents Bush ’41 and Carter exemplified an earlier time where parents instilled a sense of self-effacement and obligation, regardless of material circumstance. And yet, Bush ’41 – the father of five children who came of age during Flower Power – understood that a sermonesque call to do good would fall flat. The zeitgeist of the Baby Boomers, his kids, he knew, was self-awareness. And so, he channeled the spirit of self to rebrand volunteerism as a pathway to self-esteem. From the first days of the White House office overseeing the Points of Light Initiative, it became clear that it was as important to promote the “Lights”, the people volunteering, as much as the volunteer work they did. (Full disclosure: I was a political appointee in the Bush ’41 Administration). Bush’s Points of Light initiative shone the White House spotlight on some wonderful people and organizations. But it also presaged the rise of megachurches, with their positivist messages fusing affirmation and self-actualization. The lasting beauty of Bush ‘41’s signature domestic effort was to marry a Greatest Generation sense of commitment to sixties-era “me-ism”: volunteerism was good for the self, even as it was better for people in need. And, as Clinton admitted, he and his fellow Baby Boom successors ate it up.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Views on Health Care and Inequality

One year after President Barack Obama signed the health care reform bill into law, a new national poll indicates that attitudes toward the plan have not budged.

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday, on the one year anniversary of the signing of the law, 37 percent of Americans support the measure, with 59 percent opposed. That's basically unchanged from last March, when 39 percent supported the law and 59 percent opposed the measure.

"It's worth remembering that opposition to the bill came from both the left and the right last year, and that has not changed either," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "In 2010, about a quarter of the health care bill's opponents disliked the bill because it was not liberal enough - the same as today. That works out to 13 percent of all Americans who oppose the bill because it did not go far enough. Forty-three percent oppose it because it was too liberal."

In our chapter on civic culture, we note ways in which American individualism hinders policies to redistribute income. At the New York Times, Scott Winship writes:

Just one percent of Americans mention inequality when asked what is the most important problem facing the country. Why? Partly because the concentration of wealth is strikingly low by historical standards and the gap between rich and poor has not increased as much as many pundits believe. Another factor may be the relative affluence that the typical American enjoys today.

...

The Economic Mobility Project recently asked people what was more important, reducing inequality or ensuring that everyone has a fair chance at improving their economic standing. More than 60 percent "strongly" felt opportunity was more important, while just 16 percent felt strongly about reducing inequality.

In the same survey, 17 percent said it was a "major problem" that people born to rich parents tend to remain at the top as adults (we gave them the actual figure). In contrast, more than half said it was a major problem that 42 percent of those starting at the bottom will remain there. The nation is looking for the same thing it has for decades – not a leveling of income differences, but a fair chance for everyone to achieve the American Dream.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Newt and Zoos

At Politico, Andy Barr reports that Newt Gingrich expressed sadness at the death of Knut, a polar bear at the Berlin Zoo.

Although his interest in the bear might seem unusual, it is completely in character for the former speaker of the House. In 1953, at the age of ten, he lobbied his then-hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to start a zoo. In an interview, his mother recalled:
He was to go to the library. He was ten years old. And instead of going there, he went to City Hall. And he had this list with him of the animals, what they ate, what they cost, everything you'd want to know about that animal. And apparently he stayed quite awhile and they sent him over to Paul Walker, who ran the biggest newspaper in Harrisburg. He's dead now. But he saw the potential in Newtie. And Newtie said, 'Would you run this in the paper for me?' And Paul looked at him and he said, 'Yes, I can if you write an article about it.' And Newtie said, 'Well, I don't have a typewriter.' And Paul said, 'There's one over there.' And it was one of these old relic typewriters. And Newtie wrote the article and he and Paul stayed friends till Paul died. He never visited and didn't go see Paul.

Gingrich has maintained his fascination with animals and zoos ever since. Shortly after the GOP took the majority in 1994, C-SPAN visited Gingrich at Zoo Atlanta:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Evolution and Academic Freedom

In our chapter on civic culture, we note that debates over the teaching of evolution reflect religious influence on American political life. The debates go on, as The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:

An Arlington lawmaker has filed a bill aimed at protecting Texas college professors and students from discrimination because they question evolution.

The measure from Republican state Rep. Bill Zedler would block higher education institutions from discriminating against or penalizing teachers or students based on their research into intelligent design or other theories that disagree with evolution.

Zedler said he filed the bill because of cases in which colleges had been hostile to those who believe that certain features of life-forms are so complex that they must have originated from a higher power.

...

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group that opposes religious influence in public education, described the bill as an effort to push an ideological agenda into colleges by suggesting that intelligent design theorists are subject to persecution.

"It's kind of a broad and cynical strategy to undermine sound science at a time when our state and nation's economy depends on science to thrive," Miller said.

In January, the University of Kentucky paid $125,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit with Martin Gaskell, an astronomy professor who claimed that he was passed over for an observatory director job in part because of statements he made that were perceived as critical of evolution.

Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God's involvement.
A small minority of Americans hold the "secular evolution" view that humans evolved with no influence from God -- but the number has risen from 9% in 1982 to 16% today. At the same time, the 40% of Americans who hold the "creationist" view that God created humans as is 10,000 years ago is the lowest in Gallup's history of asking this question, and down from a high point of 47% in 1993 and 1999. There has been little change over the years in the percentage holding the "theistic evolution" view that humans evolved under God's guidance.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Earmarks and We the People

Larry Gerston, professor of political science at San Jose State University, writes at the San Jose Mercury News:

Ending earmarks has become the mantra for making all things right in Washington. Why not? Critics have pointed to Alaska's bridge to nowhere, a teapot museum, and an opera house upgrade as recent examples of reckless spending in Washington. In that vein, criticisms are more than justified and long overdue.

But here's the catch: All earmarks are cast in the same light.

A case in point is the We the People program conducted by the nonprofit Center for Civic Education. For a quarter-century, the program has helped educators work with school children on portfolio-based curricula that promote civic engagement and the practice of democracy.

The idea is that by teaching students about the public policy process, students can better understand the system and their role in it. During the current fiscal year, the center has received $26.5 million from Congress to carry out this work. (Full disclosure: For the past decade I have had the privilege of working with educators who use We the People in their classes.)

Over the past quarter-century, 30 million students from elementary schools through college have participated in these group projects. In some instances, their proposals have been adopted by state or local legislators as public policies. A few years ago, for example, the California Legislature changed the voter registration process as a result of the recommendations from a class doing Project Citizen, a We the People application.

As an "earmark," this program now faces the loss of federal funding and possible extinction.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Uphill, Downhill

In chapter 19 (p. 601), we have a photo essay on Union Army hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, an example of the "citizen soldier."

In a profile of Steve Israel (D-NY), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, The New York Times reports: “Mr. Israel, a Civil War buff, professes to love uphill battles. He often cites one at Gettysburg, when Union soldiers, their ammunition gone, charged with bayonets and took a crucial hill.”

The reference is to Chamberlain, who led Union troops at Little Round Top.

Just one problem: Chamberlain charged downhill.


"In God We Trust" ... Continued

A Thursday post described recent activity concerning the national motto. The Virginian-Pilot reports on further developments:

U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes' bill to reaffirm "In God We Trust" as the national motto and encourage its display in all public schools was approved by a House committee Thursday after a sharp partisan debate.

Opponents argued it goes too far in pushing one religious belief, while supporters said it acknowledges what they consider God's role in the success of the United States.

The legislation, approved in a voice vote by the Judiciary Committee, is similar to a bill that Forbes, a Chesapeake Republican, unsuccessfully proposed in the previous session when the House had a Democratic majority. The current measure was sent to the full House, now controlled by Republicans. It has 64 co-sponsors - 60 Republicans and four Democrats.

Forbes said the legislation is needed to combat a concerted effort by some to drive all references to God out of public institutions.

...

Several Republicans on the committee backed Forbes, saying God had a hand in founding the United States and is responsible for the nation's success.

"I believe the Founding Fathers were moved around like men on a chessboard put in place at that time so the world could have America," said U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a bill co-sponsor.

If references to God are discouraged in public buildings, King said, "in the end, it wouldn't be an agnostic nation, it would be an atheistic nation imposed by the minds of people who revert to the hard-core left."

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana said the "hand of providence" has guided America.

"I think God is, and he rewards those, including nations, who earnestly seek him," he said.

The most strident of the Democratic legislators who spoke out against Forbes' bill was another Hampton Roads lawmaker: U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott.

The Newport News Democrat, whose district is next to Forbes', said the bill violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion."

"First, it prefers religion over non-religion, which is a violation," Scott said. "Furthermore, it endorses a specific type of religion, monotheism, over other religions, which is a violation.

"Families entrust public schools with the public education of their children but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposefully be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family," Scott said.

The Internet in the 2010 Election

The Pew Internet and American Life Project reports:

54% of adults used the internet for political purposes in the last cycle, far surpassing the 2006 midterm contest. They hold mixed views about the impact of the internet: It enables extremism, while helping the like-minded find each other. It provides diverse sources, but makes it harder to find truthful sources.

Fully 73% of adult internet users (representing 54% of all US adults) went online to get news or information about the 2010 midterm elections, or to get involved in the campaign in one way or another. We refer to these individuals as “online political users” and our definition includes anyone who did at least one of the following activities in 2010:

  • Get political news online – 58% of online adults looked online for news about politics or the 2010 campaigns, and 32% of online adults got most of their 2010 campaign news from online sources.
  • Go online to take part in specific political activities, such as watch political videos, share election-related content or “fact check” political claims – 53% of adult internet users did at least one of the eleven online political activities we measured in 2010.
  • Use Twitter or social networking sites for political purposes – One in five online adults (22%) used Twitter or a social networking site for political purposes in 2010.

Taken together, 73% of online adults took part in at least one of these activities in 2010. Although our definition of an online political user has changed significantly over time, the overall audience for political engagement and information-seeking has grown since the most recent midterm election cycle in 2006—using a different array of activities to measure online political activity, we found at that time that 31% of adults used the internet for campaign-related purposes.

Transparency in the Administration

The Open Secrets blog reports:
PRESIDENTIAL NO-SHOW: President Barack Obama's absence this week at an event conducted in part to celebrate the president's commitment to transparency has raised some questions about his qualifications for the award.

Obama was scheduled to accept an award at the Freedom of Information Day Conference for his "deep commitment to an open and transparent government -- of, by and for the people," but canceled due to unspecified changes to his schedule. None in the coterie of good government groups putting on the event criticized the president or his administration, but the move left a vacuum that many in the media were happy to fill.

The conservative news website Daily Caller brought up an Associated Press story that highlighted the Obama's worsening record on filling Freedom of Information Act requests in 2010. The AP reported that the Obama administration failed to fulfill "one out of every three information requests" last year, down from the year before.

The Daily Caller also joined other media outlets, such as Reason, in highlighting a Time Magazine report about the Obama administration's aggressive push to prosecute whistle-blowers such as Bradley Manning, the Army private who is accused of leaking a cache of State Department cables to the WikiLeaks group.

The Time report features an interview with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a consistent congressional advocate for government transparency.

"President Obama came into office promising a new transparency," Kucinich says in the article. "We're getting the opposite."

Friday, March 18, 2011

David Broder on the Revolving Door

Our chapter on mass media discusses the "revolving door" between journalism and politics, and previous items here have supplied fresh examples. The latest is Washington Post congressional correspondent Shailagh Murray, who becomes Vice President Biden’s new communications director. At the Post, Ed O'Keefe lists a dozen other reporters who have joined the administration.

The most respected journalist of recent times was the Post's David Broder, who passed away recently. In the text we briefly quote his 1989 column on the "revolving door," a longer excerpt from which is below:

A month or so ago, in remarks at the National Press Club, I expressed concern about the increasing coziness between politicians and journalists in Washington. Particularly worrisome is the growing tendency for journalists to dabble in politics, either as closet strategists or as temporary government appointees, and for government officials, whether press agents or policy-makers, to go through the revolving door and emerge as prominent commentators and news executives.

The danger is not that these in-and-outers diminish the quality of journalism. Many of these folks are gifted writers and speakers, who bring special insights from their previous jobs. The danger is the blurring of the line between politicians and journalists. The 1st Amendment gave journalists a special immunity from government regulation and placed us outside the system of checks and balances, not because of our charm, our virtue or our brilliance, but because the Founding Fathers believed that a free press, even if fallible, would be a healthy check on government.

"If we are to defend that privilege," I said in the speech, "we better make it clear we are not part of government, and not part of a Washington Insiders' clique where politicians, publicists and journalists are easily interchangeable parts. Once we lose our distinctive identity, it will not be long before we lose our freedom."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"In God We Trust"

Our chapter on civic culture discusses the U.S. national motto, "In God We Trust." The motto has come up in previous posts, and is much in the news lately:

From Politico:

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) sponsored the resolution, which also encourages displaying the phrase in public buildings, schools, and other government institutions.

The phrase was made the official U.S. motto in 1956. It is inscribed on U.S. coins and bills.

“We don’t believe that it has changed since 1956,” Forbes told POLITICO. “We think it’s the right moto for us today. We just want to make that clear to the country.”

But the line also has its critics, who argue that the phrase is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Not surprisingly, the resolution has already drawn the ire of activists.

Rev. Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, accused House Republicans of using the vote as a means to “mollify religious conservatives.”

From KTUU:

The Alaska House of Representatives approved a measure Wednesday that would allow drivers to choose a special "In God We Trust" license plate design.

The bill passed 32-3, but without the support of some Majority Republicans.

Representatives Mike Hawker (R-Anchorage), Mia Costello (R-Anchorage), and Eric Feige (R-Chickaloon) voted against the proposal, which was sponsored by Anchorage Republican Rep. Bob Lynn.

"I'd just like to make a statement about what our priorities should be," said Hawker, who noted that his constituents have asked him to spend his time focusing on the economy, declining resource production, and healthcare.

From the Orange County Register [CA]:

"In God We Trust," the national motto, will be displayed on two walls of the council chambers when the new Laguna Niguel City Hall is completed later this year.

The City Council discussed the issue Tuesday night at the request of Mayor Gary Capata and Councilman Robert Ming. The new building, under construction at Alicia and Crown Valley parkways, is expected to be complete by the end of the summer. The motto will likely be installed at the front and back of the new council chambers.

"When people leave the council chambers, they'll think," Capata said. "The more I'm in favor of doing this; I think we're going to do it for the right reasons."

Capata added the motto will likely mean different things to different people.

"It'll be something people see, and they'll be able to discuss it like our founding fathers," Capata said.

Resident Zachary Schwartz attended the meeting with his father, the youth proudly wearing his Boy Scout uniform.

"Our founding fathers founded this country on Christianity," he said.

In contrast, resident Kris Stoddard pointed to the different conceptions of God, and the strife those disagreements caused worldwide.

"That whole thought process that God is Christian is part of the problem," she said.

In January, the issue came to a head in Lake Forest. After more than an hour of debate, the Lake Forest council decided in favor of displaying the motto in the council chambers, the 16th Orange County city to do so. In Laguna Niguel, though, the council agreed on the historical nature of the motto.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Reagan and Gingrich

In his 1980 debate with President Carter, Ronald Reagan famously said:
Next Tuesday is Election Day. Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we're as strong as we were four years ago? And if you answer all of those questions yes, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for. If you don't agree, if you don't think that this course that we've been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.
In any campaign, of course, it is difficult to establish with certainty who came up with which language. But there is evidence that the famous lines may have originated with Newt Gingrich. In an August 26, 1980 memo (see the full text at the bottom, click to enlarge) to Reagan advisers Rep. Tom Evans (R-Delaware), Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nevada) and Jack Kemp (R- New York), the then-freshman House member wrote:
When Carter in the debate has a nicely sounding statement on the economy or anything else, Reagan should not answer Carter or discuss the details of Carter's statement. Instead, he should look straight into the TV camera and say:

"You measure in your pocketbook whether or not what he's just said has been true these past four years. If your life is better, you should vote for him; he is the President and he's responsible. If your life is worse you should vote against him; he is the President and therefore he's responsible"
...

"Don't take my word. Just look at your own personal life. If you decide that Jimmy Carter's destroying your family budget, if you know that your relatives are unemployed and you worry you might be next, then you owe it to yourself to examine the alternative."
































Motivation

In our chapter on bureaucracy and the administrative state, we discuss the motivations of people who work for the federal government. The White House blog today features Taryn Benarroch, who serves as Confidential Assistant in the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Education.

How did you become interested in working for the Federal government?

My father was born and raised in Morocco and Israel, so as a first generation American on one side I have a healthy appreciation for democracy and for the benefits of living in this country. I am fascinated by the system that ensures the freedoms that many of us take for granted. The right to speak, write, gather, worship, and vote however we want to – we have amazing freedoms and I feel that serving in the federal government supports the systems uphold the freedoms that I value.

What inspired you to pursue your field of interest?

My mother is a teacher and I have always seen teaching as one of the most important ways someone can serve their community, but there was not one moment that pushed me into education. As a college senior I knew I wanted to do something to serve, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. I had the opportunity to teach in New York City after graduation and after only a few months in the classroom it became obvious that my kids in the South Bronx weren’t getting the same education that the kids in the wealthier parts of Manhattan got. There were, however, many dedicated teachers around me and I was able to see the magic that happens when a great teacher works with a class for a year – it’s incredible. Seeing students make academic gains, appreciating and questioning the world around them – it is the living embodiment of education as a great equalizer. There are many ways to work to make things more equitable in this world, but I want to work to find a way to get a fantastic teacher and amazing schools for every child.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Digital Transformation

The annual State of the News Media report describes a key development:

News organizations — old and new — still produce most of the content audiences consume. But each technological advance has added a new layer of complexity—and a new set of players—in connecting that content to consumers and advertisers.

In the digital space, the organizations that produce the news increasingly rely on independent networks to sell their ads. They depend on aggregators (such as Google) and social networks (such as Facebook) to bring them a substantial portion of their audience. And now, as news consumption becomes more mobile, news companies must follow the rules of device makers (such as Apple) and software developers (Google again) to deliver their content. Each new platform often requires a new software program. And the new players take a share of the revenue and in many cases also control the audience data.

That data may be the most important commodity of all. In a media world where consumers decide what news they want to get and how they want to get it, the future will belong to those who understand the public’s changing behavior and can target content and advertising to snugly fit the interests of each user. That knowledge — and the expertise in gathering it — increasingly resides with technology companies outside journalism.

In the 20th century, the news media thrived by being the intermediary others needed to reach customers. In the 21st, increasingly there is a new intermediary: Software programmers, content aggregators and device makers control access to the public. The news industry, late to adapt and culturally more tied to content creation than engineering, finds itself more a follower than leader shaping its business.

Meanwhile, the pace of change continues to accelerate. Mobile has already become an important factor in news. A new survey released with this year’s report, produced with Pew Internet and American Life Project in association with the Knight Foundation, finds that nearly half of all Americans (47%) now get some form of local news on a mobile device. What they turn to most there is news that serves immediate needs – weather, information about restaurants and other local businesses, and traffic. And the move to mobile is only likely to grow. By January 2011, 7% of Americans reported owning some kind of electronic tablet. That was nearly double the number just four months earlier.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Presidents Glancing at China

At The New York Times, Mark Landler and Helene Cooper write: "Mr. Obama has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, `No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.'"

President Obama is not the first chief executive to reflect that Chinese leaders have it easier. In Before the Fall, Nixon aide William Safire related what Secretary of State William Rogers said of a meeting between Nixon and the Chinese premier:
A girl came up to Chou En-lai and handed him the galleys of the next day's newspapers, and there he was— rearranging the front page. The President nodded, muttering, "I'd like to rearrange a front page now and then."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ninety Percent Agreement

The Pew Research Center reports:
These days there appears to be almost nothing that all, or nearly all, Americans can agree on. But this week, fully 90% of the public said that they were hearing mostly bad news about gas prices.

That might seem like a no-brainer given the recent surge in gas prices. But reaching the 90% threshold is a rare occurrence in public opinion surveys. In part, this reflects the tendency of polling organizations to focus on current issues about which there are often considerable differences of opinion. Nonetheless, even on issues where one would expect to find near-total agreement, the public's views are far from unanimous.

...

It is highly unusual when even 80% support (or oppose) a politician or a policy. George W. Bush's job approval briefly passed 80% in the months after 9/11. So too did Bush's father's shortly after the first Iraq war. Bill Clinton's ratings never broke 80% (they reached 71% twice in 1998) while Barack Obama's have never reached 70%.

Yet there are some opinions that 90% of the public, or close to it, shares -- including a belief that citizens have a duty to vote, an admiration for those who get rich through hard work, a strong sense of patriotism and a belief that society should give everyone an equal opportunity to succeed. Pew Research's political values surveys have shown that these attitudes have remained remarkably consistent over time. (Pew Research has been tracking political values for more than two decades; for the most recent political values survey in 2009, click here.)


Friday, March 11, 2011

Federal Rules and You

In our chapter on bureaucracy and the administrative state, we describe ways in which federal regulations affect ordinary Americans. In our chapter on federalism, we note that education involves shared jurisdiction between the states and the federal government. Inside Higher Ed notes one instance involving college students:
A coalition of higher education groups on Thursday asked Congressional leaders to push for a one-year delay in two Education Department regulations that are scheduled to take effect in July. The groups, organized as usual by the American Council on Education, urged Representative Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who heads the House of Representatives postsecondary education subcommittee, to either encourage or force the Education Department to delay the implementation date of rules that would establish a federal definition of "credit hour" and expand state authorization requirements (see related Views essay). The two rules are part of a larger package of regulations aimed at protecting the integrity of federal financial aid programs, and they "will have little or no effect in curbing fraud and abuse, but they could do enormous damage to the quality and diversity of postsecondary academic offerings," the groups wrote. Education Department officials have ignored previous requests from the higher education associations to change or rescind the rules, the groups said. And with time running out, neither state officials nor campus administrators have guidance about how to implement the new rules, making for an impossible situation, the associations suggest.
Also at Inside Higher Ed, Excelsior College president John Ebersole writes:

Effective July 1 of this year, the Education Department will require every online program, whether offered by Harvard or the University of Phoenix, to meet the approval standards of every state in which it has students or faculty members -- potentially 54 separate jurisdictions -- to qualify to award financial aid. Failure to comply will lead to aid repayment and a fine.

With nearly three-quarters of all accredited institutions now offering at least some programs online, there are 3,000 institutions that will potentially need to seek approval for each of the programs they offer. In some states this will require a review of every course syllabus and every instructor’s CV. The fact that the institution has been around for a couple of hundred years, has Nobel laureates on its faculty and has been regionally accredited since such a test of legitimacy existed, is of no consequence. And some states’ requirements call for a physical site visit at the offering institution’s expense.

As if this were not sufficiently daunting, those seeking to comply with the Education Department’s edict will be referred to state higher education offices that have been drastically downsized because of budget cuts (some report having but a single person dedicated to conducting these reviews). One state has already indicated that it could take a year for it to determine how they will respond to the expected avalanche of applications.

So here we are. The president, supported by the work of leading foundations, has given us an important goal, one that we need to take seriously. Yet, we can’t get near the desired endpoint without the help of the one form of education that has the capacity to serve displaced adolescents and adult students alike – online learning. Use of this powerful tool is about to be limited as both degree-granting institutions and state officials struggle with the burden of universal registration. Additionally, the cost of compliance could easily run to $100,000 per institution (or $300 million when all online providers are considered). This will only add to the cost of education.

Other alternatives include suspending online programs altogether, or not offering them in difficult or nonresponsive states. How this supports the president and his goal is far from clear.

If President Obama wants to reduce federal regulation and increase degree completion, he and Secretary Duncan need to find time for a game of HORSE.

See the hearing of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.



Thursday, March 10, 2011

Public Opinion on Islam

The public remains divided over whether Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers. Currently, 40% say the Islamic religion is more likely than others to encourage violence while 42% say it is not.

These opinions have changed little in recent years. But in March 2002, just 25% saw Islam as more likely to encourage violence while twice as many (51%) disagreed.

The national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Feb. 22-March 1 among 1,504 adults, finds that most young people reject the idea that Islam is more likely than other religions to promote violence. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) of those younger than 30 say Islam does not encourage violence more than other religions; 31% say it does. By contrast, a plurality of those 50 and older (45%) say Islam is more likely to encourage violence.

Gallup reports:

Republicans and Democrats differ significantly in their views of the House Homeland Security Committee hearings to investigate terrorist recruitment efforts in the American Muslim community, scheduled to begin Thursday morning in Washington. While 52% of all Americans say these hearings are appropriate, Republicans, at 69%, are much more likely to say this than are Democrats, at 40%. Independents' views are similar to the national average, with 51% supporting the hearings.

Republican Rep. Peter King of New York will chair the scheduled hearings, which are officially called "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community's Response." The hearings have become controversial, with various individuals and groups arguing that they should be expanded to other groups involved in domestic terrorism rather than singling out just U.S. Muslims. The March 8 USA Today/Gallup poll underscores the polarizing nature of the hearings, with King's fellow Republicans strongly supporting them, while Democrats tilt in the opposite direction.

The survey also included a set of questions asking Americans whether four specific characteristics apply to Muslims living in the U.S. These characteristics are similar to a longer series measured in a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in July 2006.

As was the case in 2006, Americans overwhelmingly agree that Muslims in America are committed to their religious beliefs and about half (53%) also agree that Muslims are supportive of the United States. Thirty-six percent say Muslims living in the U.S. are too extreme in their religious beliefs. Americans are least likely to agree that U.S. Muslims are sympathetic to the al Qaeda terrorist organization (28%), similar to what Gallup found in 2006

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Citizenship in the News

One of the distinctive features of our text is a chapter devoted exclusively to citizenship. A spate of recent stories suggests that the topic is most timely:

Colorado lawmakers are weighing a Republican proposal that would prevent people from voting if they can't prove they're U.S. citizens.

Supporters and opponents testified Wednesday on the bill that would direct the secretary of state's office to compare voter rolls with state and federal records to determine if registered voters are U.S. citizens. When there is doubt, people would receive a letter asking them to show proof of citizenship within 90 days. They would be ineligible to vote if they don't comply.

Lawmakers will vote on House Bill 1252 Thursday.

Supporters say they bill is necessary to prevent fraud. Opponents say the bill could unduly burden people who are eligible to vote.

Other Republican legislation requiring proof of citizenship to vote has already failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Via the Sacramento Bee, a report from The Philadelphia Inquirer:

"Once a child is born here, the parents make the argument that they should be allowed to stay as that child's guardian. They are using that child as an anchor (to) play on our heartstrings," said Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Butler County Republican who has built a national reputation as a crusader against what he calls "illegal alien invaders."

Immigrant advocates dismiss his contention as myth, and point to a recent study that found that undocumented immigrants generally "come for work and to join family members." The Washington-based, nonprofit Immigration Policy Center concluded "they do no come specifically to give birth" and game the immigration system.

Such assertions have not tempered the efforts of immigration-control proponents to effectively do away with "birthright citizenship" for the offspring of illegal immigrants.

On the federal level, two Republican senators, David Vitter of Louisiana and Rand Paul of Kentucky, want to accomplish it by amending the Constitution - allowing automatic citizenship only if a child has at least one parent who already is a citizen, a legal permanent resident or an active-duty soldier.

On the state level, Metcalfe, joined by lawmakers from 40 others states, is promoting a package of model legislation under the rubric "National Security Begins At Home." Among those suggested bills: In lieu of automatic citizenship, states would issue distinctly marked birth certificates for the newborns of illegal immigrants, to distinguish them from U.S. citizens.

Pointing out that immigration policy is a federal prerogative, immigrant advocates say that such proposals are beyond the scope of state lawmakers' authority, not to mention unconstitutional

The Manchester (NH) Union-Leader reports:

"BIRTHER" BILL DEAD? A House committee voted 18-0 today to recommend that the full House kill a so-called "birther" amendment that would require candidates to present their birth certificates when filing to run for President in the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary.

The original amendment would have forced candidates filing for the 2012 presidential primary, including President Barack Obama, to present proof of being born in the United States, including a birth certificate.

Proponents then tried to make the bill more palatable by moving the effective date back from 60 days after passage to Jan. 1, 2013 to have it take effect after the primary.

That effort came close, but failed on a 10-8 vote, said House Election Law Committee Chairman David Bates, R-Windham, a supporter of the measure.

On a less controversial note, The Boston Herald reports:

With joyful tears and cheers, 200 proud new citizens of the United States took the oath of American citizenship at a John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum ceremony today.

Honorable Judge Richard G. Stearns presided over the ceremony.

In celebration of their new citizenship, the Kennedy Library presented everyone with a commemorative edition of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. A reception sponsored by the Boston Red Sox [team stats] Foundation and Highland Street Foundation was held immediately after.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Attitudes on Unions

The Pew Research Center reports data that might encourage public sector unions:
Public attitudes about labor unions have been largely stable since the start of the battles in Wisconsin and other states. A Pew Research poll last week found favorable opinions of unions outnumbering unfavorable opinions by a 47%-to-39% margin, essentially unchanged from a poll conducted in early February. But the battles have energized union households and liberal Democrats. Among both groups, very favorable attitudes about unions jumped sharply in the past few weeks.

Most polls have found majorities opposed to recent efforts to limit or eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees. A late February Pew Research poll about the Wisconsin dispute found 42% siding more with the public-employee unions than with the governor (31%). Despite recent Republican criticism of public-sector unions, Pew Research's polling has found little difference in opinions about public-sector vs. private-sector unions.

Attitudes about all of the parties involved in labor disputes -- governments, labor unions and businesses -- are significantly more negative today than they were a decade ago. But half or more of the public believes that labor unions have had a positive impact on conditions for all American workers, and only a minority believes that union agreements give union workers unfair advantages. Still, the public has mixed views of the impact of unions on workplace productivity, the global competitiveness of U.S. companies and the availability of good jobs in the country.

Looking at the controversy over pay for government workers, 35 percent say the pay is "about right," while 15 percent say it is too little and 42 percent say it is too much.

To reduce state budget deficits, collective bargaining for public employees should be limited, 45 percent of American voters tell the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll, while 42 percent oppose limits on collective bargaining. But voters say 63 - 31 percent that government workers should pay more for benefits and retirement programs.

Efforts by governors to limit collective bargaining rights are motivated by a desire to reduce government costs rather than to weaken unions, voters say 47 - 41 percent.
Quinnipiac put the collective bargaining rights dispute in context as a potential way to reduce the state budget deficit. Pew described the entire issue as a collective bargaining dispute and never mentioned the state budget deficit. When the deficit is mentioned, the governor does much better; when it’s all about limiting collective bargaining rights, the unions do better.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Direct Democracy v. Representative Republic

At The Freestater Blog, Professor Todd Eberly of St. Mary's College writes of same-sex marriage legislation in Maryland. Some public officials, including Governor Martin O'Malley and De. Sam Arora, say that they want the people to decide. Eberly says that this attitude is not consistent with that of the Founders.
In Federalist 10 James Madison spoke of direct democracies as "spectacles of turbulence and contention." In a representative republic "the delegation of the government... to a small number of citizens elected by the rest..." These representatives, will "refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations."

Madison is telling us that in a representative republic we entrust our elected leaders to use their judgment when making decisions. It is not for them to place their fingers in the wind and vacillate with the ebb and flow of public opinion. It is for them to act based on their conception of what is best for community and country (or state).

None of this should be misconstrued as indicating that the voters have no say, of course they do. Madison wrote of this in Federalist 57, "Before the sentiments impressed on their minds by the mode of their elevation can be effaced by the exercise of power, they will be compelled to anticipate the moment when their power is to cease, when their exercise of it is to be reviewed, and when they must descend to the level from which they were raised; there forever to remain unless a faithful discharge of their trust shall have established their title to a renewal of it."

Here, Madison is telling us that those elected to lead are to exercise their judgment, to do what they think best, but to know that they will ultimately be held to account for their decisions via elections - that is when the people speak. Madison may have been writing about the US Congress specifically, but he was also writing of the concept of representation generally.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Evangelicals in Politics

The Washington Examiner interviews Prof. Mark Smith of Cedarville College, coauthor of Meandering to Zion: The Political Thought of the Christian Left

What's different about the faith of the students you're teaching, compared to the faith of their parents and grandparents?

They're looking for a more experiential faith -- more activity related to their faith. Their parents and grandparents were a little more satisfied with a set of doctrines and beliefs, whereas this generation really wants to connect those to what they're actually doing. For some, that's a really positive thing, but for others, the faith becomes very individualistic, and all about their own experience. Politically, they're asking questions their parents and grandparents didn't ask. They're interested in matters of poverty and race and the environment and stewardship. Their parents and grandparents would be more interested in abortion, or school prayer, or gay rights. Young evangelicals are broadening their political agenda quite a bit.

What does that mean for the future of the evangelical movement in the political arena?

What it means is that we're looking at the possibility that conservative evangelicals will start to have strong political disagreements with each other. Some will maintain more conservative politics, and some will drift toward progressive politics, and both will still hold on to their faith. Historically, this is nothing new -- William Jennings Bryan would be considered an evangelical by our standards, but he was very progressive politically. For the past 40 years or so, evangelicals have been associated with conservative politics, but it is possible we are seeing young evangelicals drift more toward the left.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Demons

Peter Wehner writes at Commentary:

We live in an era in which it is fashionable in some quarters not simply to question the policies of an Obama, a Bush, or a Clinton; one has to call into question their very legitimacy. It is a cast of mind that allows one’s grievances to find refuge in conspiracy theories (Bush knew in advance about 9/11 and purposely lied about WMDs in Iraq; Bill Clinton was behind the “murder” of Vince Foster and a drug-smuggling operation at the Mena Airport; Barack Obama is a Muslim who was born in Africa).

Entertaining these myths and giving them wings is dangerous stuff. The reason is obvious: our nation depends on its citizens accepting the legitimacy of democratic outcomes, including ones that don’t go our way. If people believe without supporting evidence that our president is not just wrong but illegitimate, that he’s not simply misguided but malevolent, essential bonds of trust are ripped apart.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Parties, the Calendar, and Federalism

As we explain in our chapter on political parties, federalism helps shape the party system. A case in point is the primary calendar, which is the product both of national party rules and state laws. National Journal reports:

New party rules aimed at prolonging what has become a Twitter-speed primary season urge the earliest four states to push back votes from January to February; states that award delegates proportionately to vote in March; and winner-take-all states to vote in April. Relegating the states with the biggest bounties to the back of the line would prevent a candidate from quickly racking up delegates and squeezing competitors out of the race, as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., did in 2008 by early February.

“The timetable is very different than it was four years ago, when you had a very early primary season and everything was very front-loaded,’’ said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who started campaigning in late January last cycle but is not rushing to announce his plans for 2012. “The people who go out early, I’m convinced, are going to have a hard time going the distance. It will be like a marathon runner who runs 10 miles before the race starts, and then he’s got to start running the 26.2.’’

It’s unclear whether states will go along with the national party’s plan. Nineteen states currently have GOP primaries that clash with the party’s stretched-out timetable, according to Josh Putnam, a visiting assistant professor of political science at Davidson College, who writes a blog called Frontloading HQ. Only 10 of those states have bills pending to move their primaries in line with the party calendar.

...

“There’s not really a precedent for this cycle,” Putnam said. “The trend has been toward front-loading the calendar and candidates throwing their hat into the ring quickly. It’s weird to see a cycle like this one in which candidates are so hesitant to jump in.’’