The Conversation: State of the Union 2013

Courtesy of the White House
Courtesy of the White House

The Conversation this week features government professors Joseph Bafumi, whose interests include electoral behavior and public opinion, and Brendan Nyhan, who researches political misconceptions and scandal.

Dartbeat: Based on the speech, what do you think the most contentious policies will be in President Barack Obama’s second term?

Joseph Bafumi: New taxes, entitlement reform, additional spending projects in education and infrastructure and possibly some of the social issues.

Brendan Nyhan: Immigration and guns are the most controversial social policy issues, aside from budget and taxes.

JB: The Republicans are probably looking at the last election and thinking they’ve got to do something about immigration — move a little bit to the left on that — and on guns. There may be Republicans who are waiting a little bit before taking really hard stances against traditional gun control. They may be waiting for memories of [the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting] to subside, for example. The public opinion we’ve seen is so in favor of gun control, they’re probably looking to stall the issue, so it’s hard to know how we’ll deal with that one. But I think we might actually get immigration reform because in the last election House Republicans realized they’ve got to do something to woo Latino voters.

Dartbeat: How effective do you think this year’s State of the Union will be?

BN: It depends how you define ‘effective.’ The ultimate constituency for these things, as far as policy objectives, is Congress. There certainly are Republicans who were concerned with the immigration issue, but we’re already starting to see these signs of polarization over the issue since the speech. It’s important to remember there are lots of issues where it seemed like something was about to happen, and then Congress slow-rolled it until it died.

Dartbeat: But you said that we would likely see something about immigration now.

JB: My guess is I think it’s fair to say Latino voters were key to Obama’s victory — and of course there’s some disagreement about that — but they voted for him in numbers greater than they voted for him in 2008. With Republicans running away from immigration issues, Latino voters were turned off. And that may have been why they didn’t do as well in 2012 as they would have liked to, at least at the presidential level. So I think if they could hammer out some sort of compromise, I could imagine some kind of comprehensive immigration reform passing, whereas I’m not sure there’ll be comprehensive gun control reform.

Dartbeat: Why are you doubtful about gun control reform?

JB: There’s still a lot of Republicans who don’t want it — they’re just not very vocal right now, because public opinion is trending in the direction of gun control. So I think that’s going to be a harder issue. Gun control hurts Democrats a lot, and that’s one of the reasons they’ve been very careful with the issue up until very recent times. A lot of Democrats who come from red states are concerned that in 2014 if they are too aggressive on gun control, they’re going to lose their seats — their Senate seats particularly — so I think the politics of gun control are more difficult than the politics of immigration reform.

Dartbeat: When I was watching the speech I noticed that the ending of the speech was the most rhetorically powerful. A lot of it seemed — in the hour lead-up until he got to that point — pretty straightforward for a State of the Union but then toward the end the part about gun control became pretty powerful.

JB: I thought so too. Very rhetorically powerful, and probably the strongest effort Obama made to swing public opinion in his favor and against House Republicans. He presents himself as a guy just asking them to take a vote, making Republicans look like people who won’t even bring legislation to the floor. There hasn’t been enough time while the issue is in the forefront of public discourse to know that Republicans are stalling, but the rhetoric and the political strategy I think was very powerful.

Dartbeat: Does picking a single policy like gun control that already has this momentum of public opinion behind it increase the president’s public opinion ratings as a whole?

JB: I think he would hope that it would, I don’t know if it did.

BN: No. It doesn’t. And even the boost that gun control legislation has had in the polls is likely to be temporary. There was a blip after [the Columbine High School shooting] as well but it dissipated. At the time there was an effort to pass gun control, and it failed. So there’s a pretty short window of attention and public support. The other bottom line is we’re headed into a midterm election with a constituency that’s going to be less supportive of immigration than the general electorate that we just saw. The other thing is that in the House, [Speaker of the House] John Boehner [R-Ohio] had to allow a fiscal cliff deal to go through that they didn’t like. They had to let a deal pass that a majority of Republicans in the House voted against. They don’t want to do that again. Even if an immigration proposal or a gun control proposal exists that could get a majority of votes in the house, the House majority has to decide to allow it to go to the floor. Most of the time, the House majority won’t let things go to the floor that their focus opposes. It will be interesting if they let one of these things get to the floor — it’s going to split their caucus in two.

Dartbeat: Do you think anything Obama said about the economy will have significance in the next year?

JB: I’m not sure. I think [Americans are] becoming increasingly disenchanted with these created fiscal crises that come about — what is this, the fifth or sixth one? It looks to me that Republicans have lost the fiscal wars up until now, so that works in Obama’s favor, but there’s also this sentiment out there that tires of all the politicians because they just can’t come up with a compromise deal.

BN: To the extent that no one seems to be feeling enough pressure to do a deal on the budget cuts, the sequester—to that extent the speech failed. The thought that the sequester could go into effect was politically unthinkable as of a few months ago, but now a lot of people say that it will.

Dartbeat: Do you think it will happen?

BN: It seems that way, but the situation is that everyone will extract the best bargain if they say they’ll let it happen.

JB: Yeah. In that game, Obama’s fared a little better than Republicans, and he’s still talking the talk, but we’ll only know for sure at the time.  All of us suffer from the two sides not being able to come up with some sort of compromise deal. I’m not talking about kicking the can down the road, I’m talking about something that’s long-term and comprehensive. And we haven’t gotten anything like that, though we’ve come close if you believe what some of us have read or heard about the negotiations between Boehner and Obama. Things fall apart and now it looks like there’s even more entrenchment. It looks like Obama’s moving more in a leftward direction, and Boehner’s catering to the more conservative elements of the House Republican caucus. It looks like the gap has widened since Obama has increased the taxes on the rich.

Dartbeat: Does that mean that none of these initiatives from the speech will likely come to a vote?

JB: It’s really hard to say. I think that if the stock market doesn’t crash, if nothing really forces their hand, they’re just going to keep playing the game of chicken, until they’re forced to do something because something severe happens.

BN: It’s hard to say what gets brought to a vote. Being the opposing party under divided government is tricky. You’re caught between the pressure to make some deals, keep the lights on in government and maybe take issues off the table that you’re uncomfortable with. At the same time, you don’t want to keep giving the president political victories. They can bottle up most of Obama’s second term agenda. Most presidents have a tough time with their second term agenda. We tend to see the most legislative action when a new party takes control of the presidency.

Dartbeat: So what should we be looking for as we follow presidential and congressional politics in the next year?

JB: Look for some areas where they will find compromise agreement, like immigration reform, some areas where they will stall like fiscal policy issues or gun control, look for continued posturing and it won’t be long before they’re both thinking, ‘We have an election coming up soon, so let’s just see what happens then.’

Dartbeat Asks: State of the Union 2013

Courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor
Courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

In his fourth State of the Union address last Tuesday, President Barack Obama asked Congress to focus investment in areas including education, alternative energy research, infrastructure and manufacturing as a route to long-term economic improvement. He also focused on renewed attention to climate change, voting reform and nuclear disarmament. The impassioned rhetoric of the speech’s closing moments revealed the President’s (or his speechwriters’) personal stake in the gun control effort.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who delivered the GOP response to the address, on the other hand, chose to focus on his parched throat while I spent much of the address focusing on Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner as they focused on staying alert.

I thought it was really important that the president mentioned the Violence Against Women Act. And I thought it was very interesting that some women in the House and the Senate didn’t stand up and clap for equal pay for equal work. —Bridget-Kate McNulty ’16

I’m just getting to the part about climate policy and a push for climate change which is a really big deal for me, and I think what he’s saying is really good. I hope that he puts it at the top of his policy agenda, but I get the feeling that it’s just going to be a lot of rhetoric. —Michael Berger ’14

I thought it was a standard State of the Union. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad, nothing was particularly jumping out as awesome or deplorable. It was just the president addressing people about stuff that we already knew. —Christian Opperman ’13

I was happy to hear some actual action items. When it came to issues like the economy, especially helping homeowners and investing in infrastructure, I think we’re starting to hear a few new proposals. And I was also happy to hear him take a very strong stance toward gun control and passing common sense measures. I think it’s very important that we push Congress to let these bills get to a vote. Relating to the fact that we can’t prevent every gun crime, we can at least take steps to lower the total. —Mason Cole ’13

It was totally unremarkable. Quite frankly, I wasn’t impressed, I wasn’t disappointed, I thought it was fine. —Christina Gill ’16

President Obama outlined a series of realistic initiatives that can make life easier for many Americans. I strongly support his ideas on reforms to fix our broken immigration system, our schools and ensure that our safety net is strong into the future. We also need to take a strong look at our voting system to ensure that every eligible American can cast a ballot without prior intimidation or unreasonable wait times. I am also very excited that he chose to embrace a vote on common sense measures to make our country safer by getting dangerous weapons of war off our streets and to ensure that every gun purchase was preceded by a background check. —Logan Brog ’16

I thought that President Obama addressed a lot of issues that weren’t brought up in his inaugural address, which I thought was good. I think it was definitely controversial and both sides had a lot of opinions, which I think is the point of it. —Elizabeth Wilkins ’16

Related links
Full video: The New York Times
Full transcript: The Washington Post
News analysis: The Chicago Tribune
Marco Rubio’s infamous sip
Fox News on SOTU: Fox News
SNL on Fox News on SOTU: Huffington Post

In the Media: State of the Union 2013

Missed the State of the Union? No worries — Dartbeat’s got you covered. “In the Media” will curate the best media coverage of major events from around the Web so that you can stay informed, effortlessly. This post will be updated throughout the day as new stories are published.

President of the United States Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address

Here’s a transcript of the speech, courtesy of The Washington Post. And here’s the Post’s fact-check of the address.

How does Obama’s speech compare to past States of the Union? ABC News takes a look.

Before last night’s proceedings even kicked off, the hacker group Anonymous issued a threat that they woud be hacking State of the Union livestreams. Why? Read about it here.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) delivered the Republican Party’s response to the State of the Union, and took a very “consequential sip of water.” The Atlantic Wire breaks it down. Here’s a tweet Rubio sent after his speech was over.

Marco Rubio’s 2013 State of the Union GOP Response

Rand Paul (R-Ky.) of the Tea Party also had something to say.

Rand Paul’s 2013 State of the Union Tea Party Response

It’s got to be hard sitting still behind the President of the United States for an hour, especially if you have a scratched cornea or a cold. Vanity Fair breaks down the biggest distractions of the night.

If you’re not going to watch the address or read the transcript, read this. The Washington Post has put together a list of five things to take away from tonight’s speech.

In bipartisan news, Obama shared one of his famous fist bumps with Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

Vanity Fair calls last night’s speech “sharp and focused,” and writer Todd Purdum said he thinks that Obama may be able to achieve many of the things he laid out in his address. William Galston of the Brookings Institution wrote on the Huffington Post that Obama’s speech “gave little ground to his adversaries.

On the heels of Obama’s announcement that 34,000 troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of the year, Slate writer Fred Kaplan analyzes the forces that have shaped the President’s foreign policy.

Here’s a snapshot of the Twitterverse’s response to the State of the Union throughout the speech.

Finally, this is not exactly about the State of the Union, but we thought it was still relevant. The Atlantic has put together a nice analysis of what the new Netflix series “House of Cards” gets right about Washington.

In the Media: Inauguration 2013

Missed the inauguration? No worries — Dartbeat’s got you covered. “In the Media” will curate the best media coverage of major events from around the Web so that you can stay informed, effortlessly. This post may be updated throughout the day as new stories are published.

Watch President of the United States Barack Obama and Vice President of the United States Joe Biden get sworn in on Jan. 20, this time without any flubs.

Barack Obama’s 2013 Inaugural Address

Read the full text of the speech as delivered here — and, for those who want a quicker recap, The New York Times is offering their own condensed version. The New York Times’ reporters and editors also annotated Obama’s speech, providing commentary and explanation. Continue reading

Dartmouth does the inauguration

Courtesy of Michael Perlstein

On January 21, 2013, I witnessed history. (And it wasn’t that I was out of bed before sunrise.) Yesterday, I took part in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. As a non-ticket holder, I had to wake up at 5 a.m. in order to even get a chance to stand in view of the Capitol. Continue reading

Guardian blogger Enten answers questions about politics and statistics

NIK MEDRANO/The Dartmouth Staff

Harry Enten ’11 writes about electoral statistics and politics at The Guardian and runs a political statistics-focused blog called Margin of Error. Enten, who studied government at the College, specializes in forecasting and wrote numerous articles about this year’s election for The Guardian. Enten spoke about his love of forecasting elections and weather at TedxDartmouth in 2011, where he predicted that President Barack Obama would win the election with 51.4 percent of the vote. Follow him on Twitter at @ForecasterEnten. Continue reading