And they're off!

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Jay Cost, whose Horse Race Blog provided detailed day-to-day analysis of the 2004 presidential election at the level where it mattered -- on a state-by-state basis -- is back and blogging at Real Clear Politics. (Actually, he's been back for a while, but I just now noticed.)

Cost's writing was a refreshing surprise, emerging as it did in the homestretch, the last month the '04 race. This time he began a year and a half before election day.

As I skim through the archives of the new blog, I'm remembering how much I enjoyed Cost's thinking and the clear way he expresses it. Here are a few bits by way of introduction.

About his approach and style:

This blog will probably be unlike most other blogs you read. I do not really think of myself as a blogger so much as a prolific essayist. As the election draws nearer, I think this space will start to resemble a blog more, as there will be more news to analyze. But, for the time being, I do not intend for this place to be my running tally of who is "up" and who is "down." It is just too soon for that.

Instead, I will try to make this site a forum for questions and answers about our electoral politics. I am at my best when I am trying to answer an exact question. So, what you will read here will be my answers to questions that I have asked myself. When formulating these questions and answers, I prize theoretical clarity and analytical precision. That is, I like to develop clearly-stated, intuitively sensible theories about what is going on, and then analyze those theories as precisely as I can. It is a goal of mine that this space be full of clear and precise thoughts.

About himself:

I don't understand politics as a pitched battle between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. I understand it as the competition between divergent interests in the venue that Americans have set up to manage such conflict, namely our Madisonian system....

I like math, and I think it is useful for studying politics. Yes - math and politics in the same sentence - you read that right!...

I am not really interested in the "should" of American politics; I am interested in the "is."... This is not to say that my own preferences for the "should" won't creep into my analysis of the "is," but I am going to keep them as separate as possible.

Because I will not be able to keep the "is" and the "should" entirely separate, you should know a little about my worldview. I'll put it in two different ways, the hoity-toity philosophical and the meat-and-potatoes. Hoity-toity: my political philosophy lies at the nexus of Karl Popper, St. Bonaventure, and Edmund Burke....

By and large, I do not get frothy-mouthed over the "should."... It is hard to be frothy-mouthed about what should happen when you learn the dirty little secret of the Madisonian system: it is set up specifically to prevent much from really changing. So, why get all frothy-mouthed over my idea of the way things should be when our forefathers set it up so that my idea of "should" will almost always lose?

His rules for e-mail are worthy of widespread adoption. The last one sums them all up.

Emails should be polite and respectful. They should implicitly convey your understanding that a fellow human being you (probably) have never met shall be reading what you have written, and that - as you have never met him - you have no business being anything but nice.

On the flaw in asking for first preferences only in primary polls:

Primary voting is staggered. Some of us vote after others. This is important because candidates drop out. In reality, Iowans are the only people who make a selection for the presidential nomination the way respondents answer polls. The rest of us have to choose from a smaller field. So, this format of polling does not capture the reality of the primary election....

So, the poll I would like to see is a query of primary voters that asks them to rank the candidates from worst to first, and let us view the raw data. Maybe then we could get a sense of what will happen.

On the way conventional wisdom develops:

Nevertheless, this is how the Washington chattering classes work. They put together disparate pieces of data into an over-simple narrative (the only kind that works in sound bite format) - and they repeat it, and they repeat it, and they repeat it. Eventually, it takes upon a life of its own, as the conclusion of the chatterers becomes a fact that all and sundry have "observed."

Finally, a couple of quotes from a brilliant recent essay, The Awful Task of Governance:

There is a strange tension in the American political party. It strives to achieve a governing majority. That is its goal. But a governing majority is nothing but a hassle. It cannot accomplish much more than half measures, watered-down versions of what it promised, or symbolic gestures that change nothing at all. Eventually, its supporters catch on to this impotence, and they come to loathe it, decrying its members as dime-a-dozen politicians who squandered the public trust. So, I can't help but ask: why bother?

Of course, like a salmon swimming upstream, the party does bother. It works tirelessly to acquire 218 Reps or 51 Senators, even though it knows (or it should know) what awaits it upon "victory." And what awaits the party is one of the inevitable features of our system: it thwarts, stymies, and frustrates governing majorities. It was designed to do exactly that....

The function of the political party is to concentrate power just enough so that the government can actually work.... What was needed was some kind of centripetal force in our system to collect at least some of the power that the Constitution disperses. Without such a force, our system would do little more than enforce the status quo. Thus, the party caucus was born. This remains the job of the political party to this day: to concentrate power by coordinating the actions of governmental agents with similar views.

I've added the Horse Race blog to my Newsgator-powered headlines page, which shows the latest 100 posts from about 160 blogs and opinion feeds, so you and I will know when a new Jay Cost essay has been posted.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 7, 2007 10:53 PM.

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