Archive for January, 2008

The President is not the CEO of the Country

January 31, 2008

During tonight’s Democratic Presidential debate, Howard Meyerson of Pasadena submitted a question suggesting that the President is like the “CEO of the country” and asking Senators Clinton and Obama why they would be a better choice than Mitt Romney when they have never run a large business.

I think Mr. Meyerson’s premise that the President is like the CEO of the country is false. Before explaining why, let me first posit that what Mr. Meyerson really meant to say is that the President is like the “CEO of the U.S. government”. 

Now, there are some superficial similarities between the President and the CEO of a corporation:

  1. Both are the highest ranking person within the organizations they lead (the government and the corporation).
  2. Both must ultimately accept the responsibility for the success or failure of their organizations.
  3. Both must possess strong leadership and management skills.

But the similarities end there. Unlike a CEO, the President of the United States does not have full authority over all parts of the U.S. government; in particular, he cannot simply order Congress to pass laws and approve funding at the levels that he wants. Instead, he must work with members of both parties who have very different views on many issues and either persuade them to enact his policies or reach compromises with them.  Naturally, he doesn’t even get to choose the members of Congress the way a CEO can choose who to hire and fire.  A CEO of a corporation must also persuade his employees in order to be effective but does not have to deal with the level of opposition that the President does.

In fact, the President doesn’t even get to select the members of his cabinet and other key members of the executive branch without the Senate’s approval. Furthermore, certain important members of the executive branch such as the Attorney General are expected to demonstrate independence from the President and avoid politicization of the Justice Department.  So, it would not even be accurate to depict the President as the CEO of the executive branch of the U.S. government.

The President must have leadership qualities and management skills that are similar to those of an effective CEO, but he or she must also understand that a government is not a business and that they cannot just order everyone in Washington to do what they want. They must also be capable of convincing the American public to support their policies. It is interesting that CEOs like Ross Perrot and Steve Forbes who ran for President failed to win the elections they ran in. This might be a valuable lesson for Michael Bloomberg to keep in mind.

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What Hillary Clinton Needs to Offer a VP

January 31, 2008

In a recent post, I suggested that John Edwards and other high-profile Democrats would not be interested in being Vice President in a Hillary Clinton administration. I’d like to elaborate on that topic here.

The U.S. Constitution only assigns two significant responsibilities to the Vice President: he gets to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate and succeeds the President if circumstances require a new one before the next scheduled election. (He also gets to preside over the counting of the votes submitted to the Senate by the Electoral College but this is a ceremonial task with no real power.)

Originally, the office of Vice President was viewed as insignificant. John Adams described it as “the most insignificant office ever the invention of man contrived”.  Other politicians have made similar comments; see the Wikipedia article about the Vice President of the United States for examples.  Vice President John C. Calhoun even resigned from the office in 1832 because he felt he would have more power as a Senator. (The funny thing is that he actually served as under two different Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson,  before figuring this out.)

The office of Vice President did become more important when FDR began the tradition of including the VP in cabinet meetings.  But it wasn’t until 1976 that the VP got his own office in the West Wing of the White House. The Wikipedia article mentioned above indicates that George H.W. Bush, Al Gore, and Dick Cheney were amongst the few Vice Presidents to wield extensive influence within the administrations they served.  So, we’ve gotten used to stronger VPs in recent years. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

While Hillary Clinton denied in an ABC/Nightline interview yesterday that Bill Clinton would be a “Co-President”, he would clearly be the most influential person in her administration even if he did not attend cabinet meetings. So, her VP could not really expect to have as much influence as Bush, Gore, and Cheney did.  This is the main reason why Edwards would not want to be Clinton’s Vice President. Given the recent animosity in the race, I think Obama would be even less interested.

Note that Hillary could pick Bill as her VP running mate if she wanted to; while the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution prevents Bill Clinton from being elected President again, it does not prevent him from being elected Vice President. In fact, he could even become President again if Hillary died or resigned during one of her terms. But given the fact that Hillary has indicated that America does not want a Co-President, it seems unlikely that she will pick Bill.

What could Hillary Clinton do to make the VP job attractive to potential candidates? I think she would have to promise her running mate some sort of special role within her administration beyond being a member of her cabinet.  Ideally, she would put her VP in charge of some specific issue that he cared about deeply or that allowed him to do something important and highly visible. For instance, she could offer Edwards the role of “Czar of Poverty Reduction” or Bill Richardson the role of “Ambassador in charge of Climate Change Negotiations”.  Alternatively, she could find someone interested in becoming “Czar of Energy Independence”.  However, if she does offer her VP a special role like these, she needs to be careful to not create a situation in which her VP ends up in a power struggle with some other member of her cabinet such as the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Energy.

Late Deciders in Florida Primary Turned Away From Clinton

January 30, 2008

One of the interesting statistics buried in the Florida Democratic Primary exit polls was the fact that Barack Obama actually beat Hillary Clinton amongst voters who decided who to vote for during the 3 days before the primary.  According to CNN’s website, Obama got 36% of this group’s vote while Clinton got 35% and Edwards got 23%. Clinton won 50% of absentee/early voters and 53% of voters who voted at the polls but made up their mind more than 3 days before the primary.  Obama won 31% of absentee/early voters and 34% of the early deciders.

While Obama did slightly better amongst the late deciders than the other voters, Clinton did substantially worse.  It is also interesting that Edwards did much better amongst these late deciders (23%) than he did amongst voters who made up their mind earlier (14% and 12%).  These facts suggest that some late deciders turned away from Clinton in favor of Edwards.

Unfortunately for both Edwards and Obama, the late deciders only made up 17% of the Democratic voters, so their gains within this group were not nearly enough to offset Clinton’s lead amongst the early deciders.

Would Edwards Pursue the VP Spot with Clinton?

January 30, 2008

Some might argue that if Edwards wants to become Vice President so that he can ultimately become President in 8 years, then he would be better off working out a deal with Hillary Clinton.  After all, if he did endorse Clinton in exchange for a place on the ticket, then Clinton would almost certainly win the nomination.  In contrast, if he joins with Obama, Clinton might still win and then he would have alienated the Clintons.

However, I doubt very much that Edwards or any other high-profile Democrat will want to accept the VP spot on a Clinton ticket.  Why? Because everyone knows that Bill Clinton will be the “real” Vice President in a Clinton administration.  The official VP would have a severely diminished role even compared to the traditional pre-Cheney VP role.  Edwards is smart enough to know this and would probably rather follow the Al Gore model of focusing on the issues he cares most about outside Washington and the political system.  Of course, it is possible that he will decide to pursue the Al Gore model in any case and might not want to accept the VP spot on the Obama ticket even if it is offered to him and even if he decides to endorse Obama.

Obama Should Recruit Edwards Now

January 30, 2008

Now that John Edwards is dropping out of the Democratic race, I think it makes even more sense for Barack Obama to add him to his ticket and attract all the voters who had been supporting Edwards. If Edwards had stayed in the race, he would have won some delegates and might have eventually struck a deal to have them support Obama. But now, some of those delegates will go to Obama and some will go to Clinton. Overall, Obama will end up with fewer delegates than he would have if Edwards had stayed in the race and joined the Obama ticket at the convention in August.

But if Obama recruits Edwards as his VP running mate now, the joint Obama-Edwards ticket would almost certainly get all of the delegates that Edwards would have gotten between now and the convention. Edwards has wanted to be President for a long time. At this point, having failed to win the Democratic nomination twice, his best chance of eventually becoming President is to once again accept the VP spot on the ticket and then run for President again in 8 years when he’ll be able to claim more experience and be widely recognized as a leader of the Democratic party just as Al Gore was at the end of Bill Clinton’s second term.

How Obama Can Win the Democratic Nomination

January 30, 2008

Note: this was written before John Edwards dropped out of the Presidential race and before John McCain won the Republican nomination and is no longer relevant.  Obama would be better off selecting a VP who has extensive foreign policy or military experience to counter the advantage McCain has in those areas.  Bill Richardson would be a good choice since he was UN Ambassador and has done some diplomacy work apart from that post.  He would also help Obama do better among Latino voters.

There are 6 days left until Super Tuesday when 22 states are having Democratic primaries and caucuses and will select 1,688 “pledged delegates” who commit to vote for specific candidates in the first vote at the Democratic Convention in August. Currently, Hillary Clinton is ahead in the polls in most of the Super Tuesday states with Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois being an exception. So, one might think that things look dim for Senator Obama and that he will have a very hard time getting enough delegates to win the nomination in August even with the Kennedys campaigning for him.

However, it is important to keep in mind that all states award delegates in the Democratic primaries and caucuses based on a formula that measures the percentages of the vote that candidates get in each congressional district and statewide. This means that Obama and Edwards will both get delegates in most states even if Clinton wins most of them. While the formulas are complicated and vary from state to state, it is likely that Obama and Edwards will get delegates roughly in proportion to the percentage of the vote they get in each state. While Clinton leads in most of the Super Tuesday states, if one adds the polling numbers for Obama and Edwards, they are more competitive with her in many states. For instance, in California, the average of multiple polls for California on realclearpolitics.com shows Clinton having 44.2%, Obama having 32.2% and Edwards having 11.0%. Combining Obama’s and Edwards’ numbers gives them 43.2% which is only 1.0% less than Clinton.

Now, it is entirely possible that Clinton will not have the 2,025 delegates needed to lock in the nomination at the convention. While many people have talked about the possibility of a Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket (with the latter being much less likely), another possibility would be for Obama and Edwards to combine their delegates and draw off some of Clinton’s delegates (after the first round of voting) to achieve the required majority. Since Obama will most likely have substantially more delegates than Edwards, one could expect Obama to lead the ticket with Edwards once again accepting the nomination for Vice President.  Given the facts that Obama and Edwards have both focused their campaigns on changing Washington, agree on most issues, and have not been attacking each other nearly as much as Obama and Clinton have done, this pairing is actually much more likely to work than a Clinton-Obama ticket.

I believe the Obama-Edwards team would probably get more delegates if they announced that they were joining forces before Super Tuesday. While some voters who like Edwards will continue to vote for him, many others probably feel that he cannot win the nomination at this point and might shift their vote to Clinton or Obama. If they announce that they will run together as a team before Super Tuesday, one could expect most Edwards supporters to vote for Obama.  Additionally,  if all Edwards supporters voted for Obama, the total number of delegates that the Obama-Edwards ticket received would probably be higher than if they continue to run separately.  This is due to the fact that candidates must exceed a 15% threshold in each state in order to get pledged delegates. If Edwards continues to run on his own, he could quite possibly fail to meet this threshold in many districts; but together, the Obama-Edwards ticket would probably easily exceed the threshold.

In conclusion, Obama could potentially win the Democratic nomination even if Clinton beats him in most of the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses by teaming with Edwards. However, their chance of getting enough delegates would be higher if they announced their joint ticket before Super Tuesday.

Welcome to “Logical and True”

January 27, 2008

A good friend of mine with whom I often discuss politics, science and many other topics suggested this morning that I start a blog to share my ideas with a wider audience. He also recommended I use WordPress. I agreed that it was a good idea and decided to get started today rather than procrastinating until I forgot all about it.

Who am I and what can you expect to hear from me?  I’m a 43 year old white male living in Westchester, New York with my wife and my dog (a Norwegian Elkhound named Thor).  I work at home 4 days a week for a software company.  (Why 4? Because 5 is too many!)  I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and have studied some physics and climate science.  While I am not a practicing scientist, I consider myself “scientific”.  I read a fair amount of fiction and non-fiction and enjoy listening to jazz, classical music, and hard rock.  My favorite magazine is Scientific American.

Politically, I’m a liberal Democrat and proud to say it.  I prefer calm and careful analysis to talking/shouting heads and demagoguery.  I wish our news networks provided more of the former and less of the latter, especially when covering politics.  I watch CNN and MSNBC (especially Morning Joe) as well as The News Hour on PBS  but can’t stand Fox News.  I read The New York Times every day.  I originally supported Bill Richardson for President because he was the most experienced of all the Democrats.  After he dropped out of the race, my initial tendency was to support Hillary Clinton since she has more extensive experience (at least in Washington) than Barack Obama.  However, I have been completely turned off by the combative and dishonest dog-eat-dog campaigning of the Clintons and fear that Washington would continue to be soured by bitter divisiveness and gridlock with Hillary Clinton as President.  Accordingly, I’m now supporting Senator Obama who wouldmore likely forge political consensus to address all the crucial issues facing America.

I plan on blogging about politics (especially the 2008 U.S. presidential race) and important issues such as climate change and energy policy that I believe can only be successfully addressed if our decision making is guided by science.  As a scientific person, I pay close attention to facts, think logically, and keep an open mind; hopefully, you’ll find this to be the case as I write my blog posts and respond to your comments.