Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympic Hockey -- Precedents

Not to put too much pressure on the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team, which plays for the gold medal this afternoon against Canada, but the U.S. has never failed to win the gold in men's hockey in the Winter Olympics in a year ending in zero.

The first Winter Olympics were held in 1924. The first time they would have been staged in a zero-year was 1940. The 1940 games had been awarded to Sapporo, Japan, but they were cancelled because of World War II. That city had to wait 32 years before getting its chance to host.

The U.S. won the gold medal on home ice in 1960 at Squaw Valley, California, and in 1980 at Lake Placid, New York.

Before 2000 came up in the rotation, there had been a fundamental change in the scheduling of the event. Beginning in 1994, instead of staging the games in leap years, they changed to half-way between leap years. That delayed the next zero-year Winter Olympics until this year.

I hope the U.S. team continues the pattern.

One caveat: Believe it or not, ice hockey was part of the Summer Olympics in 1920 in Antwerp. Apparently, it was a sort of dress rehearsal for the first full-blown Winter Games, four years later. Canada won the gold medal in 1920. But my statement still holds true for the Winter Olympics per se.

UPDATE: Apparently, I got it wrong. It's the team with home ice that wins in the zero-years. Congratulations to Team Canada, who beat the U.S. 3 to 2 in overtime, in one in-****ing-credible hockey game.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Governor -- Texas -- Republican Primary

I described next Tuesday's Democratic primary here. Now for the Republicans:

The three candidates are:

Governor Rick Perry, 59. He is the longest-serving governor in Texas history, having taken office in 2000, when George W. Bush resigned, after having been elected president. Before that, Perry had won elections for the legislature, agriculture commissioner and lieutenant governor. He started his political career as a Democrat.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, 66. She has served in the U.S. Senate since 1993, when she won a special election to succeed Lloyd Bentsen, who had resigned from the Senate to join Bill Clinton's Cabinet. Trained as a lawyer, she worked in television, served in the state legislature, and worked in the banking business. Hutchison plans to resign her Senate seat after the primary, regardless of the outcome.

Debra Medina, 47. Originally trained as a nurse, she later founded a company providing medical billing services. This is Medina's first campaign for public office.

Perry is well ahead in the polls. Hutchison had apparently hoped that voters would perceive Perry as too far right, and as having been in office too long. But, even though Hutchison has been politically successful in Texas, that state's Republican primary electorate doesn't seem likely to prefer a moderate candidate to a right-winger. That would seem to especially be the case now, when the Tea Party movement is in the ascendant in the Republican Party, and Perry has strongly identified himself with that faction.

On Tuesday of this week, Chris Cillizza in The Fix blog on the website of The Washington Post, analyzed what has gone wrong with Hutchison's campaign. Then, today, The Post published this article about the primary, by Dan Balz.

If that newspaper is surprised by Hutchison's apparent failure, it might be because The Post tends to reflect the Company-town perspective of Washington. They're more familiar with a long-time senator, such as Hutchison, than with a governor, no matter how prominent. Writers working inside the Beltway may well be slow to realize that the voters in a conservative state won't react well to the notion of someone from Washington coming home to take over the reins in their state capital.

Medina's presence in the race might deprive Perry of an overall majority. Texas is one of the southern states that requires a runoff under those circumstances; a runoff would be held on April 13. Medina, who is even more of a Tea-Partier than Perry, was originally considered to be a major surprise factor in the primary. But her candidacy began losing altitude when she declined to dismiss conspiracy theories about American involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

Polls for the most likely general-election matchup show Perry leading former Houston Mayor Bill White, the probable Democratic nominee. But it's only a single-digit lead and, if you believe the so-called "50% rule" which Nate Silver describes and criticizes in this 538 post, White might have a chance. While leading, Perry polls less than 50% in all surveys, which, according to that theory, is a death knell for an incumbent.

Between Bush and Perry, Republicans have held on to the governor's office for 16 consecutive years. That's longer than the combined tenure of all Republican governors in Texas history, prior to Bush's 1994 victory over his Democratic predecessor Ann Richards. Democrats hope to break that streak this year, but, while that's not impossible, it still looks like an uphill battle.

Governor -- Texas -- Democratic Primary

Texas will hold a primary election next Tuesday, March 2.

The main contenders in the Democratic primary for governor are:

Bill White, 55, who was mayor of Houston from 2004 to 2010. He practiced law in that city from 1979 to 1993. White was Deputy Secretary of Energy in Bill Clinton's administration, from 1993 to 1995. He subsequently worked in the energy business.

Farouk Shami, 66, a businessman dealing in hair and skin care products. He is a Palestinian, originally from Ramallah in the West Bank, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1965. This is Shami's first campaign for public office.

White is well ahead in the polls. Here is a report on the website of the Austin American-Statesman, describing a poll earlier this month in which White held a 30-point lead.

Paterson Out of Gubernatorial Primary

Several reports this morning indicate that Governor David Paterson, Democrat of New York, will withdraw from his party's primary for a full term in the position that he took over, when Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned in 2008, after being implicated in a prostitution scandal. Paterson has a budding scandal of his own on his hands, amid allegations that his staff, and perhaps the governor himself, acted improperly in dealing with charges of domestic violence by one of Paterson's aides.

Some months ago, President Obama had failed to persuade Paterson to drop out. But the new scandal has apparently changed the governor's position.

That appears to set the stage for state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to take the Democratic nomination. Cuomo has not officially joined the race, but he has reportedly been considering making a run, and polls indicate that he can win the Democratic primary, and could have done so even if Paterson had remained a candidate.

Former Congressman Rick Lazio, who lost the 2000 Senate election to Hillary Clinton, appears to be the frontrunner in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

30 Years Ago 12: Hyvää Huomenta

That means "good morning" in the Finnish language. And morning it was, when the U.S. hockey team began their last game at the 1980 Winter Olympics, on February 24, 1980. The opponent was Finland. Yesterday, I set the stage for this game.

Finland led 1-0 after one period. Then the teams traded goals in the second. At 6:30 of the second period, Mikko Leinonen scored for Finland, to re-take the lead by 2 to 1. From there, the game followed a similar pattern to that of the American victory over the Soviet team, two days earlier; the Finns scored no more goals.

Phil Verchota tied it again, when he scored at 2:25 of the third period. Then, Rob McClanahan gave the U.S. its first lead, with a goal at 6:05. For several minutes, the Americans were defending a 3-2 lead. The U.S. "killed" two penalties (i.e., prevented Finland from scoring while the Americans were short-handed), when Neal Broten was put in the penalty box for hooking at 6:48, followed by Dave Christian suffering a similar fate (for tripping) at 8:54.

Then, as the U.S. was trying to hold their lead in the last few minutes of the game, Verchota was penalized for roughing at 15:45. (All of these penalties are two-minute minor penalties.) In hockey lingo, that put Finland on a "power play", and gave them an excellent opportunity to score a tying goal. The ABC network, still getting no cooperation from international hockey officials, had to fit in a television commercial while play was going on.

Perhaps the most unsung of the heroes of that U.S. team was Mark Johnson. He played at the University of Wisconsin from 1976 to 1979, coached by his father, "Badger Bob" Johnson. Despite their close identification with Wisconsin, they were both Minnesota natives, a point important to some of us.

Mark Johnson led the U.S. team in scoring during the 1980 Olympics, with five goals and six assists. He went on to play 11 seasons in the National Hockey League, and is now head coach of women's hockey at his alma mater. Johnson is also head coach of the U.S. women's team at the current Vancouver Olympics.

Back to live TV, and we find out that Finland's power play opportunity had been turned against them. Johnson had performed a somewhat rare hockey feat, by scoring a goal while his team was short-handed. His goal, at 16:25, with an assist from Steve Christoff, put the U.S. ahead by two, which was how the game ended, with a 4-2 U.S. win.

ABC commentator Al Michaels had another soundbite to offer. But his "this impossible dream comes true!" is overshadowed by his "do you believe in miracles?" at the end of the Soviet game. Kind of like Buzz Aldrin's "magnificent desolation" after Neil Armstrong's "one giant leap for mankind".

Later that day, the Soviet Union crushed Sweden, by a score of 9 to 2. So, the U.S. won the goal medal, the USSR took silver, leaving the bronze medal to Sweden, with Finland shut out.

While each player on the top three teams got his own medal, only the team captains were supposed to appear on the stand to symbolically accept the medal for the team, and to hear the winning team's national anthem. American captain Mike Eruzione upset that plan, by waving to his teammates to join him at center stage. Americans, starved for a moment of unabashed patriotism, ate it all up.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tom Friedman's Narrative

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has joined the growing chorus of those expressing disappointment in President Obama. Of course, the fact that Obama turned out not to be the second coming of Christ, as so many had expected, was bound to lead to disappointment. As is typical when I read Friedman, I find his particular narrative of the situation interesting, and I disagree with it in some fundamental respects.

Friedman invokes a story from Hebrew scripture. Joseph (he of the technicolor dreamcoat) interprets a dream for the Egyptian Pharaoh who has imprisoned him. According to the Book of Genesis, Joseph tells Pharaoh, "Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land."

In Friedman's version, the U.S. has experienced not seven, but 70, fat years (since the end of the Great Depression circa 1940), and has now entered into the lean years. The last couple of years have, of course, been lean. Economic growth recently resumed. Time will tell whether the American economy bounces back, as it did after a similarly serious recession in 1981 and 1982. That recovery sparked a quarter century of nearly uninterrupted growth. With the American fiscal situation looking bleak for several years, even before the bulk of the baby-boomer retirements begin to put further strain on Social Security and Medicare, significant work needs to be done, in order to produce another such strong recovery.

In analyzing that fiscal problem, Friedman is totally focused on the budget deficit. A deficit can be decreased in either of two ways: 1) cutting government spending, or 2) raising taxes. He calls Republicans "irresponsible" for not wanting to raise taxes.

I agree that the deficit needs to decrease. But, as I see it, the more important goal is to reduce government spending, regardless of any balance or imbalance in the budget. Whether spending is financed by taxation or borrowing, it takes resources out of the private sector where they could have been used productively. Politicians spending other people's money are never going to allocate resources as efficiently as people handling their own money in free markets.

Certain government functions are necessary. Expansion of government beyond that necessary minimum imperils economic growth.

Apparently, Friedman thinks that taxes have been too low for several decades. He writes that "in these past 70 years, leadership ... has been largely about ... lowering taxes." But data from the federal Office of Management and Budget show that federal taxes as a percentage of gross domestic product have increased from 6.8% in 1940 to 14.8% in 2010. Tom's definition of "lowering" is apparently different than mine.

Friedman resurrects the old "if we can land men on the moon, why can't we ....?" line of argument. He wants to launch an "Apollo program" of "nation-building at home". That gets back to the issue of what the necessary functions of government are. Spending on the Apollo moon-landing program was controversial, but I would argue that it was a necessary component of our Cold War military spending. That doesn't mean we should similarly have the federal government spend large amounts of money on things that are better handled in the private sector.

I was one of those "Republican business types" whom Friedman identifies as having voted for Obama (but it's not true that I had "never voted for a Democrat" in my life). I wasn't looking for an expansion of government. On the contrary, I voted against John McCain because I feared he would continue the program of government expansion on which he and his fellow Republicans had embarked, earlier in the decade. I believed that some time in the wilderness would bring the Republican Party back to its traditional advocacy of smaller government.

That strategy seems to be working. Representative Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, with his "Roadmap for America's Future" has a plan to get entitlement spending under control, and otherwise restrain the growth of federal spending and taxation, while still providing health care and other benefits to those who need them. I prefer that, as an alternative to Friedman's hope that Obama can better package his agenda.

30 Years Ago 11: The Day After

30 years ago today, Saturday, February 23, 1980, American hockey fans were still celebrating the previous day's victory by the U.S. hockey team over the Soviet Union, at the Winter Olympics.

Later on Friday, the other two finalists in the Medal Round, Sweden and Finland, had played to a 3-3 tie. At that point, the Medal Round standings were as follows:

U.S. 1-0-1 (3 points)
USSR 1-1-0 (2 points)
Sweden 0-0-2 (2 points)
Finland 0-1-1 (1 point)

The schedule for Sunday, February 24, called for Finland and the U.S. to face off Sunday morning, followed by a game between the Soviet Union and Sweden.

An American victory would clinch the gold medal. But, if Finland beat the U.S., it was still possible that the Americans could drop to fourth place, and get no medal at all.

Dozens of Finnish players began playing professionally in North America, in the National Hockey League (NHL), during the 1980s. That country's 1980 Olympic team included a 20-year-old right-winger (in the hockey sense; I don't know anything about his politics) named Jari Kurri, who went on to become the most successful player among that early wave of NHL Finns. The American giant-killers faced another tough challenge.

Monday, February 22, 2010

30 Years Ago 10: Do you believe ... ?

30 years ago today, the big day had arrived. The U.S. was matched up against the Soviet Union in a hockey game at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games at Lake Placid, New York. I set the political context here, and the athletic context here. Now for the game itself:

The USSR scored first, with a goal by Vladimir Krutov at 9:12 of the first period. Then Buzz Schneider tied it for the U.S. at 14:03. The Soviets again took the lead, when Sergei Makarov, Krutov's linemate on the famed KLM line (Igor Larionov was the third) scored at 17:34. As the first period ended, the Americans got the type of goal no team wants to give up, the one that shifts momentum right at the end of a period. And I do mean at the end: Mark Johnson was credited with the tying goal at 19:59.

The Johnson goal prompted an amazing reaction from USSR head coach Viktor Tikhonov. His starting goaltender, Vladislav Tretiak, was generally believed to be the best hockey goalie in the world at that time. Tretiak had only played occasional exhibition games against North American professionals, so there was little hard evidence, but that was the consensus among observers of the sport.

For the last two periods, Tikhonov put in Vladimir Myshkin to replace Tretiak. Such a move is relatively rare in hockey. The Americans had already won a victory of sorts, by sending the great Tretiak to the bench.

For a while, the replacement goalie did OK. The only second period goal came at 2:18, when Aleksandr Maltsev put the USSR back in the lead, by a score of 3 to 2. Things looked good for the Soviets as that lead held up, going into the third period. But, in retrospect, Maltsev's goal was the high-water mark for the Soviet team.

At 8:39 of the third, Johnson scored again, to tie the game at 3 to 3.

Then, exactly halfway through the third period, came what is arguably the most memorable play in the history of American sports.

Mike Eruzione was the old man of the team, at the age of 25, He had played his college hockey at Boston University. Many of his Olympic teammates went on to play in the National Hockey League (NHL), and some of them have their names etched on the Stanley Cup. Eruzione was not among those NHL players; his subsequent involvement in the sport included television work and coaching.

But Eruzione instantly achieved athletic immortality, by scoring a goal at exactly 10:00 of the third period, with assists from Mark Pavelich and John Harrington. The U.S. led 4-3.

Attention shifted to Jim Craig, who played goalie for the U.S. throughout the Olympics. He stopped all of the Soviet shots during the final 10 minutes. Like Eruzione, Craig did not go on to achieve any significant success in the NHL. But Craig is given much of the credit for the American victory. The USSR team had 39 shots on goal, to only 16 for the Americans.

Ken Dryden, a former NHL goalie who was the analyst on the ABC telecast, commented, just before Eruzione's goal, that the U.S. team was relying too much on Craig. Perhaps so, but the results show that Craig was up to the task.

Dryden's broadcast partner was Al Michaels. Michaels, who is mainly known for his football and baseball work, had announced only one hockey game in his life, before the 1980 Olympics. As the final seconds were counted down, Michaels asked "Do you believe in miracles?" He then proceeded to answer his own question: "Yes!" The U.S. had defeated the USSR by a score of 4 to 3.

In the final minute of the game, the Soviet coaching staff made another startling decision; they kept their goalie Myshkin on the ice. Standard hockey strategy under those circumstances, is to pull the goaltender off the ice, and replace him with an additional player at a forward position. If a team is in danger of losing by one goal, it makes little difference if they instead lose by two or more, so it's worth the risk to give them a better chance of scoring a tying goal. I remember some speculation at the time, that the Soviet team had so often been far ahead of their opponents toward the end of the game, that they had no instinctive feel for the proper time to pull the goalie.

For some Americans, the Soviet game was the main achievement. It's often said, probably correctly, that most people carry a faulty memory that it was in that game that the U.S. won the gold medal. But the reality was that the Americans had one more game to play. Their final opponent was a sparsely-populated country next door to Russia, that punches above its weight in hockey. That country is the land of my maternal ancestors: Finland.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

30 Years Ago 9: Poised for the Medal Round

30 years ago at the Winter Olympics, the U.S. hockey team had continued to win, after their upset victory over Czechoslovakia, that I described here.

Their schedule became easier for a while. On February 16, 1980, the U.S. beat Norway by a score of 5 to 1. The Americans followed that up, two days later, with a 7-2 win against Romania. Then, on February 20, the final game of the first round ended with a final score of U.S. 4, West Germany 2.

There were 12 teams in the 1980 Olympic tournament, divided into two divisions. Sweden and the U.S. tied for first in their division, each having won all of their games, except for their tie game with each other. The USSR led the other division, with Finland in second place. Those four teams would therefore meet in the Medal Round, starting on February 22.

Unlike the current structure, there was no championship game. In the Medal Round, the U.S. played the Soviet Union and Finland, in that order, and Sweden faced, first, Finland, and then the Soviets. The gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded based on the number of points (two points for a win, one point for a tie) that each team had won against the three other Medal Round teams.

The Americans got their rematch against the Soviet team that had trounced them in their final exhibition game before the Olympics began. The rematch was scheduled for late afternoon on Friday, February 22, 1980. It was not shown live on American television.

Money had always been a factor in the Olympic Games, both ancient and modern. But the current level of commercialization of the Olympics had not yet taken hold in 1980. Corporate sponsorship accelerated, beginning with the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles. Then, in 1998, the National Hockey League began taking a break during the Winter Olympics, allowing its professional players to participate in Olympic hockey.

The commercial Olympics of the present day are designed as a television event. But, back in the Stone Age of 1980, international hockey officials were still adamant that they would make no accommodations to the needs of the TV networks in the scheduling and staging of Olympic hockey matches.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In Control

People have differing opinions on things that Alexander Meigs Haig, Jr., said and did between December 2, 1924 and March 29, 1981. Same goes for things he said and did between March 31, 1981 and today, February 20, 2010, when he died at the age of 85.

But, for better or worse, he will always be remembered for the events of March 30, 1981. That afternoon, President Ronald Reagan was shot and seriously wounded, in Washington, DC. Vice President George H.W. Bush was away from the capital, on a trip to his home state of Texas. Haig, who had become secretary of state two months earlier, rushed to the White House and told reporters "I am in control here". His meaning was not entirely clear, but he appeared to be incorrectly claiming the next spot in the line of presidential succession, after the vice president.

From 1886 to 1947, the secretary of state was next in line. But the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate were then put ahead of the secretary of state. The rationale was that elected leaders should have higher priority than the appointed Cabinet secretaries. The president and vice president are the only federal officers who are elected by the entire country. However, congressional leaders are elected by representatives from all parts of the U.S., so they can claim an indirect mandate from the American people. And, of course, the president and vice president are also indirectly elected, by members of the Electoral College.

In 1988, Haig again tried to get in control at the White House. He unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination.

While Haig never became president, he had been, by some accounts at least, a sort of acting president, between May 1973 and August 1974. He replaced Bob Haldeman as White House chief of staff, when Haldeman resigned after having been implicated in the Watergate scandal. With President Richard Nixon spending much of his time on Watergate-related matters, Haig performed much of the work having to do with the regular business of government.

Haig's tenure as secretary of state in the Reagan Administration was cut short, when the president fired him, in June of 1982. Haig had never developed a good relationship with the White House staff. It's not clear whether the lust for power that Haig seemed to show in the wake of the assassination attempt had anything to do with the brief nature of his time as secretary.

For those of us in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia, Haig was a former neighbor. He shared with professional basketball player Kobe Bryant the distinction of being an alumnus of Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Where Republicans will be playing defense

Looking further into the question I discussed here, whether the Republicans can regain a majority in the U.S. Senate in this year's midterm elections, let's examine individual state contests. Much attention has been paid recently to retirements of Senate Democrats, such as Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Evan Bayh of Indiana, but keep in mind that several senators (and House members, for that matter) from both parties are declining to seek reelection in 2010.

This recent New York Times article identifies four states where Republican Senate incumbents are not running, which represent possible Democratic gains: Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio. I think it's important to look at those states first, because I believe that the Democrats' chances of retaining their majority will increase exponentially with each victory they might win in these states.


Two-term Republican incumbent Jim Bunning is retiring. His fellow Republicans had come to see him as less dependable as a politician, than he was as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and other major league baseball teams.

Two state officeholders are the main contenders in the Democratic primary on May 18: Attorney General Jack Conway and Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo.

A familiar surname shows up on the Republican side. Opthamologist Rand Paul is a son of Congressman Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, who was the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee in 1988, and advocated libertarian ideas in Republican presidential primaries in 2008. The younger Paul has not previously run for public office. Paul's main opponent is another state official, Secretary of State Trey Grayson.

Adam Nagourney, in the Times article noted above, mentions the argument that Paul might be perceived as extremist, which may harm his chances in November, if he wins the primary. But Rasmussen, in recent polls, shows either Republican contender ahead of both of the Democrats, generally by wide margins. That, combined with the fact that Kentucky has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992, does not bode well for the Democrats.


Christopher "Kit" Bond, who was first elected to the Senate in 1986, is not seeking a fifth term.

Primaries, scheduled for August 3, appear certain to set up a general election contest between Republican Congressman Roy Blunt and Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. Both are part of family dynasties in the state. Blunt's son Matt was governor for one term, from 2005 to 2009. Carnahan's father Mel was governor from 1993 until his death in a plane crash in 2000. Her mother Jean was appointed to Missouri's other U.S. Senate seat in 2001. Mel had been campaigning for the Senate when he died, and when the voters elected him posthumously, the seat was declared vacant, leading the way to his widow's appointment. In 2002, Jean Carnahan lost a special election for the remainder of the Senate term.

Blunt has a slight lead in recent polls reported by Real Clear Politics. So a Democratic gain is possible.


Republican Judd Gregg, senator since 1993, after what I consider a rather bizarre flirtation with the Obama Administration, withdrew from the campaign.

The current front-runners to replace Gregg are Republican Kelly Ayotte, a former state attorney general, and Democratic Representative Paul Hodes.

Ayotte leads in polls reported by Real Clear Politics. Her lead is not overwhelming, so, again, a Democratic gain is possible. New England, formerly a Republican stronghold, now strongly favors the Democratic Party. New Hampshire had been a holdout against that trend, but Democrats have made recent gains there, too. The question is whether that Democratic trend will continue in what's shaping up to be a Republican year.


Republican incumbent George Voinovich is not running for a third term. His party seems certain to nominate Rob Portman as their candidate to replace Voinovich.

Portman represented a district in the Cincinnati area in the U.S. House from 1993 to 2005. He subsequently served as trade representative and budget director in George W. Bush's administration.

In the Democratic primary, to be held on May 4, Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher will oppose Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. Fisher is considered the front-runner, but it could be a close race.

Polls reported by Real Clear Politics show Portman with a small lead over both of the Democratic contenders. Ohio is another state that has been trending Democratic in recent years. After giving Bush its electoral votes by a razor-thin margin in 2004, and thereby clinching his reelection victory over John Kerry, subsequent disenchantment with Bush, and scandals in state government, have eroded Republican support. Of these four states, Ohio is probably the place where the Democrats have their best chance to gain a Senate seat.

If Republicans hold all four of these seats, they still need to gain 10 seats elsewhere, in order to win a Senate majority. That will be difficult. But to gain 11, 12, 13 or 14 seats in the other states will be very difficult.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

30 Years Ago 8: More Geopolitics

Tom Friedman, in his February 14 column in The New York Times, addresses a point I mentioned here, which is the contrast between the events of 20 years ago, centering around the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, and the events of 30 years ago, such as the hostage-taking in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

I decided that I prefer to write about hockey 30 years ago, rather than geopolitics. But, as I noted here, the two are not totally separate issues. The performance of the U.S. hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics took on high symbolic importance in the context of the dark world scene that prevailed at that time.

One comment about the specifics of Friedman's article: He criticizes Ronald Reagan by writing that "Reagan glorified the Afghan mujahedeen" [Muslim militants who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan]. It is correct that Reagan did so, and that that laid the groundwork for networks of Islamist terrorists, including Osama Bin-Laden, to subsequently attack the U.S. and other Western countries. However, two caveats need to be mentioned:

First, American support for the majahedeen was initiated by Jimmy Carter's administration. There is a marvelous piece of video in the CNN miniseries "The Cold War", showing Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, looking almost James Bond-like as he exhorts the Muslim fighters to resist the Soviet invasion. Carter, who, as he began his presidency with naive idealism, thought he could negotiate our way out of the Cold War, had, by 1979, belatedly come around to the view that the Cold War was a real war, and that he needed to fight it.

Second, even if we had better appreciated at the time the long-term consequences, I don't see how we could have avoided siding with the mujahedeen. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" scenarios have repeatedly caused dilemmas for American foreign policy.

A prime example from a bit further back in history is our alliance with Stalin against Hitler during World War II. Many people (especially those on the left) justify that with the notion that Hitler was a uniquely evil tyrant that needed to be stopped at all costs. In this post, I expressed my disagreement with that point of view. A case can be made that Stalin was a worse tyrant than Hitler, but Hitler was more ruthlessly aggressive against other countries, so I agree that our distasteful alliance with Stalin was necessary.

Similarly, I consider the Soviet Union to have represented the greater evil in 1979, and therefore the U.S. needed to construct the necessary alliances to contain Soviet expansionism.

Let's hope that Friedman's dream of returning to the optimistic atmosphere of 1977, after the influence of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Soviet Communist leader Leonid Brezhnev had been eliminated from the Middle East, and when Nasser's successor Anwar al Sadat was willing to go to Jerusalem for a summit meeting with Israeli leaders, can be realized.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Will Mitch McConnell become majority leader in 2011?

As 2009 came to a close, it seemed clear that the Democrats would suffer some net loss of Senate seats in the 2010 midterm elections. The question was whether those losses would be minor, or would significantly cut into the Democrats' majority. Then, Democratic incumbents in North Dakota and Indiana announced unexpected retirements. And, of course, a Republican won the Massachusetts special election. Now, a significantly reduced majority looks like a best-case scenario for the Democrats, and the talk is about whether the Republicans can return to majority status.

There are currently 41 Republicans in the Senate. A net gain of 10 seats would restore the Republican majority that was lost at the 2006 midterms. They need 51; a 50-50 tie would be resolved in favor of the Democrats by Vice President Joe Biden who, as president of the Senate, is granted a tie-breaking vote by the Constitution.

Gains of 10 seats or more are rare, but not unprecedented. Here is a link to historical statistics on party division in the Senate, from the Senate website. During the 20th century, parties made double-digit gains in the following years:

1980 Republicans gained 12 seats
1958 Democrats gained 16 seats
1946 Republicans gained 13 seats
1942 Republicans gained 10 seats
1934 Democrats gained 10 seats
1932 Democrats gained 12 seats
1920 Republicans gained 10 seats
1910 Democrats gained 12 seats

These numbers might be somewhat distorted, because they don't take into account 1) results of special elections or party-jumping since the previous general election, 2) senators who were elected on third-party tickets, but caucused with a major party; and 3) the effect of new states joining the union. But they give some sense of the rarity of such an event: eight times out of 50 biennial elections.

Next, I'll look at the individual states in which this question will be decided.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

30 Years Ago 7: Geopolitical Context

Perhaps I should follow the lead of the great political blogger Paul Mirengoff, who unapologetically takes time out to write about sports whenever he feels like it. I tend to try to come up with a political angle on a sports story. There are many connections between the two subjects, and I'm often able to link them.

Politics and the Olympic Games are like conjoined twins. And the 1980 Winter Olympic hockey tournament was definitely no exception.

Those games were held three years into Jimmy Carter's presidency. Carter's message attracted many voters early on in his campaign for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination. But that glow started to fade, even before his party's convention. That Democratic wunderkind, then-Governor Jerry Brown of California, won some late primaries, but Carter had already built up an insurmountable lead.

In the 1976 general election, Carter defeated the Republican incumbent, Gerald Ford, by a narrow margin. Carter's poll numbers kept dropping during the fall campaign. The electorate was not quite willing to stay with the charisma-challenged Ford, who was still in the national doghouse due to his having granted a pardon to his predecessor, Richard Nixon, shortly after Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal. By the time of Ford's death in 2006, most Americans had come around to the point of view that the pardon had been a courageous act that served the national interest.

There were economic problems during Carter's term. That was the period during which "stagflation" entered the national lexicon. But multiple crises in foreign policy had come to a head during the lead-up to the Winter Olympics.

Carter had taken what many considered to be too passive a stance in reaction to the continuing military buildup by the Soviet Union, a left-wing takeover in Nicaragua, and the overthrow by Islamists of the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran. In part, I suppose that was an overreaction to charges that the U.S. had acted as an aggressor during the Vietnam War.

Then, on November 4, 1979, Iranian terrorists seized the American embassy in Tehran. Dozens of Americans were held hostage for the remainder of Carter's presidency. That was followed, in December of that year, by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the long run, that military adventure was a significant element in the undoing of the Soviet regime, but, as 1979 ended, it seemed as though American power was fading, and the USSR and other adversaries of the U.S. were supplanting us.

The Cold War was colder than at any time since well before Nixon's Beijing and Moscow summits of 1972 (with the possible exception of an international game of "chicken" in which the U.S. and the USSR engaged during the Yom Kippur War of 1973).

So, as the Winter Olympics began in upstate New York, formally dedicated to peace, but with the usual national rivalries involved, Americans were feeling put upon, especially in relation to the Soviet Union. That largely explains the intense interest in a winter sport that had, until then, largely attracted the attention only of those of us in particularly cold regions of the U.S.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bye Bayh

A year ago, Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, was considered an up-and-coming power broker on behalf of moderate Democrats. Now, he has dropped out of the race for what would have been his third term in the Senate.

Bayh's predecessor, Republican Dan Coats, is now widely considered to be the front-runner. Coats has not declared his candidacy, but appears to be interested in a return to the Senate.

Coats, 66, spent 10 years representing Indiana in the Senate, after Dan Quayle became vice president in 1989. Quayle had won this Senate seat eight years earlier, defeating three-term Democratic incumbent Birch Bayh, Evan's father.

If the Democratic leadership in Washington had paid more attention to Evan Bayh's centrist perspective at the beginning of the Obama Administration, would both President Obama's poll numbers, and Bayh's reelection chances, be looking better right now?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

30 Years Ago 6: Gut-Czech

Things got no easier for the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, after their opening-game tie against Sweden.

Their next opponent was another perennial European hockey power: Czechoslovakia. lists 259 natives of Czechoslovakia who have played in the National Hockey League (NHL). But only one of those players had done so before the 1980 Olympics. That was Stan Mikita, whose family had emigrated to Canada after World War II.

Elite hockey players in Czechoslovakia maintained the amateur status that was then necessary to play Olympic hockey, in a system similar to that of the Soviet Union, as I described here.

That might have created a mismatch against the true amateurs from the United States.

But, as of the end of the first period, the U.S. team was hanging in there. A brother combination who went on to become some of the pioneering Czechoslovakian players in the NHL, tied it for Czechoslovakia at 2-2. Marian Stastny scored at 12:07 of the first, off an assist from his brother Peter.

The U.S. then broke the game open with second-period goals by Buzz Schneider and Mark Johnson. Then, in the third, Phil Verchota and Schneider made it 6 to 2. Both sides scored one more (Rob McClanahan for the U.S. at 10:54 of the third), so the U.S. won by a score of 7 to 3.

In retrospect, it has to be considered one of the top two American victories (don't want to get too far ahead of the story, here) of the Olympics.

People started to, as someone would say on television later on, believe in miracles.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Gordon Brown Goes Alternative

No, the stuffy former finance guru who is now prime minister of Britain, is not turning himself into the second coming of Kurt Cobain, and entering the alternative rock world. (Although he might be out of job by summer, so perhaps he should consider it.) Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, who was part of a rock band called Ugly Rumours, as a student at Oxford during the 1970s, might have been more likely to take such a turn.

My much more prosaic meaning is that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has proposed the adoption of an alternative vote (AV) system for elections to the House of Commons. The House voted, earlier this week, to put the question to the electorate in a referendum to be held by October of 2011.

Currently, the procedure for those elections is similar to the way in which most U.S. states hold general elections for representatives and senators in Congress. Each voter votes for one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins, whether or not the winner's total exceeds 50%. (Some southern states hold a runoff election if no candidate has an overall majority.) The British, who, from Her Majesty on down, are fans of horse racing, call that the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system.

The AV system (also known as instant runoff voting) allows a voter to rank all of the candidates in order of preference. For example, if Jeeves, Wooster and Thatcher are running (or, as they would say, standing) for Parliament in a given constituency, a voter might say Jeeves is his first choice, and might rank Wooster second and Thatcher third.

If, on the basis of first-choice votes, Jeeves leads (but with less than 50%), and Wooster and Thatcher trail in that order, Thatcher drops out of the race. The second-place votes of those who voted for Thatcher are awarded to Jeeves or Wooster. One of the remaining candidates will end up with more than 50% and will be declared the winner. If there are more than three candidates, the procedure is repeated, if necessary, until someone gets a majority.

Those with the most at stake are the Liberal Democrats, the third largest party in Britain. At the most-recent British general election, in 2005, the Liberal Democrats received 22.1% of the overall vote, but won only 9.6% of the seats in the House of Commons.

The bulk of the Lib Dem vote is scattered among many constituencies, in most of which they fall behind the two largest parties, Labor and the Conservatives. The other minor parties in the House of Commons don't have that problem. They're regional parties, based in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Their vote in concentrated is a few constituencies, so their percentage of seats is roughly equal to their percentage of the vote.

What would probably help the Lib Dems most would be proportional representation (PR). I described a very pure form of PR, the Israeli electoral system, in this post. Under that system, the British Liberal Democrats would have won 142 of the 646 seats in the House of Commons, rather than the 62 they were actually awarded under FPTP.

But the AV system, if it's adopted, might also help the Lib Dems. It would address the "wasted vote" issue. Voters for whom the Lib Dems are their first choice might be reluctant to vote for a Lib Dem candidate under FPTP. If such a voter has a strong second-place preference for, say, the Conservative candidate over the Labor candidate, she might consider a Lib Dem vote to be wasted, in that it has no effect on the outcome of the Labor v. Conservative contest.

If that person, and other like-minded voters, put a Lib Dem candidate in first place, with Conservative as the second choice, they could register both their Lib Dem preference, and their preference between the two major parties. That might induce more voters to support the Lib Dems, thereby increasing their number of seats, although perhaps still not to a totally proportional level.


On December 22, 1960, Senator John Kennedy resigned his seat, having been elected president the previous month. His brother Edward was sworn in to that Senate seat on November 7, 1962, after winning a special election. Aside from that period of less than 23 months, there has been at least one member of that family in Congress, continuously since John Kennedy entered the House of Representatives on January 3, 1947.

Representative Patrick Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island, will bring that streak to an end next January. He has decided not to seek reelection this year.

For the first four years of Patrick Kennedy's time in the House (1995 to 1999), there were three family members in Congress. Ted, Patrick's father, still held the Massachusetts Senate seat. And Patrick's cousin, Joseph Kennedy II, son of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, was a Massachusetts congressman from 1987 to 1999.

No Kennedy is an obvious candidate to carry on the tradition.

President Kennedy's daughter Caroline conducted an unusually public campaign for a gubernatorial appointment to replace Hillary Clinton as senator from New York, after President Obama appointed Clinton secretary of state. Caroline then abruptly removed herself from consideration. So it seems unlikely that she will want to reverse that decision and seek a congressional seat.

Among Patrick's generation, aside from himself and Joe, Joe's sister Kathleen Townsend served two terms as lieutenant governor of Maryland, and lost a gubernatorial election in 2002. But, by now, they seem to have all turned away from the idea of elected office. I'm not sure whether anyone in their children's generation will run for office.

So, a 64-year dynasty comes to an end, at least for the foreseeable future. Not that I'm lamenting its end. I consider a Kennedyless Congress to be better than a Kennedyful Congress. But it's a turning point that deserves to be noted.

30 Years Ago 5: Bill Baker

30 years ago today, at Lake Placid, New York, going into the final minute of an Olympic hockey game between the U.S. and Sweden, things continued to look bad for the American team. After 59 minutes of the 60-minute game had been played, Sweden led by a score of 2 to 1.

Sweden has traditionally been one of the hockey powers of Europe. Interest in the sport cuts a crazy-quilt pattern through that continent. Sweden, Finland, and what, back then in 1980, constituted Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, were and are the main centers of European hockey. Other northern European countries field national teams, and occasionally see one of their players succeed in the National Hockey League, but their hockey tends to be second-rate.

The 12 teams competing in the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament were split into two divisions. The U.S. would face Sweden and Czechoslovakia within its own division. And if they finished among the top two in their division, they would play two games in the Medal Round, against teams from the other division, which included the USSR and Finland.

Their matchup against Sweden in the opening game was their first major test, and the U.S. team seemed to be failing.

Bill Baker was a 23-year-old defenseman from Grand Rapids, Minnesota. He had been part of two national championship teams at the University of Minnesota, in 1976 and 1979. At 19:33 of the third period, on February 12, 1980, Baker scored a goal against Sweden, to turn a seemingly-certain defeat into a 2-2 tie.

That was Baker's only point (i.e., goal or assist) of the Olympics. But it was a big one. For the first time, things started to look brighter for the red-white-and-blue. They would need to continue to play at a high level, especially in their next game against the powerful team from Czechoslovakia. But, in retrospect, Baker's goal can be seen as the first in a series of miracles.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

30 Years Ago 4: A Flop on Broadway

It's time to continue my description of what I've (subjectively) called the greatest season in hockey (1979-80).

The U.S. was slated to host the 1980 Winter Olympics, at Lake Placid, New York, in February. The Soviet Union had begun to compete in Olympic hockey in 1956. From that year until 1976, the Soviets had on only one occasion failed to win the gold medal. The most recent previous American hosting of the games had been in 1960, at Squaw Valley, California. The Americans had upset the USSR for the gold on that occasion.

It was still true in 1980, that those who played the sport professionally, in the National Hockey League (NHL) or otherwise, were ineligible for the Olympics. The American team was made up of college hockey players who had not, yet at least, turned pro. Their coach also came from NCAA hockey, where he had won the Division I championship in 1979, with his Golden Gophers from the University of Minnesota. That coach was Herb Brooks.

Players from Russia and the other Soviet republics had not yet begun to play in the NHL. They maintained their amateur status according to international rules, by staying home and playing within their own country's system, paid for by the government. There were worldwide complaints that that made them professionals, and therefore it was unfair for them to face off against amateurs from the US, Canada, Finland, and other countries. But they were in compliance with the rules, and they won a lot of gold.

The USSR was, once again, the heavy favorite, as the Lake Placid Olympics approached.

The US team, as was the custom at that time, took a year off from college hockey, to play a series of pre-Olympic games over a period of several months. The climax of that schedule occurred 30 years ago today, when they played the Soviet team at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, the Saturday before the Olympics began.

Once that day was over, it looked as though the Soviet Union's winning streak would continue. The USSR beat the American team by a score of 10 to 3. That game did not count in the Olympic standings, but it did not bode well for the upcoming games at Lake Placid.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pennsylvania Democratic Committee Meeting

Here in Pennsylvania, the Democratic State Committee met yesterday in Lancaster. The committee endorsed Senator Arlen Specter for a sixth term in the Senate.

Reporters from The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a cute lead-in to their story about the event. They surmised that many Democrats would wait until hell freezes over, before they would back Specter, who won his first five Senate elections on the Republican ticket. But this weekend, as a major winter storm hit this area, it was close enough for them.

Specter won 77% of the votes (a two-thirds majority is required for endorsement) over Congressman Joe Sestak.

The process is somewhat similar to the Minnesota endorsement procedure that I described here. The party endorsement does not put a candidate onto the general election ballot, but it gives the endorsed candidate greater credibility going into the primary which, in Pennsylvania, will be held on May 18. All indications are that Sestak will still contest the primary, but the endorsement confirms what the polls have been showing, which is that Specter is a heavy favorite.

The Democrats didn't endorse a candidate for governor, in the close multi-candidate race that I described here. Auditor General Jack Wagner won slightly more than 50% of the vote, so he can't officially claim endorsement, but it might turn him into a front runner for the primary. Don Onorato, who is county executive of Allegheny County, the seat of which is Pittsburgh, finished second.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

(Some) Clarity in Illinois

Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois is the Democratic nominee for a full term in that job. Quinn was lieutenant governor to former Governor Rod Blagojevich. Quinn took over the position when Blagojevich was removed from office by the state legislature.

State Comptroller Dan Hynes made a belated concession today. Quinn's margin of victory was less than one percentage point, so Hynes waited a couple of days to see how things would develop.

However, on the Republican side, where the differences is measured in hundreds, rather than thousands, of votes, there is still no clear winner. State Senators Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard could be headed to a recount in their gubernatorial primary.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Minnesota Precinct Caucuses

Minnesota's political parties held precinct caucuses yesterday. Those neighborhood party meetings get more attention in Minnesota's southern neighbor, Iowa, when they begin the parties' nominating process for president.

In a mid-term election year such as this one, Minnesota's caucuses involve the election of grass-roots party officers, and discussion of issues. And, most importantly for the electoral process, they elect delegates to higher-level party conventions, that endorse candidates for local offices, the Legislature, and Congress. Those delegates also choose another level of delegates, who will vote at each party's state convention.

The biggest election in that state this year is for governor. The Republican incumbent, Tim Pawlenty, is not seeking a third term. Each party's state convention will endorse a candidate for governor. The endorsed candidates do not automatically get on the general election ballot. Primary elections will be held later in the year to officially nominate candidates. But a convention endorsement helps a candidate either win the primary, or fend off a primary challenge entirely.

Straw votes for governor were held at Republican and Democratic (the party is called Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) in Minnesota) caucuses. Those votes are a non-binding survey of opinion about the candidates but, because they are held among the group that indirectly chooses the delegates who will endorse a candidate, they have some value as a predictor of voting at a state convention.

Republicans showed a strong preference for State Representative Marty Seifert (see this post for background on the race). With 96% of the precincts counted, Seifert received 50% of the vote, to 39% for his main challenger, State Representative Tom Emmer. Because Emmer has pledged not to challenge an endorsed candidate in the primary, the straw-poll result gives a strong indication that Seifert will be his party's nominee.

The DFL vote was much less decisive (see background here). With 78% of the precincts having reported, two Minneapolitans are far ahead of the other candidates. Mayor R.T. Rybak garnered 21.8% of the straw vote, to 20.0% for State House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

Those numbers don't mean a whole lot, for two reasons:

1. Those percentages indicate that no candidate is anywhere near putting together the 60% supermajority that is needed for endorsement. If, on the first ballot, the leading candidate only has a small minority of the votes, the delegates will continue balloting until a consensus emerges. When that happens, candidates who were front-runners at the beginning of the process might be supplanted by a dark-horse candidate.

2. The heaviest (figuratively speaking) of political heavyweights in the race, former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton, is bypassing the endorsement process, and planning to run in the primary. That guarantees that the party convention in April will not decide the nomination.

Illinois Primary Results

The phrase "first-in-the-nation primary" is, of course, usually associated with New Hampshire. But, in this year's mid-term elections, Illinois has been the first to vote, having done so yesterday.

For the Senate seat that had been held by President Obama, things went as expected, as I described in this post and this post. Republican Congressman Mark Kirk will face Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias in the general election.

However, both parties' contests for their gubernatorial nominations were much closer, and the outcomes are still in doubt. I described the candidates in those primaries, here and here.

On the Republican side, the Chicago Tribune at this hour shows State Senator Bill Brady ahead of fellow Senator Kirk Dillard by a margin of 20.3% to 20.2%. Andy McKenna is running third, with 19.3%.

Democratic Governor Pat Quinn leads his challenger, State Comptroller Dan Hynes, 50.4% to 49.6%.

The possibility of a recount looms for both parties. With nine months to go until the general election, they have plenty of time to work that out.

UPDATE: President Obama has weighed in on the Democratic gubernatorial primary in his home state. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Obama has congratulated Quinn, who claims victory, even though Hynes has not conceded.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Line Dance

Governor Tim Pawlenty, Republican of Minnesota, who is testing the waters for a 2012 presidential candidacy, has written an article for Politico, regarding federal budget issues. Its publication is timed to coincide with President Obama's release of his fiscal year 2011 budget.

Pawlenty describes the massive growth in federal spending over many years, and the recent acceleration in that growth. He then makes several suggestions for cutting back on such spending.

If he goes forward with his candidacy, Pawlenty may be well placed to emphasize that issue. He has not served in Congress, and therefore took no part in the spending binge of the Republicans who controlled the political branches of the federal government from 2003 to 2006. His record as state legislator and governor would give him credibility as a fiscal conservative. And, if those congressional Republicans of that earlier time spent like drunken sailors, their record has been surpassed by the current Democratic-controlled Congress, whose members spend as though their blood-alcohol level were several times the legal limit.

One of Pawlenty's proposals is to give the president the same line-item veto power that most state governors possess. That is the power to veto parts of an appropriation bill, rather than either accepting or vetoing the entire bill.

The federal Constitution, in Article 1, Section 7, Clause 2, provides that:

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated ...

Here, on the other hand, is an example of a line-item veto provision in a state constitution (Pennsylvania):

The Governor shall have power to disapprove of any item of any bill, making appropriations of money, embracing distinct items, and the part or parts of the bill approved shall be the law, and the item or items of appropriation disapproved shall be void, unless re-passed according to the rules and limitations prescribed for the passage of other bills over the Executive veto.

I recall that, during the George H.W. Bush presidency (1989-93), some commentators suggested that Bush press a constitutional challenge by declaring certain line items in appropriation bills to be vetoed. Their point was that they considered the federal constitutional language to be flexible enough to allow for line-item veto, even without the specific language to that effect that appears in state constitutions. It would then have been up to the federal courts to sort the issue out. Bush declined to try that; perhaps, as a certain comedian would have phrased it, he was being prudent.

Bush's successor, Bill Clinton, signed a bill in 1996 that attempted to establish a line-item veto by congressional statute, rather than constitutional amendment. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that statute unconstitutional, rejecting the argument I noted above, regarding the elasticity of the constitutional text.

That case settled the point that introduction of the line-item veto requires a constitutional amendment. Several versions of such an amendment have been introduced in Congress over the years. But the daunting requirements of a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of Congress, plus approval by three fourths of the state legislatures, have kept the concept from becoming reality.

While this issue has perhaps been pushed mostly by Republicans, presidents of both parties who had gubernatorial experience have advocated it. Republican President Ronald Reagan, who earlier had served eight years as governor of California, was one such advocate. As noted above, President Clinton, who was governor of Arkansas for 12 years, was the only president to use the line-item veto, during its short-lived existence in the 1990s.

Pawlenty, like Reagan and Clinton, has been used to having that power as governor, and it stands to reason that presidents and presidential candidates with such experience will be more likely to understand the rationale for the procedure.

It will be interesting to see whether the current concern about deficits and the growth of federal spending will produce the political will in Congress and the states to approve an amendment.