Pundits, Politics, And Punters

It is always perilous to the mind to reckon up the mind.

—G. K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

conservative columnist David Brooks went to a lot of trouble the other day explaining in The New York Times why it is that,

Most of us spend our days thinking we are playing baseball, but we are really playing soccer.

It seems everyone is anxious to get on the soccer bandwagon and exploit its growing popularity in America. Brooks, who still supports the Republican Party, uses the we-are-playing-soccer metaphor to, perhaps unintentionally, undermine the entire libertarianish economic platform of the party he still supports. He quotes philosopher Simon Critchley, who says, “Soccer is a collective game, a team game,” and by use of that definition, coupled with saying that most of us “are really playing soccer,” Brooks offers soccerbaseballus quite an indictment of his political party.

Yet there is no indication that Brooks will ever abandon the GOP, which these days abhors the very idea, notably expressed by President Obama and Elizabeth Warren, that success is a collaborative effort. Brooks appears content to side with folks who find “collective” a four-letter word. Why is that?

Even though I disagree with his use of soccer as the best metaphor for our social life—because baseball is the perfect combination of “individual activities” that conspire to create intricate collective-team dynamics—he is right about this:

We think we individually choose what career path to take, whom to socialize with, what views to hold. But, in fact, those decisions are shaped by the networks of people around us more than we dare recognize.

The reality may even be worse than Brooks dares recognize. And that reality may explain why it is that Brooks, despite the evidence in his own column(s), still carries ideological water for the Republican Party.

In a great piece at Vox (“How Politics Makes Us Stupid”), Ezra Klein will ruin your day if you think you arrived at your partisan political positions through rigorous and reasoned analysis of the available information:

Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become.

You should read Klein’s piece for yourself, but it based on the work of Yale Law professor Dan Kahan, who “set out to test a question that continuously puzzles scientists: why isn’t good evidence more effective in resolving political debates?” Kahan’s hypothesis:

Perhaps people aren’t held back by a lack of knowledge. After all, they don’t typically doubt the findings of oceanographers or the existence of other galaxies. Perhaps there are some kinds of debates where people don’t want to find the right answer so much as they want to win the argument. Perhaps humans reason for purposes other than finding the truth — purposes like increasing their standing in their community, or ensuring they don’t piss off the leaders of their tribe. If this hypothesis proved true, then a smarter, better-educated citizenry wouldn’t put an end to these disagreements. It would just mean the participants are better equipped to argue for their own side.

Of course, as with any social science hypothesis worth its weight in soccer balls, testing was needed. And that testing seems to have confirmed the idea that ideology trumps reason. Even people good at math, who had demonstrated that they could solve a non-ideological problem by working through the evidence to find the right answer, fell victim to their ideological and partisan biases. One test was set up to focus “on a proposal to ban people from carrying concealed handguns in public” and voilà:

Presented with this problem a funny thing happened: how good subjects were at math stopped predicting how well they did on the test. Now it was ideology that drove the answers. Liberals were extremely good at solving the problem when doing so proved that gun-control legislation reduced crime. But when presented with the version of the problem that suggested gun control had failed, their math skills stopped mattering. They tended to get the problem wrong no matter how good they were at math. Conservatives exhibited the same pattern — just in reverse.

It gets worse:

Being better at math didn’t just fail to help partisans converge on the right answer. It actually drove them further apart. Partisans with weak math skills were 25 percentage points likelier to get the answer right when it fit their ideology. Partisans with strong math skills were 45 percentage points likelier to get the answer right when it fit their ideology. The smarter the person is, the dumber politics can make them.

Consider how utterly insane that is: being better at math made partisans less likely to solve the problem correctly when solving the problem correctly meant betraying their political instincts. People weren’t reasoning to get the right answer; they were reasoning to get the answer that they wanted to be right.

All that does seem insane. But it helps explain why a New York Times columnist, smart enough to know better, is still a Republican.

Finally, since Brooks started it, I will finish with a sports analogy that one of his commenters (“Matt”) supplied that tells a better story of contemporary America:

…Life in America today is American football and the 99% are in punt formation. The .01% is a 300 pound lineman, the 99% is a 140 pound punter, the referee is the government and it’s decided not to enforce the roughing the punter rule. And when the punter, bleeding and hurt and on a stretcher, cries foul over not enforcing the rules, he’s hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing with the referees.

Now that is a metaphor that all thinking people should, but obviously won’t, embrace.

blind ref

[Photo: REUTERS/Patrick Smith]

Our Undemocratic Constitution, In Two Minutes

Ezra Klein did two minutes on MSNBC last night that I found fascinating, if dismaying. He will show you just how the United States Senate “has become one of the least democratic legislatures in the entire world” :

 

If You Don’t Learn Anything Else About Social Security “Reform” Learn This

A frequent contributor to this blog (HL Gaskins) sent in a fantastic and informative clip from MSNBC’s The Last Word that aired last November. I am posting it here because the five-minute essay by Ezra Klein needs to be seen by anyone who gives a damn about Social Security and what it means to so many working people. And after you watch it, pass it on to others.

My parents, both gone, are the kinds of folks Klein is referencing in his piece. When I hear knuckleheads on TV and radio, fretting over the national debt or pretending they want to “save” Social Security and Medicare, saying that we ought to raise the retirement age or the Medicare eligibility age or otherwise penalize working folks for the sins of Wall Street gamblers, I think of my parents. And then I get pissed.

Fortunately, Ezra Klein expresses my outrage in a much more civilized manor:

More Hell From Harry Reid

One of the biggest failings of the mainstream press over the past few years has been its lack of clear and continual reporting on Republican obstructionism in Congress, particularly how Republicans in the Senate have used the filibuster to obstruct Democratic—and democratic—governance.

I would guess that most regular folks, even people who are routine consumers of news but maybe not political junkies, don’t really understand how the modern filibuster—which traditionally meant talking a bill to death—works and don’t understand why it is that in a body of 100 members, in a Democratic society, that it takes 60 votes to get any real business done.

And that lack of understanding of how the U.S. Senate works is partially the fault of the press, which tires rather quickly of reminding folks of such technical matters, even though those technical matters matter a lot, in terms of what has been happening in Washington.

Read this stunning paragraph from Ezra Klein:

Filibusters used to be relatively rare. There were more filibusters between 2009 and 2010 than there were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s combined. A strategy memo written after the 1964 election by Mike Manatos, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Senate liaison, calculated that in the new Senate, Medicare would pass with 55 votes — the filibuster didn’t even figure into the administration’s planning.

Think about that. Medicare, a remarkably large social program, was not only not filibustered, it wasn’t even expected to be filibustered. Compare that to these days of Republican minority obstructionism, where even mundane matters—like whether a bill should even be debated—are subject to the filibuster, requiring the majority to invoke cloture and, if 60 votes can be rounded up, to end the filibuster and move on to the matter at hand.

As Klein says,

Today, the filibuster isn’t used to defend minority rights or ensure debate. Rather, the filibuster is simply a rule that the minority party uses to require a 60-vote supermajority to get anything done in the Senate. That’s not how it was meant to be.

There is serious talk among Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, of changing the rules regarding the filibuster. It turns out that on the first day of a new Congress, the next new one is scheduled to meet on January 3 of next year, there is a method available—now known as the “nuclear option” — for adopting rule changes in the Senate with only a simple majority vote—a filibuster wouldn’t work.

Now, obviously Democrats have to be careful here. They likely won’t always be in the majority in the Senate, and it would be foolish to set a precedent that would completely shut down the minority, much like the minority in the House is made irrelevant by its rules.

To that end, Harry Reid, who should have acted before the opening of the last session of Congress in 2011, is proposing what he calls “a couple of minor changes” to make the Senate “more efficient.” Those changes include:

♦ eliminating the right to filibuster the debating of a bill, but not the right to filibuster the final passage of the bill itself

♦ forcing filibustering Senators to actually stand on the Senate floor and conduct the filibuster, as opposed to merely invoking a filibuster from their offices

Those sound like sensible changes, some would even say too sensible, since the filibuster would still exist and 60 votes would  still be needed to pass legislation, given what mood Republicans have been in since the Dawn of Obama.

So, how did the leader of the obstructionists, the man whose one self-admitted priority four years ago was denying Barack Obama a second term, how did that guy, Mitch McConnell, react? Come on, you know how. He got pissed. He called it a “temporary exercise of raw partisan political power,” and a “naked power grab.”

Other Republicans were equally outraged. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, no stranger to overstatement, threatened something, but I’m not sure what:

I think the backlash will be severe. If you take away minority rights, which is what you’re doing because you’re an ineffective leader, you’ll destroy the place. And if you destroy the place, we’ll do what we have to do to fight back.

Do what we have to do to fight back” ? Huh? Is he going to blow up the place? Because if he’s not going to wedge a grenade down Harry Reid’s trousers, what else is available? Obstruction? That’s what Republicans have been doing.

As Reid said of such threats,

What more could they do to us?

What more, indeed.

For his part, Ezra Klein says that Reid’s minor reform effort “doesn’t go nearly far enough.” He writes:

The problem with the filibuster isn’t that senators don’t have to stand and talk, or that they can filibuster the motion to debate as well as the vote itself. It’s that the Senate has become, with no discussion or debate, an effective 60-vote institution. If you don’t change that, you haven’t solved the problem.

Defenses of the filibuster tend to invoke minority rights or the Constitution’s preference for decentralized power. It’s true the Founding Fathers wanted to make legislating hard. That’s why they divided power among three branches. It’s why senators used to be directly appointed by state legislatures. It’s why the House, the Senate and the president have staggered elections, so it usually takes a big win in two or more consecutive elections for a party to secure control of all three branches.

But the Founders didn’t want it to be this hard. They considered requiring a supermajority to pass legislation and rejected the idea. “Its real operation,” Alexander Hamilton wrote of such a requirement, “is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of government and to substitute the pleasure, caprice or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent or corrupt junta, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.” Sound familiar?

Of course that sounds familiar. We have been living with Hamilton’s description ever since Mitch McConnell declared war on President Obama. And it is McConnell who has led his “corrupt junta” into unprecedented abuse of an important Senate rule, a rule that must be used judiciously or else it becomes, in Ezra Klein’s words, “a noxious obstacle” :

Filibusters are no longer used to allow minorities to be heard. They’re used to make the majority fail. In the process, they undermine democratic accountability, because voters are left to judge the rule of a majority party based on the undesirable outcomes created by a filibustering minority.

Yes, voters are left to judge. But they need critical information to properly judge. And that critical information comes largely from the press, which did not do a good job of explaining how dogged Republicans were in their pursuit of those “undesirable outcomes” that Klein referenced.

But despite that, despite the trembling economic recovery, despite an entire cable news channel and almost all of talk radio against them, Democrats were able to largely prevail in November.

And making a couple of modest changes to the filibuster rule in the Senate may just make governing a little easier. If it doesn’t, if Republicans dig in their obstructionist heels even deeper, then at least the American people will be able to see them, day after obstructionist day, standing on the Senate floor holding up progress.

And that in itself would be progress.

Incoherence

in·co·her·ent:

  • (of spoken or written language) Expressed in an incomprehensible or confusing way; unclear
  • (of a person) Unable to speak intelligibly
  • (of an ideology, policy, or system) Internally inconsistent; illogical

n Wednesday, Mitt Romney released a new campaign ad that featured these words:

President Obama and I both care about poor and middle class families.

Piggybacking on an increasingly popular Obama is a good move, but those words were quickly followed with this lie:

The difference is, my policies will make things better for them.

The Romney-Ryan budget ideas will, of course, not make things better for the poor, and the jury is still out and confused on what those policies will do to the middle class. Heck, the Romney-Ryan campaign itself is confused about that:

Romney To Middle Class Ohioans: Don’t Expect Too Much Tax Relief From Me

From that article:

“We have got to reform our tax system,” Romney said at a morning event here. “Small businesses most typically pay taxes at the individual tax rate. And so our individual income taxes are the ones I want to reform. Make them simpler. I want to bring the rates down. By the way, don’t be expecting a huge cut in taxes because I’m also going to lower deductions and exemptions. But by bringing rates down we will be able to let small businesses keep more of their money so they can hire more people.”

If there has been one thing that has been consistent about the Romney-run campaign, it has been its incoherence.

All along, Romney has touted across-the-board tax rate cuts of 20%, which a voter might rightly decide meant an actual tax cut of 20%. Of course, as most economists who have looked at Romney’s tax plan have pointed out, Romney can’t cut tax rates by 20% without raising the deficit, unless he closes popular middle-class loopholes. But as Ezra Klein pointed out:

Since Romney doesn’t want to touch tax breaks for savings and investment like the capital gains cut…there just isn’t enough money in the remaining tax breaks for people making over $250,000 to pay for their tax cuts.

Howard Gleckman, who writes the economic policy blog for the Tax Policy Center, put it this way:

The Tax Policy Center has found that a 20 percent across-the-board rate cut along with repeal of the estate tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax would disproportionately benefit high-income households. As a result, it would be effectively impossible for Romney to cut rates as he has promised without raising taxes on middle-income households, increasing the deficit, or raising taxes on investment income (which he has vowed not to do).

Something has to give, as mathematics tends not to be all that flexible. And Romney, sensing that folks are starting to get the message that his brand of arithmetic is not of this world, has tried to muddle their minds even more by his warning, “don’t be expecting a huge cut in taxes.”

But the incoherence in Romney’s latest statement in Ohio goes even further than that. Let’s look at it again, in terms of its logic regarding small businesses:

1. He wants to reform individual tax rates by bringing “the rates down.”

2. Small businesses “most typically pay taxes at the individual tax rate.”

3. But to those small businesses he says not to expect “a huge cut in taxes because I’m also going to lower deductions and exemptions.”

Got it so far? No big cut in taxes for small businesses. But he then finishes with this:

4. “But by bringing rates down we will be able to let small businesses keep more of their money so they can hire more people.”

How can that be? If there isn’t much to expect in the way of tax cuts, how can, a) small businesses “keep more of their money” and b) “hire more people” because of it?

More doodoo economics, I suppose. But as I said, Romney’s campaign has been consistent when it comes to its breathtaking incoherence.

Republicans Helped Create Romney’s “Taker Class”

There is much talk about the 47%  46%—those on the take in Romney’s formulation—who don’t pay taxes and will, the GOP candidate falsely told his rich bankrollers, all vote for Barack Obama.

Fortunately, we have people like Ezra Klein to open our eyes. He reminds us that:

Part of the reason so many Americans don’t pay federal income taxes is that Republicans have passed a series of very large tax cuts that wiped out the income-tax liability for many Americans. 

And he says:

Some of those tax cuts for the poor were there to make the tax cuts for the rich more politically palatable. 

And finally:

Republicans are arguing that these Americans they have helped free from income taxes have become a dependent and destabilizing “taker” class who want to hike taxes on the rich in order to purchase more social services for themselves…

So notice what happened here: Republicans have become outraged over the predictable effect of tax cuts they passed and are using that outrage as the justification for an agenda that further cuts taxes on the rich and pays for it by cutting social services for the non-rich.

That’s why Romney’s theory here is more than merely impolitic. It’s actually core to his economic agenda.

From FDL:

And we must keep reminding ourselves that the reason so many folks don’t have jobs, and good paying jobs, such that they can pay income taxes, is partly because of the Great Recession that Mr. Bush handed President Obama.

And to exploit that situation and write off so many folks is, well, so Romneyan.

A Fiscal Fantasy

This morning on MSNBC Ezra Klein made a great point about how most of the talk surrounding Ryan’s budget plan has been limited to the Medicare issue. But there is a lot more to it than that:

What people don’t realize about it is the cuts to other health care programs, primarily Medicaid, are almost twice  as large as Medicare…

Medicaid, of course, is a means-tested health program for low-income folks, including children, the elderly, and the disabled.  More than half of the funding for each state is provided by the feds.

According to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, those Ryan—now Romney-Ryan—cuts Klein referenced, along with repeal of the Affordable Care Act which Romney and Ryan promise to accomplish, will in, say, Missouri mean that somewhere between 46% and 53% of folks who would otherwise be enrolled in Medicaid under current law in 2021 would not be so enrolled.

That represents between 650,000 and 750,000 Missourians whose well-being, unless the state came up with more revenue itself (!), would be sacrificed in the name of budget austerity that has as its guiding principle the idea that rich folks need more tax cuts.

But that’s not all. Klein also makes the point that the Ryan plan is designed to shrink other parts of government spending as a share of the economy, to uncivilized levels by 2050. He  presented this graph:

Klein wrote something remarkable that should be shouted from the housetops (emphasis mine):

The truth is that the Ryan budget’s largest long-term savings don’t come from Medicaid or Medicare or Social Security, or even Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security put together. They come from everything else. Ryan says that under his budget, everything the federal government does that is not Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security will be cut to less than 3.75 percent of GDP by 2050. That means defense, infrastructure, education, food safety, energy research, national parks, civil service, the FBI — all of it. Right now, that category of spending is 12.5 percent of GDP.

Think about that. A government that small could not possibly “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” in 2050. But it’s all nonsense, as real-time, Nobel Prize-totin’ economist Paul Krugman pointed out:

Look, Ryan hasn’t “crunched the numbers”; he has just scribbled some stuff down, without checking at all to see if it makes sense. He asserts that he can cut taxes without net loss of revenue by closing unspecified loopholes; he asserts that he can cut discretionary spending to levels not seen since Calvin Coolidge, without saying how; he asserts that he can convert Medicare to a voucher system, with much lower spending than now projected, without even a hint of how this is supposed to work. This is just a fantasy, not a serious policy proposal.

Well, what is serious is the philosophy behind the proposal, which philosophy is based on a fantasy, a fantasy that what is wrong with our fiscal house can be fixed by throwing the poor, the elderly, and the sick in the streets to fend for themselves and by shrinking government to a size that could truly be drowned in Grover Norquist’s bathtub.

Of Chicken Shit And Billionaires

I want to begin with a story that appeared on the front page of the Joplin Globe this Friday morning:

Moark is a subsidiary of Land O’Lakes in Minnesota and is the second largest distributor of fresh shell eggs in the country (about 6 billion eggs sold each year). Naturally, when millions of chickens are concentrated in one area there is a problem with waste and smell, which tend to diminish the quality of life for those residents who happen to live nearby.

The point of the Globe story was really to chronicle the lack of interest on the part of those nearby residents to resist this latest expansion of Moark’s production, since citizen resistance to an earlier expansion in 2005 met with utter failure. The state sided with the corporation.

Dave Boyt, one of those who challenged Moark’s 2005 expansion said this time:

People get tired of beating their heads against a wall. We knew during the earlier expansion what we were up against. We knew that the chances of stopping the expansion or getting even some concessions were absolutely minuscule.

Another nearby resident said:

Ordinary people can’t afford to fight something that big. Money talks, and as a little guy, unless you’ve got the money to fight them, you really can’t do much.

Such resignation may be behind the tendency, when one discusses money in politics, to resort to a “both sides do it” stance and just hope the wind blows the smell of chicken shit the other way.

But, folks, what Republicans are doing this election cycle ought to scare the complacency out of you, if, that is, you give a damn about our democracy. Last night on MSNBC, Ezra Klein (subbing for Saint Rachel) presented this graphic:

What this comparison shows is that Karl Rove, W. Bush’s Turd Blossom, will spend this election cycle, through his Crossroads group, nearly as much as the entire McCain-Palin campaign did in 2008.

But that’s not the whole story, of course. As Politico reported:

POLITICO has learned that Koch-related organizations plan to spend about $400 million ahead of the 2012 elections – twice what they had been expected to commit.

Just the spending linked to the Koch network is more than the $370 million that John McCain raised for his entire presidential campaign four years ago.

So, from just two sources, Rove and Koch, Romney’s effort to become CEO of America will have funding amounting to about twice as much as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate had last time.

But that still doesn’t include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the super PAC supporting Mittens (Restore our Future), which when added to the Rove-Koch dough will exceed $1 billion. Can you smell the chicken doo-doo yet?

But we still haven’t got to what the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee expects to raise—according to Politico about $800 million!

Add it all up and we are damn close to $2 billion that Republicans will have to slander and trash Obama and other Democrats. But we’re still not at the end:

Chicken caca, anyone? That Forbes article relates that the Las Vegas billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, who “has made more money during the Obama administration than just about any other American, based on Forbes tabulations,” will do “whatever it takes” to defeat the President. Adelson is quoted as saying:

What scares me is the continuation of the socialist-style economy we’ve been experiencing for almost four years. That scares me because the redistribution of wealth is the path to more socialism, and to more of the government controlling people’s lives…I believe that people will come to their senses and not extend the current Administration’s quest to socialize this country. It won’t be a socialist democracy because it won’t be a democracy.

It won’t be a democracy because people like Sheldon Adelson—worth a reported $25 billion—and the Koch brothers—combined net worth of $50 billion—and other wealthy Republicans will have cannibalized it, if voters don’t stop them.

And, again, if all this isn’t enough to get folks to electorally rebel against this hostile takeover of our politics—aided greatly by the conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court—then the American experiment with democracy—with government of, by, and for the people—will soon be over.

The people will have surrendered to the oligarchs and America will become a much different place, one where the Adelsons and the Kochs will rule and the Moarks of the world can pollute the countryside with impunity.

CBO: The Affordable Care Act Will Save Even More Money Than We Thought

I wanted to write today about the ongoing Republican assault on women’s rights in places like Arizona (employers may have the right to grill women about why they need contraceptives and possibly fire them for giving the wrong answer) and Pennsylvania (the GOP gov’nor “says he supports forcing women to have an ultrasound before an abortion because they can just close their eyes”) and Texas (GOP lawmakers barred Planned Parenthood from state funding, which means the Federal money for the state’s Women’s Health Program will dry up, too).

But something else has bothered me since I heard it earlier this week:

RUSH LIMBAUGH: The Congressional Budget Office says that Obamacare is gonna cost twice what he told us.

I knew when I heard this newly-minted meme that it would, true or not, generate a lot of heat among heat-seeking right-wingers. Limbaugh went to great lengths to explain what he doesn’t understand, which is actually the format of his show, by the way.

What Limbaugh was trying to explain that he doesn’t understand was the “Updated Estimates For The Insurance Coverage Provision Of The Affordable Care Act,” released on Tuesday (The 8 1/2 page text is here and the blog post summary is here). The CBO was doing its job of getting us up-to-date on the “budgetary effects” of the coverage provisions of the ACA.

If Limbaugh—and others who ought to know better—had actually read the CBO report (as Rick Ungar of Forbes noted it is “available in very readable English“), they would have noticed that the CBO actually estimates the net cost of the ACA will be around $50 billion less than its estimate from last year!  Get that? $50 billion less, which means the new law will save taxpayers more money then the CBO originally estimated!

As I think about it, it is obvious that these Republican folks actually did read the report and found it necessary to lie about what it meant because otherwise their campaign to repeal it would lose a little steam, if word got out that it isn’t the budget-buster they’ve been saying it is.

I won’t bother to go over the nuances of the report, since good explanations are available, including here and here and here, but I will quote from each source listed:

As it says right in the title, this is just a look at “the insurance coverage provisions” of the Affordable Care Act. That is to say, it’s a look at the spending side of the bill. So it doesn’t include the Medicare cuts, or many of the tax increases, that pay for the legislation. It’s like reading only the “outlays” side of the budget and ignoring the “revenues” part. Of course that would make the deficit look huge. (Ezra Klein)

..not only is the GOP pitch a gross distortion of the truth, this is one of those all too rare moments where I get to actually prove the meme to be nothing more than another effort to confuse Americans. (Rick Ungar)

Yes, you read that right: The real news of the CBO estimate is that, according to its models, health care reform is going to save even more taxpayer dollars than previously thought. (Jonathan Cohn)

To be fair, Cohn does mention “one finding that give us at least a little pause“:

CBO now projects the number of people with employer-sponsored insurance will drop by 4 million people, on net. It’s still a small effect, representing less than 2 percent of the total population with employer-sponsored coverage. That’s well within the margin of error of these models. It’s also difficult to tell why CBO thinks this will happen—whether it’s fewer employers offering insurance, fewer employees accepting coverage, or workers moving into firms that are less likely to provide benefits. Any of those would be consistent with lower economic growth, as CBO now expects. Still, the issue merits attention.

Cohn also points out—for those Republicans who cry crocodile tears over the estimate that 4 million folks will lose their employer-sponsored insurance—”if they had their way, health care reform would reach even fewer people and provide less protection.”

And who can doubt that?

The Fall Of Mittens And The Rise Of, Uh, Santorum?

One of my favorite pundits in Pundikistan is Ezra Klein.

Last night, filling in for St. Rachel Maddow, Klein got all wobbly about the inevitability of Mitt Romney as the eventual GOP nominee. He has been a steadfast claimant that the other candidates opposing Romney are pretenders, with no real chance to beat him. Klein’s argument, accompanied by the following image, makes sense. There is real dissatisfaction among independents with the Romney brand:

Granted, Mittens has been a weird candidate, mostly afraid to talk about two things that have served him well in his life: religion and money.  He has lately taken to bringing up these handicaps/attributes, but maybe it is too late.

Maybe his authenticity has taken too many blows, what with the Gingrich attacks on his fondness for and enrichment by practicing predatory capitalism, and with Santorum’s slightly more subtle, but perhaps more effective, attacks on his once-palpable political moderation.

I have predicted for months now that Romney will be the Republican nominee, and I still think the best bet is on him, but there won’t be anyone in the country who would be more glad to see a Santorum nomination than I.

From the moment he stepped foot in the United States Senate, this extremist former senator has attempted to fashion America in the image of his ancient theological views, and if the contrast is between him and a much more restrained and modest and modern Christian like President Obama, then let’s get on with it.

Santorum successfully added an amendment to the No Child Left Behind bill in 2001 that would have allowed the teaching of a kind of creationism—intelligent design—in the public schools. Fortunately, his amendment was jettisoned during the conference between the House and Senate.

For obvious political reasons, he later distanced himself from the religiously motivated movement to get creationism in the schools via so-called intelligent design, but last year I saw him on Chris Matthews’ show and he, like most conservative Christians, could not bring himself to embrace modern science:

I believe that we are created by a living, loving God…for evolution to explain the creation of the human species from nothing to human beings, absolutely not I don’t believe in that.

Okay, that’s not so bad I suppose for a Republican candidate, or even a Democratic one. There are a lot of folks who agree with him. But it is his sincere and fanatical embrace of a full-throated theological conservatism, tainted by homophobia and a strange disdain for contraception, that will be his undoing, should he upset Romney.

Consider the following, from The Seattle Times on Monday:

OLYMPIA — Within an hour of Gov. Chris Gregoire signing a same-sex-marriage bill into law Monday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was meeting with a group of gay-marriage foes at a church minutes away, offering a message of support for their efforts to repeal the law.

The paper reported on the closed-door meeting of “more than 100 pastors and other ‘values voters‘” this way:

“I told them to keep up the fight, that this is an important issue for our families; it is an important issue for religious liberty,” the former Pennsylvania senator said of his meeting with church leaders, during a news conference Monday afternoon.

Arthur Banks, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Tacoma, said he appreciated Santorum’s visit and that the group was determined “to stand for right and righteousness against what we feel is an injustice because God’s word speaks against it — same-sex marriages.”

You see, that stand for “right and righteousness” and “God’s word” is what Santorum is tapping into on the extreme right-wing—really, the only wing that now matters—of his party. And while that may give him an outside chance of wresting the nomination from Mittens’ hands, it will only serve the interests of President Obama, who by contrast appears, in his execution of public policy, sober and sane and comfortingly secular.

Whose Debt Is It Anyway?

Ezra Klein, first-rate columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, published a fascinating piece today that puts the lie to the Republican charge that Obama has been a historic deficit spender.  You’ll have to go to his site to get the details, but here is the graph, which I rearranged to fit:

Socrates They Are Not

Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”

—President Obama during 2008 campaign

 

Although it will be lost on the general public, and on many of those in the general public who will vote next year, it is important nonetheless to understand the reality behind the Democrat’s original stimulus package in early 2009, which Republicans never tire of telling us—falsely—was a failure. 

It is clear that whoever the Republican nominee will be, he—yes, he—will say loudly and often that Mr. Obama “made the economy worse” or “spent a trillion dollars on a stimulus that failed.”

We have discussed this several times over the last year or so: the $800 billion stimulus package was too small to do the job the way it was designed because the way it was designed was based on incomplete data.  Ezra Klein put it succinctly:

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, the agency charged with measuring the size and growth of the U.S. economy, initially projected that the economy shrank at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the last quarter of 2008. Months later, the bureau almost doubled that estimate, saying the number was 6.2 percent. Then it was revised to 6.3 percent. But it wasn’t until this year that the actual number was revealed: 8.9 percent. That makes it one of the worst quarters in American history.

This reality is stunningly important in trying to understand the dynamics behind the early days of the Obama Administration as it grappled with what to do to stop the bleeding of millions of jobs. Even though the last quarter of 2008 was one of the worst quarters in history, the folks advising Mr. Obama on what to do about the collapsing economy didn’t know just how bad it was.

Now, it may be true, as some on the left argue, that the Obama Administration’s efforts were based on too-rosy scenarios and wishful thinking. But imagine if the Democrats had proposed a trillion-plus package.  As it was, Mr. Obama was attacked ruthlessly by Republicans, even before it became clear that the stimulus was too small to do the job the Administration said it would do.

If the stimulus package had been commensurate with the job that needed to be done, not only would Republicans have attacked it even more rabidly, some Democrats would have fallen away and not supported it.  It’s likely that the Administration got all it could get at the time, and unfortunately all it could get wasn’t enough.

But what’s not true, and never will be true no matter how many times you hear it from the lips of Republicans, is that the stimulus did nothing or made things worse. Klein quotes Doug Holtz-Eakin, John McCain’s “top economic adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign” and “no fan of the stimulus”:

The argument that the stimulus had zero impact and we shouldn’t have done it is intellectually dishonest or wrong. If you throw a trillion dollars at the economy, it has an impact. I would have preferred to do it differently, but they needed to do something.

No doubt that phrase “needed to do something” is pregnant with all kinds of “could haves” and “should haves,” now that we can better see how big the initial problem was.  There are plenty of Monday-morning economists who have plenty of ideas about what could have and should have been done. (There were, to be fair, folks like Paul Krugman who did seem to understand how bad things were at the time, but they were in a minority.)   

But the truth is, as far as the politics of 2012 are concerned, that most voters who are not committed to one party or the other don’t really care about an academic debate over the depth of the economic crisis or the size of the stimulus presented to help alleviate that crisis.  They see persistent unemployment, growing economic disparity, and millions of vacant homes and millions more to come through foreclosure.

And Mr. Obama sits at the top of what voters see. That’s what makes it so easy for Republicans—who have done absolutely nothing to fix the mess their policies largely helped to create—to demagogue the stimulus issue and blame the President for the slow recovery and for racking up unnecessary debt.  It’s not fair, of course, but it’s reality.

The President’s reelection is in serious doubt.  Most of the uncommitted voting public will not pay any attention to a rational discussion of how we got here and what the alternatives were based on what was known at the time.

They will listen to, and then ignore, his perfectly reasonable argument that things would have been much worse if it weren’t for his leadership on the economy.

They will hear, but not really absorb, his arguments about a “do nothing” Congress and Republican’s gridlock-creating obstinacy.

They will not, like pupils of Socrates, reason their way into voting for him like that.

Fortunately for Mr. Obama , he will be facing a radical Republican, no matter who survives the often ridiculous GOP primary process. With Mitt Romney fully embracing the Ryan plan to kill Medicare, with Newt Gingrich fashioning himself as the savior of Western civilization by putting kids to work as janitors, the President will have plenty of opportunities next year to force the public to think about what putting the Tea Party in charge will mean.

And if that doesn’t take their minds off the too-slow recovery, nothing will.

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