Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Everyone But Football Coaches Exaggerates How Many Hours They Work

Last month David Yanofsky had a great post on a study showing how people tend to inflate how many hours they actually work. Matt Yglesias summarizes it nicely here.
The main point is there's a cultural expectation in many fields where working a lot of hours is encouraged, even admired. Yglesias notes:
Researchers think this reflects a "social desirability" effect where it's considered good to be working really long hours.
This got me thinking about how this relates to the NFL and how it reflects our society's views toward working long hours. Football coaches, like business executives and tech CEOs are lionized for working ridiculously long hours. It's viewed as some sort of character flaw if you don't work yourself to near exhaustion every single season. The old saying "no one on their death bed wishes they had spent more time at work" probably doesn't apply to football coaches.

And then San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was hospitalized last week and needed surgery to repair a problem with an irregular heartbeat. Of course it was described as a "minor procedure." I mean it's just a MINOR routine HEART surgery.

49ers star linebacker Patrick Willis added:
"Coach Harbaugh, like he always tells us, he's tougher than a two-dollar steak," Willis said. "We know he's going to be alright. We've got a bunch or great coaches here that are going to keep everything on track, and we're going to practice today as if he was here."
See, no need to worry, everyone. He's tough! If you're tough and work hard, you can overcome a heart ailment. Man-up! Tough guys don't let heart problems bring them down, you weak-hearted wussies!  Then again this is the culture of the NFL. Until the recent CYA law-suit prevention incentive to emphasize the reduction of head injuries, players were expected to play through every kind of injury or ailment short of a loss of limb.

And I guess cancer. Yeah, loss of limb and cancer. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year and took a leave of absence while he underwent treatment. And then we heard story after story about how "this really puts life in perspective" and "football isn't really that important." And that lasted a few weeks and then football became the most important thing in the world to everyone again.

Being married to a football coach must be like being married to a combat veteran in a war that never ends. A combat veteran who, mind you, volunteers for this duty year after year after year, apparently because he has a sociopathic obsession, like the lead character the in The Hurt Locker. During the 6-7 month season they are basically absent. They may be around occasionally, but are always mentally checked out, focusing on their next opponent. And then in the offseason they are still working what most of us consider a normal somewhat grueling work week. Drew Magary had a great anecdote in his weekly Jamboroo column recently about Alabama head coach Nick Saban. This was the reaction just after winning a national championship in January 2010:
Saban reminded us that those best equipped to win championships are often the least equipped to celebrate them.

"I guarantee you," said a smiling Terry Saban, as she watched her spouse of 38 years, "he's already thinking about next week."

Did the couple have plans? "He said he'll give me two days," Terry said, "and then he has to meet with some of the players about going out for the [NFL] draft."

Two days? "Two days," she repeated. "And I'll take it."

Oh, and just for good measure Nick Saban forgot his own birthday a few weeks ago.  With the lack of joy that winning seems to bring, it starts to look like big time football coaches are mainly coaching to get away from something or trying to fill some void in their lives. Sorry, no amount of success or hours of film study now is going to make daddy want to have a catch with you when you were 10 years old.

I always had a soft spot for Steve Spurrier (even though he kind of seems like a jerk), mainly because of the refreshing outlook he brought with him to be head coach of the Washington Redskins when he left the University of Florida in 2002. His philosophy was something close to 'I’m not going to sleep in my office reviewing game film until 4am every night.'  Spurrier was essentially saying, "I'm going to work smarter, not harder", which is the same bullshit business cliche we've been hearing for nearly 20 years. Yet, Spurrier was roundly mocked by almost everyone in the NFL for apparently not having the same mental disorder, er work ethic, everyone else in his field has. And people took great satisfaction seeing Spurrier fall flat on his face.

Spurrier didn’t have much success in the NFL in two seasons (12-20), but in my opinion that had much more to do with him not having enough talent and his Fun-'n'-gun offense not being an effective NFL system, than it had to do with him not buying into the peer pressure to work 120+ hours a week. And after a certain point it's counterproductive, kind of like rewriting a term paper for the 20th time and it likely being no better than the 5th rewrite.

Imagine the positive work-life balance precedent this would have set if Spurrier had had better players and his offense actually worked in the NFL. He'd have been winning, while working about half the number of hours as the other coaches. We'd have been reading stories in the Style section of the Washington Post about how Spurrier's philosophy keeps coaches fresher, prevents burnout, and that's they key to success in the modern NFL. Instead, we got a bunch of stories about him being ill-prepared and mailing it in for the big payday.

As a young Philadelphia Eagles fan I lived through Dick Vermeil's infamous "burnout" retirement after the 1982 season. And as an adult for the last 14 seasons I've watched Andy Reid seemingly put in his diligent 20-hour work days while winning a lot of games. I'm fairly certain Reid didn't put in any more time game-planning when the Eagles were contending for Super Bowl titles than he is now when they are among the league's worst teams. Talent, good fortune, and preparation are the keys to victory and when you don't have the former two ingredients, the latter doesn't really matter.

And while Reid has spent the last 14 seasons putting in 20+hour work weeks, his two eldest sons have had run-ins with the law and battled drug addiction. His oldest, Garrett, died of a heroin overdose at the training camp facility this past summer. Reid of course, being the consummate football coach, just took off a few days in early August and then went right back to work. And knowing how coaches operate, this decision surprised no one.

Reid will likely be fired at the end of the season and if he takes some time away from football to focus on his family and maybe help his other son, Britt, it will have been a blessing in disguise.

As a big fan of pro football, I'm torn on this. One one hand, I want my team to have a surly, emotionally-distant taskmaster as a coach if it means my team will have a chance to win a Super Bowl. On the other hand, this is an unhealthy standard for our society to place so much emphasis on leisure time entertainment and the ensuing pressure on individuals involved to work so many hours.

NFL head coaches essentially have the same schedule the President of the United States has. Yet instead of solving real problems and dealing with foreign and domestic policy issues, they are spending all this time and effort trying to win football games. They aren't figuring out how to resolve international conflicts, fiscal problems, or how to get more people access to health care. They are studying film trying to figure out how to get the tight end open on a skinny post route in the red zone.

When you take a step back and think of it that way, you have to ask how we got here.

And now due to downsizing, not just severely Type-A executives with daddy issues, but your average employees are expected to work long hours to fill in the gaps created by layoffs. And then how can we complain to our corporate overlords when NFL coaches are working twice as many hours every week!

So as we celebrate another Thanksgiving holiday this year, it's always important to be thankful for what we have. But maybe we should all start thinking about what we can do to get the lifestyles we really want to have. What are the tradeoffs? Are they really worth it? Will it take long-term societal change to create the environment where we all have the ability to achieve the lifestyles we want, without as many tradeoffs? Is the European model really the ideal?  And football coaches...stop working so many hours!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Final Thoughts on the Election

Here are some longer thoughts on this election:

1. The Electoral College map figures to remain very tough for Republicans for at least the next few Presidential cycles. Currently, the six states with the most electoral votes are all getting more Democratic every year. California (55), Texas (38), Florida (29), New York (29), Illinois (20), and Pennsylvania (20) are all much more Democratic that they were 20 or even 10 years ago. California, New York, and Illinois remain safe deep blue states. Pennsylvania is a swing state in name-only, and is leaning Democratic now. As long as the Republican party keeps their extreme positions on social issues, they've lost the Philadelphia suburbs for good, and thus any chance of winning the state. Florida remains a true toss-up. So Texas is the only large state that is currently solidly Republican. And with the projected demographic trends, in 10 years Texas will likely become a swing state.

Even other fairly large states are becoming more Democratic. Virginia  (13) and North Carolina (15) were solid Republican states just 10 years ago and now are toss-up states, while Georgia (16) is approaching swing state status with the last two Presidential elections decided by just 5 and 8 points, respectively. And the Democrats still remain strong in New England and the upper Midwest.

In short, it appears unless there are drastic changes, the Republicans will have a narrow path to winning the Electoral College in the foreseeable future. Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina will be must-win states for the Republicans in every election, while the Democrats will start off with something like 220 electoral votes safely in hand.

2. Republicans aren't going to win in the majority of big cities any time soon, but they can't continue to get killed in cities and expect to win elections. Of the 25 largest cities in the country, Mitt Romney only won the majority of the votes in three: Phoenix (55-43), Jacksonville (51-47), and Fort Worth (57-41). The cities are where the voters are and in most big cities Democrats are winning 2/3 or more of the votes. The New Republic has more on this.

3. The Republicans and Tea Party marriage was mutually beneficial at first and now has really harmed Republicans. They used each other to get something in the short term. Republicans needed to re-brand themselves and needed grass roots energy to win back power. And the Tea Party apparently was really just made up of a lot of social conservatives pretending to care about the deficit in order to have more influence on social policy. Rachel Maddow was one of the first pundits to point out that the Tea Party kept insisting they were mainly concerned about the economy and the deficit, but if you actually paid attention to the people showing up at the rallies or how they spoke about abortion and marriage equality, you could tell this was just another iteration of the very extreme social conservative base of the party.

This was very apparent in 2010 when the Republicans lost what should have been three easy Senate seat pickups in NV (Harry Reid), CO (Michael Bennet), and DE (Chris Coons), by nominating the less electable Tea Party favorites in the primaries - Sharon Angle, Ken Buck, and Christine O'Donnell. All three of these candidates were favorites of the social conservatives and two ran on the "I will make abortion illegal, no exceptions" platform and were rejected by voters even in a Republican wave year.

Then the Republicans took back the House and decided to focus on passing a lot of bills (67 by last count as of August) to restrict access to abortion and contraception, because you, jobs, jobs. So 67 bills directly or indirectly about restricting access to abortion or contraception and not one bill to create jobs.

4. In the 2012 cycle, the Tea Party still not deterred, cost the Republicans a chance at Senate seats in Missouri (Claire McCaskill). The more extreme Tea Party candidate won in the primary, so McCaskill ended up facing off against Todd "you can't pregnant from rape" Akin, while Indiana Republican incumbent Dick Lugar was defeated by Richard "rape is a gift from god" Mourdock in the primary. These candidates were a gift from god to the Democrats who won both seats easily.

We kept wondering why Republicans couldn't get the Tea Party coalition in line so they could win. But as the old proverb goes, "he who rides the tiger must beware lest he end up inside."

And arguably the Tea Party forcing the Republicans to adopt more extreme positions on abortion is what helped the Democrats turnout more women voters and win this group by such a big margin. This no doubt tipped other close House and Senate races to the Democrats and was a key factor in President Obama's victory in swing states.

5. When women voters vote in big numbers, Democrats win. Period. This election the Democrats won single women by a 67-31 margin and won women overall 55-44. The single women/married women gap was very large - 49 points! - as married women backed Republicans 56-43. The difference is there are a lot more single women voters now than there were years ago. This demographic trend is also helping the Democrats. Women are putting off getting married until later in life and thus the "marriage gap" is more of a factor every election.

6. I was offended by the dismissive talk in conservative circles about Obama winning by huge margins among the "non-white" vote, as if those voters don't really count. The argument boiled down to, "Obama won but he didn't win the majority of votes of real Americans." Republicans are still trying to comfort themselves that they didn't lose on the actual issues, since minority voters obviously don't vote on issues or anything. As if only white people concern themselves with abortion restrictions or tax cuts for the rich or Medicare cuts.

And actually a similar thing happened with how FDR's coalition came together in 1930's, but then it was the European immigrants of that time. If there were cable news and talk radio shows back then, I'm sure the Republican WASPs and the Rush Limbaughs of their time would have been saying similar things about how FDR just won with a coalition of unwashed masses like Irish, Italian, Jewish, and German immigrants who just wanted handouts from the government, taking from the people "who built this country." The more things change, the more they stay the same. That coalition of Northern ethnics and Southern whites mostly held for the Democrats for 40 years. It'll be interesting to see how long-lasting this new Democratic coalition is.

7. It was a solid win for the Democrats and the demographic trends are definitely in their favor, but perhaps a better Republican candidate and a flip of a total of a few million votes in a handful of states and we could be having a very different discussion at the moment. So I caution Democrats not to get too cocky and assume a semi-permanent new majority coalition is here to stay. It is going to take a lot of work to hold it together. Obama is a once in a generation politician who has the ability to motivate and inspire these voters. In four years there could a less-inspiring figure at the top of the ticket and this coalition could easily be fractured if Republicans make some savvy political decisions.

Marco Rubio could be running at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016 after having helped pass immigration reform. It's not hard to imagine the Republicans winning back similar levels of Latino support that Bush won, which would probably be enough to flip enough states to win the Presidency. So sadly the GOP could very well win again in 2016 without having to do much differently on the policy front. I figure the party will first try running on the same tired Bush/Romney agenda like they always do, but try it with a Latino guy at the top of the ticket and see how that goes. Only if that ticket is rejected will they moderate on other issues. So tokenism before substance most likely.

8. And finally, let's face it, Democrats don't just win over huge majorities of Latino and black voters because they have a lot of Latino and black officeholders. It's more the other way around - the big melting pot coalition of voters they already have, help elect the Latino and black officeholders. And the reason they have so much support from such a diverse group of voters is because of the results of the policies Democrats support. Clinton, Gore, and Kerry received close to the same percentage of the black vote nationally that Obama did because of policies not tribalism.

If Republicans wonder why 95% of black voters side with the Democrats, maybe it has something to do with the opposition to Civil Rights laws in the 1960's. Maybe it has something to do with the party passing state laws every cycle to try to keep many in this group from voting in elections. It's difficult for black voters to perceive the Republicans are treating them as equals when they are constantly trying to make voting more difficult.

Shockingly to some Republican pundits, black voters may not want to support a party who has people who attend rallies and consort and agree with people who carry signs like this

Or this:

Yes, surprisingly black voters who might even agree with you on taxes and social issues may not support your party if it includes a lot of people who think like this.

And of course who can forget this guy from a Romney rally in Ohio:

 (Source: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Think of the comfort level these people at rallies must have to express such blatantly racist views in public. It's obvious they aren't scorned by other politically like-minded people and don't get a lot of negative feedback about it. And that's part of the problem with living in the bubble.

Maybe it has something to do with the conservative media that drives the party's agenda using code words or signals to attempt to make every issue into a "Hey, white people look at what black people are saying or doing now!" issue. Republicans, these are your friends in the media. You never say a bad word about Limbaugh or the people on Fox. If you want to appeal to black voters, maybe don't have so many racist friends or friends who are willing to play on white people's racial fears in order to get ratings.

The same thing applies to Latino voters. If you want to win over more Latino voters, maybe you need more candidates and talk show hosts who don't flex their muscles over how fast they can deport illegal immigrants, without giving any thought to the consequences of these policies on people and communities. The Arizona "papers please" law and near unanimous national Republican support of this did not help when it came time to run for President.

It may shock some Republicans, but if a significant portion of your base views Latinos as "invaders", then you might have trouble wooing Latino voters. (source AP/Chris Pizzelle)

If you are a Latino voter, do you want to vote for the guy who hangs out with the guy who views having too many Latinos in this country as a problem in and of itself?

In short, until the Republican party leaders stand up to and call-out blatant racists and xenophobes, instead of just ignoring them publicly while keeping them in the fold with dog-whistles, black and Latino voters simply won't trust that any outreach is sincere. Republicans have a big choice to make and they can't honestly court minority voters without alienating part of their base, and vice versa.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Rewarding Achievement and Punishing Obstruction

Obama became the first Democrat since FDR to win 2 terms with 50+% of the popular vote both times.

I've been tired and busy since Tuesday night and haven't had time to post my thoughts on the election until now.

As a liberal, obviously I'm pleased with Tuesday's election results. Four years ago I was a lot more excited, whereas this time around I'm just more relieved that President Obama will be able to continue the progress he's made in the last four years.

He admittedly underestimated just how fierce the opposition and obstruction would be after winning a landslide election in 2008. With the country facing huge problems, it's natural to expect at least some cooperation from the party that was just soundly rejected at the polls.

I imagine the President's outlook has changed and since he will now have the leverage, both politically and policy-wise, in most of the big upcoming negotiations, he will use it like a club.

This was really the first Presidential election the Democrats have won since LBJ without needing either a booming economy to run on (Clinton '96) or a having the opposing party be presiding over recession or a recent scandal ('76, '92, '08). They were able to win with just good old-fashioned politics: messaging, voter outreach, ground game, and last and most importantly, the better candidate.

Besides my policy preferences, I think it was very important that Obama was re-elected for two main reasons:

First, for voters to reward the out-party for four years of obstruction and economic sabotage would have been a terrible precedent for our democracy. And it likely would have made that cycle continue for the near future. The Democrats would have then responded by mostly obstructing the Republican president out of revenge. Wash, rinse, repeat. Our democracy has a much better chance of functioning properly now that Obama was re-elected by a solid margin and holds leverage over the Republicans on taxes, the deficit, spending, and immigration. Voters have justly punished the Republicans for their obstruction, inaction, and extremism of the past four years. The incentives for both sides now, at least for this year, point toward cooperation and compromise.

And secondly, given our country's historical scars of slavery, Jim Crow, and race relations in general, it was very important that Obama was re-elected, maybe even more important than electing him in the first place. Otherwise, the first black President, who was came into office facing the biggest challenges in 80 years would have been rejected just four years later for not fixing everything immediately. The confusing demoralizing message to minority voters would have been, "well we tried the black guy and that didn't work out well enough, so we're going back to the white guy with the same policies that caused this mess." Objectively, there would be no other way to read that result without attributing the worst motives to many of the people who voted against Obama.

So, I'm proud of our country for achieving this result for these two very important reasons.

I'll be posting some other takeaways from this election later. 

A Tale of Two Candidates

To me these videos will forever define the choice between the two candidates in this race. Both videos were recorded in private. The first one, you already know about. It's Romney's 47% video. The second one, was Barack Obama stopping by his Chicago campaign headquarters to thank the staff that has worked tirelessly for two election cycles now to help him get elected.

Both candidates sound as at ease and as comfortable as we've ever seen them.

For Romney that is talking to a bunch of other rich guys, and crapping on poor and middle class people, while also laying out his cynical strategy to win the election. Romney is speaking from the heart with his kind of people.

For Obama, it's talking about his roots as a community organizer and how he got involved to make a difference in people's lives. And then he breaks down when talking about how proud he is of those who worked so hard, because he sees himself in them. Obama is speaking from the heart with his kind of people.

The contrast couldn't be any more drastic. Thankfully, America made the right choice.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Romney will not become President "Moderate Mitt"

David Frum believes Romney is lying and that's the reason to support him

David Brooks and David Frum, my favorite conservative pundit, both endorsed Mitt Romney in the last week, both seemingly supporting him in hopes that he is really lying and would really govern as "Moderate Mitt."

I understand this impulse. If you are one of the few prominent moderate Republicans remaining, you must convince yourself that the Presidential candidate would govern more to your liking or else there would be little reason to remain a Republican at this point. At the Congressional level, moderate Republicans are practically extinct. The last chance for a moderate Republican to have any impact on the party is at the Presidential level and he/she will have a really tough time making it through a primary. Romney, to his credit, did win the primary rather easily. But his path isn't likely to be repeated by future moderates. They just don't make many as shameless as Romney, and only someone lacking in any conviction could reinvent himself on virtually every issue in such a short period of time.

Here's the thing though, history shows us Presidents try to keep campaign promises. Frum, at least circles this square, but pointing out that with the Democrats likely to retain control of the Senate, Romney won't be able to follow through on a lot of the crazy misguided stuff he promised his base during the campaign. It's not a very comforting thought to a liberal like myself that the future of ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank, etc, may hinge on a handful of Senate Democrats not caving and voting with the Republicans.

So the argument seems to go: vote for Romney because he's really been lying to us and will govern as a moderate....oh and if he wasn't lying, well the Democrats in the Senate will save us from "Severely Conservative Mitt."

I admire the hope that Romney is secretly running to stick it to the majority of his party and will govern as a moderate. It just seems extremely unlikely. I seem to remember a lot of moderates making the same case about George W. Bush in 2000. And while Bush was more moderate when it came to immigration, since his party was more moderate on that issue at the time, he governed as advertised or even more extreme than how he campaigned on virtually every other issue. As former President Bush said, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Florida Polling


Most polls in the last week show Romney ahead in Florida. The last polls in the state show Obama +1, Romney +3, Romney +7, Romney +4, Romney +1, and Romney +1.  Average them together as RCP does and it's Romney up 2.5.

The poll showing Obama up 1 is the oldest so obviously the trend line is moving in Romney's direction since the debate. I don't usually like to get bogged down in the internals of polls, since almost every poll's sample is off a bit and that's why it's best to just average them. But the poll showing Romney up 7, had him winning among Latino voters. Some other recent polls show Florida Latino voters moving toward Romney with Obama's lead being cut from high teens to single digits, so again that is also trending in Romney's direction. Florida's Latino voters tend to be more conservative than Latino voters in the rest of the country so this isn't a huge surprise. But Obama won Florida Latinos by 15 points in 2008, so he hoped to do at least that well in 2012, especially considering that nationally he's leading Romney among Latinos by around 50 points.

Here are some demographic changes to think about, though. According to reports there are 44,000 less white voters registered in Florida in 2012, while there are 55,000 more black voters registered and 195,000 more Latino voters registered.

The caveat here is that in Florida, it depends what type of Latino voter you're talking about. If most of the 195,000 newly registered voters are Cuban, then Romney may end up having a net gain in this demographic.

In 2008 Obama won the state 51%-49% by a margin of 236,450 votes.  White voters made up 71% of the electorate in 2008. Depending on turnout, registrations at least so far show that white voters will make up less than 71% of the electorate in 2012.  Anyway, I did a little estimation that is hardly scientific, but I subtracted 44,000 from the number of white voters who voted in 2008, while adding 55,000 to the number of black voters who voted in 2008 and 195,000 to the number of Latino voters who voted in 2008.

But let's try this and play around with the numbers and give Romney 60% of the white vote (up from 56% in 2008), give Obama 55% of the Latino vote (down from 57% in 2008) and black support remaining at 95%, this election is a toss up, with Romney ahead 4,190,075 to 4,176,404, a lead of less than 14,000 votes. If you tweak the Latino support to give Obama the 57% he got in 2008, he's ahead by about 40,000 votes, 4.2M to 4.16M.

If you play around with the numbers further and give Romney a 2 point lead among Latinos, as the one poll showed, then he'd be winning the state by 180,000 or so votes 52-48, or roughly what some of the polls are finding.

So I think the keys in Florida are: 1) how much, if any, did Romney increase his share of the white vote, 2) how much, if any, did Romney increase his share among the Latino vote, and 3) turnout, turnout, turnout.

Polls are simply predicting and estimating all three of these factors. But no matter what the current polls show, I'd be shocked if either side won this state by more than 100,000 votes this time around.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Romney's Economic Plan Doesn't Actually Solve Any Problems

Here's my plan: The super rich get these big pieces of the pie. Everyone else gets the crumbs. (AP)

Many of you may recall the parable of the "streetlight effect." It goes something like this: A policeman sees a man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what he's lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the man replies, no, that he lost them somewhere else. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the man replies, "this is where the light is."

It highlights a bias where people only look for solutions where they are easiest or most familiar. You saw this come in to play with the invasion of Iraq, fulfilling a long-time goal of the NeoCon foreign policy intelligentsia, regardless of the facts. And in the case of Mitt Romney's economic plan it really highlights a conservative bias in recent decades, where they see lower marginal tax rates for upper income people as the solution to every economic problem, even when all objective analysis says it wouldn't actually help the current situation. The solutions to our economic problems may be over here in the dark, but conservatives prefer to push for lower taxes for rich people over there in the light.

Only a supply-side true believer could look at what has happened to economy over the last 10 years and conclude that what we really need is another round of budget-busting tax cuts for the super rich.

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post and others have been pointing this out for months.
I asked two economists to take a look at that question. Their conclusion: While both said they support some of Romney’s long term goals, they both agreed that Romney’s ideas would do little or nothing to fix the immediate crisis, and could in the short term make things worse.
He said he would tap our energy resources to “put a lot of people to work in the energy sector.” He said he’d repeal Obamacare, which is “scaring small businesses from hiring.” He said he’d balance the budget so people know “investing in America is going to yield a return in dollars worth something.” He vowed to “open up new markets in American trade.” He said he’d revamp the National Labor Relations Board and lower tax rates on employers, both of which would make it easier to hire people.

“Are all these things going to reduce the unemployment rate from eight to five in two years? No,” Joel Prakken, the chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, tells me. He described Romney’s ideas as a “a bundle of reasonable policy proposals that could well stimulate the economy from the supply side over a number of years, but would do little to stimulate aggregate demand in the short run. The reason that unemployment is as high as it is is inadequate aggregate demand, not inadequate supply.”

“On net, all of these policies would do more harm in the short term,” added Mark Hopkins, a senior adviser at Moody’s Analytics. “If we implemented all of his policies, it would push us deeper into recession and make the recovery slower.”
Sargent's post delves into the specifics of his five-point plan. So please go read the whole column. And in fact Romney's plan is largely the same five-point plan that both George Bush and John McCain ran on in 2000, 2004, and 2008. Once again, no matter what the ailment is, Republicans offer the same old prescription every time.

Or as President Obama put it in his convention speech:
...And I ran for President because I saw that basic bargain slipping away. I began my career helping people in the shadow of a shuttered steel mill, at a time when too many good jobs were starting to move overseas. And by 2008, we had seen nearly a decade in which families struggled with costs that kept rising, but paychecks that didn’t; folks racking up more and more debt just to make the mortgage or pay tuition; put gas in the car or food on the table.

And when the house of cards collapsed in the Great Recession, millions of innocent Americans lost their jobs, their homes, their life savings, a tragedy from which we are still fighting to recover.

Now, our friends down in Tampa, at the Republican convention, were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America, but they didn’t have much to say about how they’d make it right.


They want your vote, but they don’t want you to know their plan. And that’s because all they had to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last thirty years:

“Have a surplus? Try a tax cut.”

“Deficit too high? Try another.”


“Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.”


Now, I’ve cut taxes for those who need it, middle-class families, small businesses. But I don’t believe that another round of tax breaks for millionaires will bring good jobs to our shores, or pay down our deficit. I don’t believe that firing teachers or kicking students off financial aid will grow the economy, or help us compete with the scientists and engineers coming out of China.


After all that we’ve been through, I don’t believe that rolling back regulations on Wall Street will help the small businesswoman expand, or the laid-off construction worker keep his home. We have been there, we’ve tried that, and we’re not going back.

We are moving forward, America.


I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear.

OBAMA: You elected me to tell you the truth.


And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It’ll require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why Obama Now?

Here's the latest campaign web ad for Obama at by Simpson's animator Lucas Gray:

Nice framing of the choice in this election.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What's so great about the Barrier Reef?

The Great Barrier Reef (source: Getty Images) Or perhaps just "a barrier reef" in a few years.

In case you missed this story with all of the other political hullabaloo this week, The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, has been reduced by 50% over the last 27 years, mostly because of the warming of the ocean due to climate change.
The reef is vanishing due to climate change, predatory starfish and intense cyclones linked to a warming of the oceans, according to scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) and the University of Wollongong.

Coral cover could fall to just 5 percent in the next decade,the study warns.

“This loss of over half of initial cover is of great concern, signifying habitat loss for the tens of thousands of species associated with tropical coral reefs," the study released on Tuesday said.
So what does that really mean to the ecosystem?
Stretching for 1800 miles parallel to Australia’s northeastern coast, it is a breeding area for humpback whales, home to thousands of sea species and is the biggest single structure made by living organisms.
Given all this and other alarming signs of climate change, perhaps we might get a question or two about climate change in the coming Presidential debates?  Nah, I doubt it.

Old 97's - "Barrier Reef"

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Final Thoughts on the First Debate

 "My 1-point plan for winning this debate: lying." (Source: AP)

I honestly hate debate formats. As someone who is into policy more than politics, I think it's a terrible forum for understanding what the candidates would do and whether or not their plans will work as they claim. And that's not even unpacking the veracity of their claims. Debates are a fine format for electing a High School class president, but probably not so good for a leader of a country.

With that being said, here is my long summary of the debate:

1. It is important to remember that the 10% or so of the persuadable and undecided voters remaining seem to care disproportionately about the deficit for some reason. Many of these people aren't following closely and aren't wonky enough to understand that especially after a near Depression, the economy/job creation and the deficit often work in the inverse of each other. That is, it makes more sense to run short term deficits in order to continue to boost the economy until you get closer to full employment. So thus "dealing with the deficit" in the short term means lower economic growth and less job creation.

But that is why the debate focused so much time on taxes and the deficit and therefore related issues of tax reform and entitlement reform. It should be noted though, those issues will have, at best, an infinitesimal positive effect on job creation. All of the liberal wonks I follow on Twitter were pulling their hair out during this part of the discussion, but it was probably worthwhile for undecided voters.

That being said, having duel discussions about cutting spending and creating jobs, as if both things exist in an unrelated vacuum, was curious. All those budget cuts that Romney supports would lead to job losses. Take his joke about PBS. A lot of people work for PBS and if you cut their budget, people will lose their jobs. There are dozens of other examples. Somehow the job losses resulting from cutting PBS's budget are OK, but potential job losses (or slowing job growth) from, say, increasing taxes a few percent on prosperous small businesses are unacceptable.

Romney chastised Obama for not supporting Simpson-Bowles and then admitted he'd accept no debt reduction plan that raised taxes in any way, even at a ratio of 10:1 spending cuts to tax increases. A good follow-up from Jim Lehrer would have been to ask Romney how he planned to cut a deal with Congress for tax reform and debt reduction, which Democrats and Republicans could support, without including these basic compromises. It would be a question that would take a candidate out of the abstract world and into the real world how bills become laws.

2. Chris Hayes made a great point in the MSNBC recap. The Obama team feels, and has felt for 5 years, that Obama's signature "brand" and most important characteristic is his likeability. He will not risk losing that edge by unnecessarily going negative in a debate when he's leading in all of the polls. Now, should the race tighten, you will probably see a more pointed Obama in the coming two debates. We shall see. Obama's modus operandi is to present a cool, calm, confident demeanor, and then have ads and surrogates do his dirty work. That way his hands stay clean. It's tough to argue against that strategy now, seeing how it has served him well since 2007. Also, the thinking is that a continuous series of ads in swing states on a daily basis work better at persuading voters than a few forgettable debate quips. Obama's debate strategy, even against Hillary Clinton, always seemed to be to just calmly present his case and stay on message, avoiding gaffes.

It may come as a surprise to the gang on MSNBC, but a fiery black liberal probably wouldn't do as well electorally as Obama has done. If, say, Chris Matthews' style was more popular with the public at large, he'd be hosting the network Evening News, not a dinner time show for political insiders on basic cable. And I mean that as no shot at Matthews, who I generally find entertaining and knowledgeable. It's just a fact.

 "Why didn't Obama attack Romney more like I would have?" (Source: Mediate)

3. Romney comes off well in these debate settings. He sounds like he's giving a presentation to a Board of Directors. Or perhaps making the case to a financial institution to help lend him money for a leveraged buyout of a company he intends to load up with debt and bankrupt in return for huge profits.

He has figures at the ready, even though they aren't always accurate and he sounds convincing. Every bullshit artist sounds convincing. He talks in "1., 2., 3." sequences, even if he doesn't really have three different points to make. Obama could learn to use more of the "1., 2., 3." setup in his answers rather than the "...and", "and also," "and let me just add..." framework, which tends to make his answers run on longer and make them less effective. Using the "1., 2., 3." setup encourages people to listen more closely because your answers have a beginning and end to them. With the way Obama answers a lot of questions you never know when he's wrapping up his main point or beginning to make a related point. Perhaps he should read this. And that leads to my next item.

4. Debates are about style and how you say what you are saying. Fact checkers have already showed Mitt was full of shit about most of his accusations and defenses of his plans ("what plan? what plan are you talking about? that's not my plan").  Obama seemed completely unprepared to deal with this more brazen morphing of Right Wing Mitt back into Moderate Mitt. During the long back and forth over the $5T cost of Romney's proposed tax cuts, Obama seemed exasperated at times and surprised that Romney could be so bold as to completely deny the plan he's been running on for 15 months in front a national debate audience.

 "Is he really denying the existence of the tax plan he's been campaigning on for 15 months?" (Source: Daily Beast)

5. Really, going back to 2006 when Romney began running for President, he's presented a sort of Potemkin Village candidacy, saying whatever he needed to say to win voters at that particular time. And then, as Jon Lovett noted, he has this masterful tactic where he feigns offense when you bring up the fact that he just did a 180 on an issue from where he stood 15 minutes ago. Then he'll restate the current position the rest of the night as if it existed all along, rinse/repeat.

6. And because of those flip flops, Romney came off more appealing to people by conceding the policy ground to Obama and the Democrats. Romney changed or lied about his position on $5T in tax cuts and how they would be financed, his proposed cuts to education, and his non-existent health care plan to replace ObamaCare, among other things. This is hardly the victory for conservatism that Reagan's debate win in 1980 was. This was a stylistic win for Romney, where he was forced to lie about substance in order to compensate for GOP policy proposals that are unpopular.

7. I'd need several separate posts just to dissect Romney's inconsistent message on ObamaCare and Health Care overall. But here are a few related paragraphs instead. I'm still not sure how Romney's argument that "RomneyCare is a great plan but should only be adopted on a state by state basis", passes any threshold for ideological consistency.  Sick people in Massachusetts have the same problems as sick people in Montana. And the basic Actuarial Management principles at the heart of both laws apply regardless of where your reside. You can't implement any one leg of the three-legged stool without either bankrupting private insurance companies and/or making the uninsured problem worse.

In short though, it is remarkable that 15+ minutes of the debate were spent arguing over a law that both men support in private, but only one is able to support publicly. Romney is unable to admit that he really supports it and has had to create this unconvincing opposition to the law as a whole, while agreeing with nearly all of the particulars. He mainly cites the newest Conservative argument against it: the Commerce Clause. This holds that State government control of health care is a brilliant model, but Federal government control of health care is the death of freedom (meanwhile, of course in neither case does the government control health care since it is still private insurance, but anyway...). If only the Republican party didn't go batshit crazy in 2009, Romney could have proudly run on his RomneyCare record, as he did in 2007-2008, and it would be settled bipartisan consensus that the law was fine. We'd just be arguing about what, if any, tweaks to make to it.

Finally, this point cannot be overstated about ObamaCare: If Romney wins and repeals ObamaCare, PEOPLE WILL DIE as a result of it. Or as the Tea Party calls that: freedom. That is not hyperbole. Just like that ad about Bain Capital, of course Romney won't be killing them personally. But these laws effect real people, not just numbers on a balance sheet. Stacy Lihn, who spoke at the DNC, will no longer be able to get treatment for her kid if ObamaCare is repealed because of the lifetime limit on coverage. As many as 89 million people would likely be left out of Romney's plan for covering people with pre-existing conditions. If a plan leaves out 89 million people, it may be a plan in that it contains a series of words strung together to make sentences that are readable, but that's not a health care plan that actually solves a health care coverage problem. It's plan for the sake of you being able to say you have a plan. Potemkin Village Romney strikes again! That has been every Republican Presidential candidate's health care plan since the 1980's: a one-page series of words that don't really solve any of the problems - soaring costs, access to insurance, compensating outcomes rather than activity, etc., but simply allows the candidate to say he has a plan, hoping to end a discussion of the details.

8. On one of the few big issues that Romney did not reverse himself, he admitted or at the least didn't push back against the charge that he and Paul Ryan are in favor of ending Medicare as we know it for those people currently under 55 years old. Obama accurately characterized this as a voucher plan that would ultimately put Seniors at the whims of private insurance companies at their most vulnerable times. We used to have a system like that before Medicare. And that's why Medicare was passed to fix that problem. The Romney/Ryan plan essentially attempts to reduce health care spending, not by implementing any cost-saving reforms, but by just shifting costs from the government onto seniors and recreating the same problems that existed before Medicare. By sticking to this and continually emphasizing "current seniors aren't affected", Romney just wrote a campaign ad for Obama for anyone under 55 years old.

9. Obama seemed to be setting up an argument that he never got around to making, perhaps getting stuck in the weeds trying to rebut Romney's lies. But if you are making the case that "things were awful when I took over, but things are improving now, so stick with me", then you need to champion the improvements. Obama didn't mention the nearly 5 million private sector jobs created in the last 2.5 years. He didn't mention rescuing the auto industry from bankruptcy. If you want to make the case that your campaign is moving forward in the right direction and Romney would take the country back to the policies that caused the problems, then say the name "George Bush" a few times. He did reference the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 and the lowest rate of job growth in 50 years in the early aughts after the tax cuts were passed, and then the financial collapse/Great Recession. It was a solid lawyerly argument against Romney. But people don't remember what happened a week ago. Say "George Bush" a few times at the next debate. Then undecided voters will think, "Oh right, George Bush, yeah things were really bad during those years. Romney wants to do what?"

10. In conclusion, Romney did what he needed to do. He had a good debate "performance" and won it on the strength of his energy, tone, and delivery. The fact checkers are already doing an autopsy on his statements though and it's not going well.

We'll see if Romney's debate win ends up moving enough voters in the coming days to make this a close race down the stretch. All of the instant polls showed most people believed Romney won the debate by significant margins. But the same polling and focus group anecdotes showed very little movement by anyone who was still undecided. And it showed Obama's positive favorability rating was unchanged while, Romney's negative favorability rating only improved slightly. With polling averages showing Romney trailing Obama by around 48-45, Romney would need to win the votes of over 80% of the remaining undecided voters in order to win the Presidency. It's a very tall task that even two more excellent debate performances may not be able to salvage.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Ticket Splitters: History's Greatest Monsters

 Voters gonna vote (Source:

I was having a back and forth on Twitter last night about the psychology behind ticket-splitting voters. Based on polls in Wisconsin, Virginia, and Massachusetts, a significant percentage of voters are voting for Barack Obama for President, and the GOP candidate for Senator - in these cases splitting their tickets Obama/Tommy Thompson (WI), Obama/George Allen (VA), and Obama/Scott Brown (MA).

Based on the opinion of Alec MacGillis, who has more intimate knowledge of MA politics, the Obama/Brown polling is not that surprising. But still, polls show Obama's lead 25-34 points in the Bay state, while Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown have basically been running tied for most of the year with them trading small leads.

The Obama/Thompson polling trends are similar. Obama's margin has been larger than Tammy Baldwin's margin over Thompson. And some polls have Obama and Thompson leading. It's been an odd few years in Wisconsin politics with many of the same voters supporting both Obama and Governor Scott Walker, which is sort of like supporting both the Red Sox AND the Yankees. But the Obama/Allen polling is the most curious. Allen represents Old Virginny. Obama's electoral prospects in VA are bright largely because of the influx of college-educated white collar voters in the Northern VA suburbs who are either transplants or have become more liberal as years have passed. But some 3-5% of voters in VA seem to be supporting both Obama and Allen. Although Tim Kaine did have a good poll earlier this week which shows him running about the same as Obama.

People should not underestimate how good of a politician Allen is and apparently how likeable he is in VA. Let's recall in 2006, it was a strong Democratic midterm election year and Allen used a racial slur during the campaign ("Macaca") and yet still barely lost by just 7,231 votes with over 2.36 million votes cast.

And that leads up to my point that people who split national tickets are really hurting our country, mainly by sending mixed electoral messages and increasing the likelihood of gridlock. I understand if you vote for one party locally for mayor or city council or even some statewide races and then vote for the other party for Senate or President. Local interests are different than national interests and often for local elections you do vote the person rather than the party. And some of us live in one-party towns. But nationally, you should vote the party with whom you most identify, period.

For all the 3rd party mumbo jumbo about how the two major parties are basically the same, they are actually quite different. Just compare the party platforms, the competing Obama/Romney tax and budget plans, etc. If you don't see any major differences, then you are just being willfully ignorant and/or justifying your apathy. If you actually pay close attention to politics and have a strong opinion, then it seems hard to reconcile how you'd be an "independent" who could vote for Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008 or 2012. I don't doubt a lot of those voters exist. I just doubt they really pay close attention to politics and rationally think through their decisions.

You grow up presumably forming some opinions on issues and develop a worldview. And then you look at the two parties and figure out which one is most closely aligned with your views, which one addresses your pet issues, and then you vote that party. And over time (sometimes decades) you hope to keep moving the ball forward a few yards at a time. That's how you exercise political influence rationally.

Perhaps back in the days when the filibuster wasn't abused, splitting tickets for President and Senate was more acceptable and possibly even strategically desirable if you were a moderate voter. The theory is the President would then have to compromise with the Senate, which may be controlled by the other party. And then they'd reach some swell bipartisan compromises on all the big issues of the day. Bwahahaha! And then you woke up or you turned off that Aaron Sorkin show you were watching.

That sounds great, but that hasn't really been politically attainable since the regional realignment of the parties neared completion in the 1990s and the use of the filibuster increased in the Senate. These days it works like this: if 41 or more Senators don't feel there's a political incentive to vote for a bill nor feel there's a political price to pay for voting against a bill, they won't vote for it. It doesn't matter if it's something they used to support. It doesn't matter if it's a bill they sponsored in the recent past. The Senate is currently among the world's worst legislative bodies. Voters in VA, WI, and MA who are going to vote for Obama but also vote for the GOP Senate candidate, are decreasing the chances of passing meaningful legislation by potentially making the Senate even more dysfunctional.

And the flip side of that is if you don't want to see Romney become President, then if he wins you are increasing the chances that he'll be working with a majority in the Senate by splitting the ticket. To most Obama supporters, that's actually a scarier prospect and more a motivation to vote for Democrats than the inverse.

You are presumably voting for Obama because you like him and/or agree with his vision for the country and want to see him to succeed and get things done. So a vote for the GOP Senator would make an Obama win less decisive and make it less likely that he'll be able to succeed and get things done. It's self-defeating, irrational, somewhat ignorant of the stakes in this election, and likely will contribute to more inertia in Washington.

I urge you, if you know any of these ticket-splitting monsters who usually lean Democratic, grab them by the collar and explain to them why they need to snap out of it and fall in line before they destroy America! Or something. And if you're typically a Republican voter who is splitting tickets and voting for Democrats, I think you're being completely illogical, but keep up the good work!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why Obama is Winning on Taxes

I said relax. I got this.

Something is happening during this Presidential campaign that I never thought I'd see: a Democrat both wanted a debate on taxes and is so far winning it.

It took a few long steps to get there, but it started last year when President Obama began focusing like a laser on Paul Ryan's budget and on the issue of fairness in the tax code. Mitt Romney obliged by running further to the right than he probably needed to in the primary, resulting in him putting out a revised tax/budget plan that was very similar to the Ryan plan.

In 2010 the Republicans re-took the House mainly due to three issues:

1) the distortion on the Medicare "cuts" in Obamacare
2) the deficit/spending cuts
3) the economy

The first was a result of an older whiter electorate and the second was driven by the energy created by the Tea Party and the cynicism of the GOP caring about deficits only when Democrats are President. And the third was expected given the high unemployment rate and the Democrats controlling the entire government. David Frum pointed out, the Republicans cynically won back power without understanding why and then overestimated the electorate's support for their "real" agenda.

So it was a bit of a gift that one of the first major economic or budget visions the GOP put forth after winning the House was a budget that cut taxes on the rich, ended Medicare as we know it, and still didn't balance the budget for 40 years. In one House vote the Republicans lost credibility on the Medicare and deficit issues. And with no plan to create jobs and address this particular economic situation and not the one they wished existed, they began losing support on the economy as well.

Obama and the Democrats spent months earlier this year hitting Romney on Bain and creating narrative that Romney was a heartless CEO unconcerned about the plight of middle class Americans. As Jonathan Chait noted, then Obama began moving to phase 2 earlier in the summer, which was talking the Romney/Ryan budget and tax code fairness. If voters didn't feel Romney really understood and cared about their problems, they'd be more willing to accept Obama's argument about the choice between the two competing visions for the country.

Obama knew the GOP couldn't very well admit that they don't really care about deficits. So he was able to put Romney in a box over his tax plan. If he did indeed want to cut taxes on rich people above all else and since any plan has to be absolutely deficit-neutral, lest he want to annoy the Tea Party and the Randians, then there is no other way to make that plan work without deep spending cuts to popular programs, increasing taxes on the middle class, and/or eliminating or reducing many middle class tax deductions and tax credits through some type of comprehensive tax reform plan. It is now September 20th, and Romney has still yet to reveal any details about how this plan would work.

The Obama campaign deftly called the GOP's bluff on their fake concern over deficits and contrasted it with their overarching goal of lowering taxes on the rich. And they were able to show how there was no way to achieve both of those goals without screwing the middle class. With Romney's lack of credibility with his base he had no room to maneuver or nuance this issue, so he was stuck defending a plan that either can't work or will screw the middle class. All that doesn't fit on a bumper sticker, unfortunately, but the groundwork was laid for months. And enough voters apparently have come to understand this argument. As President Clinton said, it's arithmetic.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why do 47% of Americans Pay No Income Tax?

 .....And what matters about Mitt Romney's revealing statement.

Last year conservative pundit Ramesh Ponnuru destroyed the argument of the "freeloader myth." And while I ultimately disagree with Ponnuru's conclusion (that the point of conservatism is to make sure nobody's taxes ever get raised), the rest of his column is on point. Ponnuru painstakingly takes us through the tax code to explain why poor, elderly, and many middle class families pay no net federal income taxes. And he has background on the history of the policies that created this situation.

I really didn't want to have to step through the tax code again, since doing my own taxes is brutal enough, let alone projecting a fake person's taxes, so I'll let Ponnuru tell you:
According to the Tax Policy Center, provisions of the tax code that exempt subsistence levels of income from income taxes — the standard deduction, personal exemption, and dependent exemption — are the reason for about half of the tax filers who owe no income tax. Another large group of filers pays no income tax because its members are elderly and benefit from such features of the code as the non-taxation of some Social Security benefits. The tax credit for children and the earned-income tax credit, an effort to boost the pay of low-income workers, wipe out income-tax liability for other taxpayers. Those credits are “refundable,” meaning that beneficiaries can get money on top of paying no income tax. Other provisions of the code account for the rest of the 47 percent: education credits, the non-taxation of welfare payments, itemized deductions, and so on.
Also as Ezra Klein noted in a blog post last night, of the roughly 47% who pay no net federal income taxes, over 45% of those can be easily explained.

(Source: The Tax Policy Center)

1) 28.3% of the country are middle income folks who pay no net federal income taxes due to a series of tax credits and deductions: Personal Exemption, Dependent Exemption, The Child Tax Credit, the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction, and depending on how far their income has dropped, the Earned Income Tax Credit and other deductions for things like Student Loan Interest. But of course people still pay regressive payroll taxes along with local and state taxes. And of course everyone pays the flat sales and sin taxes that help fund state and local government services.

2) 10.3% of the country are elderly and end up paying no net federal income taxes due to the tax laws that exempt some social security benefits from taxation.

3) 6.9% are poor people with incomes under $20,000. Or as the Republicans call them, "the lucky ones." Again, they take advantage of many of the tax credits and deductions described previously. It's just that their incomes are so low, it results in them paying no net federal income taxes.

4) Less than 1% are the rest - most likely the ultra-rich with complicated tax shelters and some other tax cheats.

Romney has spent the last month or so defending his vague tax plan against valid charges that in order for it to be deficit-neutral, then taxes on the lower and middle income people will go up and/or many lower and middle income deductions will be reduced or eliminated. It's going to be a lot harder for him to make a convincing case that he does not intend to raise taxes on the lower and middle incomes after his revealing comments from this week. His statements show a person who is disdainful to those who are suffering and barely getting by.

And moreover, he and his rich brethren view tax avoidance as a proud moment of individual accomplishment. "I pay all the taxes I'm required to pay and not $1 more" is Romney's standard defense of his tax rate. Yet when lower and middle income people take advantage of similar benefits in the tax code, he treats them as freeloaders. Project much?

For a multi-hundred-millionaire paying, at most, a 13% tax rate in his only tax return we're privy to, his conclusion apparently is that the major unfairness in the tax code isn't that people like him are paying too little, but that middle class people have too many tax deductions and the poor and elderly are extremely fortunate to have insufficient taxable income.

The question is was this just another Romney pander to the economic conservatives in the GOP base or does he really believe it? If it's the former, then it shows a real lack of courage on his part and a questionable cynical strategy at best. And frankly it shows a lack of competence on the campaign trail that is puzzling for someone whose main selling point is executive success. If it's the latter it reveals a person who, in spite of his CEO background, has completely misdiagnosed the real problems in the country during the last decade. Voters should reject him for it either way.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ezra Klein Demolishes Romney's 47% Argument

 (source: Mother Jones)

A video surfaced today, first broken by David Corn of Mother Jones with Mitt Romney talking about 47% of the country (the number who roughly pay no income tax) with the edited comments in the image above.

And well, I'll just re-post Ezra Klein's twitter timeline from earlier today.

And then after Romney gave a statement, Klein responded with another series of tweets:

An Early Romney Campaign Autopsy

Conservatives and Romney campaign insiders are fudging the truth about why Romney is losing

Politico published the kind of piece that every campaign dreads before an election: a finger-pointing, off-the-record pre-postmortem filled with criticisms by staff and advisers about why a candidate is losing.

This particular story seems to shift most of the blame to Mitt Romney's top strategist, Stuart Stevens, and the rest to Romney himself. My take is that neither Romney nor his top strategist are totally to blame, although obviously both share in it. I agree with the general sentiment that Romney is just not a great candidate. But as Ezra Klein and others have noted, the false narrative in the media, that due to the poor economy it was really Romney's race to lose, overinflated expectations from the beginning. I recall many delusional Republicans last year proclaiming that any candidate with a pulse would beat Obama so they wanted to nominate the most conservative candidate possible. The bottom line is that no matter what the unemployment rate is, as long as the rate is roughly the same or decreasing leading up to the election and the economy is growing every quarter, the incumbent is the favorite to win, not the challenger.

In short, before 2009 Romney seemed like a reasonable competent technocrat. And now he is forced to lead a party at exactly the wrong time for someone with his resume. The id of the party the last few years has been Donald Trump (Birthers), Sarah Palin (anti-elites), Ron Paul (Libertarians), and the Tea Party wings. Only these people or someone from these groups would have excited the base of the party. But the elite establishment in the party understood that any candidate associated with those groups would have no chance of winning over swing voters in the general election. And Romney was the most electable alternative.

However, Romney was handcuffed coming into this race, as any recent Republican governor of a blue or purple state would have been. The party has moved so far to the right in just the last 4 years that any Republican governor who actually had to make moderate compromises to, you know, govern was going to have a really difficult time talking about his accomplishments without depressing the enthusiasm of the base. What were mainstream conservative positions just a few years ago are now poison because Obama and the Democrats supported them. Remember this is the party that is suddenly too conservative for "lefties" like Robert Bennett and Richard Lugar.

The base was always more energized about beating Obama than about voting for Romney or any of the candidates who were running in the primary. So add in some bigotry toward Romney's Mormonism and his inconsistent positions on social issues, and it was obvious a segment of the base was going to be ambivalent towards him. And many of the swing "white working class" voters, in the Rust Belt in particular, were never going to warm to him because of his record at Bain Capital. So in the middle of September Romney is still trying to shore up and energize the base, unable to move far enough to the center for fear of losing the base.

I'm sympathetic to Romney's plight in this campaign. Don't get me wrong - I view him as a complete phony and I've disliked the blatant dishonesty that has been at the core of Romney's arguments. But gaffes aside, given where the Republican party is now, the demands on the candidate to hew to the party line on everything, Romney's own personal appeal problems, and the limits placed on what parts of Romney's bio he allowed his campaign to trumpet, all in all I think the campaign has done about as well as you could have hoped.

Conservatives dumping on the Romney campaign are doing so to explain why Romney is losing in a way that validates their worldview. The reality is that Republican agenda is not all that popular with the public. The party brand is still damaged from the Bush presidency and generally polls confirm that voters prefer the specifics of the Democrats' plans to the Republicans' plans on nearly every issue of importance. You wouldn't know that if you got your news from the Right-wing media bubble, but with the exception of the "deficit", voters give Obama/Democrats more trust and support on every single issue that matters. Obama is even beating Romney on the economy at the moment.

Romney himself may not be trusted as a true conservative by the base, but make no mistake - his campaign and his economic plan are the most conservative in years. Romney has been forced to take a very hard line on social issues. And his economic plan is the most conservative in decades. As noted during the DNC, Romney's campaign is ultimately Bush's economic plan, Cheney's foreign policy, and Santorum's views on social issues. It's a combination of all of the unpopular things the Republican party has advocated over the last decade with a flip-flopping Gordon Gekko as the chief messenger. And people are surprised he's trailing?

The Fox, Limbaugh, Hannity, etc., nexus will inevitably spin a Romney loss as a result of him not being conservative enough or not communicating the specifics of those swell conservative plans well enough. They haven't come to grips with the possibility that their ideas just aren't that popular right now. Romney has acquiesced to every demand of the far right and even put golden boy Paul Ryan on the ticket, yet somehow he's not being conservative enough to much of the base?

This was an election that was always going to be much more difficult for Republicans to win than they had anticipated. And the selection of Romney as the candidate made it nearly impossible to run a coherent campaign that could also appeal to swing voters. It is not the fault of the campaign, it's the fault of this particular candidate and the cynicism of the party that made it so difficult for the candidate to be himself. After four years of obstruction and incoherence on policy, Mitt Romney is without a doubt the candidate the party deserves. He might even be the candidate they need too if it results in a decisive Electoral College loss as well as the loss of the House majority.