Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How the Republicans put Winning over Principle on Health Care

In today's Washington Post, Ezra Klein puts together a fascinating history of how the Republicons organized a massive, coherent, and completely dishonest campaign against the Affordable Care Act. This has made it conceivable that the Supreme Court may rule against the individual mandate, something few thought possible when the act was passed.

As Klein explains, the individual mandate was invented by Republicans and was for twenty years the main Republican plan on health care, and was actually enacted and implemented in Massachusetts.

Once passed by the Democratic Congress and signed by President Obama, the Republicans completely reversed 20 years of advocacy. What is important to understand is that this had nothing to do with what was good policy to help people with health care. Instead, it was a ruthless and vicious effort to regain power, at the expense of the health of the nation.

Stupid and dishonest, but emotional arguments like 'death panels' suddenly arose, and they suddenly discovered that their own policy was a vicious attack on the constitution and what was a primarily private system—and the reason they had advocated it for 20 years—suddenly became a 'government takeover' of health care.

Incidentally, the famous 'broccoli' argument is stupid, and why Obama's advocate didn't answer it forcefully is beyond me. The argument was, if we can compel people to buy health insurance, then we can require them to buy broccoli, which would be obviously terrible and tyrannical. The problem with the argument is that there is no requirement to buy health insurance, there is a financial penalty if you don't. Under the commerce clause, could the government pass a law with a financial penalty if you didn't buy broccoli? Yes. Would it be stupid? Yes. Would it be unconstitutional? No. Somehow all the 'strict interpreters' like Scalia suddenly forget that they are supposed to be judging not what is wise, but what is in the constitution.

Again, zero intellectual integrity on the part of Republicons, including some on the Supreme Court. How many, we'll find out on Thursday.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Ideology of Growing Polarization: A Republican Issue

One of “the-lie-is-more-compelling-than-the-truth” stories routinely advanced by the news media is the notion that increased partisanship infects the body politic of Republicans and Democrats alike. Under this view, uncritically advanced on major news networks, is the notion that the current ideological polarization between the Republican and Democratic parties has grown massively over the past decades (TRUE) but that both political parties are equally to blame for it (FALSE).

Perhaps the best rebuttal of this premise is the work of political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson (Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy).  What they demonstrate quite clearly is that Republicans – far from eliciting broad public support for their actions – have managed to eke out victories on issue after issue – when Americans views of their actions range from dubious (see http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5033567) to downright hostile. That rebuttal of the Republican thesis had been recently underscored by Republicans like Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute in his book  (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/lets-just-say-it-the-republicans-are-the-problem/2012/04/27/gIQAxCVUlT_story.html ). Their point: the Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier in American politics, “unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.”

These are tough words, but empirically, the evidence that Republicans have moved to the cliff’s edge ideologically while Democrats have retained a largely centrist position is unambiguous. For example, issues like a government “safety net” support for the poor are now extraordinarily divisive – not because registered Democrats have moved leftward in their views, but because Republicans have moved rightward big time. Thus, the PEW Research Center notes that the percent who agree that government should take care of people who can’t take care of themselves has diminished slightly from 79% to 75% among Democrats (between 1987 and 2012), but from 62% to 40% among Republicans, a major downslide. Similarly, the percentage who agree there needs to be stricter laws and regs to protect the environment has remained at the 94% level between 1992 and 2012 among Democrats but slid from 86% to 47% among Republicans. These types of trends characterize many of the social values driven policy issues…and reveal clearly that the oft-stated political divide attributable to both Republicans and Democrats is in fact a Republican “problem.” (see          http://www.people-press.org/2012/06/04/partisan-polarization-surges-in-bush-obama-years/ )

Friday, June 8, 2012

Judy Woodruff's disappointing interview with Romney backer Pawlenty

Judy Woodruff last night did a terribly disappointing interview with Tim Pawlenty, who is now national Co-chair of Romney's campaign.

What is terribly disappointing is that Woodruff failed to challenge Pawlenty on lies that have long been labeled as lies by reputable journalists who have looked into them.

A key example is the Romney lie that Obama promised that unemployment would below 8% if the stimulus passed. This has been checked into repeatedly over a period of more than a year by Glenn Kessler, of the Washington Post, with interaction with readers who worked on the issue as well. The claim has been thoroughly vetted and investigated, and Kessler in his Fact Checker gives it two out of four Pinocchios, indicating that it is seriously deceptive and misleading.

The bottom line on the claim is pretty simple. In January before Obama came to office Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein did a report with an estimate on the looming unemployment problem. The estimate they came up with was 8% without a stimulus, but they also said that it was very uncertain and could rise to 11%. This was not a promise, but a preliminary estimate, hedged with uncertainty. Furthermore, it was soon revised as Obama's economic advisers saw the true horrifying depth of the crash which had started under Bush.

Obama simply *never* promised that the stimulus would bring the unemployment level below 8%. And because the truth has been pointed out repeatedly to the Romney campaign, Romney's continually repeating a misleading falsehood has to count as a deliberate lie. As Kessler concludes, "Given that we first outlined the problems with this claim more than a year ago — and given that the facts are clearly known to the Romney campaign — it is distressing that Romney would continue hype it up into such a misleading assertion."

It is not the most bald-faced lie of Romney's campaign, but it is one of the most important, because it is the foundation of a deliberately deceitful core narrative that Romney and his campaign are using to try to win the election. This narrative continues with the assertion that the stimulus did no good. This conflicts with the non-partisan and respected estimates of the Congressional Budget Office, and as the linked article says, in a survey 80% of economic experts agree, and only 4% disagree that the stimulus helped.

Now these estimates are counter-factual ("what would have happened"), not hard facts—like what Obama said—so there is always room for argument. But Woodruff should have challenged Pawlenty on *why* he disagrees with the CBO and 80% of Economic experts. What is the basis for his disagreement?

It is very important, in my view, for the Woodruff and the NewsHour to make these challenges, both on the outright lie and on the view at odds with the overwhelming number of experts, precisely because they are respected fair minded. If the NewsHour will not convey the truth the the public, then they are enabling lies to poison the public debate. Surely, it is the duty of journalists to convey the truth to the public. Here is a case where a deliberate lie is being perpetuated, and not called out by Woodruff and the News Hour.

This is particularly important because Romney is systematically avoiding any tough interviews, only appearing on Fox. Pawlenty was a rare authorized spokesman willing to brave some questioning from more objective journalists. And he didn't get that questioning, which is terribly disappointing.

I am going to contact Woodruff, repeatedly, in order to try to get a response, and to urge her or one of her colleagues to do a story on the insistence of Romney to repeat what he and his campaign must know is false. Can you readers of this blog do so as well? One way is to comment on her article about he interviews of Bill Clinton and Tim Pawlenty, in which again she doesn't mention Pawlenty's perpetuation of the lie. Another way is to comment on their feedback form.

NOTE: Kessler originally gave Romney's claim 3 Pinocchios, but later pulled back to two. This was partly in response to a reader who noted that Obama had said that his stimulus plan would create 3.5 million new jobs by 2011. That indeed did not happen, as the economy continued to plunge sharply during the first three months of Obama, and only slowly has recovered. But Romney does not cite that failure for a good reason: though Obama's job creation record is weak, it is far better than the eight years of George W. Bush and Republican policies of tax cuts for the rich. On the other hand the unemployment rate is worse than under Bush, because of the continued overhang of the worst economic downturn since the depression. Thus the truth about Obama's failures is not as compelling as the lie. That they've chosen to repeatedly lie is a story. When is the NewsHour going to cover it?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Wonderful Debate With Krugman vs Pro-Austerity Brits

Here is a wonderful debate with Krugman versus two conservatives in England, who are advocating austerity. The only problem is that it should have been twice as long. Two points about this debate: first, it is amazing that the Austerity folks seem to have no clue there there is a Keynesian alternative analysis, such as Krugman is advocating. And the supposed evidence they have is slaughtered by Krugman.

A second point is: Why has there never been such a debate here on US television? I think it really speaks volumes as to broken TV journalism. Surely they could find a US conservative to debate Krugman. Does the US television media don't think anybody is interested? Or are they afraid they themselves can't follow a policy debate?