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Why I Hope Obama Wins

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

If only American voters knew, in advance, which candidate’s plans would be better for the economy and the world. How fortunate would we be if history conspired to test out their general approaches before we vote on Tuesday? Remarkably, it has. And, no, I’m not just referring to the G.W. Bush presidency, which Romney hopes will turn out better as a sequel. Rather, England and other European nations experimented with the government slashing austerity that conservatives predict will lead to the economic boom we all desire.

If you look at the pink shading, you’ll see the predicted paths of growth for the US and the UK following the financial crisis. Now, check out the real growth for each. The American economy infused with Obama’s policies exceeded the expected growth (purple line); the British Conservatives who cut government hoping to produce market confidence left the UK underperforming (dark blue line).

In February of 2009, Obama and the Democrats passed the stimulus bill in the middle of a tanking economy. Unemployment stood at 8.3% and climbed every month. Fiscal and monetary stimulus slowed the free fall and the economy eventually began to turn around. Now we’ve had 32 straight months of private sector job growth. The unemployment rate is down to 7.9% from a high of 10%.

In Europe, the trend is different. In February of ’09, unemployment was 8.2%. Today, it’s 11.6%.

Despite the positive trend here, what’s the most direct reason unemployment isn’t even lower in the US right now? In contrast to past recessions, we now have a Republican Tea Party congress that prevents any more aid going the states, forcing layoffs of public sector workers (green line).

But what if Romney shifts once in office and doesn’t cut spending as the right-wing fantasizes? It’s possible Romney just repeals Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation and then passes another budget busting tax cut. As the private sector and homeowners continue to deleverage and as the Fed continues its monetary stimulus, we are going to continue out of this economic rut and eventually see faster growth. So if Romney doesn’t torpedo the recovery with short-term fiscal contraction, Americans might associate the repeal of universal healthcare and financial regulation as keys to success. It’d be easy enough to confuse voters with that simple correlation even though the cause of recovery differs.

The historic passage of universal healthcare will be doomed. Another generation will see millions of Americans suffer with inadequate care and go bankrupt from medical bills. Without a universal system, American workers won’t have the mobility to always take better jobs if that opportunity risks their coverage. And the financial system will continue the destructive risk-taking that put us in this economic mess.

It’s vital to remember that Obama isn’t perfect and has broken enough important promises and principles to warrant changing course. Unfortunately, the only viable challenger is likely worse on these same issues. As a consequentialist, I can’t endorse swing-state voters risking the election of Mitt Romney, but it’s worth reviewing where Obama has gone terribly wrong. Lower ticket elections are crucial to pressure executive policy change.

Obama admirably put us on course to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but despite his 2008 campaign rhetoric, he initiated a war in Libya without congressional approval, violating the War Powers Act. His challenger may repeal the ban on torture, but Obama continues to personally accept the horrific treatment of Bradley Manning. Obama has extended the Patriot Act and continues to spy on Americans without warrants or proper oversight. This president also signed the NDAA, which grants the power to indefinitely detain American citizens under his personal discretion.

The president was right to refocus the war on terror against Al Qaeda and Bin Laden specifically, but the increase in drone strikes, often against targets whose identities we don’t know, is an immoral and dangerous power no president should have. As reported in the New York Times, president Obama has also created a secret kill list that includes American citizens living abroad. This unconstitutional power has no checks to prevent abuse or to ensure due process. These abhorrent policies will be left to future administrations to expand and abuse along with the status quo destruction of poor communities through the War on Drugs. If a feasible alternative existed, they should be elected. Disappointingly, our electoral system makes it so Mitt Romney is our only likely substitute. He supports all these programs and his neoconservative foreign policy team seems more likely to start a costly new war with Iran no matter what the unintended consequences.

On the substantive issue differences between the two major candidates, we have a clear contrast. We have a president that supports full equality for gay Americans. A challenger that supports 2nd class citizenship. A president that is more likely to end the cruelty against innocent children of immigrants. A challenger who’s nativist party doesn’t trust the citizenship of anyone who looks foreign. A president that supports the right of women to control their own bodies. A challenger with policies that could end birth control or force women to get unnecessary and invasive vaginal probes. I don’t share the same overwhelming fear of the national debt that many conservatives do during Democratic administrations, but both candidates seem eager to pass a long-term deficit deal. If it must be done; I trust Obama not to do it entirely on the backs of the poor like a Romney-Ryan plan surely would.

Too often voters punish incumbents on squishy feelings or without examining the likely course of policy consequences. Even in The Economist‘s endorsement of Barack Obama it lamented that he didn’t appear polite enough to businesses or social enough with Republican congressmen by playing more rounds of golf with them. This complaint springs from the cult of comity, a theological belief system that believes bi-partisanship and cordiality are goods in themselves. It’s not how policies are made that matters, it’s the results of them.

Nevermind the reality that Republicans agreed before Obama’s election to oppose everything he did. Since the special election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, the legislative branch has been dysfunctionally obstructionist against providing the president any further accomplishments.  Even with the obstruction, Obama’s legislative victories would make most presidents jealous, but it’s necessary to solidify them and ensure they’re carried out responsibly. The Obama administration has staffed its agencies with professionals that want government to work. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the response to Hurricane Sandy. Republicans with their deep ideological aversion to government doing things well make appointments that create a self-fulfilling prophesy. Is anyone surprised that Bush’s FEMA head incompetently bungled the response to Katrina, while Obama’s appointment has received high accolades for his performance?

If you want government to run well and to focus on policies to help all Americans, your best hope is the reelection of Barack Obama.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Categories: Politics

Electoral Collage: Fragments of a Defense

October 23, 2012 1 comment

Responding to some new polling data suggesting Romney might win the popular vote, yet lose the electoral college Daniel Foster marshals of a preemptive defense to his fellow conservatives.

In short, the College reflects the formal and constitutional fact that the president is elected chief executive of a union of states – federated but sovereign – and not a glomeration of people. The executive of the Constitution, of the Founders, is president of the United States, not president of America. Its detractors consider it an anachronism, but if federalism still means anything – and sadly, that’s something of an open question – then the College is as vital as ever. It affirms that we vote as citizens of the several states, not mere residents of arbitrarily drawn administrative districts.

Let’s examine this and other dubious arguments:

The executive of the Constitution, of the Founders, is president of the United States, not president of America.

Just because something sounds profound doesn’t mean it is. The United States is America, which is why we’re, ya know, “united.” Foster seems to be making an argument that the president should represent the interests of states not of individual people. But states don’t have interests; people do. The geography of Nebraska doesn’t care or not if the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act remains the law of the land. Whether particular states populations have coherent interests or not, the electoral college is just a top-down government intervention into the free voting market, inefficiently subsidizing swing state issues over others.

It affirms that we vote as citizens of the several states, not mere residents of arbitrarily drawn administrative districts.

Foster might worry that federalism might have its feelings hurt if we don’t “affirm” it, but the presidential election’s real purpose is to choose the head of the national executive branch. Furthermore, what happened to his earlier suggestion that the president serves the states not “a glomeration of people?” A state, by definition, is an “arbitrarily drawn administrative district.”  Is it good to lump people by arbitrary lines on a map or not?

Even if the president was the representative of the United States, not of the American people (whatever that means), the electoral college doesn’t even seem up to that task. We don’t just add up who won more states and decide that way. In a concession to slaveholders, the Founders gave smaller states more power. Rather than dividing up the electors equitably, each state gets 2 extra electoral votes and the rest get assigned proportionally by population size. So now voters in New Hampshire and Iowa’s votes count more those of Californians.

He goes on to argue that the electoral college ensures presidential candidates will take more broadly popular opinions instead of pandering to narrow “factions.” Apparently, Foster or Tara Ross, who he’s channelling, never heard of Yucca Mountain, corn ethanol, or any other swing-state concern.

Foster never makes it clear how a small percentage of votes in Ohio transubstantiates into the embodiment of the United States, while a national vote or similar scheme results in an unsuitable president. He warns of “potentially disastrous” repercussions, but never specifies what those might be. That’s unsurprising since Foster’s true concern is structure and signaling not consequences. So even though small state votes count more, swing voter issues matter more, and a president can be elected without the popular will or even without an electoral college majority, Foster and other conservatives and contrarians support this outdated and poorly designed institution.

Charges of Hypocrisy Are Almost Always Overrated

You may have seen this Townhall story about the Obama campaign checking photo IDs on your conservative friends’ facebook pages. See, Obama opposes strict photo ID rules at the voting booth but not at his events!

This is a great example of why hypocrisy is the least satisfying critique of a person’s policy preferences. President Obama, and others, favor different photo ID policies at different places because the consequences of those policies differ. What’s next, a Townhall headline that the president approves of checking IDs for purchasing alcohol?

Oh wait.

Anyway, why don’t we go through a couple obvious differences:

  • Voting is a constitutional right. Attending a campaign rally is not.
  • Romney supporters were causing problems at the event. In-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent and, therefore, not a problem.

Campaign events are for supporters; if a few don’t get in it doesn’t undermine the outcome of the event. In contrast, Voter ID laws may undermine democracy. According to Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Pennsylvania, his party is proud to have passed “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Turzai and the Republican Party might be perfectly consistent in their support for checking IDs, but that shouldn’t absolve them of criticism.

How We Know that Politicians and the Media Don’t Take Politics Seriously

The political battles surrounding the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden reveal an important truth about our political and media class. After the Obama campaign released an ad celebrating the president’s decision and questioning how Romney might have acted, Republicans started hyperventilating and the media started asking if it’s appropriate for Obama to “politicize” this.

I think politicizing it and trying to draw a distinction between himself and myself was an inappropriate use of the very important event that brought America together –Mitt Romney

[Obama has] managed to turn it into a divisive, partisan political attack –Ed Gillespie

Politics of bin Laden: ‘Fair game’ vs. ‘divisive’ –CNN

GOP says Obama playing politics with bin Laden anniversary –CNN

Is the president politicizing the bin Laden mission? –Fox News

You can find virtually endless debates about whether or not it’s ok for Obama to have politicized his decision.

That, in a word, tells you all you need to know. Politicians of all stripes and the media apparently believe that political discourse necessarily trivializes issues. It’s a game to them. If it wasn’t why would national security be off-limits for politics, as is often argued?  Foreign policy and the decisions stemming from executive power are exactly the type of issues we should be divisively clarifying for the electorate.

It’s quite reasonable to believe that Mitt Romney was correct that it’s “wrong for a person running for president of the United States to get on TV and say we’re going to go into your country unilaterally” as he argued in 2007. Or you could criticize the raid and the selective leaking of details from the Left as Glenn Greenwald has on numerous occasions. And it’s perfectly acceptable that Obama tout his decisions as successes and to criticize his opponent.

As I said at the time, I think the world is better off because of the decision Obama made. People can disagree with that conclusion, people can disagree with the specifics of the operation and aftermath. These are issues that should be politicized because politics is the arena where we publicly discuss public policy and government action. Anytime anyone decries politicization you know they don’t take politics seriously. Of course, since politicians seem to think it’s just a cynical team sport, I often wonder how seriously anyone should take politics.

Categories: Politics

#IntendedToBeManipulative

December 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Campaign ads, by law, must feature the candidate saying “I approve this message.” If Congress decides to pass any future campaign reform, one of Mitt Romney’s political advisors provides a new disclaimer:

First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business…. Ads are agitprop…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It’s ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context…. All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.

It needs some trimming… something pithy like #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement.  At least Romney’s operatives are being honest that they’re in “the propaganda business” after dishonestly placing President Obama’s words out of context.

“Manipulative pieces of persuasive art” embodies Romney’s entire campaign… then again, I’m not sure persuasive is the appropriate word.

Read more…

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Was 2010 an Anti-Incumbent Year?

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

No.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again conventional wisdom is wrong.

Some Thoughts on the Election, 1 Week Out

November 9, 2010 3 comments

Who won?

The question shouldn’t have an obvious answer. If Andreas Kluth taught me anything it’s that success can be found in failure and failure in success – triumph and disaster are two impostors.

The Republicans definitely won big in the electoral battle. But why did they win so big? Many Democrats and people like myself have argued that it can all be boiled down to “the economy is bad, the Democrats were in power, therefore the Democrats lost a lot of seats.” There are also historical and structural reasons to expect big Democratic loses (e.g. They had a big majority so even a 50/50 partisan vote split would result in many lost seats). Here’s a chart showing midterm changes of House seats for the President’s party.

Although the economy and structural factors played the biggest role it appears the Democrats lost a significant number of seats because they supported policies lots of people in the country don’t like (here and here) – especially healthcare. The political scientists at The Monkey Cage find (with all the appropriate caveats that we bloggers often fail to trade in [that’s why I always suggest reading the source]) the big controversial votes (Healthcare/Cap&Trade) may have cost the Democrats around 24 seats and possibly even tipped the scales on who controls the House.

Keep in mind it is always possible that these votes are rationalized after the fact: (h/t The Daily Dish)

Pundits and politicians who are interpreting the midterms as a referendum on Obama’s agenda, however, would be wise to read the forthcoming book of MIT political scientist, Gabriel Lenz.  Lenz convincingly demonstrates that policies subjected to intense public debate rarely become more important determinants of citizens’ vote choices.  Instead, voters will more often first pick a candidate based upon partisan and performance factors and then adopt that politician’s views about high-profile policies. So, for example, voters who decided to vote for Republican candidates in the midterms because of the poor economy would also be more likely to embrace that party’s position on health care reform.

I’m not going to pretend I can settle what is essentially a scientific question, but let’s pretend that we know that the Democrats lost the House because of their votes on unpopular policies. It’s not that far-fetched to think voting to cut $500 Billion in medicare would cost somebody an election. What would the lesson be for the Democrats? Should we answer our first question that the Democrats lost?

If the Democrats had known ahead of time that not passing any of their policies would have allowed them to maintain control of the House and they had therefore not passed any of their signature legislation that’s possibly the definition of success as an impostor. If I may borrow some more from Andreas, the Democrats could go from success to success, winning election after election as Hannibal won battle after battle in Italy. Yet, the purpose of winning battles is to win the war; Italy never completely fell and Hannibal’s Carthage was “razed it to the ground so thoroughly that modern archeologists had quite a time just locating the site.” The purpose of winning elections is to pass legislation.

David Frum tried to warn Republicans.

Republicans may gain political benefit, but Democrats get the policy. In this exchange, it is the Democrats who gain the better end of the deal. Congressional majorities come and go. Entitlement programs last forever.

History is on his side; today we have the GOP scaring seniors because the Democrats are cutting entitlements. There should be no doubt that given enough passage of time this new healthcare entitlement will be seen as just as fundamentally unchallengeable as social security and medicare.

There is plenty to criticize about the Democrats’ policies, but you might not want to argue that they caused the Republicans to “win.” The Republicans won the battle, but the Democrats’ legislative architecture remains. Historians may be just as mystified about major Republican policies as they are about Carthaginian columns.

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