Archive for September, 2008

Talking Down

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

There are some good points to be had here from Chris Bowers, but there’s also a lot missing, and a lot to take issue with. Let’s start with what’s basically the fundamental point:

Being one of the roughly one hundred and eighty million Americans who opposed the bailout bill today, I have to say that I can’t remember being called stupid so often in a 24 hour period so many times in my life. Like the many other lobotomized zombies that compose, or decompose, the slathering, brain dead hordes who simply don’t understand economics, it is important to speak to me slowly, remind me that I should abrogate all of my decision making to academic experts and, if I don’t, that it will be an example of how democracy itself has failed.

Yeesh. I think I am developing a better understanding of why the conservative backlash narrative works so well. People on the losing side of major legislative and electoral battles in America really do have a habit of calling the winners stupid. When discussing the defeat of the bailout today, the pundit tone on television was almost universally patronizing, sneering disbelief. This even though the pundits were talking about members of Congress who almost all have advanced degrees, who all were democratically elected by hundreds of thousands of people, who acted under enormous stress and in opposition to all available leadership, and who by virtually every available measure are all really, very successful, hard working, people who work in public service.

First of all, I want to point out one flat out false equvalency. Bowers notes that many members of Congress have “advanced degrees,” but that’s not really the point. So far as I’m aware, no member of Congress has an advanced degree in economics or finance, and if there are some it’s not many. Acting as if all advanced degrees are equal as a point of argument is nothing but a straw man right off the bat.

Secondly, this kind of anti-intellectual tripe ought to be left to the right. There are people who devote their careers to advanced study and work in an area, and yes, generally speaking, that will make them more knowledgeable of the issue than you. I have more economic study under my belt than the median voter, and I pay more attention than most, but I still respect that there are people much more studied in certain areas than I, and when I find myself disagreeing with them, it gives me great pause and I make a protracted effort to reconsider the validity of my position. Talk radio listeners reject expert opinion out of hand because the radio told them otherwise.

And, in this regard, there was very real support across a wide range of economic opinion on the package, the most notable, to my mind, being Paul Krugman. No one with an ounce of familiarity with Krugman would call him a Wall Street lackey or someone who was out to put more money in the hands of the rich. Indeed, he was very upfront that he wasn’t even that fond of the package. But to his learned mind, the potential cost of not approving it was simply too much to bear, and the proposal was sufficiently acceptable to merit passing as such.

But also, it’s worth considering who would be hurt in the event that the rest of the economy goes sour. While I’m sure there is a fondness for the idea of watching the CEO’s of major banks “eating it” for their failures, the bottom line is that they’re going to be fine either way. Sure they’ll potentially lose their job, but it’s not like they don’t have enough stored away to do just fine for themselves. The same thing goes for Bush administration officials and members of Congress. The powerful and well to do never bear the cost of economic troubles, and that’s not going to start now. Indeed, as Ezra points out, the people hurt will be the working class people who see their wages cut, their health insurance rise in cost even more (or disappear altogether), or simply lose their jobs as the credit that greases the gears of the economy goes dry.

(more…)

Now What, Eric?

Monday, September 29th, 2008

So the House GOP decided to play politics during a national crisis.  Big surprise, huh?

McCain followed Cantor’s nonsense by making the absurd claim that Senator Obama had failed to deliver as many changed votes in the House Democratic Caucus as McCain delivered in the House GOP.  WTF?

The deal always was that each party would put up half of the votes needed.  The GOP thought they could somehow make this a “Democratic Bill” (and Eric Cantor tried to use that convoluted logic afterwards as well…)

The fact is that the GOP House membership voted against the GOP administrations plan to get our financial markets out of the mess that earlier GOP Congress’ de-regulation and Bush administration appointees negligence led them to.

All Americans saw the vote today and then the stock market’s reaction.  The House GOP voted against the bill – the market plunged.

Now what, Eric?  Do you want to live with the political fallout from this bill?  The GOP just cost thousands of people jobs, savings, maybe retirement…  Every day might see similar falls and bank failures wiping out the savings and dreams of countless other Americans.  Why did the House GOP do this to America?

Now what, Eric?

We Need Smarter People

Monday, September 29th, 2008

It might be time to reconsider this democracy thing. The House of Representatives, no doubt shaken by calls from both ends of the political spectrum to kill the bailout bill, did just that. 133 Republicans and 94 Democrats voted against it, and now the stock market is in a bona fide free fall.

The perverse thing about this is that Democrats were scared to death that Republicans were going to somehow kill them for supporting it, but now they’re going to have to deal with inaction potentially causing a stock market crash. So congrats once again to a very large part of the liberal blogosphere, you’ve once again over thought yourself right into the situation you were afraid of. And no, you’re not going to be able to pin this on Republicans. This was in the House, with no filibuster. Democrats could have passed the measure themselves, without any Republican support. So any fall out is going to come right back to democracy.

There’s really no excuse for it.

Kill the Pundits!

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Ok, so not really, but Ezra has a damn good point:

The impact has been significant. A USA Today/Gallup poll show 46% thought Obama won the debate, while 34% judged McCain the victor. Worse for the McCain campaign, “more than one-third of viewers, or 37%, said they had less confidence in McCain to fix economic problems after seeing the debate; 23% said more.” An LA Times/Bloomberg poll saw 49% name Obama the winner, while 45% preferred McCain. Crucially, “voters said Obama seemed more presidential by a 46 percent to 33 percent margin. Among those uncertain about their vote — those who are either undecided or declaring they may change preference — Obama was more than 2-to-1 ahead of McCain on this question.” And finally, the Gallup tracking poll, which included one full day of post-debate interviews, registered an eight-point lead for Obama.

This raises an interesting question. Obama scored an extremely clear win on Friday night. But the pundits scored the debate for McCain. That would be fine if the pundits were there to score the substance of the debate, and they believed that McCain made better, and more factually accurate, points. But that’s not their professed job (sadly). Rather, they score the political implications of the debate. And their early reviews — mildly, but mostly unanimously, for McCain — were precisely opposite the public’s impressions. That seems like a problem.

On the face of it, this pretty clearly illustrates the absurd nature of our media environment in this country. “Experts” are supposed to “analyze” how voters will react to every little aspect of politics, and in doing so they totally ignore scientific public opinion data and, indeed, completely contradict it. It’s a farce, to be sure, but it underlines two very specific examples of bias that are going to have to be addressed if we expect anyone to really demand a better press.

Firstly, there’s the bottom line bias. Another aspect of the media narrative that is starting to get more notice is that the pundits continue to talk about a “neck and neck” race, even though poll after poll show’s Obama widening his lead to a fairly convincing margin at the moment. In other words, the race really isn’t that close, but the media narrative isn’t matching the data. Now you could say the media’s out of touch, but we all know they obsess about these numbers, so the idea that they don’t know the race isn’t that tight, at least at the moment, seems fairly far fetched. Instead, what’s really at work is the media’s own profit interest. Blowouts aren’t good for ratings. No one really watches a football game when one team leads by 30 in the 4th quarter, but when one team is down by 3 with the ball and 4:00 left in the game, it’s great television. Similarly, when one candidate leads by a wide margin, electoral politics is less interesting to the masses, but when it’s perceived that anything can happen, it can be riveting TV. This was on display throughout the primary season, when the media essentially propped up the “tight race” narrative even though there was almost no realistic chance of Hillary Clinton winning. But the primaries had been a ratings bonanza, and the corporate media outlets damn sure didn’t want that ending, so they distorted the nature of the race in their coverage. That’s basically what’s going on here. The media needs to keep McCain in this thing to keep the impression that anyone can win, and so you’re going to see lots of favorable “analysis” for McCain.

The second bias is one of simple disconnect. That is to say, the media talking heads don’t see things the same way voters do. What’s important to the media is conflict. They need it to weave their narratives and write their stories. They need someone to be “aggressive,” to give them a glorified human interest piece to type out and print really quickly. And that’s what John McCain did. From his repeated lines that Obama “didn’t understand” the issue at hand to his not so honest attacks on Obama in the domestic issues portion of the debate, McCain was the one most actively driving conflict in the discussion. So then the media reports that McCain was “aggressive” and had Obama “on the defensive” in the terms of their boxingesque rhetoric. But voters generally don’t see things this way. To them, based on the actual data, McCain’s charges rang hollow because Obama seemed to understand things just fine. Or, in other words, voters tend to pay more attention to the entire thing and form impressions based on what they see, and the media tends to look for stories they can write, which leads them to miss the bigger picture.

All in all though, it’s beyond time for a better media. How anyone goes about getting there though, I don’t really know. Putting more people like Jeffrey Toobin on the air would be a good first step.

Charts are Awesome

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Via a lot of different people, here’s a nice graph succinctly summarizing just how important those earmarks McCain obsesses over really are.

Of course, that’s all earmarks, including quite a few projects no politician, even McCain, would ever specifically oppose on the public record. So it’s really even smaller than that.

This is a Big Deal

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Maybe I’m not getting it, so I’d probably be well served by a bit of a clarification on Digby’s point here:

The argument over this bailout is going to be with us for a long time to come and unless Democrats play this right, they are going to wind up holding the bag. The “populist Republican” meme is alredy out there and starting to take hold. They’ve bet on this economy getting very bad and being able to blame the hated Bush and Clinton for causing it and then blame the Democrats for throwing money at the problem and failing to solve it.

Why would the Democrats let them do that?

Right now I’m watching Pelosi and Reid, Frank and Dodd stand there all by themselves taking “credit” for this bill. They are handing out plaudits to all the others who “helped” them get it done like members of “the Hills” at the MTV awards.

The optics are all wrong. If they really feel they have to do this thing each one of them should have a Republican under each arm every time they make an announcement.

So the Democrats are going to get a bailout that every major economist and pundit on TV are saying must be done in some fashion or another, but we need to worry because it might not work and then Congressional Republicans will tie the Democrats to the failed response and lash them to George W. Bush? And when people go to vote they’re going to associate everything they hate about Bush with Democrats, and vote for Republican candidates because they don’t like George Bush?

This is a bit reminiscent of the prevailing idea in the progressive blogosphere that McCain was going to kill the package in the first place and then both distance himself from Bush and become some sort of populist champion, when in reality he was just looking to take credit for whatever came out. It’s just too clever by half. If we’re assuming that voters are thinking about they’re votes to the degree that they’d actually counter intuitively link Bush with Democrats in Congress, instead of Republicans, why are we assuming that they’re not paying attention to know the details of the circumstances around the negotiations? I mean, isn’t it a bit disconnected to think, on the one hand, that voters are basically just rubes who aren’t sophisticated enough to understand even a rough outline of the package but, on the other hand, put so much thought into politics that they can come away seeing Nancy Pelosi as George Bush’s closest ally?

More broadly though, there’s a sentiment here that seems to be pervading the blogosphere that’s akin to, for lack of a better cliche, cutting off your nose to spite your face. Look, I don’t like that we have to spend $700 billion bailing out gigantic firms run by rich people and enabled by dumb policy over the past decade either, but we do. This really is an instance where inaction isn’t an option. Paulson and Bernanke made a run at stinginess when they decided to let Lehman collapse, and most people now seem to agree that that was a disaster. And yes, this is about Main Street too. Collapsing financial institutions and toxic assets plugging up the system means a bottleneck in credit. That means declining economic investment, which translates into fewer jobs. When the bank hurts, we all hurt.

But, that said, there has been some very good work done on this bill. Without knowing all of the details yet, we do know that there will be limits on executive compensation attached to government dollars. Firms won’t be handed a blank check that can be pocketed by their board of directors. More is going to be done to help struggling homeowners, and the government will get an equity stake in some of the participating firms, which should drastically reduce the cost of the package in the long run. This is important stuff that makes the bill much more tolerable. It’s still not perfect, to be sure, but to paraphrase Paul Krugman, just because it’s not very good doesn’t mean we ought to scuttle a package that’s good enough.

On another level though, I wonder if we aren’t getting a certain partisan blowback here. A certain part of me has always wondered if there wasn’t an antipathy to the package in large part because it was drawn up in large part by Bush’s Treasury Secretary. Not that that isn’t understandable on some level, but this isn’t the time for those sort of childish reactions. Leave that kind of childish reactionism to the movement conservatives. This really is a time when something has to be done to protect the financial backbone of the economy, in order to prevent a truly catastrophic economic decline. Republicans still occupy the White House, and the Senate is basically split 50-50 if you assume that Liebermann is going to vote with John McCain’s interests at heart. That means Democrats are going to have to work with Republicans here, whether we like it or not. And Bush and Paulson have, to their credit, apparently negotiated with Congressional Democrats in good faith on this matter, and have conceded many areas that Democrats held crucial to the package.

And if the American people really are dumb enough to associate Nancy Pelosi, and not John McCain, with George W. Bush in November, well, in that case, we’re already screwed no matter what.

Obama’s Debate Problem

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

I’ve held off on doing any debate reaction, mostly because I like to get myself a little removed from things like these to see how things are realigning before I bother to form an opinion. But, in the short version, I do think Obama came out slightly better than McCain in Friday night’s debate, but I think he has a bigger problem than he possibly realizes he needs to hammer out before the next debate.

Now, certain aspects of the CW certainly seem right to me. McCain was testy, cocky, patronizing, contemptuous, and petty; and every bit of it shown through on camera. Obama also managed to get him hot under the collar a few times challenging him on foreign policy and earmarks, and it looked like we were dangerously close toa blow up when Obama chided McCain for his “bomb Iran” rhetoric.

But, almost perversely, McCain did have Obama on the defensive during the portion of the debate focusing on domestic issues because, simply, Obama had no prepared response to McCain’s lies. When McCain made outright inaccurae statements of fact or shamelessly lied about Obama, Obama’s response was to try to forcefully respond, but to do so in a way as to avoid any direct, or indirect, accusation that McCain was lying. The result? McCain looked “agressive,” and Obama looked like he didn’t have a good response. In the long run though, this probably wasn’t the takeaway most viewers got, and it’s certainly not what pundits have focused on, so Obama gets a do over.

This is, I think, Obama’s chief weakness in a debate. Yes he knows his stuff. Yes he knows how to convey that he knows what he’s talking about. But he seems to look at these as something akin to a college debating contest, where you’re scored on technical points. This is part of an election. The “winner” is the person who moves the most voters to their camp. And Obama doesn’t have sharp, direct, responses when his opponents come after him. He doesn’t have the instinct to go on the offensive on minor points, misstatements, or whatever that could turn into game changers. For example, very early in the debate, McCain lamented a “loss of accountability” by insisting that he was criticized for calling for SEC Chairman Chris Cox’s resignation. But, of course, that’s not true, because McCain had said he would fire Cox, and he was criticized because the President doesn’t have the authority to fire the SEC chairman. But Obama just let the point go totally uncontested, when correcting it could have both worked in the idea that McCain has problems with the truth early on, and could have really pushed McCain’s buttons by, implicitly, questioning his honesty and integrity. The entire night could have been different with McCain off of his game. But Obama just doesn’t seem to understand these intracacies in a way that truly good debaters have. It might not matter if events continue to rule the day, but there’s still no reason for Obama to let McCain wiggle off the hook so many times.

The McCain Bailout Plan

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Just for posterity, despite the worries of most of the blogosphere, McCain apparently didn’t try to kill the package to make a political play out of it, he’s trying to take credit for it. Who could have ever predicted that?

Snark aside, if the media lets this go, it’s time for a revolt. McCain’s team was barely even trying to go through the motions here. Despite the fact that “you can’t phone this in” was the McCain team’s mantra over the past 3-5 days, McCain quite literally phoned it in yesterday, and was having dinner with Liebermann when the deal got done. In other words, he did nothing. It’s on the public record that he did nothing. And now he wants credit for the deal.

I’ll blog my reaction to the package when more details come out, but for now I just want to point out that every aspect of the blogosphere needs to do our damndest to make sure McCain doesn’t get away with this nonsense.

God I Hate The News Media

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

So, here’s a question. The media commissions a bunch of polls and focuse groups to gauge the reaction of undecided voters to the debate last night. By basically any measure, Obama did better with these scientific endeavors. So what do pundits bleat on for hours and hours?

That McCain won.

Seriously, if your on-air “talent” is going to spin ignore them entirely, why do you bother spending money for these things?

Programming Note

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Live coverage of the debate will be going on tonight over in the forum. I’ll be there, as will most of the guys from the main blogs. You can join in tonight right here.

McCain Reax

Friday, September 26th, 2008

A roundup of reactions to McCain’s actions yesterday.

E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson blame McCain for killing a deal.

Steve Benen runs down yesterday’s events.

David Brooks wants you to know that this isn’t the real John McCain. He swears. Stick a needle in his eye.

Hgh Hewitt isn’t happy with House Republicans.

And no one really knows what John McCain’s end game is. Oddmakers have it at 3:1 that McCain falls in that category as well.

Caught in a Trap

Friday, September 26th, 2008

In many ways the McCain campaign keeps surprising me with their total misunderstanding of how things work.

Sure the Palin pick “ignited” the conservative base, but the conservative base isn’t going to get John McCain elected now, is it?  And Sarah Palin?  I mean, come on!  She’s running around from gaffe to gaffe and revelation after revelation about some extremely negative things in her background both personal and political…

Now this melodramatic “suspension” of his campaign and the potential canceling of the debate if there is no deal on Capitol Hill today, coupled with the impression that it was McCain’s fault that there is no deal in the first place!

A complete political disaster for the McCain campaign, although it is currently endearing him to the radical right of the GOP, but again, that is of very little value unless he feels the need to make money selling his next book “I Sacrificed My Chance to be President to Do What Was Right…” on Fox TV and WABC Radio next year.

There are two possible explanations.

First, his campaign team may not be quite as ready to run a national campaign as they thought, and worse, they may think that they are brilliant in that echo chamber kind of world that political pundits often live in.  They may honestly have believed that all of this was tremendous political strategy and that they now have Obama “right where we want him…”

Or, they may be like a football team that is two touchdowns down with two minutes to go, throwing deep into coverage on every play hoping against hope that somehow they score.  That IS a possibility, but they must have some internal polling that runs a great deal counter to what is out there in the media, something they absolutely rely on as being accurate, something none of the rest of us have.

Ultimately political historians will get a chance to look at the facts and decide which of these two options (or maybe an unknown third option) it actually is.

My quick assessment here is that McCain’s team has failed him time and time again…

Blaming McCain

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

I just caught a brief glimpse of Rahm Emmanuel on Olbermann, and he was striking a note that it seems to me Democrats ought to be driving home all day tomorrow and through the Sunday shows; John McCain scuttled a bailout agreement to help his campaign.

Follow the timeline. This morning, John McCain says  “I cannot carry on a campaign as though this dangerous situation had not occurred, or as though a solution were at hand, which it clearly is not.” Literally hours later, Republican Senator Richard Bennett and Democrat Chris Dodd announced that an agreement has been worked out in principle. So McCain has a meeting with House Republicans, after which John Boehner announces that there is, in fact, no agreement. McCain and House Republicans then decided to float their own proposal, even though House and Senate leaders of both parties were working together on something else at the same time.

It’s not hard to figure out what happened here. Sarah Palin had a disaster of an interview with Katie Couric. I mean literally awful. She actually said the bailout was going to help people “concerned about the healthcare reform” for crying out loud. I also suspect the McCain campaign realized there was a debate tomorrow night and that they hadn’t yet done any serious prep work for it. So they panicked and announced  that this crisis was so bad that they were “suspending” the campaign to work on it. Of course, they didn’t actually suspend anything, but they continued to insist that they just couldn’t debate tomorrow night. They could, however, debate Tuesday night, and would be happy to “postpone” the VP debate to accomodate it. In other words, the whole thing was started because Palin said a lot of dumb things, and the point is to get the VP debate cancelled so she doesn’t say even more stupid things on a larger medium.

And McCain is just fine with scuttling a legislative agreement most people agree is imperative in some form or another to do that. After all, he’s the most honorable politician ever who always puts “country first.” And if you don’t like it, well John McCain didn’t have a bank to get a subprime mortage from for 5 1/2 years when he was a POW, so suck it up.

Suspended Campaigns

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Steve Benen finds that suspended campaigns look surprisingly like every other campaign.

What Does This Mean

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Sarah Palin on Alaska:

“It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where– where do they go? It’s Alaska.”

I’m being dead serious here. I have no idea what that means. Is it even in English?