Thursday, May 31, 2012

Duelling Campaign Naratives

Here is what we are going to be hearing for the next five months:

Romney campaign:
Romney's profession was rescuing failing businesses. This gives him a strong insight into what it takes to restart the economy.

Obama campaign:
Romney specialised in taking over businesses, stripping their assets and loading them with debt, then closing them down regardless of the cost to their hard-working employees. We don't want anyone like that in the White House.

Romney campaign:
Romney was a successful governor who left Massachusetts stronger than when he took office.

Obama campaign:
Romney was a failure as a governor. His state was near the bottom in job creation during his term.

Romney campaign:
Programs such as Social security are in danger and need restructuring soon in order to avoid more wrenching changes later,

Obama campaign:
Romney and the Republicans want to end programs like Social Security. Obama will save them.

Romney campaign:
Romney is a right/moderate candidate who was able to work with the Democratic majority in Massachusetts.

Obama campaign:
Romney is the most conservative candidate since Barry Goldwater. He is in lock-step with the Congressional Republicans. His goals are a return to social Darwinism, racism, and to end birth control. He will only represent the rich.

Romney campaign:
Romney shut down his office for a week and sent his staff to search for an employee's missing daughter. He twice pulled boaters out of a lake after their boats tipped over.

Obama campagn:
Romney never did anything for anyone but himself.

Romney campaign:
Romney is likeable in a retro Mad Men way.

Obama campaign:
Romney is totally unlike-able, Voters would rather have a beer with Obama (did we mention that Romney doesn't drink beer because he's Mormon?).

This sounds like a parody but everything I quoted from the Obama campaign is either already in ads or planned for the future. Four years ago Obama said that when you can't run on your record you have to make voters afraid to vote for the other guy, That is his campaign strategy for 2012 and it won't be pretty.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Obama's Spending and Campaign

I previously wrote about a column making the rounds that claims that the Obama administration is one of the most fiscally conservative in decades. It bases this on a very narrow measure - increase in spending from the last year of the previous administration. Since Bush's last year contained numerous expensive, one-time emergency measures, this set a very high level of spending to compare against. There is also a great deal of creative accounting in this piece including crediting Bush for spending bills signed by Obama. Numerous fact-checkers have found the column to be false.

President Obama read the article while on route to a campaign event and added it to his speech. Since then it was incorporated into the White House message of the day. Press Secretary Jim Carney repeated it as did surrogates and sympathetic columnists.

Now, if anyone knows how much the Obama administration spent, it should be the Obama administration. Did they really think that they were keeping a tight lid on spending even though it grew in proportion to the GDP to levels unseen since WWII?

If we give them the benefit of the doubt then they rushed a piece into the campaign without properly vetting it. That's really sloppy.

The alternative is that they don't actually care about truth. If someone says something that benefits them then they will repeat it and assume that few people bother to read the fact-checkers. Unfortunately, this is more likely what happened. It matches their attack on Romney as a corporate vampire and it gives them deny-ability. After all, they were just repeating what someone else wrote.

The Obama campaign plans on playing hard-ball, raising as many issues as possible in order to distract voters from the economy and counting on demographics to deliver the big western states. While this may work, the economy is at the top of everyone's list of worries. The Obama campaign's message on the economy is, "Yes, things aren't very good but they will be worse under the other guy." This message only works if the economy is seen to be improving. The worse the economy does the better someone new looks.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ethnic Identities

I have no reason to doubt Elizabeth Warren's assertion that she grew up thinking that she had Native American ancestry. What probably happened is that a story got repeated wrong. One of her ancestors was part of the Trail of Tears - as a guard instead of a participant. After a hundred years or so he was probably turned into an Indian himself. This happens in a lot of families.

The real question is what Warren did with this. Did she use this supposed ancestry to advance her career? Did someone once say to her, "We'd love to hire you but your degree is from a middle-of-the-pack law school. Can you qualify as a minority?"

Affirmative Action programs were meant to help people who had been held back by overt discrimination. The blond, blue-eyed Warren obviously never suffered any discrimination because of her untraceable Indian ancestry. Even if she does have a drop of Indian blood, it would not have made the slightest difference in her upbringing or opportunities. So, if she listed herself as a minority to advance her career she was deceiving people and possibly taking a stop that could have been filled by a real minority.

We don't know if she did because the records are sealed.

This has little real significance to her Senate qualifications but, in an age where Romney's treatment of his dog in the 1980s is considered relevant, nothing seems to be off-limits. It does reflect Warren's values more than Romney's dog does.

Like many conservatives, I am overjoyed to see Warren fall. Her pitch for higher taxes last Winter was misleading and potentially harmful so anything that takes her down is welcome, especially if it is self-inflicted.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Obama the fiscal conservative?

A column by Rex Nutting has been making the rounds. It shows conclusively that the Obama spending spree never happened and that Obama is actually a fiscal conservative who cut taxes and spending.


So how did Nutting come up with his figures? He fudged them.

He began with a true statement, that the president takes office part-way into the fiscal year and he has limited influence over it. Obama's first year was an exception in many ways.

When fiscal year 2009 began, the Democrats wanted to increase spending. President Bush refused and threatened to veto any major increases. To keep government running, Congress passes a series of continuing spending resolutions. These kept the government running at 2008 funding levels. Soon after taking office, President Obama signed a new omnibus spending bill. This had all of the increases that Bush refused to approve. Nutting assigns these to Bush instead of Obama.

There is also the TARP. This was divided into two pieces. The first piece was to be spent before January 1, 2009. If it was not enough then the President could go to Congress to authorise the second half. Both parts were passed under Bush but he asked for the second half at Obama's request as a courtesy. The actual spending of the second half was totally under Obama's direction.

So that is several hundred billion in spending that Nutting attributed to Bush but should have gone to Obama.

There are other factors that distort these figures. Bush's biggest spending came in his last few months as a response to the international financial crisis. The bailouts and the TARP were unplanned and one-time occurrences (we hope). They inflate Bush's spending (especially the way that Nutting applied them). Anything following these special cases would look restrained.

Obama started his administration with an enormous stimulus. This also distorts spending, making it look like regular spending has gone down.

The biggest ticket item for Obama is totally unaccounted for - Obamacare. That is the biggest expansion in entitlement spending in a generation but the spending for it has not started yet so Nutting ignores it. Worse, some of the taxes to pay for it are already in place which temporarily reduces the deficit. These taxes will not actually pay for Obama care but by figuring the taxes over a ten year period and the costs over a seven year period, it looks like Obamacare is paid for.

Obama appears to be a fiscal conservative only because the emergency spending levels of 2008 and 2009 are unstastainable, not because Obama is a model of restraint.

UPDATE: Obama is using a version of this in his campaign speech. The AP's factchecker is not kind to it.
The MarketWatch study claims that spending is grown only 1.4 percent over 2010-2013, or annual increases averaging 0.4 percent over that period. Those are stunningly low figures considering that Obama rammed through Congress an $831 billion stimulus measure in early 2009 and presided over significant increases in annual spending by domestic agencies at the same time the cost of benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare and the Medicaid were ticking steadily higher.

A fairer calculation would give Obama much of the responsibility for an almost 10 percent budget boost in 2009, then a 13 percent increase over 2010-2013, or average annual growth of spending of just more than 3 percent over that period.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Two narrative

Here is the original narrative of the Travon Martin shooting as represented by his parents and girl friend:

Travon was visiting his father's girl friend and had a desire for Skittles and a Coke so he walked to the convenience store. On the way back he was spotted by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighbourhood guardian. Zimmerman, who is white, had a suspicion of blacks, especially ones wearing hoodies, in his neighbourhood and made a 911 call while following Trevon. Trevon spotted Zimmerman and tried to lose him but Zimmerman left his truck and caught up with Trevon, overpowered the small teenager, and shot him. When the police showed up Zimmerman claimed that he had been attacked even though he did not show any injuries. The police had to let him go because of Florida's Stand and Defend law which tied their hands.
This incident led to nation-wide protests. Even the President entered the affair saying that if he had a son, he would look like Travon.


Here is a more accurate narrative:

After being suspended from school for two weeks over graffiti and suspected drug use (confirmed by the autopsy), Travon was sent to stay with his father's girl friend to try to get his head straight. Even though he had visited there before, this was a punishment and everyone knew it. Wanting to spend some time on the phone with his girlfriend, Travon made a run to the convenience store but took the slow way back.

George Zimmerman, a man of mix race with a Brazilian mother and black grandmother, was on an errand when he noticed someone acting strange. The area had been hit by several break-ins by black youths wearing hoodies. This is a mixed-race neighbourhood so it was Travon's behavior, not his race that Zimmerman noticed.

A few months earlier Zimmerman had been asked to organize a neighbourhood watch. After a dog attack, Zimmerman acquired a gun and concealed carry permit and he had his gun holstered at his back.

Travon realised that he was being followed and, not knowing that this was the neighbourhood watch, tried to lose Zimmerman. He went down a sidewalk between buildings with no nearby street. Zimmerman started to follow but turned back at the 911 operator's instruction.

The two ran into each other. Travon, already mad at the world confronted the shorter man. Despite the old photographs his family had released, Travon had grown into a 6' 2" football player with tattoos and grills (gold teeth).

Zimmerman was not expecting any violence and never thought to reach for his gun. Instead he tried to run but Travon quickly tackled him, A moment later Travon was sitting on Zimmerman's chest, pummelling his face.

During the scuffle, Zimmerman's gun came loose. In fear of his life, Zimmerman seized it and shot Travon once in the chest.

When the police arrived they found Zimmerman beaten and bloody. His back was wet from being on his back. The only injuries on Travon were the bullet wound that killed him and abrasions to his knuckles.

Because the physical evidence and eyewitness accounts supported Zimmerman's story he was released without charges filed. After the incident became a national cause, a new prosecutor was appointed with the understanding that charges would be filed it at all possible.


I based the second narrative mainly on public evidence. For motives, I used the best possible motives for each.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Running scared

I saw a columnist point out that a sign of how close the presidential race is how quickly both sides have resorted to personal attacks, trying to disqualify the other. Romney is the challenger and it is always difficult to unseat a sitting president so we can expect him to be hitting hard. But what about Obama?

At first glance things don't look too bad for the President. The latest poll shows him ahead 49-46 although it is within the margin of error. The last two sitting presidents to be unseated faced primary opposition and Obama does not.

Things look worse beneath the surface. That most recent poll under sampled Republicans and over sampled Democrats. I am sure that the White House's internal polling does not make this mistake and they might well be showing Romney ahead.

Like Bush, Romney does not need to win the popular vote. He is pursuing a 3-2-1 strategy. This assumes that he can win all of the McCain states. He then has to flip three big states that usually vote Republican but went for Obama in 2008 plus the two swing states, Ohio and Florida. Finally, he has to pick up one additional state and it does not matter which one. Obama's support is centered in a few very large states so some big wins in those states coupled with tight races in Romney states could give Romney an electoral win.

Conventional wisdom is that primary challenges weakened Carter and Bush (41). I think that this gets things backwards. Those two presidents had primary challengers because they were already weak.

The Democrats have quashed any talk of a serious primary challenge to Obama but a few challengers have gotten on the ballot, anyway and they have been doing well. 41% of West Virginia Democrats voted for an out-of-state candidate currently in jail and 41% of Arkansas voters went for a Tennessee lawyer. "Undecided" got 42% of the vote in Kentucky. Even granting that these are protest votes by people who would not vote for Romney, they show a weak president.

A lot of Republicans are lukewarm on Romney as shown by the success of anyone-but-Romney candidates such as Santorum. The big question is which side is more motivated? Will significant numbers from each side "hold their nose and vote" or will they stay home?

The Obama campaign is trying to tarnish Romney. They are using the Saul Alinsky (and Karl Rove) method of attacking a candidate at his strongest point. The hope is to diminish Romney enough that his supporters will stay home rather than turnign out to vote. The fact that they have started this attack so early shows how desperate they are.

Romney has a long way to go to win the election but at this point he had the Obama people running scared.

Monday, May 21, 2012

About that TED Guy

A video from the TED convention has been making the rounds. It features a man named Nick Hanauer making a case for raising taxes on the rich and on corporations and investing the money in ways that would help the middle class. The TED organizers decided that the talk was too political and did not release it but it made its way into the Internet. The Left loves it. It is similar to the Elizabeth Warren speech, both in its justification for more taxes and in its mistakes.

Both speeches deal with a stereotyped version of the real world. They talk as though the rich and corporations were not currently being taxed or were being taxed at an incredibly low rate. In reality, by some measures such as the proportion of the tax burden born by the wealthy, we have one of the world's highest tax rates. Our corporate tax rate is by far the highest in the world although it is riddled with exceptions. Even taking those into account, we are one of the highest. Hanauer and Warren fail to recognize this or to say what they think the tax rate should be, just that a higher rate would be preferable since it could be redistributed.

Hanauer starts with a strange concept - that employers do not create jobs, the middle class does.

That's why I can say with confidence that rich people don't create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is a "circle of life" like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist like me.

It is true that no one gets rich by offering a product that no one will buy, it is also true that consumers cannot buy a product that does not exist. Consumers cannot set anything in motion. First someone has to offer goods or services that people want. That is what starts the "virtuous cycle".

Hanauer also says:

Anyone who's ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a capitalist's course of last resort, something we do only when increasing customer demand requires it. In this sense, calling ourselves job creators isn't just inaccurate, it's disingenuous.

It is Hanauer who is being disingenuous. There are a multitude of reasons for hiring people. Businesses hire people when they think that it will increase profits. Sometimes this is in response to increased demand. Sometimes it is because the business wants to enter a new market. They also hire in response to increased regulations. If regulations become too burdensome then the business might outsource jobs. Other times they might insource jobs that are more economical to do domestically.

Hanauer acts as if there is a direct relationship between demand and workforce. The relationship is more nuanced. Sometimes the cost of adding more employees is prohibitive. If an office only has room for 100 employees then the cost of adding the 101st employee includes acquiring new office space. If it takes fifteen workers and a factory line to produce a product then adding one or two workers will not improve production. The point here is that Hanauer is oversimplifying.

Hanauer also rewrites history:

[O]ur current policies are … upside down. When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.

Since 1980, the share of income for the richest Americans has more than tripled while effective tax rates have declined by close to 50%.

If it were true that lower tax rates and more wealth for the wealthy would lead to more job creation, then today we would be drowning in jobs. And yet unemployment and under-employment is at record highs.

From that statement you would never know that the 1980s and 1990s were the longest economic expansion in history and during much of that employment was at an all-time high and the unemployment rate was below the "full employment" rate of 5%. Hanauer is indicting a 30-year period on the basis of a four-year downturn and sluggish recovery. Instead of tarring the entire period, he should be looking at what was done differently 30 years ago which led to such a strong recovery.

Another reason this idea is so wrong-headed is that there can never be enough super-rich Americans to power a great economy. The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than those of the median American, but we don't buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff. My family owns three cars, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. Like everyone else, we go out to eat with friends and family only occasionally.

I can't buy enough of anything to make up for the fact that millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans can't buy any new clothes or cars or enjoy any meals out. Or to make up for the decreasing consumption of the vast majority of American families that are barely squeaking by, buried by spiraling costs and trapped by stagnant or declining wages.
This only makes sense if you accept his premise that consumer spending is the only force in the economy so, by possessing money he is keeping it out of the hands of consumers who would be happily spending it.
This is just a wild guess but I doubt if his wealth is sitting around in a huge vault that he swims around in like Scrooge McDuck. I will bet that he has most of his money invested in businesses which hire people.

Here is where he really goes off the rails:

The extraordinary differential between a 15% tax rate on capital gains, dividends, and carried interest for capitalists, and the 35% top marginal rate on work for ordinary Americans is a privilege that is hard to justify without just a touch of deification.
That 35% top rate only applies to amounts above $388,350/year. For the last four years the Democrats have been insisting that anyone who makes more than $200,000/year ($250,000 for families) is rich but Hanauer calls them "ordinary American". Also, a lot of people who make less than that earn some amount of capital gains.

Here is his summary:

In a capitalist economy, the true job creators are consumers, the middle class. And taxing the rich to make investments that grow the middle class, is the single smartest thing we can do for the middle class, the poor and the rich.
This sounds good but it is terrible public policy. "Investments that grow the middle class" means spending on targeted constituencies. We just tried that with Obama's stimulus. Guess what? It didn't work. A review of spending by county shows that the money did not go to places where unemployment was highest, it went to places that had well-connected congressmen. This is known as "crony capitalism" and leads to all sorts of abuses. For an example, see the John Murtha Airport where a powerful congressman sent $150 million to a tiny airport. If we adopted Hanauer's proposals then this would be the future of our economy.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Campaign Obama

Here's how the winning campaigns worked since 1988:

In 1988, the economy was doing well so the campaign centered on wedge issues - the Pledge of Allegiance, etc. Bush won by promising to continue Reagan's economic policies including no new taxes and by painting his opponent as being a typical tax and spend liberal.

In 1992, the economy was doing poorly. Clinton's winning campaign's motto was "It's the economy, stupid." Clinton painted Bush as being to out of touch to understand the economic issues facing typical Americans.

In 1996 Clinton was able to coast to reelection against Dole whose candidacy never caught on.

In 2000, Gore ran on a class warfare platform. He lost the election but won the popular vote.

In 2004, George W. Bush was able to paint his opponent as an out of touch rich guy.

The Obama campaign is using an "all of the above" strategy. They are trying hard to paint Romney as being rich and out of touch. They are also trying to remind us that he is "different". They also threw in some class warfare and some wedge issues.

To date, their approach is not working. Unlike Kerry who was born rich and married into money, Romney earned his fortune. Yes, his father was well-off by the time Romney went to high school but he worked his way up.

Attempts to remind us that Romney is "different" (code for Mormon) are doomed to failure. Romney may be from an exotic religion but he was raised in the country. Obama was raised in Indonesia by a Muslim step-father. That is why the "Obama ate dog" counter-attack was effective. No one really thinks that he acquired a taste for Lassie but it does remind us of how different Obama's upbringing was from most people's. Reminders that Romney's great-grandfather was a polygamist also flounder since the rejoinder is that Obama's grandfather was also a polygamist.

Gay marriage as a wedge issue also flopped. It helped Obama raise some campaign funds (or kept some contributors from closing their wallets) but more people are against it than for it.

Attacks on Bain Capitol are also risky since they let Romney talk about the jobs he created.

The class warfare (soak the rich) is more useful for energizing the base than for converting undecideds.

There are three modern campaigns that Obama cannot use as a model. His own 2008 campaign cannot be reproduced since he ran as a blank slate.

In 1980, Reagan won on the question, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" He repeated this in 1984 as part of his Morning in America campaign. The last thing Obama wants to do is remind people about the economy.

In the end, the Clinton campaign had it right - during an economic downturn it is all about the economy. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Just to be clear on where Obama stands

Politifact recaps Obama's many positions on gay marriage and gave him a Full Flop.

When filling out a questionnaire in 1996 questionnaire, Obama said, "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."

In 1998 he was undecided.

In 2004 he said, "I am a fierce supporter of domestic-partnership and civil-union laws. I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily just as a strategic issue. I think that marriage, in the minds of a lot of voters, has a religious connotation. ..." He reaffirmed this in 2007.

In 2008 he said, "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God's in the mix." and "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage."

In 2010 he said that his views were "evolving". Many gay activists took this as code words for "I'm for gay marriage but I am not ready to say so in public."

After Biden said on May 6 of this year that he was in favor of gay marriage, the White House issued a statement saying that the President's position had not changed and that Biden was talking out of turn. Gay activists began pressuring Obama to announce that he was in favor of gay marriage.

On May 8, North Carolina became the latest state to pass an anti-gay marriage/civil union constitutional amendment. Obama did not insert himself into the issue.

On May 9, Obama announced that he had changed positions and now favored gay marriage. A few days later he took in record amounts at a Hollywood fundraiser.

So, on May 7 when it might have made a difference to voters in North Carolina, Obama was against gay marriage but on May 9 with a fundraiser approaching, he changed his position while making it clear that he would not support any legislation.

So the only person who got any real benefit from the announcement was Obama, himself.

Just so you know where things stand.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The bullying smear

Recently the Washington Post accused Mitt Romney of bullying a gay student in high school. The story was poorly researched and they were in such a rush to push it out that it first appeared in their on-line edition. Within hours it began to appear that they had gotten some facts wrong. This shows that the story was nothing but an attempt to contrast President Obama's about-face on gay marriage with Romney's supposed anti-gay history.

There are a couple of things about this story that bother me beyond the obvious attempt to smear Romney as violently anti-gay.

First, "bullying" has changed meaning in the last couple of years. Before then it was completely neutral. Jocks picked on nerds, the strong and popular picked on the weak and unpopular. See dozens of episodes of the Simpsons for examples. But in the last couple of years it has taken on a different meaning. The current anti-bullying campaign is mainly aimed at stopping bullying of gays. No one mentions giving wedgies to poindexters when talking about bullying.

The other point is that gays in the early 1960s were very deeply in the closet. Boys were not even supposed to be having sex with girls. The idea that they might be having sex with other boys was unthinkable. Even in the more open 1970s when I was in high school and college, gays didn't really come out until after high school. So the idea that Romney targeted someone because he was gay is highly unlikely, especially since Romney is known for playing pranks on everyone around him. He may have gone too far in one of his pranks but that does not show that he was anti-gay.

The double-standard here is obvious. Obama admits to smoking pot and using cocaine and relates incidents of bullying in his autobiographies but the press never picked up on this. But with Romney, as with Sarah Palin four years ago, they make a point of digging up much lighter offenses.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Whose troops?

[W]hen I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that 'don't ask, don't tell' is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married. - Barack Obama

Wait a minute. They are fighting at the President's command but on his behalf? I thought that they were fighting on behalf of their country, not their leader.

Obama's Evolution

Yesterday President Obama announced that his views have "evolved" to the point that he now supports gay marriage. What does this mean? Not much.

Obama was forced into this announcement after Vice-President Biden stuck his foot into the issue over the weekend. The White House tried to have it both ways - that the President was against bans on gay marriage but was not actually in favor of it. The press corps would have none of it. Coming out in favor was the quickest way to make the story go away. Granted it generated its own headlines but those will have faded by the weekend.

Despite his "evolution", most people believe that this has been Obama's position all along and that he took other positions for political reasons. Outspoken atheist, Penn Jillette, has said that he supports Obama for the same reason - that the President is secretly an atheist but lies about it for political reasons.

Even though Obama official came out in support of gay marriage, he has made it clear that he will not actually do anything to advance it. Plus, the Democrat National Convention will be held in North Carolina which just banned gay marriage by a 20% margin.

Romney continues to be against gay marriage but in favor of civil unions being passed at the state level. This was Obama's official position on Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Obama and Julia

Last week the Obama campaign released "The life of Julia" contrasting the effects of an Obama 2nd term and a Romney presidency on milestones of a woman's life from the age of 3 through to retirement at age 67. The object of this exercise is to show how Julia is better off with an Obama administration.

I considered doing a parody of Julia but that has already been done to death. So, I will limit myself to looking at the meaning of this whole campaign gimmick.

First, it is dishonest on many levels. There is no way that today's three-year-old will continue through the next 64 years unaffected by any presidents except for Obama or Romney. Julia is a composite which is just as well. Otherwise the slideshow is missing some elements. Young Julia is enrolled in Head Start which is reserved for the poor. When Julia retires the text says that she would have had a 40% cut in Social Security under Romney. There are multiple assumptions here. There was a proposal by two Congressional Republicans to do means testing of Social Security as a way of saving it. That is the only plan on the table that would cut her Social Security benefits by that much. In order to be affected by that, Julia would have had to have done very well for herself so there should have been a couple of slides about her paying higher taxes under Obama than under Romney.

Most of the assumptions about what Romney would do are based on questionable assumptions. Romney is treated as a rubber stamp for an Republican proposals in the last few years (this is likely to be a major theme of the overall Obama campaign so Julia is not an aberration). Further, proposed cuts are treated as across the board. In the case of student loan rates, the Obama campaign ignored what Romney said (that he wants the rate cut extended) and projects that it the rate would rise because it is not specifically mentioned in the Ryan budget.

There is another point where Julia misquotes what happened. The Romney campaign was asked if the Governor would have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act. His staff said that they would have to ask Romney before answering and the following day said that he would have signed it. According to Julia, Romney refused to answer if he would sign it.

The only campaign pledge that Julia quotes accurately is Romney's promise that he would work to repeal Obamacare (a position shared by a majority of the electorate). The rest is somewhere between inaccurate and outright falsehood.

Since we cannot trust anything that Julia says about Romney, what does it say about Obama?

The most obvious point is that Obama's America is one where a woman requires constant help from the federal government to shield her from the rest of the world including local government (schools). I am sure that this accurately reflects the Obama Administration but I am not so sure about the rest of the country.

A related point is that the Obama Administration is confident in the ability of government programs to accomplish their goals. Head Start and Race to the Top are given three mentions even though outside evaluations of these programs are not so glowing. Numerous studies have shown that the benefits of Head Start fade over time. Most of them vanish by the end of First Grade and students who have been through Head Start are indistinguishable from their peers by the third grade.

Race to the Top encourages new teaching techniques but the program has not existed long enough to judge its effectiveness.

Julia also overstates the effectiveness of Obamacare. One of the milestones is when Julia needs an operation while in college. While it is true that Obamacare allows parents to cover their children up to the age of 26, it is also true that most policies allowed parents to cover their children while in college.

Similar arguments can be made for nearly all of the slides.

The final point about Julia is that it shows just how thin Obama's achievements have been. It mentions three - Obamacare, Race to the Top, and Lilly Ledbetter. These get multiple mentions to fluff them up a bit. The rest consists of "saving" programs from Romney cuts while ignoring that the current rate of spending is unsustainable and something is going to have to be cut. It is a wonder that the creators of Julia didn't include a slide where Julia grows up safe because Obama killed bin Laden, just to throw in a real achievement.

By exaggerating Obama's accomplishments and misrepresenting Romney's positions, Julia shows a remarkable disdain for the voter's intelligence.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Leaving the Center

I keep seeing articles on how far the Republicans have moved to the right. Most of these insist that the Democrats either have not moved or that they have moved to the center. This one at least admits that the Democrats have moved to the 20-yard line before accusing the Republicans of moving to the end zone.

The question is how do we measure this? Everyone has their own measure so I may as well contribute mine.

First, I am going to start with Reagan in 1980. The vast majority of Congress post-dates 1980. Also, Reagan is the defining leader of the current Republicans. Democrats have to look back to FDR for such a leader (which explains a lot about their current policies).

Next, I am going to propose that one valid proxy for a party is its presidential candidate. The candidate represents a consensus and a winning candidate leads the party.

There is no question that Reagan was the most conservative presidential candidate the Republicans have run in the last 30 years. His major domestic achievements were slowing the growth of government and lowering and flattening the tax rates (yes, rates fluctuated during his administration but they were substantially lower at the end than the beginning). Not even Reagan could actually shrink government.

Since Reagan we had George H. W. Bush who expanded the regulatory state in numerous ways, and George W. Bush who pushed through the Medicare Drug Plan - the first new entitlement since LBJ. We also had Bob Dole and John McCain who were widely regarded as moderate senators. The big complain this year is that all of the candidates are to the left of Reagan and Romney is the most moderate of the bunch.

On the Democrat side we had Bill Clinton, a "moderate" who tried to pass health care reform, and did pass gun restrictions and Obama who did pass health care reform and has expanded the regulatory state. We also had Mondale who ran on a tax and spend platform (really), Dukakis - a liberal governor, Gore who ran to the left of Clinton and Kerry. It should be pointed out that Kerry, Edwards, and Dean were all running against Clinton's moderate record as much as against Bush.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Edwards all identified themselves as "progressives" rather than "liberals" and indicated a desire to return to the days of FDR's New Deal. Of all of these, Bill Clinton was the only moderate and that was only after his disastrous congressional midterm election. More recently, the Democrats have run senators with voting records far to the left of most of the party.

So, presidential candidates indicate that the Democrats have moved a long way to the left while the Romney represents a half-step to the right.

What about issues?

When Democrats complain about Republicans they usually go on to taxes. They accuse the Republicans of favoring the rich. It has been a goal of the Obama Administration from day one to raise taxes on people making more than $200,000/year.

But the Republicans have their own arguments. Based on some measures, America already has the world's most progressive tax rates. They argue that raising taxes will hurt a weak economy.

Who is further from the center here? Both sides have some statistics on their side. The Democrats are correct that the rich have gotten richer and the Republicans are correct that the rich already pay a disproportionate share of the income tax. The issue of "fairness" keeps coming up. When the Democrats use this term they are justifying punitive tax rates. They see taxes as a leveler. In 2008, Obama said that he would support raising the capitol gains tax for the sake of fairness, even if it would not produce any more income.

To me, this puts the Democrats way off-center on taxes.

One other consideration, the last time Republicans supported a tax increase was during the George H. W. Bush Administration. Most Republicans see this as a major factor in his defeat and are convinced that a Republican who raises taxes will lose the next election. This is not a new position. They have held that view since 1992.

Spending is another issue that the parties have split on. Republicans want to see spending restrained. They worry about the size of the national debt and the future obligations of entitlements. Democrats are against any moderation in spending or entitlement reform. This represents movement by both parties. The Republicans under George W. Bush went from a moderate surplus to a deficit. The Democrats ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility in 2002 but now embrace ever-expanding deficits. During the Reagan years, both parties worked together on entitlement reform but the is off the table for Democrats.

On health care reform, the Republicans flirted with the idea briefly under George H. W. Bush but ultimately rejected it. The Democrats have always been for it and many were disappointed with what was passed. This represents a deep ideological commitment from the Democrats who passed Obamacare without any Republican support and against the wishes of a majority of the country.

The Democrats have conceded one issue - gun control. Even after moderating, Clinton was anti-gun and tried to outlaw private sales of guns. Exit polls indicate that Gore lost his home state of Tennessee because the gun-owner vote went for Bush. Had Gore won Tennessee, Florida would have been irrelevant. The Democrats backed away from gun control since then.

All told, I don't see much movement from the Republicans. All of their current positions are rooted in the Reagan years. Their position on taxes is even supported by the former head of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. The Democrats seem to be more ideologically motivated than the Republicans. Their insistence on punitive taxes, their fondness for unsustainable spending, and their refusal to even admit to problems in the entitlement programs are all signs of a party that has lost touch with reality.

Granted, the Republicans have consolidated their positions more but these have been central to the party since Reagan. The Democrats have rejected their more recent moderates and long for a return to the heady days of FDR and expanding government. It only looks like the Republicans have moved to the right because the left has moved the center.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Obama's Victory Dance

On the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, President Obama is doing sort of a victory dance. He and his administration (especially Vice-President Biden) are reminding people that bin Laden was killed under Obama's watch and that Obama authorized the mission that killed bin Laden.

A year ago they were proud that they did something that President Bush did not. Now they are running and ad questioning if Governor Romney would have made the same decision?

Romney's answer is quick and to the point, "Even Jimmy Carter would have made that decision."

The Obama campaign picked up on a speech that Romney gave a few years ago where he questioned the wisdom of devoting so many resources to finding bin Laden when he could be replaced as al-Qeada's leader. Romney felt that more emphasis should be spent on the organization instead of the man. This is a valid point. At the time of his execution, bin Laden was isolated and had no direct contact with the organization. As satisfying as it was, killing bin Laden was mainly symbolic.

Obama has been less than generous with the credit. He announced that he made finding bin Laden a top priority but Osama bin Laden was the country's top target going back to the Clinton administration. US Intelligence began finding clues that eventually led to bin Laden in 2004 (four years before Obama was elected).

In 2008, the most effective ad that Hillary Clinton ran was the 3 am phone call? The bin Laden ad is Obama's version. It implies that Romney would not make the right choices with no justification. Even people on the hard left thing that the ad is outrageous.

A year ago an SNL sketch showed Obama slipping references to killing bin Laden into everything he said. With few accomplishments to run on, Obama is reduced to acting out that SNL sketch for real.