Thank God It’s Friday

Save Big BirdI’ve had a thought all night long. I don’t claim that it is original. In fact, it seems kind of obvious. Romney supposedly won the debate. And yet the only really memorable line from the debate is a clear blunder, and it was by Mitt Romney. Obama didn’t have a bad performance so much as he had a boring performance. My initial reaction to Romney’s performance was that it was too aggressive and that he repeated the same talking points over and over. In fact, he said “$716 billion” five times! What’s more, his low level of disfluencies made me think that he was just spouting memorized lines—as he likely was.

I’m sure that his attack on PBS was similarly scripted. It’s pretty obvious, they knew Jim Lehrer was the moderator. But I think adding “Big Bird” may have been an ad lib. Or maybe his campaign made a mistake. I know I wouldn’t have flagged it as something that would go viral. I would have argued that whether people admitted it or not, they wanted to take a poke at Big Bird and would be delighted to see Romney do it.

Just like “You’re no Jack Kennedy” in 1982, the only thing people seem to remember about this most recent debate is that Romney wants to kill Big Bird. After all the grief that Obama and company got Wednesday night and Thursday, they’ve got to have been thanking God for Friday.

Mitt’s Excuse for Killing Big Bird is Wrong

GroverFirst things first: I don’t like Big Bird. I never have. Nor am I fond of those metrosexual cohabitors Burt and Ernie. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t fight for Sesame Street. If only for the sake of Grover, we must protect Sesame Street.

Romney’s comment about Sesame Street roiled me, but not about ending funding for PBS. Let’s be clear: all conservatives want to end funding of this kind. If a TV show isn’t interrupted every 10 minutes so that corporations can sell stuff, what is the point? Am I right?!

But Romney said more than that. Here is the full quote:

I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I’m not going to—I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.

Alas.

As I’ve discussed before, We Are Our Own Investors. If our government debt is owned to any monolithic creature, it is the American People. China owns roughly 7.5% of our debt. Total foreign debt ownership is roughly a third—half what we Americans own. So this is a non-issue. What’s more, it is a fact that Mitt Romney surely knows; his statement is demagoguery plain and simple.

What’s more, the implication of this claim is that by China holding government debt, they control us. If they decide to get stop buying our debt it will cause our economy to collapse. China is—according to those who make this claim—propping up the value of the dollar. The exact opposite is the truth. As Dean Baker has pointed out, the reason China owns as much of our debt as they do is because they peg their currency artificially low compared to the dollar. Mitt Romney might have heard about this since he’s always talking about it with regards to manufacturing. Another aspect of this is that China can buy our bonds for less than they are worth.

That is why China owns 7.5% of our government debt. But regardless of this, 7.5% is not all or most or even a lot.

If Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird (and I wouldn’t complain), he needs to come up with a better reason than China.

Update (5 October 2012 2:28 pm)

Krugman’s Wrong: Obama Did Fight Back

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman has a good article on Mitt Romney’s biggest lie of Wednesday night’s debate, Romney’s Sick Joke. He points out the usual stuff: Romney’s “plan” is to simply go back to what we had before—unemployed people who can afford the outrageous COBRA fees can keep their coverage.

He also added a few points that have not been so well reported. One is that the number of jobs that provide healthcare has been declining over the last decade. He also noted that the Romney campaign’s assertion that states could come to the rescue by guaranteeing coverage was nonsense. He write, “Mr. Romney wants to eliminate restrictions on interstate insurance sales, depriving states of regulatory power.” And, “If all you do is require that insurance companies cover everyone, healthy people will wait until they’re sick to sign up, leading to sky-high premiums.”

However, I think that Krugman makes a mistake that pretty much everyone is making: Obama did punch back on this point. Krugman writes:

One could wish that Mr. Obama had made this point effectively in the debate. He had every right to jump up and say, “There you go again”: Not only was Mr. Romney’s claim fundamentally dishonest, it has already been extensively debunked, and the Romney campaign itself has admitted that it’s false.

As I wrote in Romney Campaign Walks Back “Moderation,” Obama countered Romney on this exact point. And he did it quite forcefully. This makes Romney’s lie all that much worse because he doubled down on it during the debate only to have his campaign walk it back afterward.

When it comes to the debate, Obama can’t catch a break. Even when he did fight back, he gets no credit. And this is true even of good liberal commentators like Paul Krugman.

George Will: Protector of Brainless Babies

George WillFrankly Curious’ favorite economist, Dean Baker, takes a bite out of conservative affirmative action case George Will. Following the presidential debate, Will is screaming, “Healthcare rationing!” This isn’t even a canard; it’s a lie. There is no way that George Will is this stupid or ignorant.

As we know from economics, or even arithmetic, all things are rationed. A private insurance company rations healthcare. And even more to the point, healthcare is really rationed for the 50 million people without insurance. But Will doesn’t care about those people. No. He’s out there making sure that we provide healthcare to babies born without brains, because those are the people who are the real victims of our broken healthcare system. This is typical of conservatives, of course: they are always more worried about unborn children than born children. I think it’s because they don’t much like actual people.

I should be clear: George Will does not use the “brainless baby” as an example. No one does. But when Oregon decided that they were going to prioritize healthcare, last on the list of procedures to spend money on was keeping babies born without brains alive. The point is that there are limited resources and I am proud to admit that I think those resources are better used on, say, heart surgeries and insulin prescriptions. (Note: only three children with anencephaly have ever lived any length of time even with medical care. By far the longest is three and a half years.)

After Wednesday’s debate, I had a conversation with a conservative who was surprised when I explained that the ACA was just like the laws that say you have to have auto insurance to drive. This conservative thought this was a good idea. (He should! It’s a conservative idea!) He explained that he thought the ACA was a government takeover of healthcare. Now why would he think that? Perhaps because people like George Will are constantly implying this?

No one is stopping the rich from getting any healthcare they can afford—just like now. So what are conservative upset about? Chick Deney will continue to get spare body parts so the rest of us will have to put up with him until his cells won’t regenerate at 124 years old (and who knows, they may come up with something for that too). But no, George Will screams, “Rationing!”

Dean Baker explains:

George Will then trumpets this as rationing of health care. Of course under this system, anyone will be able to get whatever health care they want, they will just have to pay for it out of their own pocket. The fact that Will now calls this situation “rationing” of care shows the state of modern conservatism.

Btw, [this is] the same situation under all the plans put forward by Governor Romney and Representative Ryan. There is no insurance company that covers all care. So insurers will decide which procedures they want to pay for. Furthermore, unlike Medicare, there will be no elected representatives who can overturn their decisions. They can also change coverage on people unexpectedly—that is unless pointy headed bureaucrats in Washington stand in their way.

George Will: freedom fighter.