Elections Don’t Mean What Media Claim

Charles KrauthammerI really am a terrible partisan. I suppose it was clear enough after the election in 2012. It seems that every couple of days I was writing the same article about how stupid it was that people were saying that the Republicans would have to yield to the Democrats because of their poor showing in the election. What nonsense that was! The Republicans still had control of the House and just because the Democrats had done well nationally, didn’t mean that any given Republican should change; they still had the same conservative constituency. Of course, it wasn’t even Democratic partisans who were saying these kinds of things. That was just the conventional wisdom of our hopelessly centrist media establishment.

It is two years later and these same nitwits are saying the same thing, but with the parts reversed. What exactly are the Republicans going to do if Obama doesn’t pander to them? Impeach him? I’m sure Joe Biden wouldn’t mind running the country on autopilot for the next two years, as Obama is expected to. How the Senate would ever get 67 votes, I cannot say. So it is all nonsense and I wish as much now as I did then that people would just shut up. There is only so much brain dead analysis I can take.

But you won’t be seeing me write multiple articles on this subject. It is different being on this side of it. I don’t even want to think about the election. The only thing I can do is look to the future and hopefully build a better — more liberal — Democratic Party. But more than that, I feel that my repeated expression of annoyance would be seen as sour grapes. God knows, I got no praise from Republicans about my defense of them in 2012; but I feel certain that I would get complaints from them now if I actively defended the Democrats — even though I would do it in an entirely nonpartisan way. All I really care about is that people see political reality and stop living in some mythical land where parties have “mandates.”

As bad as the mainstream press is, the conservative press is just loony. Ed Kilgore brought my attention to the following bit of hilarity from Charles “If you speak softly, you can get away with the craziest things!” Krauthammer, Seize the Day, Control the Agenda:

The defeat — “a massacre,” the Economist called it — marks the final collapse of Obamaism, a species of left liberalism so intrusive, so incompetently executed and ultimately so unpopular that it will be seen as a parenthesis in American political history. Notwithstanding Obama’s awkward denials at his next-day news conference, he himself defined the election when he insisted just last month that “these [ie his] policies are on the ballot — every single one of them.”

They were, and America spoke.

Ah, yes! America spoke! Kilgore noted, “No, Charles, 38% of eligible voters ‘spoke,’ in a tilted battleground, and 52% of them voted Republican while 48% did not. It was a big defeat for Democrats, of course, but not the end of the Thirty Years War. Get a grip.” It is kind of like saying that the English people spoke when Henry Tudor became king. After all, the only people who mattered had spoken — namely Henry Tudor.

What’s annoying about this kind of triumphalism — and it is everywhere on the right now — is that any reasonable person knows that it isn’t true. The Democrats didn’t do better in 2012 than in 2010 because the people had changed their minds; they did better because more people voted. If the people who voted in 2012 had voted in 2010, the Democrats would have done well. And that’s true of 2014 too. The people didn’t turn against the Democrats; the Democratic voters just didn’t turn up.

I’m not suggesting that this isn’t bad news for the Democrats. It is a minor catastrophe. It says some very troubling things about the Democratic coalition. But it doesn’t say a damned thing about changes in America because there haven’t been any changes in America. The same people who hated Obama in 2008 also hated him in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Now things will probably change. In 2024, these people will probably look back fondly on Obama and think he was pretty good — at least compared to whatever socialist is in the White House at that point.

I have done my best to avoid coverage of the election. Part of it is just to avoid the nonsense. But another part of it is that conservatives are as bad at winning as they are at losing. I really do not remember this kind of exultation by the Democrats in 2012 or even in 2008. I think it is the authoritarian nature of conservatism. What’s the point of winning if you don’t get to rape and pillage, am I right?! Well, no: I’m not right. They really are awful people.

Supreme Court May Yet Destroy Obamacare

John RobertsNot depressed enough, liberals? Well, I can help. The Supreme Court has decided to hear King v Burwell. This is just the latest in literally hundreds of lawsuits designed to cripple Obamacare by any means necessary. This one is based on a typo in the law that the plaintiffs claim means that people in states that did not set up their own healthcare exchanges do not get federal subsidies to help people pay for their insurance. If this case was reversed by the right wing extremists on the Court, it would be a catastrophe.

Of course, even now, in states that didn’t accept the Medicaid expansion, the working poor fall into a kind of “doughnut hole” where they don’t get free healthcare but also don’t qualify for any subsidies. This alone should have caused the voters to reject every Republican legislature in the nation. But of course, that didn’t happen. Even Sam “Screw the kids, rich people need more cash!” Brownback managed to win re-election by four percentage points. What’s the matter with Kansas? It is filled with the apathetic and the evil. Good job guys! At least those awful working poor won’t get healthcare so they can continue to function at their back-breaking jobs!

King v Burwell would do the same thing that is currently happening to the working poor to the entire middle class. And you, my dear liberal reader, are probably now thinking, “Well, then the Republicans would have to get on board; they can’t slight the middle class!” Oh, grasshopper, how much you must learn! It won’t matter. Sam Brownback and Scott Walker and all the rest won’t be up for election for four years anyway. And by 2017, Walker may be in the White House — propelled to the high office by his bold stand destroying public sector unions. If your life can’t get better, at least you can feel good about other lives getting worse, am I right?!

Sadly, if the Supreme Court manages to do this to the country, it will not only harm red states. Oregon, for example, will be harmed, because its state exchange turned out to be a complete fiasco and they were forced to use the federal exchange. Of course, the idea of King v Burwell is not to hurt individual states. The idea is to destroy the law in total. If 21 states in the union are not given the benefits of the law, there will be a huge call for its repeal.

That’s why the red states will not accept the fact that they are not representing the best interests of their people. This will be a great opportunity to demagogue the issue, “It is outrageous that the people are forced to pay higher taxes and yet they get nothing for it!” It will not matter that (1) they won’t in general be paying higher taxes and (2) the only reason they get nothing for it is because their leaders refuse to accept it. American politics doesn’t do fact or nuance. And the Republican Party is the perfect organization for this kind of environment.

Nicholas Bagley is very pessimistic about this, The Supreme Court will hear King. That’s bad news for the ACA. His argument is that it takes four justices to hear a case. And in general, they will only decide to take a case if they think it will go in their favor. Those who are inclined to agree with the lower courts’ decisions have no real reason to hear the case. So there is a very good chance the usual five suspects will hear the case and throw a major wrench into the workings of the rest of government.

My gut reaction is to think that they won’t do this. After all, John Roberts seems to be concerned about his legacy, even if the others aren’t. What’s more, he already took a hit when he found in favor of Obamacare before. But my gut reaction could well be wrong. I don’t think that Roberts — or for that matter any of the justices — is that rational. In fact, he may use his previous vote to self-justify that he is the truly objective justice and now he is just “calling balls and strikes.”

I weep for the once great country of my birth. This is how empires crumble.

Update (7 November 2014 6:10 pm)

If you aren’t as familiar with King v Burwell, Jonathan Chait has a pretty good overview of it, Supreme Court to Hear Newest, Craziest Legal Challenge to Obamacare. He’s far more positive about sanity prevailing. He may be right. I just wouldn’t count on it.

Why Good Economy Doesn’t Help in Mid-Terms

VoteAs you probably know, I am an amateur political scientist. I don’t mean this in terms of all the ranting I do here — fine though the ranting may be. I mean that I have created my own little election models and I have developed a couple of theories that professional political scientists would scoff at. And one of the most vexing things that I’ve noticed is that what’s going on in the economy is of fundamental importance to which party wins in presidential elections, but it seems to have absolutely no effect at all in mid-term years. I understand why it is important in presidential elections: the economy is of primary importance to people. It makes no sense that it wouldn’t matter in off-year elections.

Look at this year. the unemployment rate started at 6.6% in January and it was down to 5.8% last month. You don’t believe this number because of the discouraged worker effect? Fine! The Civilian Employment-Population Ratio was 58.2% in January and it is 59.2% now — a remarkable increase in just one year. Or let’s look at the number of jobs added to the economy this year: we’ve added an average (pdf) of over 220,000 jobs per month this year. That’s better than last year when we didn’t even manage 200,000 jobs per month.

The the economy is really doing better. If this had been a presidential election year, the party in the White House (nominally the Democrats) would have won by a landslide. Yet they did not. The Democrats lost in a landslide. How can this be?! Is it as simple as Matt Yglesias says, “Life isn’t fair.” Well, no; it isn’t as simple as that, because what happened this year is exactly what happened in 2010 when the economy had flatlined. Yet the people still punished the party that was in the White House.

It’s important — even critical — to remember that the president shouldn’t get credit for the economy. Most of what Obama has done has been bad for the economy. The Fiscal Cliff deal was probably worth doing, but the timing was bad and it harmed the economy in the short term. A better thing to have done would have been to trade two more years of the low top tax rates for a continuation of the payroll tax holiday. But more important, Obama allowed himself to be blindsided with the Debt Ceiling, which led to the Sequester. That’s been an enormous drag on the economy. Yet, as always, economies do heal and that is what we are seeing.

But given that the voters punish presidents for bad economic trends and reward them for good economic trends, why don’t they do this during off-year elections? Why do they ignore the economy when he isn’t running? And note: Obama’s approval rating is eleven points under water, even though times are fairly good and they are getting better.

I think this is all about perceptions of un-engaged voters. People think that who is president really does matter. But almost half don’t think it matters who controls Congress. Other polls have shown that a large percentage of the nation don’t even know which party controls Congress. These are the people who reward the party in the White House for good economic trends. And these people simply don’t show up for mid-term elections because they don’t think the elections matter.

So we come back, once again, to turnout. And this speaks incredibly poorly of our democracy. This isn’t even a partisan issue. Whether politicians deserve it or not, the voters don’t reward or punish them on the state of the nation when it isn’t a presidential election. Many pundits wonder why the Republicans are so extreme and unwilling to change to appeal to the people. But why should they?! They know that their political destinies are rarely linked to what the people what.

The real question is what the Democratic Party is going to do. How can the electorate be made to vote based upon the state of things? But maybe the Democratic power elite don’t want that. After all, their economic policies are pretty much the same as the Republicans’. Maybe the last thing they want is for the people to start rewarding actual liberal economic policy. That would hurt all their billionaire friends. But that just brings me back to the point I made yesterday, We Must Make the Democratic Party Better. We the people need to control the party, and that means getting money out of politics. Until we do, we are destined to oscillate from Democrat to Republican as the country slowly loses even the pretense of democracy.

Erskine Bowles Will Never Learn

Erskine BowlesI have obviously read the [Reinhart and Rogoff 90% “debt cliff”] report and have referenced it a number of times. I know they had a worksheet error in the report and my understanding is that does make a difference. But what it doesn’t change is the common sense and my own personal experience in both the public and private sector that when any organization has too much debt that is an enormous risk factor and your risks go up then people lending you money will want more money for their money. My best guess is that whether the 90 percent number is the number or not, I don’t know. That is obviously up to question. But the fact that adding more leverage to a company or a not-for-profit or a government’s balance sheet does increase risk and therefore increases the return that somebody is going to expect on their capital, is absolutely a fact.

—Erskine Bowles
Quoted in Bowles Dismisses “Flaws” in Favorite Debt Study

[It’s funny that after the study was shown to be wrong (although there was never any reason to take it seriously), Bowles suddenly didn’t know for sure. He showed no such humility when he could use the study to push his debt hysteria. When a study says what you are pushing, it is simply: The Truth™. When it is debunked, suddenly there is nuance. Fancy that! —FM]

Lise Meitner

Lise MeitnerOn this day in 1878, the great physicist Lise Meitner was born. She had an amazing career. Along with her nephew Otto Frisch and her long-term partner Otto Hahn, she discovered and explained nuclear fission. She also discovered the Auger effect — where the movement of an electron from a higher energy state to a lower energy state releases a photon, which can be absorbed by another electron, causing it to be ejected from the atom. The French physicist Pierre Victor Auger discovered the effect independently a year later. So why is it named after him? Well, that is pretty much the story of Lise Meitner’s life.

Otto Hahn received the Nobel Prize for the work he did with Meitner, but again, Meitner did not get the award. You know, she was a girl. I mean they had already given the award to Marie Curie (who interestingly, shares the same birthday — although eleven years earlier). Of course, Meitner did get some extremely prestigious awards such as the Max Planck Medal in 1949 and the Enrico Fermi Award in 1966. She was given both of them along with Hahn. I kind of think the scientific community had figured it out. Although to be honest, I’m not sure why they gave the Planck Medal to Hahn, who was one of the greatest chemists ever, but really didn’t know much of anything about physics.

What’s sad is how common this kind of thing was and I think largely still is. Women in since are a commonplace now. But they are still treated as somewhat suspect. They have to clear a higher bar than men. We really haven’t progressed very far as a culture. But I’d like to think we are making some progress. For another prominent example, see Rosalind Franklin.

Happy birthday Lise Meitner!