Obama and Obamacare Approval Only Going Up

Don't Tread on My Obamacare

Jonathan Bernstein pointed out something truly bizarre the other day, Americans Will Love Obamacare in 2020. But I’m almost certain that he’s right. You see, I’ve been of the opinion (In part because of arguments Bernstein himself has made!) that Obamacare is never going to be popular because it is so elusive.

The problem is that most people who get Obamacare don’t know it. A large number of them get Obamacare in the form of the Medicaid expansion. So these people see themselves getting healthcare from the state — not the federal government — much less Obamacare itself. And then another really large number of people get their healthcare from private insurers through the healthcare exchanges. Well over half of them are subsidized directly by Obamacare, but they aren’t alerted to this fact — they just pay less (often a lot less) for their insurance. So why should anyone “like” Obamacare; the main things they “know” about the law come from a very large disinformation campaign from conservatives over the last five years.

But as I discussed the other day, Obamacare approval ratings are going up. In fact, even since then, we have news that Obamacare is for the first time in two and half year above water: more people approve than disapprove. So what’s with that? Is the people learning? Well, probably not.

But Bernstein has a really compelling idea: it is all about Obama’s approval rating. As I just discussed, people really don’t know what Obamacare is or how it affects them. So in their minds, Obamacare and Obama mean more or less the same thing. As it is, earlier today, I clicked on a link that I thought was about Obama that was actually about Obamacare. So it is easy enough to mistake them, even if you are very clear on the distinction.

Now Obama’s approval rating could go down. It might very well! But one thing we know from experience is that the approval rating of presidents goes up after they leave the White House. George W Bush’s approval rating reached a low of 32% according to Gallup (it went much lower in other polls). But by mid-2013, it was back up to 49%. Things are going to be even better for Obama. How do I know? Because conservatives can’t manage to maintain any Republican Party talking points unless they are constantly being reminded by Fox News and company. It is hard to find a conservative who doesn’t think pretty highly of Bill Clinton now. They wonder why they hated him so much in the 1990s.

So you can bet that after four years of Hillary Clinton or, even more, one of the Republican loons, that Obama is going to look pretty damned good (not because he was necessarily better but because he will be out of politics). Bill Clinton left office with a 42% approval rating. As of 2012, it was 66%. I expect that Obama will be up around 60% by 2020. And what that most likely means is that Obamacare will be up there too. And the longer he is out of office, the harder conservatives will have to work to remember what all the fuss was about. Did they really go crazy over birth certificates? Did they really think he was a Muslim? A socialist? An America hater? It will all seem like a vague dream.

And as a result, people will have fond thoughts about Obamacare. It will bring back memories of when politics wasn’t so divisive!

The Clinton Political Expedience Myth

Matt YglesiasPresidential elections are really important. It matters a lot whether Hillary Clinton becomes President in 2017 or whether a Republican does. But there just isn’t all that much going on in the actual campaigns. Except, that is, in the minds of campaign journalists:

For anyone who wondered what kind of economic message Mrs Clinton would deliver in her campaign, the first few days made it clear: she is embracing the ideas trumpeted by Ms Warren and the populist movement — that the wealthy have been benefiting disproportionately from the economy, while the middle class and the poor have been left behind. And the policies Mrs Clinton is advancing, like paid sick leave for employees and an increase in the minimum wage, align with that emphasis. But now, the former secretary of state must convince voters that she is the right messenger for the cause of inequality, not simply seizing on it out of political expedience.

Try to imagine a voter who is aware that Hillary Clinton has made inequality a key campaign theme, who agrees that this is the issue that should be the focus of policymaking in 2017-2020, who is aware of Clinton’s policy proposals to combat inequality, who agrees with Clinton’s policy proposals to combat inequality, and who yet decides not to vote for her because she thinks Clinton has adopted this all out of expedience.

Why would that happen?

—Matt Yglesias
Matt’s Newsletter: Paternity Leave Edition

Productivity Growth Won’t Help Workers

Jared BernsteinOne of my biggest problems with the way that my fellow liberals talk about economic debate is that they don’t understand that different people mean different things by the same words. So now we see that Republicans are talking about “economic inequality.” Should we be excited about this? No. To them, the big solution to economic inequality is the same solution that they have had to every economic issue for the last forty years: cut regulation and taxes. Doing this will supposedly increase economic growth and that will in turn increase middle class wages. There are just two problems here: the first and second claims.

For years now, I’ve been ranting about how we need to stop talking about productivity growth. We are now in our fifth decade during which workers have seen little to no gain from productivity growth. How many more decades do we need before people will accept that the rich have rigged the political economy so that they get the vast majority of gains? Really, as a nation, we are living in a fantasy. People seem to think that if we just get rid of all labor unions and worker protections, the rich will reward workers with a piece of the action. It doesn’t work that way. The only reason that workers had a piece of the action before was because of labor unions and worker protections.

I’m always pleased when an actual economist comes out with a paper that backs up what I’ve long been saying. On Tuesday, Jared Bernstein put out a paper, Faster Productivity Growth Would Be Great. But Don’t Count on It to Raise Middle Class Incomes. The secondary part of his argument is that we just aren’t going to get the kind of growth that we saw in the 1960s. This is actually a big Republican lie. Every time one of them comes out with a big old tax cut for the rich, they claim that it will cause the economy to grow at some absurd rate like 5%.

But the main point is that we have no reason at all to think that productivity increases would be shared. He provides a version of a common graph that looks at productivity growth and median family income on the same graph with the same (percentage) scale. Between 1947 and 1973, both increased by a bit less than 100%. But between 1973 and 2013, productivity increased by over 100%, while median family income has gone up only 13%. And notice that even this is deceptive. During the first period, most families had only one person working outside the home. Now most have two. So it is possible to see that 13% increase in family income as coming not from productivity increases but by simply working more.

Bernstein is very careful, of course. I don’t have to be similarly restrained. What we see is that even since 1973, the divergence between productivity growth and median income has increased. This is entirely to be expected from a political, rather than economic, perspective. The more money the rich have, the more political power they have to tilt the economy in their direction. But just on a practical level of solutions, Bernstein has the right idea:

None of these points should deter us from the pursuit of faster productivity growth, but that unfortunately remains somewhat of a black box for economists. On the other hand, raising the minimum wage, pursuing full employment through fiscal and monetary policy, boosting collective bargaining, and other such interventions have all been shown to raise the pay and bargaining clout of middle- and low-wage workers. Whatever the pace of productivity growth, measures like these are a lot more likely to lift the incomes of the middle class.

But this all depends upon us living in an actual democracy. A democracy is about a lot more than voting. But even on the voting front, the United States is showing that you can have apparently “free and fair” elections and still not offer the people any real choice. What’s more, we are now so far removed from the time when workers shared in the fruits of our economy, and most people don’t think anything is wrong and in need of fixing.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Criminal Justice Sickness

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev flipping off a security cameraI wasn’t going to write about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s flipping off of a security camera. I’m against the death penalty, but the state does far worse things all the time than it would do if it decides to kill him. But then I saw the video from which the photo was taken. And it is clear that the photo should never have been allowed into evidence. It is a total distortion of what Tsarnaev was doing. This, my friends, is why we can’t have nice things. This is why law enforcement is able to use pseudoscience to convict people. This is why police officers almost never even get charged for killing innocent people. This is why after years of appeals, the state still kills innocent people. Because our system is not about justice. It is about establishing who has the power and who does not. Justice just doesn’t matter.

You know how you go to the the DMV to get your picture taken for your driver’s license? And in almost all cases, it just looks bad and generally weird? But you know that this is not how you look all the time. As you are moving from one expression to another, your face does all kinds of strange things. But we don’t notice this as we look at each other because it is fluid — we see the context. Well, that is exactly what happened to Tsarnaev in the picture above. Compare it to the 36 second video from which it was taken:

Given that video, does this look like something that CNN should have described as, “He glares into the camera defiantly, his middle finger raised in a profane salute.” But at least CNN is right: that is kind of what the single image looks like. The real problem here is the judge who allowed the photo into evidence. It is prejudicial and totally distorts what was actually going on: he was checking out his image in the only mirror around. Further, it allowed the prosecution to claim that it showed an unrepentant Tsarnaev. But it doesn’t show that at all. It may well be that Tsarnaev is unrepentant. But that photo sure doesn’t show it.

Glenn Greenwald nailed it when he wrote, “It was, explicitly, the prosecutors’ intent to provoke exactly this reaction: this one photo, standing alone, was designed to produce a visceral, bottomless contempt for Tsarnaev which even disgust at his actual crime could not achieve.” This doesn’t seem like a real trial to me. It seems like a kangaroo court. If the judge had decided that Tsarnaev is to die before the trial even started, he should have just announced it. But of course, he wouldn’t. Because he, like pretty much everyone else in the criminal justice system, is determined to make it appear neutral, even while it isn’t in the vast majority of cases.

As for the other side of this is: so what? What if Tsarnaev was doing just what he appears to be doing in that photo? Suppose it is clear that he thinks the Boston Marathon bombing was great, that he wishes he had killed more, and if he ever gets out he will kill everyone. What does that prove? I’ve never understood this part of the criminal justice system. Jeffrey Dahmer became a Christian in jail. Did that take away from the heinousness of his crimes? Was his conversion even real? I think the answer to both is, “No!” But it does matter to the courts.

And what it shows about the courts is how it is all about power. Sparing the lives of people who come to court and repent is very much like the fake confessions of Stalin’s show trials — or any number of other scenes like them that show up. It doesn’t matter than the confesser actually believes what she is saying. It is like a religious rite: yielding officially to power. And that is the business of a sick institution — be it a terrorist group, or the United States of America’s criminal justice system.