The Anti-Obamacare Hostage Taking Will Damage Future Policymaking

The attempted retroactive repeal of Obamacase will lead to more rapid, sloppy policy implementation in the future

Unsurprisingly, there were human and computer glitches on the first day that Americans could sign up for insurance through Obamacare. Preparing for the launch of a large, complex federal government program takes time, and the implementation problems would certainly have been much, much worse if the law had gone into effect immediately upon being passed. But the Tea Party Republicans’ anti-Obamacare hostage-taking makes it more likely that a pell-mell rush to implement new legislation — however wastefully and sloppily — will become an enduring feature of American politics.

In prior eras, neither party would have tried to undo the signature legislation of the other party and its President just because they garnered more seats (though not in this case of 2012, more votes) in one house in the ensuing election. With no need to worry about retroactive repeal, complex legislation could therefore be implemented slowly and thoughtfully.

Tea Party Congressional Representatives have destroyed this governing norm by trying to undo Obamacare through a government shutdown and threatened debt default. As a result, whichever party is in power in the future will probably not risk any delay in implementing the laws they pass. If Obamacare had been implemented immediately upon passage, it would have been a mess in policy terms. But politically, it would now have millions of beneficiaries who would have vehemently resisted the current retroactive repeal effort.

Millions of federal employees without paychecks in the middle of a wobbly economic recovery is the most visible current damage of the Tea Party Republicans’ hostage taking. But even deeper damage may become evident over time if public policy implementation becomes a panicky, haphazard race to beat the closing of the next election’s polling booths.

Rove’s Fox News Meltdown

Karl Rove’s incredulous response when Fox News called Ohio for the president on Tuesday night has attracted considerable scrutiny. Most pundits saw it as a garden variety case of wishful thinking. If someone wants something to be true strongly enough, he can believe it even in the face of overwhelming objective evidence to the contrary. But this explanation leaves some troubling questions unanswered.

Rove is a numbers man. He’s been a close student of political polling for three presidential election cycles, and as even his most vehement detractors concede, he is extremely intelligent and a consummate pragmatist. Ohio was by far the most heavily polled swing state during this election cycle. From the beginning of the campaign, the overwhelming majority of polls showed the president ahead. In the closing days his margins appeared to be increasing, with an average lead of roughly three percentage points. If the polls were correct, they foretold an almost certain Obama win in Ohio. Rove was surely following them closely.

He was also surely aware of well-documented biases that caused many polls to understate the President’s support. Some, for example, call only landlines, missing many Democratic leaning younger voters who have only cellphones. Most polls query respondents only in English, a practice that understates the likely participation of Hispanic voters. Many employ automated robocalls with limited repeat calls to non-respondents, which tilts samples toward Republican older voters, who are more likely to pick up their phones.

And then there was the vaunted Obama ground game. Long before the election, even Republican strategists acknowledged its significant advantages over its counterpart in the Romney campaign.

In an earlier post, Mark speculated hopefully that these factors might boost the President’s national popular vote margin by several percentage points relative to election-eve polls. Of course, many conservative pundits insisted that published polls were biased in the opposite direction, arguing that Romney supporters were more enthusiastic. But none offered persuasive objective evidence for that claim.

Rove might have hoped that Republicans would turn out in unexpectedly large numbers in Ohio, but it strains credulity to insist that he felt sure that Romney would prevail in an honest count of the votes there. Having witnessed Rove’s Fox meltdown live, and after having reviewed clips of it several times since, I find it hard to believe that Rove’s astonishment at the Fox announcement was feigned.

So if Rove REALLY thought Ohio was in the bag, we seem forced to choose between an implausible claim and a disturbing one: Either he is much less competent than anyone has reason to believe; or else he knew of some secret advantage that would tip the vote count in Romney’s favor by several points. Ohio, in any event, was the only swing state in which the president’s final margin—1.9 percent—was smaller than forecast by the final round of polls.

The “Vote by Phone” Vote Suppression Strategy

A friend from the Center for American Progress hipped me yesterday to a new, slimy vote suppression tactic: Telephoning Black voters and telling them they can vote by phone and therefore don’t need to go to the polls.

If Abraham Lincoln came back to life and saw this, he’d never stop throwing up.

David Frum’s Strange Critique of Obama’s Record on Public Employment

In endorsing Mitt Romney for President, David Frum writes:

Obama is following a path explored by the British Labor governments of 1997-2010, when the majority of the net new jobs created in northern and western England, Scotland, and Wales were created in the public sector. That approach pushed Britain into fiscal crisis, when the recession abruptly cut the flow of funds from south-eastern England to pay everybody else’s government salary.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks governmental and private sector employment every month (data right here). In January 2009, seasonally adjusted public sector employment at all levels in the United States totalled 22,576,000. Under President Obama, it has fallen to 22,011,000 as of last month. Meanwhile, private sector employment increased over the same period from 110,985,000 to 111,744,000.

Whether it is good or bad to grow public sector jobs is a matter about which reality-based people can reasonably disagree. But lambasting a President for growing public sector jobs when in fact they have contracted on his watch is a departure from reality.

What’s happening all over? I’ll tell you what’s happening all over–*

Mark asked for an update on Iowa, but I’ve moved out of the field operation and into voter protection at national headquarters. We sit at telephones and computers and people call in from Nevada and North Carolina and Ohio–especially Ohio!–and Florida and Wisconsin and ask where they can vote early and whether they’re properly registered and what i.d. they need to vote and why their absentee ballot still hasn’t arrived; and tell us that someone came to their door claiming they needed their naturalization papers to vote or that someone came to their nursing home and distributed and then collected absentee ballots which were not the absentee ballot they’d asked to have mailed to their daughter; and we review pages of FAQs and statutes and Board of Elections regulations and say, “You can vote at the public library on Route 31–do you know where that is? Is that close to your house?” and if it’s not we connect them to the local Obama office for rides. And the people who call know all about the Republicans’ efforts to keep them from voting and are getting out to vote early to make sure they don’t get turned away on Election Day and are concerned and disappointed if their state doesn’t have early voting.

When I mentioned to the Latina grandmother confirming her registration that the California Board of Elections Website made it hard to do so, she instantly asked, “Do you think that’s part of voter suppression?” Is that a question you would know to ask in your second language?

Probably I’m just high from solving problems and occasionally seeing celebrities (the First Lady came in today and made some voter outreach calls); but it seems to me every effort to reduce Democratic turnout has only made Democrats more committed to get to the polls.

Start with a fugue, end with an anthem. “You can bend but never break me, and it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goals . . .”**

Quick, somebody cut off my supply of caffeine!
______________
*Guys and Dolls
**I Am Woman.

Voting as though reality matters

Matt Stoller thinks this would be a good time to vote for a third-party candidate.  His case, approximately, comes in two parts.  The first is a sheet of charges against Obama for bad things he did and good things he didn’t do in his first term (some of which are a little naïve about what actual presidential power), all of which grade him on an absolute scale. Observations like this are not without value as guidance for a second term, or just interesting policy discussion that makes participants smarter.   No great harm done here, and I myself deplore Obama’s environmental non-record and much else. But this stuff is entirely vacuous as guides to action: to decide what to do we need measures that obey the “compared to what?” rule, in this case comparing Obama to Romney, not to the paladin of your imagining.  Opinion formation and schmoosing are not at all like making decisions (irretrievable commitments of resources to one alternative rather than another).

What makes this column one of the worst pieces of discourse on the left in this election cycle is the second part, where Stoller gets up on a high horse of principle and starts advocating actually voting for third-party candidates who cannot possibly win.  It is a cascade of mush-headed apocalyptic dreaming about how things might be if they weren’t the way they are: vague, romantic claptrap from a dream world.  The alternative to Obama in this election is not a revolution of progressives seizing the nation and saving it, it is four or even eight years of accelerated income disparity, two supreme court appointments of Neanderthals, horrific oppression of women, quite possibly a military adventure in Syria and Iran, and submergence of those progressives for decades. That is the alternative on the ground, no matter what fairy stories anyone wishes to tell around the campfire of the apocalyptophile meeting.    Continue reading “Voting as though reality matters”

Voter Suppression and DWB

I got a ticket on Wednesday for changing lanes without signalling. (Yes, Chicago’s coffers are in need of a refill.) Because I’m no longer a motor club member, I no longer have a bond card, the thing you can give the cop instead of your license. So she took my license, and now I’m driving on the ticket.

But here’s the thing: I want to vote early, and to do so in Chicago I’m required to show a government-issued photo i.d.–like, oh, say, my driver’s license, which I won’t have back until I complete traffic safety school and mail them $167. And even if I do that today, there’s very little chance I will receive my license back in the mail before November 6, much less in time to vote early.

Now, as it happens I have a passport, so I’ll be able to get around this difficulty. But when I realized the impact my ticket could have on my ability to vote, it occurred to me that this is another way in which voter i.d. laws help suppress voting by minority-group members, the young and the elderly.

We’re all familiar with the traffic offense of DWB: Driving While Black or Driving While Brown. Nonwhite motorists are more likely to be stopped for moving violations than whites, and more likely to be ticketed when they’re stopped. The ones who, like me, don’t have bond cards–whether because they can’t afford motor club membership or they just never thought of it–will have to surrender their licenses; and then, unless they happen to have passports (also less likely, statistically, than among white people) they won’t be able to vote in states requiring voter i.d. So combine discriminatory policing with photo i.d. laws and you’ve got a perfect tool for keeping black and brown people from the polls.

The elderly, meanwhile, are more likely to be stopped for traffic violations because they’re actually driving badly; but once again, that shouldn’t deprive seniors of the franchise. And the same can be said for young drivers, who may be careless behind the wheel but are entitled to vote if they’re 18 or over.

So the next time someone tells you that voter i.d. laws are fine because “everyone has a driver’s license,” ask if s/he’s ever had to drive on a ticket. Then mention that this commonplace experience would mean the inability to vote, and see what s/he has to say.

Politics and physics

When I was in the eighth grade I had Mr. Nadrowski for science, and one day he called Stephen Chilcote up to the front of the class and told him to push against the cinder-block wall until it fell over.  As Chiclet obediently pushed and the rest of us watched, Mr. Nadrowski kept up a descriptive patter: “So there he is, beads of sweat are popping out on his forehead, his muscles all straining; but you know what?  He’s not doing any work!”  His point was that from a physics standpoint no work occurs unless the object responds to the force; if the wall didn’t move, Stephen’s efforts didn’t count.

This seems to be the definition of “work” Republicans are using to complain that President Obama isn’t doing enough to fix the economy.  They build a cinder-block wall of legislative refusal and then criticize him for failing to push it over.

And when he does manage to move objects despite the cinder-block—by the Executive Order modifying immigration or the administrative maneuvers necessary to maintain contraception as a component of basic health-care—his opponents hyperventilate about Obama’s terrifying expansion of Presidential power.  From the people who created the Constitutionally bogus “signing statement,” that’s chutzpah enough to topple the canonical instance: the boy who, having murdered his parents, asks for leniency because he’s an orphan.

So let’s do some real work of our own.  If you’re interested in actually moving objects—Obama canvassers from Illinois to Iowa, and Iowa Democratic voters from their homes to the polls—please join my Wednesday evening phone bank, beginning this week (July 11) and continuing through the election.  Contact me off-line for details, but bear in mind that Iowa votes early, beginning on September 27: if we’re going to knock over the wall, we’ve got to do it over the summer.

“If our enemies will stop lying about us we will stop telling the truth about them”*

Though he attracted ridicule from the Right for saying it (and what could he say that wouldn’t attract ridicule from the Right?), the President is correct: the private sector is okay, creating jobs at a respectable clip.  The weakness in job creation comes primarily from the public sector, where states and municipalities are firing teachers and firefighters and police officers for lack of Federal funding to retain them–and where lack of Federal funding is the direct result of Republican policies.

So apparently McConnell was telling the truth in 2009, if at no other time, when he said that his party’s highest priority was to defeat the President.  If the Republicans have to swell the ranks of the unemployed to accomplish this goal, why should they care?  Republicans mostly aren’t unemployed, and vice-versa.

In other words: the fact that Republican deficit-cutting policies increase unemployment is a feature, not a bug.  Their success in concealing this unattractive fact is truly remarkable.

——

*A 19th Century political saw, revived by and therefore often attributed to Adlai Stevenson.  Adlai’s version: “I would make a proposition to my Republican friends… that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.”  This edition of Today’s Pedantic Footnote provided gratis to our readers.

The Presidential Election Matters. A Lot.

Doug Mataconis is a smart political analyst, but I don’t think he makes a compelling case that it doesn’t much matter who wins the 2012 Presidential Election. He notes some areas of policy that he believes will be similar under Romney or Obama, and there is no doubt that in at least some cases he is correct. But I still find his basic conclusion unconvincing, for at least four reasons:

1. We. Are. At. War. Americans in uniform are fighting and dying overseas. I may be sensitive about this issue because I am from a military family and I have professional responsibilities to care for wounded veterans, but I have been continually amazed through the past decade how life in America goes blithely on while the 2% of families whose members are serving pay the costs of these wars (admittedly, the other 98% did accept tax cuts with patriotic stoicism).

Can you imagine going back through American history, to 1972 or 1944 or 1916 and saying “Yeah, we are at war, but it really isn’t important who we elect as commander in chief?”. Of course it matters. If you don’t believe me, talk to someone who is serving overseas right now or learning to walk again at a VA medical center.

2. After 219 straight years of Caucasian Presidents, this country finally elected an African-American. If voters throw him out of office only 4 years later to return to the white norm, it will have a scarring effect on many people of colour for years to come. In contrast, re-election of Obama would redound positively in the U.S. racial atmosphere.

3. As Harold Pollack has pointed out, if Barack Obama loses, the Affordable Care Act is toast. In contrast, if he is re-elected, the law will be fully phased in by the time he leaves office and will probably become an enduring feature of American life.

4. The above point brings to mind of course the question of whether the SCOTUS will strangle ACA before the election. It could, but that still wouldn’t make the election unimportant. Come election day, three of the nine SCOTUS justices will be in their late 70s. ‘Nuff said.