Jobs Numbers and the Election

Political prognosticators and pundits (including Nate Silver at 538) have long suggested that President Obama will be in more trouble the more the economy seems to be faltering.  This makes obvious sense.   But there is a way in which both a rational voter model and an attentional shift model could militate in the other direction.   Voters might reasonably be concerned both about the immediate jobs outlook and the long term health of the economy as they perceive it to be affected by the debt and deficit.  If people became complacent about the job situation, they might  vote more on the deficit, assuming (albeit contrary to experience) that the Republicans would be more likely to reduce the deficit.

Thus Obama could suffer in the event of a recovery both from voters making rational tradeoffs and voters shifting emphasis between two values they care about.   Here’s an extreme analogy — in 1945 immediately after World War II Winston Churchill and his Conservative party were turned out of power despite having just led the country to victory, because voters thought the Labor party better equipped to deal with post-war reconstruction.  It would be interesting to look at how Obama is doing in State polls compared to 2008 depending on how the state unemployment rate or change in the state unemployment rate over the last six months.

I’ve long believed that Democrats would do better to emphasize the historical regularity that economic and job growth has been higher in Democratic than Republican administrations.    Bill Clinton’s comparison of job growth under Democratic  and Republican presidents led many commentators to express surprise, but this relationship should come as no surprise to RBC readers going back to 2008.  (See Mark’s RBC post from 2008, or the current Oppenheimer Funds blog addressing the relation between control of the White House and Congress and the stock market). *

Romney’s push to use lackluster economic performance against Obama is handicapped by the fact that voters do not believe Romney has a superior understanding of the needs of the middle class or a better recipe for economic growth than Obama.  Even in the ABC News / Washington Post poll released today, whose topline showed Romney closer to Obama than other recent polls, shows Obama favored (in a half-sample result) by 53-38 as better to advance the interests of the middle class, and in the full sample Obama leads by 47-45 on managing the economy.  The CNN/ORC poll released Monday has Obama ahead 51-47 on dealing with unemployment, with Romney favored 50-47 in dealing with the deficit.  While these numbers are not conclusive–one would rather focus on potential swing voters rather than the whole electorate, what they show after the Democratic convention is an electorate that doubts Romney’s competence on and concern for the issues they care about.  At this point for Romney to push on Obama’s economic record seems unlikely to pay much in the way of electoral dividends, even if the economic news does not improve.

According to Crane Brinton’s  classic historical analysis of revolutions,  regimes fall from within more than from direct attack from outside.  The same may be true of Presidencies.  Administrations that lose confidence in their ability to deal with the economic challenge are going to lose coherence and appear rudderless and without forward momentum (viz. Jimmy Carter after his cabinet shakeup following the “malaise” speech).  This is the picture of Obama that the Republicans tried to paint at their convention, but which seems unlikely to stick, especially after the successful Democratic Convention.   Combining a projection of confidence with a clear argument that Democratic Presidents  are better for job growth than Republicans (and that all the Republicans have in their tool kit is a return to the failed policies of George W. Bush) seems likely to be a key element of a winning message going forward.

* For those who missed it, what Bill Clinton said was

“Since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24.  … In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs. So what’s the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42 (million).”

This statement was widely fact-checked and is true, as are similar claims about superior economic growth under Democratic presidents.  See for example the Miami Herald story.

Real reporting

Very few elections have been lost underrating the servility of the American political press corps. But this year may be different. Edsall and Gerstein show how real reporting is done, on the budget and on Afghanistan.

The two pillars of this year’s Republican campaign are mendacity and vacuity. Those pillars are mutually supporting, with the mendacity concealing the vacuity (they keep talking about “tough choices” without ever specifying any) and the vacuity concealing the mendacity (the magic asterisks in the budget arithmetic).

The success of that strategy depends on two preconditions:

(1) Voters either so in the dark they don’t notice they’re being bullshat or so in love with the idea of  a free lunch (or so full of hatred for the Kenyan Muslim Socialist) that they willingly suspend their disbelief; and

(2) A stenographic press (cf. Colbert’s classic exposition) willing to report the statements without, at the same time, pointing out their falsity or emptiness.

Today we see two more indications that condition (2), though a reasonable assumption based on the recent past, may not be valid  year. Tom Edsall points to one of the magic asterisks in the Ryan Budget – “Function 920,” which sounds as if it comes out of the file cabinet in Room 101 – and unveils some of the horror show it’s designed to conceal.  He then gives it a name, which might even catch on: “the Ryan Sinkhole.” And Josh Gerstein at Politico undresses Mitt Romney’s claim that his silence on Afghanistan in his acceptance speech was c0unterbalanced by his having discussed the topic the previous day before the American Legion. Here’s the  full text of the passage that Romney later described as having “described my policy as it relates to Afghanistan.”

 Of course, we are still at war in Afghanistan. We still have uniformed men and women in conflict, risking their lives just as you once did. How deeply we appreciate their sacrifice. We salute them. We honor them. We respect and love them.

There! If that doesn’t bring Mullah Omar in carrying a white flag, I don’t know what will.

P.T. Barnum is supposed to have said that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. By the same token, very few elections have been lost underrating the servility of the American political press corps. But this year may be different.

Update James Fallows points out (as Harold Pollack had already noted) that Norah O’Donnell hammered Paul Ryan on Face the Nation for his slipperiness on defense spending.

According to the journalistic rule that three events constitute a trend, I call a trend toward actual journalism. Yippee!


Paul Ryan, the Fourteenth Amendment, and “personhood”

The “Sanctity of Life” bill, if it became law, would require states to treat abortion – all abortion – as murder.

With more and more smart, honest conservatives getting fed up and switching sides, the remaining smart, honest conservatives are especially precious for those of us who don’t want to talk only to members of the Blue team. So Ramesh Ponnuru is a scarce resource, and I wouldn’t criticize him if I didn’t have to.

But I’m utterly puzzled by Ramesh’s criticism of Amy Odell and his followup criticism of Kevin Drum over the proposed Sanctity of Life Act, a Congressional “personhood” bill sponsored by a 55 extremists, including Paul Ryan.

Ramesh’s position is that the bill wouldn’t criminalize abortion. He accuses Kevin, who disagrees, of bad lawyering.

Well, I’m not a lawyer at all, but (as Sam Ervin once said) I understand the English language; it’s my mother tongue.

The full text of the bill is at the jump. The substance of it is that Congress, acting explicitly under its power “to enforce, by appropriate legislation,” the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, declares that every fertilized egg is a person, with all the legal rights of a person, including the “right to life.”

Now, what does the rest of the Fourteenth Amendment say? Why, it says, among other things, that “no state shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

So, for example, a law forbidding the murder of white people only, leaving blacks unprotected, would be void as denying equal protection.

Assume for the moment that the law were to pass both Houses, that President Romney were to sign it, and that the Supreme Court’s Right-to-Life caucus were to get a fifth vote to hold that the law was constitutional.

Then no state could criminalize the killing of the “post-born” without also criminalizing the killing of the “pre-born,” any more than it could criminalize the murder of whites while permitting that of blacks. (That’s what makes “Dred Scott” a RTL dog-whistle, valid even in Confederate territory.)

Thus, unless a state wanted to declare open season on all of its citizens, it would have to criminalize abortion, and do so without any exceptions whatever: not rape, not the life of the mother, not nothing. I suppose you could run an IVF clinic, but you’d have to keep every fertilized egg alive indefinitely; it would be a person in law, and disposing of it would be murder.

So when the bill goes on to provide that “the Congress, each State, the District of Columbia, and all United States territories have the authority to protect the lives of all human beings residing in its respective jurisdictions,” “authority” really means “obligation.” Buzzfeed backed off on the original claim, but it seems to me they were wrong to do so.

So yes: Mitt Romney, who said in an unguarded moment that he’d be “delighted” to sign a bill banning “all abortion,” has chosen as his running-mate a Congressman who co-sponsored a bill to do precisely that.

Footnote Note that the short title of the bill betrays its theocratic roots. Congress has extensive powers, but even under the most generous interpretation of the Necessary and Proper clause they don’t extend to defining or protecting sanctity.

Continue reading “Paul Ryan, the Fourteenth Amendment, and “personhood””

Bloomberg on Romney’s bust-out operation

Anthony Gardner, himself a private-equity operator, has crunched some numbers:

10 of roughly 67 major deals by Bain Capital during Romney’s watch produced about 70 percent of the firm’s profits. Four of those 10 deals, as well as others, later wound up in bankruptcy.

Gardner then explains, using some of those big deals (including Ampad and GS Steel) as examples, how the asset-stripping operation worked: Bain would buy control of a company using a little money and a lot of debt, load up the target with still more debt, pay out big chunks of the loan proceeds to itself as fees and share buy-backs, and then let the now-worthless company die, sticking creditors, workers, and sometimes the government with the tab.

I’m sure there’s a legal difference between this sort of operation and the classical “bust-out scam” (aka “long firm fraud”) for which small-time grifters go to prison. (Bust-out scammers buy a retailer of, for example, cameras. They then place big orders with a bunch of suppliers, getting routine 30-day trade credit, sell the stuff quickly for whatever it will fetch, move the proceeds to other bank accounts, and go out of business, leaving the suppliers stuck.) But I’m damned if I can see any moral difference.

And the notion that Romney is somehow not responsible because the actual bankruptcies only took place after he stopped active management of Bain whenever that turns out to be) is just absurd. What ought to count is when the fatal blow was struck, not when the medical examiner signed the death certificate.

Update  John Cole beat me to the “bust-out” comment; he has video.

How did Sheldon Adelson get his Macau casino license?

Apparently by successfully lobbying Tom DeLay to block a House bill that might have derailed Beijing’s Olympic bid (on human-rights grounds).

Now maybe that bill was a bad idea. But there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that Mitt Romney’s biggest donor is carrying water for the Chinese tyranny, and that his influence means that Chinese money is flowing in American politics, just as John McCain said.

All of this worries me a lot more that Adelson’s apparent violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, just because corruption in Washington bothers me more than corruption in Macau. As to Adelson’s dealings with the triads, they don’t threaten my future nearly as much as his dealings with the Chinese politboro.

Yes, this is one more reason to overturn Citizens United, which we now know presents a substantial threat to the national security. But it’s also one more question for Mitt Romney to answer, after he tells us why we can’t see his tax returns.

The tongue is quicker than the eye

Romney was for laying off teachers before he was against it.

Pay close attention, class. The one moves fast

1.  Mitt Romney criticizes Barack Obama for saying we need more police, firefighters, and teachers.

2. Mitt Romney gets roasted for saying that.

3. Romney surrogate John Sununu says remark wasn’t a gaffe, and defends it.

4. Obama campaign is all over Romney about wanting fewer police, firefighters, and teachers.

5.  Romney goes on TV and says it’s “completely absurd” to charge that he doesn’t want more police, firefighters, and teachers.

This is part of a pattern. Mitt Romney is a chronic, pathological, utterly shameless, pants-on-fire (thirteen times so far), four-Pinocchios liar.

Kevin Drum thinks that the rules have changed – that even Presidential candidates can now get away with constant fibbing – and that Romney is simply smart enough to have noticed.

I’m not so sure. It’s possible that the press will start to report Romney’s lies as lies. That’s unconventional, but he’s asking for it.

Or perhaps some super-PAC will come along and run some spots on Romney’s mendacity. I doubt even low-information swing voters really like being lied to.





Moving to the center

Mitt Romney, who needs to convince moderate swing voters that he’s not in fact a wingnut but has merely been playing one on TV, will give the commencement address at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell’s fundamentalist madrassa.

Mitt Romney, who needs to convince moderate swing voters that he’s not in fact a wingnut but has merely been playing one on TV, will give the commencement address at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell’s fundamentalist madrassa.

Romney grows a pair

… the world’s smallest pair. If the man can’t stand up to Limbaugh, how’s he going to do face-to-face with Putin?

the world’s smallest pair.

His comment on Rush Limbaugh’s calling a law student a prostitute for supporting contraceptive coverage under health insurance?

I’ll just say this which is it’s not the language I would have used. I’m focusing on the issues I think are significant in the country today and that’s why I’m here talking about jobs and Ohio.

“Not the language I would have used.” Now that’s tough. And that’s what he came up with after ducking the question all day.

How can you expect Romney to stand up to Putin or Ahmadi-Nejad if he can’t even stand up to an obese bully with a microphone?

Update Rick Santorum, on the other hand, has millimeter-sized stones rather than micron-sized stones:

He’s being absurd, but that’s you know, an entertainer can be absurd. He’s in a very different business than I am.

Try calling one of Rick Santorum’s daughters a slut and a prostitute, and I bet you’d discover he knows stronger language than “absurd.”

Barack Obama, on the other hand, knows how to behave. And he also knows how to seize a political opportunity when his opponents hand him one. But that’s the point, isn’t it? This year, we will have an election between a party whose members and leaders think that contraception is evil and a party whose members and leaders think it’s an essential part of health care. “No difference?” Now that’s absurd.

Questions for Mitt Romney

Gov. Romney:

1. Rick Santorum has claimed that the President’s environmental policies are based on a “phony theology.” Do you agree? Do you think his comments were appropriate in a campaign?

2. Rick Santorum has claimed that mainline Protestantism has fallen under Satanic influence and is not longer part of the world of Christianity. Do you agree? Do you think that his comments were appropriate in a campaign?

3. Rick Santorum has asserted that birth control is “harmful to women” and “harmful to society.” Do you agree?

4. Rick Santorum opposes health insurance coverage for pre-natal ultrasound exams because he says they lead to abortions. Do you agree?

In the competition for Republican primary voters, Santorum’s extremism is probably a net plus. Romney doesn’t want to position himself as the more moderate of the candidates. But, assuming (as still seems more likely than not) that Romney will be the nominee, the rest of the voters are entitled to know just how much of his rival’s extremism Romney shares.