Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Short: Beating up Nate Silver

Nate Silver has been the conservative media's favorite pincushion lately, maybe even more than Obama himself. Here's the article where some blowhard decided that attacking Silver's build and vocal pitch was a good lead-in for complaints about his methods.

Of course, complaints about the methods are just a gloss over the real problem--his results. Until Romney's uptick in most polls after the first debate, conservatives were complaining about almost all the polls. I thought I was late covering the issue earlier this month, but the conservative jerks are giving us a second act now. This election can't come soon enough because I AM FUCKING TIRED OF THE STUPIDITY.

I'll be checking back on this issue and holding the predictions against reality, as any good scientist would. (Yes, scientists also swear.)

Image: mockpaperscissors.com

Update 11/5/12. It turns out that my rage at the stupidity lasted only until the weekend. This past weekend and today I've been the soul of equanimity. Tomorrow is the big day, the turning point of American civilization according to some. I'm both more cynical and more hopeful than to believe that. See you down the rabbit hole!

Post-election update. Here's my round-up on how the polls did.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Another stupid Hollywood endorsement

Generally celebrities are too self-absorbed to take the time to study political issues. That makes the endorsements of Jon Lovitz, Madonna, and George Clooney worthless to anyone who doesn't get their entire news quotient from E! and People magazine. This endorsement is worthless too. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A sensible endorsement of Romney

The Des Moines Register has the best rationale for voting for Romney that I've read. Some of their arguments:
  • Romney has made rebuilding the economy his No. 1 campaign priority — and rightly so.
  • [Obama's] best efforts to resuscitate the stumbling economy have fallen short. Nothing indicates it would change with a second term in the White House.
  • Romney had to tack to the right during the primary season. Since then, he has recalibrated his campaign to focus on his concern for the middle class, and that is believable if ...
The editorial has a mostly accurate critique on Obama's shortcomings. It isn't nearly as strong on its critique of Romney--they are giving him a generous benefit-of-the-doubt. The editors accept Romney's five-point economic plan at face value, which is an abdication of their responsibility to drill down and see if the plan holds up.

I can't be that generous to Romney. He owes his nomination to his fairly hard-right positions. If Romney becomes president there will be little holding him to his late arrival to moderation, and many Republicans pushing him to the right. I'm not going to take that chance. The argument that a nearly 50-50 Senate will be enough to keep him moderate is weak and could fray in the next election.

As I've said before, I'd prefer sworn enemies among the Dems and Repubs forced to negotiate than take my chances with one party rule. It still looks like the least risky scenario. So that's my endorsement of Obama--he's not great, but it's less of a risk.

Hat tip: Meep

Image: desmoinesregister.com

Campaign ads I'd like to see

Romney isn't a magic "job creator." When he was governor, Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation.

Taxing the rich can't close our deficit, but the Democrats are still trying.

I support the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan deficit reduction plan. It's miles better than any of the partisan plans.
I definitely won't give in to the crazies in my party.

Here's the math on my proposal.

We're all going to have to sacrifice at least a little--every single one of us.

I don't hate the guys in the other party.

Here are some truths I learned from the other party.

  Please - always reality check your candidate.
Image: politico.com

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Romney as a bipartisan?

This is what Romney is saying now in his stump speeches as he campaigns in Florida:
"[We] are going to have to do what we’ve done before, which is reach across the aisle. We have to build bridges to people in the other party. We have to recognize this is not a time in America for us to pull back, and to divide and to demonize. It’s a time in America for us to come together, to look for common ground, for places where we have agreement."
He also said this in the third and last debate:
"America’s going to come back, and for that we need a president who knows how to work across the aisle."
Hey, it sounds great. I'm all for bipartisanship. I even foolishly thought the super committee would work. But excuse me if I have some doubts about how strongly Romney supports bipartisanship. It didn't seem to be a talking point for him when he was running for the nomination. He also doesn't seem to be pushing the idea among his fellow Republicans. Marco Rubio says the Senate must be in GOP hands:
"Voters understand that electing Mitt Romney but allowing the Senate to remain in the hands of a Democratic majority means many of the things our country desperately needs aren’t going to happen." 
What are the chances that Romney and/or the other Republican leaders are going to work with the Dems if they don't need their votes to pass legislation? I don't actually want to find out. I'd prefer that divided power forced the two parties to work together, despite Romney's proclamations. After all, the last bipartisan era in this country was dead before the president was even inaugurated. Romney doesn't strike me as more capable of delivering on that illusive promise.

Image: newsrealblog.com

Extra. I found one Republican who did actually sound bipartisan--Charlie Bass of New Hampshire. I guess it'll just be him, Romney, and Ryan reaching across that aisle.

Short: A tragedy in NYC

A nanny became deranged and stabbed two children, killing them. On the surface, it is a mystery why she did it. However, the New York Times article captured some fascinating details, especially the contrast in the living conditions of the wealthy family versus that of the nanny.

As a scientist who has also studied a bit of sociology and came away thinking that it was much more than just polemical trash, I appreciate the descriptions of the nanny's living conditions: she earned extra money selling cheap jewelry door to door; she started behaving strangely after her dream of having her own apartment was shattered.

In contrast to her struggle is her employers' wealth, but also their reserve. Only one neighbor in the building was quoted, and she didn't even know the children's names. I'm not trying to hint that there is some sort of cosmic justice in this tragedy, because killing innocent children is not just. But I sense something about the rich and the poor--I'm just not sure what it is.

Image: people.com

No specifics again! Obama's turn

You might think that this will be another screed about Romney's vagueness. Well, not this time for a refreshing change. The culprit for this post is President Obama. Specifically, this line during the Oct. 22 debate:
"First of all, the sequester is not something I proposed, it's something that Congress proposed. It will not happen."
Whoa. If the sequester will not happen, what will?

That's a huge statement with no clarification of what he means by it. And Obama seems to have gotten away with it... as he should considering the precedent set by Romney and his definitive statements about the deficit and cutting government by attrition during the first debate. Romney was been getting away with not explaining these claims and for the lack of detail his tax plan and his economic growth plan. So it's only fair that Obama gets a pass on his sequester claim.

How will Obama keep the sequester from happening? Well, duh, they'll start negotiating right after the election, of course! The talks are obviously not going to start before the election. Obama could add that they'll also start negotiating the changes to the Bush tax cuts after the election too.

Do I need Obama to be anymore specific than that? Not really. By now I generally know his bargaining position. Getting too detailed could cost him some votes that he'll need, and Lord knows neither candidate is going to blow those votes at this point. Not Romney, not Obama. This doesn't make them equivalent in their vagueness, but it levels the playing field a bit.

 Image: washingtonpost.com

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Prediction: Just the horse race now

The shape of the rest of the presidential campaign is now set. There will be no more surprises or major surges. At this point, it's just a matter of sucking up the few remaining persuadables and getting out the vote. I don't even think there will be a major gaffe. The candidates are too cautious and seasoned for that.

No-Hope Debate
Some may hope for a game-changer, perhaps at the final debate tomorrow. I doubt it. The debate is supposed to focus on foreign policy. Both candidates will project caution and credibility, so each will have a difficult time discrediting the other. Nothing in those complex, subtle issues will move the needle for the electorate. 

The Electoral Map
Since the campaign issues are now fully revealed and explored, the only variables are how the electorate is digesting the info. According to Nate Silver, Obama is favored about 2 to 1. Looking at Silver's blog and Real Clear Politics, that's believable. Both need either Ohio or a miracle, and Obama is ahead in Ohio by 2.1%. Silver puts Obama's chance of winning Ohio at 70%.

Even if Obama loses Ohio, he can still win if he holds onto Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire. If Romney loses Ohio, he has to win those four states in which Obama now leads. That's quite a stretch. (To play with possible outcomes, I recommend this LA Times webpage.)

Another Lost Opportunity
I have to report that this outcome is disappointmenting to me. Neither politician has believably addressed the most important fiscal issues, which are reforming the tax system and government spending. Nor have they pushed the electorate to a clear understanding of the national challenges. The country seems as dumb and divided as before. Sigh.

Oh well, so there hasn't been the plain talk I'd like to see. That would be too dangerous a strategy for a presidential campaign.

The racecourse: High in the center and round at both ends
Image: facebook somewhere

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Romney's outreach to Mormons

Romney has been trying to play up his generous and human side since the Republican convention. He gives a lot of money to the Mormon church, and devotes personal time to local Mormons in need. So there was a lot of choice when it came to the testimonials Romney could highlight.

However, this anti-testimonial caught my eye. There's no generosity of spirit in this story, even though the family was as worthy as the others. (Caveat: the lede to the story rehashes the-dog-on-top-of-the-car. You can skip it easily and get to the advice he gave an ailing mother of four.)

I don't think one story should be significant in the course of the election. Considering that, I don't why this story affected me so much, but it did. I suppose I'm so tired of men telling women what to do when they should be listening to what it's like to be a women facing an immensely difficult decision.

Image: allyouneedislists.com

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A binder full of women

It's the one moment of the debate that I saw in real time. It sounded quite condescending to me, that Romney knew so few capable women managers that he had to go to third parties, and then received "a binder full of women."

My sweetie put an interesting spin on it:
"Probably a lot of Mormon men have a binder full of women."

 Image: tumbler.com

Monday, October 15, 2012

What's good about the new Romney

As Romney surged in the polls, I focused on the problems with him. That's unbalanced and unfair, so this post is a corrective. (I have noted some pluses along with the criticism.)

Romney's debate performance definitely resonated with some non-aligned voters. Here's what I think worked for him:
  • Not dogmatic that tax cuts will bring on growth. Lowering taxes wasn't a focus at all, but it could be a byproduct of a growing economy. The focus is growing the economy, but not through government spending, which also grows the deficit.
  • Acknowedging that some of the goals of Obamacare were important, such as health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
  • The sense that he wants to trim government down, both the spending and the regulation, but in well-considered ways. He's not ideologically opposed to either government or regulation, but it has to be practical and helpful, not massive and suffocating.
  • Staying clear of that culture wars stuff about people being on the plantation, declining morality, no one taking responsibility anymore.
 He planned it this way?

Another big question is whether Romney's surge was due to incredible luck or incredible strategy. He was certainly lucky that Obama was wooden in the debate, but Romney deserves credit for throwing Obama off-balance. That was brilliant.

Despite his shift in emphasis to more moderate stands, Romney hasn't lost support from the conservative media. That was a real hat-trick, because they've been leery of him for the entire campaign. Here is an analysis of Romney's timing from a thoughtful, observant conservative:
So why didn’t Romney shake his Etch-a-sketch, or make his “pivot” to the center, earlier in the campaign? The answer is that after many months of being viewed with suspicion by primary voters, he couldn’t afford to depress Republican enthusiasm in what was shaping up to be a base election.
If Romney had attempted a “Sister Souljah” moment during the summer, conservatives would have bludgeoned him for months leading up to the election. If he had done it at the Republican National Convention, he would have turned off party loyalists at the precise moment they were paying closest attention.
Now Romney is subtly signaling he’s not an ideologue at a time when even conservatives fear he could lose. And when it helped him win the first debate, the right was happier about his strong performance than they were concerned about any coming betrayals. It may be risky, but Romney didn’t have many choices.
The author sees what Romney's doing and still isn't angry at him. Frankly, that's a realistic view because at this point, it's Romney or another four years of Obama. That's a no-brainer for anyone who's close to being a conservative. But we also know that many political decisions are emotional, rather than logical. Has Romney managed to win the conservative hearts? That would be amazing.

Image: copy of a copy

P.S. Have you noticed how I'm not writing about Obama at all? It's all Romney all the time. The major reason is that the media coverage is as superficial as ever--still no policy analysis. Sigh.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Short: Economists as clueless/divided as we are

Here's a fun read. The Economist news magazine asked top American economists to review Obama's and Romney's economic plans. They were not impressed.

My favorites among many pithy comments:
  • I have no idea what you think they have said that is specific enough to grade.
  • My worst fear is that the election produces no clear winner. That will prolong the current policy uncertainty which is stalling the recovery...
  • Best case = gridlock. Worst case = tax cuts for wealthy... 
One point--these comments are probably kinder than what they would say about one another.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Lying his way to the White House

I'm amazed that Romney is so close to winning the election in 3.5 weeks. The turning point was the first debate, and the change was more due to a strong Romney performance. To many liberals, Romney is getting too damn close to a huge win for a huge liar.

Romney of the debates

To conservatives, debate was vindication that Romney could do what Reagan did in 1980. In that debate, also against a sitting president, Reagan showed that he wasn't a warmongering, jingoistic John Birch type, and he went on a landslide election.

Romney's performance isn't a sure repeat of 1980, but he made a hell of a lot of progress in that direction. Romney the debater said President Romney wouldn't raise the deficit through tax cuts--definitely not, not 'maybe not.' He would not be a slash-and-burn president on the federal government, unlike the terrifying impression most Tea Party adherents have projected. This reassuring performance, more than Obama's lackluster one, helped Romney in the polls.

Romney of CPAC

The debate probably wouldn't have salvaged Romney's campaign if he had delivered these talking points from his CPAC 2012 speech:
[In Massachusetts] if there was a program, an agency, or a department that needed cutting, we cut it.  In fact, a commentator once said that I didn’t just go after the sacred cows, I went after the whole herd.  And I can’t wait to get my hands on Washington... I will dramatically reduce the size of the federal workforce.  
In their current form, Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable... When it comes to Medicare, tomorrow's seniors should have the freedom to choose between traditional Medicare and a range of private plans. If these future seniors choose a more expensive plan, they would bear the additional cost.
Mine will be a pro-life presidency. I will ensure that organizations like Planned Parenthood get no federal support... I fought for abstinence education in our public schools.
I pushed for a stay of the [same-sex marriage] decision, fought for a marriage amendment to our constitution... On my watch, we fought hard and prevented Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage. When I am President... I will fight for a federal amendment defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.
There are those who say you can’t talk straight to the American people on these key issues and still win an election. I say we can, we must, and I will!
So the Romney of the debate was not the Romney of CPAC 2012. Well, that's no surprise, because that speech was delivered during a hard-fought primary against more conservative contenders. Does this mean that Romney is the biggest liar who might end up as president?

May the best one win

I'm not going to judge who's the biggest liar because it's always a matter of degree of falsehood, something for which we don't have a scientific measure. Most people blast the lies of the other side, and give their side a pass. You aren't impartial either, so don't trust yourself to judge who is the worse liar. I will, however, point out what Romney said and didn't say.

I notice one interesting parallel. I wonder if Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008 because he was a better liar than Hillary. How ironic if Obama now loses to Romney because Romney can shift his positions more suavely than Obama can.

Perhaps this is our pattern for the future--our president will be the person who is most adept at obscuring what they've done and what they plan to do while pleasingly speaking lovely words. But that's nothing new. "He lied his way to office" is something we hear every presidential election. This year may be a change in degree or brazenness, or it may be more of the same. Presidential campaigns aren't for the scrupulously honest.

Image: eclectablog.com

Peggy Noonan's useless advice to Romney: "Be serious and fight." A real conservative reveals Romney's CPAC lies.

Short: Romney's incredibly weak tax plan

Romney is trying to hide the details of his tax plan and the media is obliging. Most of the media, that is. Here is a fairly short, very readable article where the reporter followed up on Romney's claim that he has six studies that refute the frequently cited Tax Policy Center report about how his numbers don't add up. 

Not surprisingly, the sources (which Romney judiciously neglects to name in his sound bites) are fairly partisan and not very rigorous. Of course not. If they were any good, Romney would say who they were, rather than pointing out that there are six of them. 

[The Tax Policy Center website wasn't available as I wrote this post, but this may be another version of it over at the Brooking Institution website. A longer, less readable analysis by Wonkblog here, if you want more.] 

Also where the supporting analysis for Romney's tax plan is.
Image: doubletake-media.com

Update 10/14/12. This columnist believes that Romney's election by itself will spur enough growth that tax cuts will be possible after revenue surges. That's why he's telling the truth that he can cut tax rates without raising the deficit.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Romney shuns the right flank of his party?

Romney was sounding like a level-headed moderate in the debate last week. His conservative supporters, far from panicking, rejoiced, though more over his strength and steadiness than over the content of what he said. Let's just review a few things he said:
  • On individual income taxes: "We ought to bring the tax rates down... But in order for us not to lose revenue, have the government run out of money, I also lower deductions and credits and exemptions, so that we keep taking in the same money..."
  • On taxes for high-income folks: "But I'm not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people. High-income people are doing just fine in this economy."
  • On tax cuts and the deficit: "My number-one principle is, there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit."
  • On cutting government workers: "'ll make government more efficient and to cut back the number of employees, combine some agencies and departments. My cutbacks will be done through attrition, by the way."
  • On education funding: "All right, I'm not going to cut education funding. I don't have any plan to cut education funding and -- and grants that go to people going to college."
  • On the spending cuts he'd make: Obamacare and PBS and programs such as Medicaid "that are currently good programs but I think could be run more efficiently at the state level." Medicaid is the only such program that he mentioned, but it's big.
Consider the conservative orthodoxies that he didn't talk about:
  • The 20% tax rate reduction that is still on his campaign website.
  • Tax reduction on "job-creators."
  • Lower deficits than Obama's been running.
  • Cutting off all funding of Planned Parenthood.
  • Cutting as many lazy, overpaid federal bureaucrats as possible.
  • Outlawing abortion.
These orthodoxies he did affirm:
  • Strengthen the military.
  • No tax increases.
  • Repeal Obamacare.
  • Obama doesn't know how to turn around the economy.
  • Taking $716 billion from Medicare was horrible.

Romney the moderate?
If Romney is able to turn around his campaign on this platform, he won't owe very much to the right flank of his party since he will have won based on a much more moderate version of GOP conservatism.

That doesn't mean that the GOP right flank will acknowledge this change or the debt that they would owe the more moderate Romney should he win. It also doesn't mean that Romney will govern this way once in office. Bush, "the compassionate conservative" changed almost immediately. Obama couldn't or didn't enforce the transparency and bipartisanship he promised.

Romney's change in tone during the debate doesn't guarantee anything. The only real change is a change in possibility-- Romney has shown that moderation has some power to influence opinion. Actual governing is much trickier, as every president finds out.

Romney 5.0: No longer the severe conservative
Image: washingtontimes.com
Just to be clear, I used to think Romney was a moderate, but not after the entire primary season and this summer. I am thoroughly disabused of that thought. He's no moderate by ideals, but he plays one when it's opportune.

Guest viewpoint: PA voter ID law

[The guest author is MP's brother in Pennsylvania.]
[Reposted due to flakiness on some browsers and invisible HTML gremlins.]

I live in Pennsylvania where a judge this week, under prior directions from the PA Supreme Court, gutted the new voter ID law here for the Nov. 6 election. The law was passed last March unanimously among the majority Republicans in the PA House and Senate, and signed by GOP Governor Tom Corbett. All Democrats in the PA House and Senate voted against it.

The law called for a test period during this spring’s primaries, when voters going to the polls would be asked to show a photo ID but if they didn’t have the prescribed type of photo ID, they could still vote in that primary election. For the general election in November, however, the law stated that a party without te proper form of photo ID would only get to vote via provisional ballot, which would only be counted if the voter presented the proper form of photo ID within 6 days at the county election office. In effect, few would bother since that period of time to get the proper ID then travel to the county office is too short just to have a vote counted that might not matter.

This law would have no impact on me. I have a valid PA driver’s license and a current US passport, both valid forms of photo ID under the law. My wife and son have the same, since we went to Canada last year and needed up-to-date passports.

Most people in PA, likely 95% give or take, have some form of valid photo ID under the law. They would be able to vote, no sweat, assuming they remembered to bring it with them. What the big deal?

The Veneer of Reasonableness

The key element of this entire affair is the use of a veneer of reasonableness to ram through an law designed to produce a favorable political outcome for those who rammed it through. Surveys in PA consistently show that a majority of people support the law and the supposed concept behind it: to verify that people who vote are who they say they are.

But that was just a convenient subterfuge, like a salesman who takes extra business trips to spend more time with his mistress. During court arguments, the state’s lawyers stipulated that they had ZERO evidence of in-person voter fraud (i.e., someone impersonating another registered voter at a polling precinct in order to cast a illegitimate ballot). This is the only kind of voter fraud that presentation of a voter’s prescribed photo ID at the polls would mitigate.

As the PA Supremes pointed out, a legal stipulation has consequences. From that point on, the state could no longer argue that there would be any harm – to the state or the electoral process – from failing to enforce the law. I would further argue that any citizen who supports the law and, hence, the state’s legal position could no longer argue that voter fraud is rampant, widespread or even exists. As the PA Supremes correctly concluded, any evidence of harm – that is, inability to cast a ballot that would count – to duly registered voters required the voter ID law to be put on hold.

Find the Fraud

So if there’s no fraud, and a new law to prevent the non-existent fraud, what could possibly be the reason to require a prescribed form of photo ID? The answer is obvious, as stated by the GOP majority leader in the PA House: “Allow Romney to win Pennsylvania.” This was a foolish motive, too. Chances are and were at the time that the number of people disenfranchised from the new law, even if disproportionately Obama voters, would not be enough to swing PA’s electoral votes to Romney. This GOP mistress could only let those who passed the law feel better for a bit.

I suppose the GOP also hoped to sow some confusion and sap Democratic resources in attempts to assist the disproportionate Obama voters who would need to acquire a new prescribed photo ID. They definitely achieved that goal for a while, but that was certainly not going to be enough to change the outcome.

In the end, the judge ruled that the Nov. 6 election would work the same as the primaries last spring. You can be asked but you don’t have to show. This will certainly cause additional confusion for some voters and be another distraction for Democratic opponents to the law’s existence. But voters and the law’s opponents won’t have to continue to expend resources and time in the impossible attempt to get a prescribed photo ID for everyone who would need it, including those voters who don’t know that they would need one. The GOP received that bonus, but now their wife is on to their dishonestly and they will likely pay the price.

I’m guessing that the PA GOP will let it go now – in their hearts if not in fact – since their ill-conceived plan can no longer work. Yet, all people who abhor this kind of politics and deception have to guard against similar ruses on the public. It’s easy to pick on a minority – the smaller the better – to gain an advantage for another minority if the majority of people don’t care because they aren’t impacted. While the PA courts ultimately got this one right, it doesn’t always work out that way.

When I’m asked at the polls on Nov. 6 (no early voting allowed in PA) for my photo ID, I’m going to ignore the poll watcher – whom I’ve known personally for years – and talk about the weather as I sign my name in the registry book, just as I’ve always done it. They have my signature digitized from my registration right in the book. That’s why voter impersonation never happens. The poll workers know their neighbors, and the signatures have to match, duh.

Collateral damage in voter suppression... and lead plaintiff
Image: politicstoday.biz

Checking in on Romney's tax policy

Candidate Romney has me confused, and not for the first time. During the campaign he was pushed (by the necessity of matching Perry's proposal) to declare a tax rate reduction of 20%. As someone who can actually do math (unlike Perry), Romney hinted that the rate reduction would be offset by allowing fewer deductions, but he was careful not to be specific. He has dutifully remained vague.

In the debate, Romney forcefully declared that this tax cut wouldn't raise the deficit. That sounds so clear and definite. . . until you ask how.Since Romney didn't explain at the debate or in news clips since, I decided to look at his website. This is what I found:
  • Make permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates
How does this square with his no deficit-blow-up pledge? I wanted to find out, so I went his nine-page tax policy document and found these statements:
  • Maintain marginal rates at current levels
In the long run, Mitt Romney will pursue a conservative overhaul of the tax system that includes lower and flatter rates on a broader tax base.
It turns out that Mitt's tax policy paper contradicts his website on the 20% rate cut, and then gives no numbers on eventual lower tax rates.

I wish I could bring together a bunch of clips of all the positions Romney has taken on taxes, just to prove that he's had no consistency on the issue. Maybe the Obama campaign or a helpful superPAC will do it for me.

By the way, Romney is much less vague on what he'll do about corporate taxes. I guess corporations are more important than people, but unfortunately they don't get to vote.

Where, oh where, is the tax policy?
Image: desertbeacon.wordpress.com

Update 10/10/12. Normally, I'd think someone, either a journalist or a debate moderator or the confused public, would force Romney to clarify his tax plan, or least the priorities. However, it's been a week after the debate, and no one has yet cornered Romney into explaining if he's backing away from his 20% tax rate cut.

Debate 1 reaction

So I made myself watch the entire debate. It wasn't as painful as I was expecting because 1) I was forewarned, 2) I'm well aware of the weaknesses of both candidates, so I'm not surprised to see them.

Romney did the better job covering over his weaknesses during the debate, but he's positioned himself for a lot of uncomfortable followup questions. Obama just needs to sharpen his message and shorten his answers. He also needs to practice with someone other than John Kerry (Mr. Long-Winded Answers). I'm not sure who would be a good stand-in for the short, snappy, but polite answers that Romney gave. No Democrat comes to mind, and that's a sad commentary on the Dems.

Here is my overall impression of the debate:
  • Romney was strong on the attack, but purposefully vague about his own plans.
  • Obama was moderately good in his defense. Unfortunately, he let his points get lost in too much detail.
Neither is talking specifically about what they would do if elected because this has pitfalls for both. Neither can definitely deliver what the electorate would like to hear--a low-pain transition to fiscal health. So they each hide the respective pain they'd inflict. Since they're both vulnerable, neither is attacking future plans as forcefully as they should be.

Their Weaknesses
Romney is declaring that he won't increase the deficit. He's not even claiming he'll lower the deficit, as a good fiscal conservative should, but only that he won't be worse than Obama on this score.

Yet he has to be vague because he did promise to cut tax rates by 20%, and he'll need to offset that by removing deductions. It looks to me as though his tax rate cut is no longer a promise, and he can probably be nailed on that. However, once he admits it, then the funny math stops being a disadvantage to him, unless of course it costs him the GOP base.

Romney has similar problems with healthcare for people who aren't covered by employers and the future of Medicare. The solutions he proposed in the primaries don't really hold water in the general. He has no answer for the uninsured, and his Medicare proposal is a voucher program that throws seniors into a tough marketplace.

Obama is mealy-mouthed about spending restraint generally. He states that he wants government to help give people opportunities, and most of us know that translates into lots of programs that suck up revenue. He doesn't sound like he's really committed to fiscal restraint.

He overreached in accusing Romney of supporting a $5 trillion dollar tax cut. He could have scored on some very pointed criticism, but now Romney has him sounding like a liar. Obama might have thrown away a big advantage there, but I hope not, because it's a strong, valid point.

Neither candidate had a strong closing statement. Obama was scattered. Romney basically said that another four years of Obama will be awful, but he (Romney) won't be awful. That didn't resonate with the audience (or CNN's focus group), and it's hardly a positive argument for electing him.

Their Strengths
Romney was detailed about what he wanted to do with Medicaid--block grant with 1% increase per year, and give the states the freedom to develop their own programs and priorities. This sounds a lot like what happened with welfare reform, which was successful in turning a huge ongoing headache into a more respectable social program. Notably, it was the only issue where Romney was specific about what he would do.

Romney is making sure he doesn't sound like a heartless robber baron who'll slash education, Medicare, Medicaid, and most government departments. He's back to saying, as he did last fall before the primary heated up, that he'll shrink the government by attrition of government workers, not by sheaths of pink slips.

Overall, Romney sounds like someone who sensibly sees that government has grown too large, and he doesn't want to grow it anymore. Instead, he wants to slim it down gently. This is a good contrast to Obama, who is still building it up.

In Obama's $90 billion for green jobs, Romney has found a great, multi-purposed stick to bash Obama with. Obama wants to spend more on teachers- bam, that $90 billion would pay for a lot of teachers. Want to close a $2 billion loophole for oil companies, bam, you spent 50 years of that money on green jobs.

Obama's strengths are in his explanation of Obamacare and restraint on Medicare spending. His critique about throwing seniors into a nasty healthcare insurance market with only vouchers rang true over and over. Romney had to keep saying that it wouldn't affect today's seniors (but damnation for the rest).

What They Won't Talk About
Neither candidate talked about the sequester, or the "fiscal cliff"--the combination of the sequester and the expiration of tax cuts. This is the hard stuff, the actual cuts, and neither candidate will touch it. Neither is offering even smaller deficits, even though deficits are still running over $1 trillion per year. There are no medals for courage awarded here.

Neither talked much about what they'd do about the Bush tax cuts, even to attack the other. Only one mention of these tax cuts -- amazing. This must be where both are extremely vulnerable, so neither will make it an issue. The moderator should have put them on the spot.

Romney continues to use Simpson-Bowles as another club with which to beat Obama. However, he doesn't embrace S-B. He pretends that he likes it, only he's got a better version. Considering how well I know Simpson-Bowles, I can declare that this is hogwash, otherwise known as craven, corrupt lying on Romney's part. However, I'm happy that Simpson-Bowles continues to be a touchstone. It doesn't die because it's a great plan.

I notice that there isn't a lot of video circulating from this debate. There was no knock-out moment. Romney looks like a stronger opponent, but the same weaknesses are still there. Obama will be able to reverse this setback, and Romney has very little he can capitalize on. Romney may have won the debate on style, but it's not a lasting or substantial victory.

That's either Jim Lehrer or the truth.
Image: politicalhumor.about.com

Transcript here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Stupid voters

This is a perennial favorite in election years. If we could only eliminate the stupid voters, we'd have much better elections. The latest stupid voter is presented in a video where she declares she'll vote for Obama because he gave her a cell phone.

"Typical Stupid Voter for X"
Some people claim that this woman is a "typical Obama voter" but I doubt that so highly that I'd love to place a large bet on it. I doubt that 50% of Obama voters got free cell phones... or food stamps or housing vouchers. You can't win state-wide or nation-wide elections on a give-away platform in this country. However, a talking point for conservatives is the 47% vs the 53%. If you believe that the 47% automatically vote for Obama, all you have to add is 3.1% of self-supporting stupid liberals, and you (Obama and other liberals) are a winner. If this was true, it should scare the crap out of conservatives because those are hard numbers to defy. However, the GOP doesn't act overly scared about these demographics, so maybe they know that this talking point is an exaggeration.

But I digress. The point I want to make about stupid voters is that they are a strawman argument. It's so easy to find a picture or video of a stupid voter, then blast the strawman emblem you selected. If each side is represented by its dumbest advocate, we'd be hard pressed to choose. But that's not the way it really is. Instead, we decide based on the strongest arguments and the best advocates, not the worst ones.

We are still left with the problem of whether the stupid should be allowed to vote. The answer might be easy if you think the stupid voters are predominately on the other side. (I personally think the stupid are probably evenly divided. If it wasn't true, one party would gain a sustained advantage by not being the "stupid party" but that hasn't happened. Ergo, the stupid are evenly divided.)

 The Miracle of Testing
I look at this issue operationally: how would we check for stupidity and filter out the stupid from those who deserve to vote? We could reinstitute literacy tests and maybe add some math in there too. I don't think I object to that on principle, but I worry that once you institute a test, people start tinkering with it for other purposes, like winnowing out the voting pool. Also, what should the functional level actually be? I can see that basic reading comprehension at third grade level, but not a requirement for a higher level, like 10th grade. But I can see a lot of demagoguing that third grade or sixth grade is too low, and it should be higher. However, once you make it higher, you are definitely going to get bias effects.

These effects occur because the test authors are typically educated white middle class suburban college graduates, and they write questions that they can answer. Plenty of average or near-average inner city voters or rural voters might not pass such a test. Do we really want to disenfranchise those people? (I'm safe because I'm in the white-middle-class-suburban-college-graduate-demographic-who-will-write-the-test-questions, but occasionally I think about other people.)

If there is to be a minimal intelligence required to register to vote, then it better really be minimal, even frighteningly minimal. As I said before, the temptation to raise the standards would be present all the time, and it would be hard to continually resist it. Maybe that's why I think stupid voters should continue to be allowed to vote, because tinkering with this is an invitation onto a sure slippery slope. So let the stupid vote! It's easier than eliminating them and only them.

Image: sodahead.com

Short: Conservatives love the new Romney

This reaction piece to the Wednesday night debate struck me as the most perceptive critique:
Conservatives Will Love Moderate Mitt as Long as He's Winning -- Atlantic Wire
Mitt can abandon some of the positions he espoused to win the nomination, but that doesn't matter as long as he kicks Obama's ass in the debates. The debates have been cherished opportunity that conservatives have have been anticipating for the entire primary and campaign season. I've read thousands of comments declaring that this or that candidate would absolutely murder Obama, or drive a stake through his socialist heart in the debates. Commenters declared that about Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, but especially Newt Gingrich.

To everyone's amazement, it was Romney delivering those sweet jabs and hard right punches. The Atlantic article covers the bases, with more "before-and-after" quotes than I'd research. It's a good read. However, I don't trust the word of the too-biased Atlantic Wire, so I did a bit of research at HotAir.

Out of the first 100 or so comments, only one person noticed the lack of conservative bedrock in what Romney said:
I didn’t hear any of these things from Romney last night:
- “Government as a whole is too big.” To be fair, I did hear “Parts of government are too big.”
- “Taxes are too high.” Romney was all about “revenue-neutrality” and “soaking the rich by taking away their deductions and only their deductions”.
- “We need to make sure a sizable majority, or at least a majority, of income-earners pay at least some income tax.” -- HotAir comment
So, in the primary for the GOP nomination, moderation is poison. In these debates, however, you can be moderate so long as you still make Obama look bad.

Hot damn, I know how to attack Obama really well--my one, two punch, for example. Can I be a conservative hero too?

Image: wakeupblackamerica.blogspot.com

Awkward admission: I haven't watched the debate yet. A new assignment at work is eating too many of my waking hours. Watching the debate on my to-do list for the weekend, and I'll probably post an impression.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Unsurprising headlines: McCaskill vs. Akin

From a Kansas City newspaper:

McCaskill surges; Akin abortion comments draw fire

Somewhere I read that Akin is a big target in this election. With his crazy-ass comment about "legitimate rape" never resulting in pregnancy, he created a corps of sworn opponents who will be pouring through his statements as far back as they can.

So far today, they've unearthed his comments about abortion doctors giving fake abortions to non-pregnant women. Oh, and abortionists are also domestic terrorists.

These fervent anti-abortion folks need to talk to some real people who've had abortions. Right now they're living in a fantasy land on the topic of abortion. They need a dose of reality. Reality is the antidote to most kinds of delusional thinking, and it's equally effective no matter which way the skew occurs.

Short: Romney shifts with the wind on taxes

Five weeks before the election, Romney is releasing a few hints about what his tax plan might be. Just maybe he's for capping tax deductions at $17,000.

Or maybe it's a trial balloon and an attempt to nudge his poll numbers up. [Picture me rolling my eyes over yet another Romney proposal that might be walked back tomorrow.] Yeah, sure, Mitt, you're a strong leader with strong principles, which is why this is a tentative proposal that's coming five weeks before the election when you're down in the polls. My favorite word for this is: LAME.

This week's plan is...
Image: slate.com

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Should we believe the polls?

Maybe this was last week's topic, meaning that I'm late to the fray. Nonetheless, I'll share my thoughts on whether the polls for this presidential election season are believable.

My first thought was that the polls are unreliable because the polling companies don't know who is going to show up to vote. Will the surge of Republican-leaners be very large? Will the counter-surge of Dem supporters be even larger? NO ONE knows this in advance, so no one can accurately poll. The polls are guesswork at this point--you guess who is going to turn out, and try to poll on those demographics.

It turns out that this impression (my impression of how polls are conducted) isn't correct. According to this detailed article, pollsters poll a random sample of everybody, not a chosen sample based on their hunches of who is going to vote. Pollsters learn who intends to vote only after running the random poll. Duh, that makes sense.

So perhaps the supposed skewed polls, the ones that "are in the tank" for Obama, well, maybe they aren't skewed. But don't tell that to diehard conservative paranoiacs. Their argument is that the MSM is terribly skewed, and it's not much of a step to posit that polling companies are skewed too. Thus, the need to unskew polls, which this site helpfully does by recalculating the sample to fit the demographics that are expected at the voting booth. Yes, those demographics that NO ONE KNOWS IN ADVANCE.

My conclusions: Doubts about polls are reasonable. Unskewing polls is ludicrous.

Image: davidmixner.com

Monday, October 1, 2012

Reflections on the Warren/Brown contest

This election campaign could be filled with important issues, but it's been a disappointment, both nationally and in my state, Massachusetts. In the Warren/Brown contest, the biggest issue has been trying to figure out how wrong it was for Elizabeth Warren to list herself as part Native American. In no way can I understand why this is a major issue.

Maybe Scott Brown is pushing this issue, and he is, to play on class resentments. Now that's an issue with some meat on it. Elizabeth Warren represents a liberal/academic elite that supports higher taxes to fund ever more government programs. Personally, I'm not sure whether Warren in fact supports higher taxes, but I've met enough academics who do, so why should I check out her actual positions? That may not be my attitude, but I bet it's a common one.

 The Real Massachusetts
I realize the Massachusetts is supposed to be a true-blue state where these liberal views should win hands-down. However, Massachusetts actually has a lot of blue-collar workers. (All states do--they perform those important service jobs.) We often elect Republican governors, including from 1990 to 2006. We have a flat state income tax, not a progressive one.

The election of Scott Brown in the special election in 2010 showed that our habit of electing Democrats to the Senate wasn't unbreakable. Brown won a clear victory over Martha Coakley, a decent Attorney General (in that she hasn't had a major embarrassing scandal), but a cold-fish as a campaigner and a typical, uninspiring liberal.

Pluses and Minuses
Elizabeth Warren has a better resume than Coakley as someone who understands financial issues and headed up the reform for consumer credit. However, her academic career and her talking points make her sound like another hack liberal. Nonetheless, I don't think she is. With her solid understanding of financial issues, she could be quite an asset in the Senate.

This isn't to say that Scott Brown doesn't have strong points too. He has been a swing vote on some issues, like the repeal of DADT. However, on other core issues like budget discipline (the sequester) and repealing Obamacare, Brown talks just like any other Republican. He's not a bridge to compromise on those weighty issues, so he's better than a typical GOP senator, but not by much.

So who has more appeal in Massachusetts? If it was a race of a garden-variety liberal against a truly independent moderate, I think the moderate would win. We don't have a majority of true liberals here--just 30.3% according to Gallup. However, Brown isn't as moderate in his votes as he pretends, and that may be his undoing.

The race may hinge on personality, not issues. If that's the case, Brown will win if Warren continues to sound like a hectoring liberal academic. But Brown's supporters better stop acting like spoiled frat boys with their mocking war whoops. I doubt that's the way to convince independents.

Campaign roundup: