Sanders Wins Mock Election In Landslide But Can We Believe This, Or Even The Conventional Polls?

Sanders Mock Election

The above electoral map prediction from Western Illinois University has received a lot of attention, especially among supporters of Bernie Sanders, for showing Sanders winning in a landslide. Some argue that we should take this seriously because the mock election model has been right in every election it was used in since 1975. The catch is that it was only used three times since 1975. They deserve some credit for correctly predicting victories for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford before many people had heard of Carter, and for predicting the election of Obama when many were (as with Sanders now) claiming he was unelectable.

While I would love for this to be true, it is also very hard to accept the results in specific states, such as Sanders winning Mississippi and Georgia but losing in Hawaii and Maryland. Of course the claims of being right are limited to the final results and not accuracy of state by state predictions. A victory for Sanders, even if closer and involving a different set of states, would still be welcome.

It is easy to dismiss this prediction, and I could not blame either Clinton or the Republicans for denying any meaning to it beyond the enthusiasm of college students for Sanders. The bigger question this year is whether we can believe the conventional polls, especially when they are being used to determine who qualifies for the debates, which can potentially influence the outcome. Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie have been eliminated from Tuesday’s main debate, along with George Pataki and Lindsay Graham being excluded from the undercard debate. Even some pollsters have argued that the polls should not be used in this manner.

One problem is that the Republican candidates are too close together to use the polls to separate them. Then there is the question of whether the polls are all that accurate in predicting a primary election well before the vote. I’ve followed the Democratic primaries far more closely, and have noted many times how little predictive value the polls have. This polling report from December 2007 described how Clinton had a huge lead over Obama. In December 2003, Howard Dean was pulling away in the polls. Eventual winner John Kerry was in sixth place with only 4 percent, even trailing Al Sharpton.

Among the problems with these polls, many voters in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire do not decide until the last minute. People are far more likely to switch between relatively similar members of their own party than they are to switch from a liberal Democrat to a conservative Republican in a general election. Pollsters also adjust the raw results based upon projections as to who will actually vote, but that is difficult to predict. Some polls this year are basing their prediction upon whether someone voted in previous Democratic primaries, but this excludes the people are who, at least from discussions on line, are saying they have just recently registered to vote Democratic in order to vote for Sanders. There is no good way to determine how many of these people, or how many who are turning out in huge numbers for Sanders events, will really vote. The results out of Iowa and New Hampshire could radically alter the results in subsequent states when the media covers the winners more favorably and voters see them in a new light.

Pollsters are having an even more difficult time. An article at The New Yorker described how much fewer people are even responding to polls:

The participation rate—the number of people who take a survey as a percentage of the population—is far lower. Election pollsters sample only a minuscule portion of the electorate, not uncommonly something on the order of a couple of thousand people out of the more than two hundred million Americans who are eligible to vote. The promise of this work is that the sample is exquisitely representative. But the lower the response rate the harder and more expensive it becomes to realize that promise, which requires both calling many more people and trying to correct for “non-response bias” by giving greater weight to the answers of people from demographic groups that are less likely to respond.’s Mark Blumenthal has recalled how, in the nineteen-eighties, when the response rate at the firm where he was working had fallen to about sixty per cent, people in his office said, “What will happen when it’s only twenty? We won’t be able to be in business!” A typical response rate is now in the single digits.

Another problem is that fewer people have landlines:

Even if more people could be persuaded to answer the phone, polling would still be teetering on the edge of disaster. More than forty per cent of America’s adults no longer have landlines, and the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act bans autodialling to cell phones. (The law applies both to public-opinion polling, a billion-dollar-a-year industry, and to market research, a twenty-billion-dollar-a-year industry.) This summer, Gallup Inc agreed to pay twelve million dollars to settle a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of everyone in the United States who, between 2009 and 2013, received an unbidden cell-phone call from the company seeking an opinion about politics. (Gallup denies any wrongdoing.) In June, the F.C.C. issued a ruling reaffirming and strengthening the prohibition on random autodialling to cell phones. During congressional hearings, Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon, who is the chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, asked F.C.C. chairman Tom Wheeler if the ruling meant that pollsters would go “the way of blacksmiths.” “Well,” he said, “they have been, right?”

Difficulties in polling people over a cell phone will also bias the poll toward older voters, as opposed to younger voters who do not have a landline.

With the accuracy of polls in question, perhaps it should not come as a surprise that so few candidates have dropped out. Any conventional Republican candidate can have hopes that outsiders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson will lose in Iowa and New Hampshire, and that their chances are as good as any other candidate’s of being at or near the top.

Both Sanders or Clinton have reasonable hopes for winning the first two states. There is also the possibility that the Democratic electorate might turn more towards Sanders as he gets his message out due to a desire, as Greg Sargent has written in describing the research of Stan Greeenberg, “a reform agenda geared to reducing the influence of the wealthy, the lobbyists, and the special interests.” While Hillary Clinton can sound more liberal by copying ideas from Sanders and O’Malley during the nomination battle, voters should wonder about what happens if she is elected. Where will she get ideas from, how will she know how to respond to new issues, and what will keep her from expressing her naturally conservative inclinations?

While currently far behind in the polls, even Martin O’Malley, who has spent a lot of time in Iowa, might have a chance of doing far better that he currently polls in a state where organization is often what counts and upsets are common.

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Bernie Sanders Again Shows That The Pundits Are Wrong–Improving In The Polls After First Debate

CNN Debate Sanders Clinton

The pundits who have been downplaying Bernie Sanders’ campaign form the start declared that Hillary Clinton was the winner of the first Democratic debate, despite the focus groups who considered Sanders to be the winner. As usually occurs, polls showed that after the fact the majority went with the pundits as to the winner (with many probably not having seen the debate). However the pundits did not predict what has actually happened. Voters are telling pollsters that Clinton won, but an increasing number want Sanders to win the nomination.

CNN reports Hillary Clinton wins debate, but Bernie Sanders rises:

With the first Democratic debate in the books, a new CNN/ORC poll finds most who watched think Hillary Clinton had the best performance of the night, but her strong showing hasn’t boosted her standing in the race for the party’s nomination…

Compared with pre-debate polling, Sanders’ support is up five points since mid-September, but no other candidate showed significant change.

Gravis Marketing similarly found that a majority thought Clinton won the debate, but also that Sanders pulled within eight points of Clinton nationally–overall a favorable outcome for Sanders. Clinton is welcome to accumulate debate points if Sanders is picking up voters.

One item of concern was that the Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll did show Clinton pulling even with Sanders in New Hampshire, but now the Franklin Pierce-Herald poll shows Sanders maintaining his lead:

Sanders holds a 38-30 percent lead over Clinton in the first-in-the-nation primary state, while Biden draws 19 percent in the poll of 403 likely Democratic primary voters conducted immediately after last week’s debate.

Sanders’ 8-point lead is essentially unchanged from the 44-37 percent advantage the Vermont senator held in a stunning Franklin Pierce-Herald poll in August — the first to show the former Secretary of State behind in New Hampshire.

The new poll also has Sanders holding an even bigger 10-point lead over Clinton if Biden isn’t in the presidential field.

The results suggest Clinton will have a tough time overcoming the deficit, as more than half of notoriously finicky Granite State voters now say they have made up their minds.

Seven in 10 Sanders supporters say they’ve made a “firm choice” to vote for him, a 26 percent increase from the last Franklin Pierce-Herald poll in August. And 62 percent of Clinton backers now report they’re firmly in her column, compared to just 40 percent in August.

This does show that the pundits who claimed that Clinton was once again unbeatable after the first debate got it wrong. Beyond that, I wouldn’t believe any predictions that the polls today will accurately predict what will happen when people turn out to vote. If you need an example of that, check out this report  from December 2007 describing how Clinton has a huge lead over Obama. In December 2003, Howard Dean was pulling away in the polls. Eventual winner John Kerry was in sixth place with only 4 percent, even trailing Al Sharpton.

Polls in a primary battle mean very little, and a single debate will not decide the nomination. Nothing is even close to getting settled until people start to vote, and ignore those pundits who tell you otherwise. A lead in the national polls is especially meaningless as these often change dramatically afte the results of the first contests are known. Strong performances by Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire can totally redefine the race.

The pundits also said after the debate that Clinton’s performance meant that Joe Biden was not going to enter the race. That argument never made much sense. Biden had said his decision was based upon personal matters. Even if he was watching the debate to decide, a strong debate performance by Hillary Clinton would not suddenly erase Clinton’s major flaws and weaknesses. If she could beat the other candidates in the debate, that might even be seen by Biden as meaning there is room in the race for him to challenge her.

Despite all the predicti0ns from pundits that the debate would keep Joe Biden out, the headlines on Monday were full of predictions that Biden might be announcing that he is running imminently. Whether or not he runs, the debate did not settle the matter.

The pundits are probably right about one thing–Jim Webb has no chance at winning the Democratic nomination. Now there is speculation that he might be planning to run as an independent. If he does, I’m not sure if he will take more votes from Democrats or Republicans, and if he can pick up enough votes to matter. Maybe he has a shot at receiving some votes, however few, if he is seen as a rational Republican, in contrast to those who are currently running.

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How Negative Will Clinton Go Against Sanders and Biden?

Sanders Raise Money Clinton Super Pac

Considering how dirty her 2008 campaign was against Obama, there has been speculation as to how negative Hillary Clinton will get against Bernie Sanders, and against Joe Biden if he decides to run. The New York Times notes that Clinton must be cautious in debating Sanders:

Over the next week, Mrs. Clinton and her aides will look for the best way to explain to viewers why she is a better choice than her nearest rival without sounding condescending to Mr. Sanders, or dismissive of his views, so she does not risk alienating his growing army of supporters.

“I’ve seen every attack people have thrown at him, and none of them have worked,” cautioned Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, who supports Mrs. Clinton.

Not all of them have been exactly subtle. In 2004, the Republican challenging him for his House seat sought to deride him as a political oddball. “Crazy Bernie,” an advertisement called him, “a holdover from the Woodstock days of reefer and flowers.” But Vermont voters did not seem to mind…

For Mrs. Clinton, debating Mr. Sanders poses a challenge reminiscent of the more troublesome one she faced in 2008, when Senator Barack Obama’s criticisms of her were widely characterized as fair, but Mrs. Clinton’s efforts to counter them and defend herself often were not.

Already, a “super PAC” supporting Mrs. Clinton showed the risks that can come if an unsuccessful attack on Mr. Sanders blows back. As The Huffington Post reported, the super PAC, Correct the Record, in a document that was intended to be off the record, drew a connection between Mr. Sanders and Hugo Chávez, the socialist president of Venezuela who died in 2013, because Mr. Sanders supported a deal to bring low-cost Venezuelan oil to New England. Mr. Sanders, calling it “the same-old, same-old negative politics,” seized on the report and raised more than $1 million in two days.

More on how Sanders set fund raising records in response to this attack here. Clinton’s dirty campaign in 2008 led many Democrats, such as Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy  to ultimately endorse Obama instead of her, and any dirty tricks from Clinton this campaign might have the same effect.

Clinton might try to attack Sanders’ views but this will be difficult because of how often he has been right on the issues and Clinton has been wrong. Clinton has often avoided discussing the issues in this campaign, and she did not do a good job on education. Alternet reports Hillary Clinton Delivers a Lame Attack on Bernie Sanders’ Free College Tuition Plan. Just wait until they talk about Iraq during the upcoming debate.

Clinton’s attacks on Sanders have generally come through surrogates. Politico reports on how Morning Joe is responding to the use of surrogates:

There’s a mandate on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: No candidate surrogates or spokespeople can appear on the show until the candidate agrees to be interviewed. And it all started with the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“The rule was put in place for Hillary’s campaign because while just about every other candidate came on, the Clinton team kept trying to put out surrogates and staffers,” host Joe Scarborough told POLITICO. “We finally said ‘not until the candidate comes on herself.’ And then some suggested we have Jeb [Bush’s] people on a month or so ago, but we held to the same policy.”

Bush himself went on the show last week, meaning his surrogates and spokespeople can now appear as well. But Clinton, Ben Carson, John Kasich and Marco Rubio, none of whom has appeared on the show since they announced their campaigns, will have to wait.

“It applies to everybody. It just started with Hillary because her people were aggressive with getting pollsters and spokespeople on, but it applies to everyone,” Scarborough said. “That’s the fairest way to do it.”

While I often disagree with Joe Scarborough, this policy does sound like a good idea.

New York Magazine reports that Clinton’s usual hit-man, former Republican hit-man David Brock, will be leading the attacks on Joe Biden:

If Joe Biden jumps into the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton will be ready to go on the offensive. According to a source close to the Clinton campaign, a team of opposition researchers working on behalf of Clinton is currently digging through Biden’s long record in office to develop attack lines in case the vice-president runs. The research effort started about a month ago and is being conducted by operatives at Correct the Record, the pro-Hillary superpac founded by David Brock, which is coordinating with the Clinton campaign. According to the source, the research has turned up material on Biden’s ties to Wall Street; his reluctance to support the raid that killed Osma bin Laden; and his role in the Anita Hill saga as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The oppo-research project reveals how seriously Clintonworld is taking the prospect of a Biden candidacy. So far, Clinton hasn’t taken any direct shots at Biden herself. But behind the scenes, her loyalists are making moves to blunt Biden’s campaign should he run. “Even implicitly his campaign’s argument would be ‘I have integrity and you don’t,'” a Clinton ally said. “If that’s the message, this could be messier than Obama-Clinton ’08. At least Obama had the Iraq War vote and could make a case about generational change. This guy” — Biden — “is older than she is and just as conventional.”

A spokesperson for the Clinton campaign declined to comment.

Joe Biden might respond that while they voted the same on the initial Iraq vote, their views otherwise were quite different. Biden spent the next several months looking for alternatives to war while Clinton was one of the strongest advocates of going to war, including making false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. Biden often opposed Clinton’s more hawkish views as Secretary of State. Biden was pushing for Obama to “evolve” on same-sex marriage while Clinton was still opposed to it. Biden did not join up with the religious right while in the Senate as Clinton did. Biden didn’t spend his time in the Senate proposing to make flag burning a felony, or waging a war against video games as Clinton did. While Biden is not my first choice, he is certainly not as conservative as Clinton on social issues and foreign policy. Both Clinton and Biden have problems with regards to their ties to Wall Street and their hard line views on the drug war.

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Bernie Sanders Is Not Howard Dean, Or Any Other Previous Candidate

Bernie Sanders campaign

Why Sanders Can Win

It is always tempting to draw comparisons to something we know, and in politics we often see comparisons to past elections. Sometimes there is some truth to this, but we must consider how few contested nomination battles and elections we have actually had in modern times. Events of one election do not dictate what will happen in the current election. Today many Clinton supporters are citing this article at Vox by Ezra Klein as a reason that Sanders cannot win. It is based upon an interview with Joe Trippi. The problem is that Trippi is still fighting an old battle which does not really apply to today–and a battle he lost.

Klein concentrated on this line as Sanders’ biggest problem: “People get more pragmatic the closer they get to an actual vote.” There are two flaws with this argument–failing to recognize Sanders’ strengths and Dean’s weaknesses.

The argument that Sanders cannot win the general election is rapidly falling apart as more polls show Sanders beating the Republican candidates. Sanders draws in more independent support than Clinton, and is looking like he might be a better candidate in the battleground states as Clinton polls poorly there. Sanders is not bogged down with a serious scandal, which threatens to totally derail Clinton’s campaign. Voters will be more hesitant to support a candidate who is considered (for good reason) to be dishonest by a majority of the voters.

Sanders’ views are becoming more mainstream than Clinton’s. The problems created by concentration of wealth in a small oligarchy have become more apparent since Dean ran. The Democratic Party of Bill Clinton/Triangulation/The DLC has been replaced by the party of Elizabeth Warren, and now Bernie Sanders. Calling himself a Democratic Socialist might sound like a negative, but it has little impact after years of hearing from the right that Hillary Clinton is a politician from the far left and Barack Obama is a Marxist Socialist (neither of which are true). It took only a short time researching his record to reassure a capitalist business owner such as myself that Sanders would preserve small business and a market economy, reforming some of our current problems. Sanders was good for business as mayor of Burlington, with Inc. Magazine calling Burlington the best city in the Northeast for a growing business after his policies were instituted.

Howard Dean had serious flaws which I do not see in Sanders. While I do not want to revive old political battles from over a decade ago, I did support Dean for a while, but soon found flaws from the manner in which he mischaracterized the views of his opponents to how he distorted past decisions where he was wrong.

Last weekend The New York Times also had an article arguing that Similarities Aside, Bernie Sanders Isn’t Rerunning Howard Dean’s 2004 Race and hit on some additional differences, including Sanders’ years of experience, which should make him a more credible candidate, and Dean’s temperament:

Mr. Dean was, at 55, a kinetic live wire of a candidate, plunging into his first national campaign after 22 years in Vermont politics. Mr. Sanders, 73, is, at least in comparison, the measured if stern family uncle, an independent who for all his association with the progressive politics of Burlington shows the command of policy that comes with being a product of Washington, where he has served since 1991…

And in an age of unforgiving news and social media, Mr. Sanders has so far displayed a discipline on the campaign trail that often eluded Mr. Dean. The former governor was prone, in all his exuberance, to self-destructive missteps and bursts of anger. He had to apologize for asserting that Mr. Edwards had been deceptive about voting for the Iraq war resolution (he had not), then apologize again after coming under fire from his rivals for declaring that he wanted to be the “the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.”

Mr. Dean’s campaign was undone, as much as anything, by the release of videotapes of public television appearances in Vermont in which he had disparaged the Iowa caucuses.

“Their personalities are just so different,” said Deborah Marlin, 50, who showed up for Mr. Sanders’s rally here and recalled seeing Mr. Dean around Iowa in 2004, a year in which she ended up supporting George W. Bush. “I think Bernie is much more of a people person.”

Bernie Sanders is not Howard Dean. Similarly, while there are also analogies between him and Eugene McCarthy, the two are also different men. If pundits insist upon comparing Sanders to another candidacy, I would also suggest Barack Obama. While Sanders is certainly more liberal than Obama, Sanders just might do what Obama did eight years ago–beat Hillary Clinton and go on to become president.

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Lanny Davis Ready For Hillary–A Couple Of Responses

Yesterday Howard Dean was Ready for Hillary. Now, unsurprisingly, Lanny Davis is ready too. His op-ed includes a long list of politicians in Maryland who have signed up.

BooMan responds:

The real news from this Lanny Davis endorsement is that Hillary seems to have already wrapped up most of the significant support from officeholders in Maryland.

The other news is that she hasn’t broken with Davis, which remains one of the most troubling things about her.

John Cole is also not ready for Hillary:

 Read between the lines- this is not so much just Hillary boosterism as it is an attempt to strangle an O’Malley run in the crib- “We’re in your back yard, bitch.” Which is yet another reason I am not ready for Hillary. I’m not ready for the re-emergence of uber scumbags like Davis, Penn, and the rest of that wretched hive of scum and villainy. I’m not willing to embrace the PUMA crowd and I am not ready to look past their racist bullshit in 2008. I’m not ready to forgive and forget, I’m not ready to deal with four-eight years of serial obfuscation and triangulation and overall hawkishness, etc.And this doesn’t even get into the fact that on every issue in which Obama has not been as good as I wanted, Hillary will be far, far worse. Has she even spoken out about the torture report since it was released? You’d think she’d have some feelings about it, considering she voted for the war, was in the Senate while it and the torture were happening, and she was on the Armed Services Committee.

I believe I’ve mentioned before that many on the left are not ready for Hillary. Yes, she is better than whoever the Republicans will run, but that is hardly good enough.

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Howard Dean Is Ready For Hillary, But Does Anyone Still Care About What Howard Dean Says?

Howard Dean writes that he is ready for Hillary. He mentions some of her attributes but the most obvious thing in his article is the absence of mention of her support for the Iraq War. Maybe this is not a major factor for everyone (although I think that ones position on one of the major blunders in recent times should be). I just find it more amazing that Howard Dean doesn’t care, considering how he used the Iraq war in his 2004 run for the Democratic nomination.

Although Howard Dean and John Kerry had essentially the same view on Iraq, Dean distorted the issue to give the appearance of a difference. He turned the Senate vote to authorize force in Iraq into far more of a litmus test than it ever should have been. While Kerry, as he later admitted, made a mistake in trusting Bush not to misuse the authorization, the major difference was that Kerry was in the Senate and had to cast a vote while Dean did not. Listening to the statements from the two, both actually had the same position. Both thought that force should be authorized if we were legitimately threatened by weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. Both argued at the onset of the war that no such threat existed and that Bush was wrong to go to war.

If, although having the same position, Kerry’s vote made him subject for constant attacks on the war from Dean, what about Hillary Clinton? Unlike both Kerry and Dean, Hillary Clinton not only voted in favor of the war, but she was enthusiastically supporting going to war at the time. She was on the far right of the Democratic Party, with people like Joe Lieberman, in claiming that Saddam had ties to al Qaeda

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

Of course Howard Dean’s reputation on the left has already become tarnished since he sold his soul and became a K-Street lobbyist defending the interests of Big Pharma. Yes, I guess this Howard Dean could be expected to support Hillary Clinton, regardless of her views on Iraq.

Update: Lanny Davis Ready For Hillary–A Couple Of Responses

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Glenn Kessler Gets The Facts Wrong On John Kerry And The Iraq War

Fact checkers at their best provide a very useful service. However, putting a label of Factchecker on the works of a columnist does not automatically make them a credible source. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post loves to award Pinocchios for statements he considers false (or, as is often the case, disagrees with). His assessments are frequently not supported by the facts. At times even his own newspaper has printed evidence contradicting stands taken by Kessler.  He once again ignored most of the pertinent facts in claiming John Kerry was lying when saying he opposed the Iraq War.

The confusion on Kerry’s view on the war stemmed from the primary battle in which Howard Dean  sought to position himself as an opponent of the war and Kerry as a supporter, despite the two holding essentially the same view. Dean did this by turning the 2002 vote into a sole litmus test when the issue was actually far more complicated.

To understand Kerry’s view, it is first important to look at his statement at the time of the vote:

“My vote was cast in a way that made it very clear, Mr. President, I’m voting for you to do what you said you’re going to do, which is to go through the U.N. and do this through an international process. If you go unilaterally, without having exhausted these remedies, I’m not supporting you. And if you decide that this is just a matter of straight pre-emptive doctrine for regime-change purposes without regard to the imminence of the threat, I’m not going to support you.”

At the same time Bush was claiming that the vote was not necessarily a vote to go to war. Bush said this about the vote: “Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable. The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean some.”

Bush was probably not being honest here and Kerry should not have voted yes (as he later admitted) but this vote when interpreted in light of Kerry’s statements on the vote, is not evidence of support for the war. It is necessary to look at additional statements to clarify this. Kerry wrote this in an op-ed in The New York Times at the time of the vote:

For the sake of our country, the legitimacy of our cause and our ultimate success in Iraq, the administration must seek advice and approval from Congress, laying out the evidence and making the case. Then, in concert with our allies, it must seek full enforcement of the existing cease-fire agreement from the United Nations Security Council. We should at the same time offer a clear ultimatum to Iraq before the world: Accept rigorous inspections without negotiation or compromise. Some in the administration actually seem to fear that such an ultimatum might frighten Saddam Hussein into cooperating. If Saddam Hussein is unwilling to bend to the international community’s already existing order, then he will have invited enforcement, even if that enforcement is mostly at the hands of the United States, a right we retain even if the Security Council fails to act. But until we have properly laid the groundwork and proved to our fellow citizens and our allies that we really have no other choice, we are not yet at the moment of unilateral decision-making in going to war against Iraq.

Bush failed to meet the criteria Kerry clearly set at the time of the vote under which he would support going to war.

Salon later asked Kerry about the vote in an interview on May 28, 2004:

SALON: According to recent polls, more than 50 percent of the American public now believes that the war in Iraq has not been worth the cost. Do you agree with that assessment?

KERRY: I’ve always believed that the president went to war in a way that was mistaken, that he led us too rapidly into war, without sharing the cost, without sharing the risk, without building a true international coalition. He broke his promises about going as a last resort. I think that was a mistake. There was a right way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable and a wrong way. He chose the wrong way.

SALON: But you voted in October 2002 to give Bush the authority to use force in Iraq. Was that vote a mistake?

KERRY: No. My vote was the right vote. If I had been president, I would have wanted that authority to leverage the behavior that we needed. But I would have used it so differently than the way George Bush did.

SALON: Would there have been a war in Iraq if you had been president?

KERRY: I can’t tell you that. If Saddam Hussein hadn’t disarmed and all the world had decided that he was not living up to the standards, who knows? You can’t answer that hypothetical. But I can tell you this. I would never have rushed the process in a way that undoes the meaning of going to war “as a last resort.”

SALON: And that’s what you thought you were authorizing — war as a last resort?

KERRY: Absolutely. You know, we got a set of promises: We’re going to build an international coalition, we’re going to exhaust the remedies of the U.N., respect that process and go to war as a last resort. Well, we didn’t.

KERRY: And not only [did we] not go to war as a last resort, they didn’t even make the plans for winning the peace. They disregarded them. They disregarded [U.S. Army General Eric] Shinseki’s advice, disregarded Colin Powell’s advice, disregarded the State Department’s plan. The arrogance of this administration has cost Americans billions of dollars and too many lives.

Kerry spoke out against going to war many times in the months between the vote and the onset of the war. In a speech at Georgetown before the onset of the Iraq War:

“Mr. President, do not rush to war,” said Kerry, whose speech marked him as the most skeptical about war of the top-tier contenders for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

While calling for the United Nations to intensify pressure on Iraq to disarm, Kerry urged Bush to give more time to the U.N. inspections process that the administration has increasingly condemned as inadequate.

“The United States should never go to war because it wants to; the United States should go to war because we have to,” Kerry said at Georgetown University. “And we don’t have to until we have exhausted the remedies available, built legitimacy and earned the consent of the American people, absent, of course, an imminent threat requiring urgent action.”

While his vote could create confusion as to his stand, Kerry’s statements leading up to the war showed clear opposition. When Bush did invade, Kerry protested calling for regime change at home, again showing clear opposition to the war. Kessler needs to look at all the facts before rushing to award Pinocchios. Granted this is more difficult here as many of the original sources are no longer easily available on line, but that does not justify Kessler making such inaccurate assessments. In ignoring Kerry’s many statements before the war, Glenn Kessler should be awarded five dunce caps.

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Sarah Palin, Howard Dean, and Liberal Bloggers All Making Mistakes In Discussing the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board

Ever since Howard Dean had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for elimination of the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board, conservative sites have been using this to claim, as Investors Business Daily has, that Sarah Palin was right about death panels. The problem with their argument is that Howard Dean got some of the facts wrong, and Palin’s argument remains a stretch. However, liberal bloggers also continued to make mistakes in discussing the IPAB in rebuttals to Dean. While Dean was wrong in calling for its abolition, there were problems in the originator Senate version of the Affordable Care Act which should be fixed.

Howard Dean is wrong in claiming that the IPAB will not cut costs. There is no question that a board with the power to change how Medicare operates is capable of cutting costs. Dean is misleading in writing, “The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has indicated that the IPAB, in its current form, won’t save a single dime before 2021.” The reason for this is not that it cannot cut costs, but that the cost cutting regulations do not become effective until Medicare costs raise above a certain point, which the CBO does not project will happen until 2022. While the IPAB’s rulings only directly affect Medicare, it is common for private plans to mirror changes in Medicare, but paying at a higher rate.

The idea behind the IPAB is to have medical experts make proposals for cost cutting in Medicare to take this out of the political process. On paper the board is not allowed to ration care, but by itself this argument in its defense is bogus. Howard Dean does have a point here. Rationing is not well defined in the legislation. Any changes in how Medicare reimburses physicians, either in terms of dollar amounts or, as is most likely to occur, the nature of the payment system, will lead to reduced spending in some areas and could be considered rationing. The important point here is that it is not necessarily the IPAB which might ration care. If you consider this to be rationing, the same could be said about any Congressional changes in Medicare reimbursement. The question then becomes whether it is better for Congress or for a panel of experts to decide where spending cuts should occur.

From this perspective, the IPAB is a good idea and should not be abolished. However, there are two structural problems which should be revised.

The first is trying to legislate Medicare cuts in the future. With an aging population and unknown new technology, we cannot predict today how much we should spend on Medicare after 2021. There obviously needs to be some limit on costs, but this is a decision which should be made by Congress at the time. We already have seen the problems with attempts to legislate automatic decreases in Medicare payment with the Sustainable Growth Rate. Using this flawed plan, we run into the situation where the automatic formula would reduce Medicare payments to a level where physicians simply would not be able to afford to treat Medicare patients. Now pretty much every year, and sometimes more often, Congress has to intervene and overrule the cuts called for with the Sustainable Growth Rate. The current legislation creates similar problems.

The second problem is that the IPAB has insufficient accountability. It makes sense to have decisions made outside of the current legislative process, analogous to an independent panel making recommendations for military base closings. Many liberal bloggers defending the IPAB have used this analogy, but many incorrect believe that, like the military base recommendations, the decisions of the IPAB will be subject to an up or down vote by Congress. The portions of the Affordable Care Act which create the IPAB make it virtually impossible that Congress will be able to override their rulings. On the other hand, I have read speculation that Congress might be able to pass supplemental spending bills to replace things cut by the IPAB, comparable to how they currently override the cuts which would come from the Sustainable Growth Rate. However, this would not solve the problem should the IPAB make structural changes in Medicare which lead to physicians not being willing to accept Medicare patients.

The IPAB as was passed in the Senate version of health care reform legislation should be maintained but reformed so that an up or down vote by Congress is required to accept their recommendations, and so that cuts are not automatically required. While many Democrats now feel compelled to defend this aspect of the law as passed (largely in response to the ridiculous hyperbole coming from the right in opposition), we must keep in mind that the Senate version was passed only because of the Democrats losing a super majority in the Senate, preventing the normal process of the Senate passing a final bill following reconciliation with the superior House bill. Changes should be made, but not repeal of this or the entire bill as Republicans are calling for. Unfortunately, the Republican refusal to engage in the normal legislative process will probably make fixing the problems in the Affordable Care Act unlikely to occur in Congress.

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Howard Dean’s Anti-Obama Scream

I have suspected that there was bad blood between the Obama Administration and Howard Dean since the start, including the fact that he was not kept on as chair of the Democratic National Committee. Dean has some over the top comments on Obama’s budget proposals as described by Buzzfeed. He gives an inaccurate portrayal, essentially describing it as a combination of cuts to Social Security in exchange for increasing military spending. He even threatens to leave the Democratic Party over this:

“If this passed I would have to reevaluate if I belong in the Democratic Party. If this were passed with Democratic votes, I think it would be impossible to be Democrat.”

“I would have to oppose any Democrat that is supportive of this,” Dean added.

In an email to several Democratic consultants Sunday night he forwarded to BuzzFeed, Dean excoriated the White House over the defense spending in Obama’s budget proposal.

“If the article I sent you is correct, it means the Prez proposed chain CPI cutting SS benefits while asking to restore Pentagon spending. He would never get that through either chamber,” Dean wrote. “What the hell are they thinking or is BW wrong?”

Ed Kilgore compared this to the Dean scream (acknowledging that the scream was greatly exaggerated by the media) and points out past criticism of Howard Dean for his previous support for Medicare cuts. This was a topic I researched in great detail back during the 2003-4 primary campaign, ending my support for Dean when the evidence clearly showed he was lying when he denied his previous position on Medicare.

There is no doubt that when Howard Dean supported Medicare cuts it was not because he has a great passion for cutting Medicare, but because he saw that as a politically necessary compromise. The same could be said about Obama’s budget proposal. It is a compromise, and while we would all prefer to see no cuts to Social Security at all, it is not as bad a deal as many are saying.

One major benefit is that it gets rid of most of the cuts from the sequester. Yes, that means that military spending cuts would be restored. It also mean that the cuts to social programs will be preserved. To only point out the change in military spending while ignoring the increases to social spending is not very honest. Obama’s budget would also help preserve Medicare financially, even putting an end to the sustainable growth formula which is contributing to the difficulty of many Medicare patients to find physicians who will accept them.

Being a compromise, there are good and bad aspects. While any cut to Social Security is undesirable, the cuts proposed by Obama are not as severe as many fear. By reducing the cost of living adjustments (by changing how they are calculated), Social Security payments will still go up, but by a smaller amount. In any given year the monetary amount of the difference will be fairly small, well under $100 per year.

There are two major problems with this, and Obama has addressed both. Lower income people who cannot afford any reduction in potential benefits will be hit the hardest, but Obama has supported an adjustment to provide them with greater benefits. As the reduction in calculated cost of living increases is cumulative, this could hurt seniors more as they get older. It is not possible to give an exact dollar amount to this as we don’t know future inflation rates, but one report I heard on NPR estimated that an 85 year old might receive $600 less per year than they would receive without chained CPI. I have also seen projections that this could top $1000 per year after twenty years. However, Obama is also proposing an adjustment starting at age 74 to make up for this cumulative change over time.  These offsets are expected to actually reduce the rate of poverty among the elderly. Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has considerable criticism of the budget plan but does point out:

In an effort to address this problem, the budget includes a series of adjustments and protections for the very old and for people with low incomes.  No set of adjustments can fully shield the very old or the poor, but the Obama package is robust and well designed.  It should prevent an increase in the overall poverty rate among the very old and would shield the beneficiaries of most programs that focus on people at the bottom.

There are benefits to this compromise beyond reversing the cuts in the sequester. If liberals want to pay for social programs, it is necessary to get approval for the spending through a Republican House and a Senate where 40 Republicans can also block Democratic programs. This budget, with all its faults, does give liberals increased taxes on the wealthy, and more money for social spending. This is not an easy accomplishement (and Republicans are showing no signs of going along with this deal).  James Vega, at The Democratic Strategist has a good look at the realities of presidential power these days, explaining why Obama feels he must appease those in the center who see cutting the deficit as a major political goal:

Let’s face it. Every Democratic president has to walk a very fine line in dealing with the business community and the economic elite of this country. That group is not entirely composed of extreme right wing ideologues like the Koch Brothers (although there is a very disturbingly large group who are). Many are relatively pragmatic individuals who are willing to accept a certain range of progressive policies when the political climate of the country overwhelmingly favors them. The majority of American businessmen are not going to go on a John Galt-style “producers strike” and shut down all their banks, offices and factories to protest a modest tax increase nor will they try to foment a military coup because they don’t like Elizabeth Warren.

But on the other hand, any Democratic president absolutely has to maintain a certain working relationship with the business community or face huge obstacles to almost all of his domestic priorities. Had Obama seriously threatened to prosecute substantial sectors of the business and the financial community for their role in the financial crisis when he first took office in 2008, he would not have gotten the stimulus bill, the modest financial regulation bill that he did get or health care reform. There were only a few major business figures who went overboard with hysterical accusations that Obama was out to destroy the entire free enterprise system in 2009, but if he had really come down hard on business and Wall Street that attack would have been picked up and become so widespread in the business world that plenty of Democratic Congress and Senate members would have melted away from supporting Obama’s first term agenda like snowflakes in forest fire…

Now the business guys at the table are not completely unreasonable. A recent opinion studyDemocracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans,” by Benjamin I. Page and Jason Seawright of Northwestern and Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt, indicates that the “1 percenters” — those with $8 million in net worth – are at least somewhat open to some relatively liberal economic ideas. Most agreed, for example, with improving public infrastructure such as highways, bridges and airports; scientific research; and aid to education. They also agreed that the Social Security system should ensure a minimum standard of living to all contributors, even if some receive benefits exceeding the value of their contribution and they also agreed that people with high incomes actually should pay a larger share of their incomes in taxes than those with low incomes. And they recognized the need for sensible regulations.

But on the other hand, the study also found the following:

When we asked respondents how important they considered each of eleven possible problems facing the United States, budget deficits headed the list. Fully 87 percent of our wealthy respondents said deficits are a “very important” problem facing the country. Only 10 percent said “somewhat important,” and a bare 4 percent said “not very important at all.” The high priority put on this issue was confirmed by responses to an open-ended question about “the most [emphasis added] important problem facing this country today.” One third (32 percent) of all open-ended responses mentioned budget deficits or excessive government spending, far more than mentioned any other issue. Furthermore, at various points in their interviews many respondents spontaneously mentioned “government over-spending.” Unmistakably, deficits were a major concern for most of our wealthy respondents…. [In contrast, unemployment and education] were mentioned as the most important problem by only 11 percent, indicating that they ranked a distant second and third to budget deficits.

So it’s not just the professional deficit scolds like Pete Peterson or the PR shop called “Fix the Debt” who are pushing the deficit fixation. Nor is it just the columnists and editorial writers at the Washington Post. The belief that dealing with the deficit is the most important national issue is pretty much a consensus opinion of America’s wealthy and business elite.

Unfortunately, while economically there is no great need to cut Social Security at this time,  far too many people in both the business elite and in the media are as certain that this is necessary as progressives are opposed. After further discussion, which should be read in its entirety, Vega gives far more rational advice to those who still disagree with Obama’s policies than Howard Dean does:

Obama has made a basic strategic calculation about how far he has to go to propitiate some part of the economic elite that holds tremendous power in American society. Progressives can and should debate his decision and, if they disagree, criticize it on that realistic strategic basis. They should not get sidetracked instead by arguments based on extraneous and essentially irrelevant claims regarding Obama’s flaws of character, defects of personality or inadequate fealty to the ethos and ideals of progressivism.

When all the calculations and projections are done, there still might be strong reasons for liberals to oppose Obama’s compromise. However, a knee jerk opposition to absolutely any cuts in Social Security, without considering the actual numbers and what is received in return, is as irrational as Republicans signing a pledge to never raise taxes. There remains plenty of good reasons to still oppose this plan, but not because absolutely no cuts to Social Security could be considered, even if they include offsets to protect the poorest and oldest seniors. Remember that we are supposedly the reality based community. Look at the facts, and certainly don’t follow Howard Dean’s bogus scream that Obama is taking money away from seniors in order to increase military spending.

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Why Howard Dean Is Wrong In Seeing Any Value In The Tea Party Movement

Howard Dean has made many liberals wonder whether he ever did really represent the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party with his comments on the Tea Party:

“I actually approve of most of what the tea party is doing… I think it’s great to have individuals reach out to take their own responsibility for their own [future] and lashing out against government that has really forgotten them… but I also believe that there is a fringe of racism in the tea party, which unfortunately for the tea party that is focused on” by the media.

If you look at this superficially, his comments on individuals lashing out against the government might make sense. What Dean misses is that these people support conservative government and only lash out against liberal government (or their misconceptions of what the government is doing based upon misinformation spread by people like Glenn Beck). They weren’t out protesting against the economic policies of George Bush which created this economic mess. They weren’t out there protesting against the abuses of civil liberties, Republicans lying us into an unnecessary and foolish war, or the expansion of power for the Executive Branch. However when faced with a center-left Democrat (who actually would be center-right in Europe) they scream of an imaginary socialist threat

It actually would be a good thing if we had a fiscally conservative movement which was rational in their review of Democratic spending proposals and which didn’t carry all the other baggage of the authoritarian right. Unfortunately the Tea Party fails badly on both counts. Rather than providing a useful opposition which forces the Democrats to justify their spending before offering approval, the Tea Party blindly oppose everything.

There is a wide variety of individuals in the Tea Party movement but none of them have shown any grasp of how the budget really works. There is very little discretionary spending in the budget and in order to reduce the deficit as they demand three things must be done: 1) raise taxes, 2) slash military spending, and 3) slash spending on entitlements. Few, if any, in the Tea Party would go for either the first or second. Some would support cutting entitlements but this would launch a schism in the movement as others would protest any cuts in their Medicare.

The other problem remains that, even though the Tea Parties officially stress economic issues, these people have not suddenly dropped all their other views. The Tea Party is just today’s name for the far right wing of the Republican Party. This is just another reenactment of Rockefeller versus Goldwater in 1964, with both sides now considerably far to the right of both of them. Obviously there are no liberal Republicans such as Rockefeller on either side, and Barry Goldwater rejected the social conservatism seen in the Tea Party when he declared himself to be a liberal in his later years.

Andrew Sullivan explained how there isn’t any common ground between left and right in responding to a post by Jesse Walker:

If only a left/right alliance would cooperate to end the drug war, get a grand compromise on the debt, and rein in defense spending and police state creep. But seriously, does Jesse really believe that the Tea Party would do any of these things?

Yes, they are, for the most part, emphasizing economic and fiscal issues, which is wonderful, even though they have no actual realistic plans to cut spending by the amount they would have to if taxes are not to rise. But that does not mean they have in any way forsaken the social issues substantively. Name a tea-party candidate who is pro-choice. Name one who backs marriage equality. Name one who wants to withdraw from Afghanistan beginning next year. Name one who has opposed torture. Name one who has the slightest qualms about police powers. Name one who would end the military ban on gays serving openly, and take even the slightest political risk on any of these subjects.

I welcome the belated right-wing opposition to out-of-control government spending. But the one thing you have to note about tea-party fervor is that none of it existed when they had real leverage over a Republican president, who spent us into bankruptcy. That tells you something. And if you think a party led by Palin will not embrace every neocon crusade or Christianist social policy, you’re dreaming.

Despite taking symbolism from the American Revolution, keep in mind that in any analogy to the revolution the far right would be the Tories, opposing  the revolution and opposing liberals who share the ideals of the Founding Fathers.

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