Why The Republicans Won Despite Being Wrong On The Issues, Revisited

Paul Krugman discussed how the Republicans won in the midterm elections despite being wrong about pretty much everything. Kurt Eichenwald has more in Vanity Fair looking at many of the things conservatives were wrong about over  the past thirty years. Although the list is far from complete, I’d suggest checking out the full article for the specifics. Topics covered include:

  • Tax cuts pay for themselves
  • Deregulating the Thrift Industry Will Save It
  • Iraq I: The Tilt
  • Giving Iranian Moderates Weapons Will Help America
  • Raising Taxes Will Cause a Recession
  • Abolishing Some Bank Regulations Will Help the Economy
  • The U.S.–led Bombing of Yugoslavia Would Be a Disaster
  • Bin Laden Was a Front for Iraq
  • Iraq 2: W.M.D.s and a Short, Inexpensive War
  • Obamacare

Many people have given different ideas regarding the other part of the question as to how the Republicans won. Fivethirtyeight.com looked at one issue  from polling data in Iowa. They found that, “White voters in Iowa without a college degree have shifted away from the Democratic Party.”

Loss of white working class votes has been a problem for Democrats for several election cycles, and was most pronounced in the 2012 elections. It will be interesting to see if there is any reduction in this trend when Barack Obama is no longer on the ticket. This is certainly not exclusively an issue based upon a black president. The Republicans have depended upon the southern strategy since the 1960’s, using this in the south along with provoking racial fears to gain the votes of less educated white voters in the north.

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Why The Republicans Won Despite Being Wrong On All The Issues

Paul Krugman points out that the Republicans, despite winning the midterm elections on Tuesday, were wrong on everything:

First, there’s economic policy. According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage. In 2009, when an ailing economy desperately needed aid, John Boehner, soon to become the speaker of the House, declared: “It’s time for government to tighten their belts.”

So here we are, with years of experience to examine, and the lessons of that experience couldn’t be clearer. Predictions that deficit spending would lead to soaring interest rates, that easy money would lead to runaway inflation and debase the dollar, have been wrong again and again. Governments that did what Mr. Boehner urged, slashing spending in the face of depressed economies, have presided over Depression-level economic slumps. And the attempts of Republican governors to prove that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a magic growth elixir have failed with flying colors.

In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.

Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations, and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.

And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals. But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists, and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.

He then went on to look at why they won, expressing views similar to what I had written about the election earlier in the week:

Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true positions. Perhaps most notably, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.

But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party.

This was their strategy, literally beginning on Day 1, if not earlier. A Frontline documentary described what the Republicans planned:

On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.

“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.

Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.

After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.

Of course we cannot just criticize the Republicans. The Democrats were at fault when six years later they still had no effective response to this Republican strategy, and were afraid to stand up for their accomplishments. Being right doesn’t do any good politically if they were afraid to explain this to the voters. Democratic candidates ran away from Obama and his policies and then were shocked when the Obama voters didn’t come out to vote for them. As Peter Beinhart wrote, the Democrats cannot keep playing not to lose:

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

…We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

By positioning himself as a moderate, he may have missed a chance to gin up more enthusiasm within the state’s expanding Democratic base, earning fewer votes in such deep-blue communities as Arlington County and Alexandria than left-of-Warner Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) did a year ago.

All of it has left some to wonder whether Warner would have won bigger if he had eschewed the middle and embraced the left, and whether the winning path for moderates that Warner forged during his own bid for governor 13 years ago is becoming extinct.

“I think if you look at the returns around the country . . . it raises questions about just how successful the bipartisanship brand really is,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said Tuesday after easily winning a fourth term in Northern Virginia’s 11th Congressional District by talking about women’s rights, immigration reform and climate change — and less about working with Republicans.

Here’s a similar take on what the Democrats did wrong: “They were so focused on independents that they forgot they had a base. They left their base behind. They became Republican-lite.”

That opinion came from Rob Collins, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also said Democrats “sidelined their best messenger” by running away from Obama, and for not talking about the economy. Republicans might be wrong virtually all the time lately when it comes to governing, but quite often they are smarter than Democrats with regards to politics.

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The Highly Successful Presidency Of Barack Obama

Paul Krugman has been defending Barack Obama much more recently, such as in a recent article in Rolling Stone and on ABC’s This Week. Krugman’s views on Obama have evolved over the years. I think that early on he was critical of Obama based upon disagreements on policy matters. Two things have altered how he discusses Obama. First there are all the off the wall attacks on Obama from both the right and many mainstream commentators. Secondly, he is doing a better job of separating differences of opinion with a more centrist president from outright condemnation where he disagrees. This includes both recognition of Obama’s actual accomplishments and realization that wherever he disagrees with Obama, the Republicans would be far, far worse.

In Rolling Stone, Krugman looked at the various types of attacks on Obama:

All Obama-bashing can be divided into three types. One, a constant of his time in office, is the onslaught from the right, which has never stopped portraying him as an Islamic atheist Marxist Kenyan. Nothing has changed on that front, and nothing will.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

Yes, Obama has a low approval rating compared with earlier presidents. But there are a number of reasons to believe that presidential approval doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to: There is much more party-sorting (in which Republicans never, ever have a good word for a Democratic president, and vice versa), the public is negative on politicians in general, and so on. Obviously the midterm election hasn’t happened yet, but in a year when Republicans have a huge structural advantage – Democrats are defending a disproportionate number of Senate seats in deep-red states – most analyses suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn’t what you’d expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.

More important, however, polls – or even elections – are not the measure of a president. High office shouldn’t be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. Has Obama done that? Do his achievements look likely to endure? The answer to both questions is yes.

From there, Krugman looked at Obama’s achievements on health care, financial reform, the economy, the environment, national security, and social change. As Obama has so many favorable accomplishments, I would suggest seeing the original article rather than trying to list them all here. He then concluded:

Am I damning with faint praise? Not at all. This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don’t care about the fact that Obama hasn’t lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn’t quite say, a big deal.

Andrew Sullivan cited Krugman’s article and added:

Just a year ago, I had a conversation with a friend as the healthcare website was crashing. All that mattered, we agreed, was if, this time next year, the healthcare reform is working and the economy is doing better. Well, both those things have happened – Obamacare is actually a big success so far; the growth and unemployment rates are the envy of much of the Western world – and yet we are now told that he’s a failure. WTF? The architects of the Iraq War – like, yes, Clinton and McCain – somehow believe they have a better grasp of foreign affairs in the twenty-first century than he does. And the party that bankrupted this country in eight short years now has the gall to ignore the fastest reduction in the deficit ever, and a slow-down in healthcare costs that may well be the most important fiscal achievement of a generation.

Add to this two massive social shifts that Obama has coaxed, helped or gotten out the way: marriage equality and the legalization of cannabis. These are not minor cultural shifts. They are sane reforms, change we can absolutely believe in and have accomplished on his watch. Jihadist terrorism? It has murdered an infinitesimal number of Americans in the past six years, compared with almost any other threat. Yes, Americans are still capable of PTSD-driven panic and hysteria over it, and Obama has failed to counter that more aggressively, but to be where we are in 2014 is something few expected after 9/11.

The idea that he has “lost Iraq” is preposterous. We “lost” Iraq the minute we unseated the Sunnis, disbanded the Baathist army and unleashed the dogs of sectarian warfare.

The only sane response to continuing unrest there is to cut our losses, act as an off-shore balancing power, and protect ourselves. And one reason we have this capability is that Obama managed to pivot nimbly last fall to ensure the destruction of Assad’s WMDs. The Panettas and McCains and usual suspects still seem to believe that it would have been better to have bombed Assad, let him keep his WMDs, and … what exactly? Can you imagine ISIS with its hands on those weapons in a failed state with a deposed leader? Think Libya today with poison gas. Who prevented this? Obama. And he is still pilloried for it.

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Coverage Of The Success of Obamacare And Debunking Republican Lies

Obamacare Winning

Reading liberal versus conservative columnists give entirely different views of the Affordable Care Act. Liberals have been writing about its success while conservatives continue to spread misinformation. Here’s a few examples of liberal views on the topic (which are the fact-based articles):

Tim Dickenson of Rolling Stone (source for the above graphic) writes that Obamacare is working. Instead of the fake conservative horror stories, he linked to stories which show how the Affordable Care Act is helping people. He described the successes, and pointed out that “Republican Party sabotage has also impeded enrollment.” Rather than back away  from calling a lie a lie as many journalists will, Dickenson directly addressed Republican lies as lies as he debunked them:

GOP LIE No. 1: THE NUMBERS DON’T MEAN ANYTHING
Over the course of the open-enrollment period, Republicans labored to argue that Obamacare did far less good than advertised because an estimated 4.7 million Americans received letters in the fall warning that their current policies could not be renewed, as they failed to comply with new coverage requirements. They point to these “cancellations” to argue that few of the folks being counted as ACA enrollees previously lacked insurance.

There are three glaring flaws to this argument. First: Many if not most of those whose plans were canceled were automatically transferred into similar policies that complied with the new law. One of the nation’s largest for-profit insurers told House investigators that it had issued fewer than 2,000 outright cancellations.

Second: Through executive orders, Obama gave roughly half of those who received a letter – 2.35 million – the chance to stay in their existing coverage. CBO estimates suggest that just 1.5 million actually continued in their grandfathered plans, as many could find cheaper and/or better coverage on a subsidized exchange or qualify for Medicaid. It’s telling that the Michigan leukemia patient featured in Koch-funded ads intended to convey the horror of these cancellations has found a compliant poicy on the exchange that still covers her oncologist and cut her monthly premium in half.

Giving the Republican argument every benefit of the doubt, this would leave a potential pool of about 3 million people who changed, rather than gained, insurance. This leads to the third flaw in the argument: Obamacare sign-ups were always going to include millions of people who already had insurance. In its latest estimate, the CBO showed just two-thirds (4 million of 6 million) of exchange enrollments coming from people who were previously uncovered. And the limited hard data available from the states suggests the CBO is closer to the mark than the GOP: In New York, nearly 60 percent of buyers were previously uninsured. In Kentucky, it’s even higher: 75 percent.

GOP LIE No. 2: THEY HAVEN’T PAID THEIR PREMIUMS YET
GOP critics point out that the administration hasn’t tracked how many enrollees are actually paying their insurance bills. The complaint about transparency is fair, but the concern is misplaced. Figures from state exchanges and insurers themselves show that between 80 and 95 percent of enrollees are paying their bills.

GOP LIE No. 3: OBAMACARE WILL COLLAPSE UNDER ITS OWN WEIGHT
One legitimate concern as Obamacare ramped up was that it could enter a “death spiral.” This would happen if the number of older, sicker people on the exchanges far outnumbered the young and the healthy. Premiums would spike, year over year, with each increase driving more healthy folks out of the pool – making the exchange unsustainable. While reaching 7 million enrollees is a huge win politically, it doesn’t ensure Obamacare’s viability as an insurance program. “I do think there’s too much focus on the overall number,” Karen Ignagni, a top insurance-industry lobbyist, told reporters. What matters far more, she said, is the insurance pools’ “distribution of healthy to unhealthy.”

The administration wanted 18- to 34-year-olds to make up nearly 40 percent of enrollees. By March, however, only 25 percent of the mix was under 35. That sounds dire. Yet even pools with just 25 percent of younger people would not create a tailspin, forcing premiums to rise by just 2.4 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Additionally, the convoluted structure of Obamacare eliminates systemic risk. Even the 27 states that relied entirely on the federal exchange will end up with state-specific insurance pools. What this means is that if a death spiral were to develop in, say, Ohio, that failure would not pull down neighboring states. What’s more, safeguards within the ACA mean states don’t have to get the mix right in Year One. For the first three years, ACA has shock absorbers to prevent premium spikes in states with problematic pools. Over that same period, the penalties for not buying insurance step up – which should drive younger, healthier people into the market, balancing the risk profile. We lack hard data to get a clear picture of all state pools. But private insurers are sending optimistic signals to investors that all is well. Case in point: Insurance giant WellPoint just raised its earnings forecast.

GOP LIE No. 4: “OBAMACARE IS THE NUMBER-ONE JOB KILLER IN AMERICA”
That’s what Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told a Tea Party convention in Dallas last summer. Since then, the GOP has been making two ACA-connected job-loss claims, both demonstrably false. First, they twisted a February CBO report to claim that Obamacare will cause 2.5 million Americans to lose their jobs. What the CBO actually found is that Americans will be able to work a little less thanks to lower health-care costs, voluntarily scaling back work hours between 1.5 and 2 percent through 2024, or the output of 2.5 million full-time workers. The other GOP lie is that Obamacare is causing employers – who will be responsible for insuring employees who work more than 30 hours a week – to either scale back the hours of full-time employees or hire only part-time workers. This, too, is hogwash. While the share of part-time employment remains historically high, it has actually been in decline since 2010, when Obama­care became law.

I have discussed many of the above points, with links to the evidence, in previous posts on health care reform.

I was also happy to see that he concluded with the same opinion I have expressed that Democrats must take the offensive on health care:

House Republicans have learned the hard way that even nibbling around the edges of Obamacare can backfire. In February, the GOP pushed a bill to tweak the mandate that businesses offer health care to all employees working more than 30 hours. Switching to the GOP’s preferred 40-hour standard, it turns out, would add $74 billion to the deficit by 2024 and cause nearly 1 million Americans to lose coverage. That’s the kind of move that would play right into Democratic hands. Says Greenberg, “Democrats do very well when they hit back at Republicans on what people lose.”

Until recently, Greenberg had been advising Democrats to move beyond Obamacare and turn to bread-and-butter issues like jobs and the minimum wage. “The strongest attack on Republicans,” he says, “is that they’re obsessed with Obamacare instead of critical issues like dealing with the economy.” But his new poll has Greenberg rethinking that counsel. “Until now, this is an issue where the intensity has been on the other side,” he says. But defending Obamacare, he adds, has emerged as “a values argument for our base.” Greenberg now believes Democrats “ought to lean much more strongly” to campaign on the virtues of Obamacare as a means of boosting progressive turnout. “Not apologizing for Obamacare and embracing it actually wins the argument nationally,” he says. “And it produces much more engagement of Democratic voters. That’s a critical thing in off-year elections.”

Eugene Robinson also wrote about the success of Obamacare:

A new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that, despite all the problems with the HealthCare.gov Web site launch, 12 million people who previously lacked insurance will obtain coverage this year. By 2017, the year Obama leaves office, the CBO predicts that an additional 14 million uninsured will have managed to get coverage .

Why was the Affordable Care Act so desperately needed? Because without it, 54 million Americans would currently have no health insurance. Within three years, according to the CBO, Obamacare will have slashed the problem nearly in half.

We should do better, and perhaps someday we will. Most industrialized countries have some kind of single-payer system offering truly universal coverage. But if you have to work within the framework of the existing U.S. health-care system — which involves private health insurance companies and fee-for-service care — the Affordable Care Act reforms are a tremendous advance.

Many Republican critics of Obamacare know, but refuse to acknowledge, that the reforms are here to stay. Does the GOP propose to let insurance companies deny coverage because of preexisting conditions, as they could before the ACA? Does the party want to reimpose lifetime caps on the amount an insurer will pay? Tell young adults they can no longer be covered under their parents’ policies?

He concluded by also recommending that Democratic candidates take advantage of the success of Obamacare:

To do well in the fall, Democrats have to infuse their most loyal voters with similar enthusiasm. The success of Obamacare will help. Already, polls are showing upticks in support for embattled Democratic incumbent senators in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska. Democrats control their own destiny in November: If they can get their voters to the polls, they’ll win.

In the long run, no matter what happens in the election, I’m more convinced than ever that the Affordable Care Act will be seen as landmark legislation. With minimal immediate impact, the ACA does two tremendously important things.

First, it shifts the incentive structure in the health-care industry in ways that promise to hold down rising costs. And second, it establishes the principle that health care should be considered a right, not a privilege.

Of course it’s not perfect. It’s a thing of beauty anyway. We have liftoff. It’s working.

Paul Krugman described Obamacare as the unknown ideal:

The current state of public opinion on health reform is really peculiar. If you’ve been following the issue at all closely, you know that the Affordable Care Act is one of the great comeback stories of public policy: after a terrible start, it has dramatically exceeded expectations. But hardly anyone seems to know that.

He blamed Fox and Rush Limbaugh for all the misinformation they have spread, the Obama administration for doing a “lackluster job so far in getting the word out,” and “a persistent anti-ACA tilt in news coverage.” He pointed out how factual stories on the success of Obamacare are often buried in the back pages of newspapers.

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Fact Checking Valuable, But Not Always Right

Pinoccio

The Moderate Voice has a post yesterday on the increase in fact-checking in journalism. Fact-checking is preferable to the standard media practice of quoting both sides as if they are equally valid, generally with an implied assumption that the truth is somewhere in the middle. This leads to erroneous reporting when one side is intentionally using misinformation and lying far more than the other. However labeling something fact checking doesn’t necessarily mean it is immune from journalistic problems. Paul Krugman pointed out one problem:

“The people at PolitiFact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there’s a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other,” Krugman wrote in 2011.

“So they’ve bent over backwards to appear ‘balanced’ — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant.”

As Krugman pointed out, there are fact checkers which label an equal number of statements from Democrats and Republicans as being wrong in order to give the appearance of being impartial. That typically means that outrageous lies from Republicans are called lies but to provide a sense of balance,  statements from Democrats which are generally true but in which there is an exception are also called lies.

The entire idea of calling something true or a lie is often a poor way to handle complex issues which are stated by politicians in brief statements. Sometimes politicians are trying to be truthful, but boiling down a complex issue into a brief statement, or commercial, will result in exceptions where the statement is false. Often it is preferable to look at what is true in what is being said and where it isn’t entirely true and explain the issue rather than just calling it truth or a lie.

While Republicans have been hit far more with big lies on health care, Democrats have been harmed by the problems in how some fact checkers declare something either true or a lie (being a lie if not 100% true in every case). There have been two big examples of this. The first is Democrats saying that the Medicare proposals in the Ryan budget would destroy Medicare. Technically this is untrue as Ryan would replace Medicare with something named Medicare. On the other hand, it is true because the Republican proposals would change Medicare into something fundamentally different with far less protection for seniors. Rather than just calling it a lie, fact checkers would have done more good by explaining why Democrats consider these changes to be destroying Medicare.

The other is the greatly exaggerated “lie of the year” when Obama said people could keep their own doctor under the Affordable Care Act. This was an absurd statement on one level because every year insurance companies and doctors make decisions which can affect this which the government has no  power over. On the other hand, Obama was right in the context where he was speaking, even if worded poorly. Republicans were lying when they claimed that Obamacare would make people join some sort of government run program which would tell them which doctors they can see. The Affordable Care Act actually makes it more likely that people could have insurance which would allow them to keep their doctor than had been the case in the past and does nothing to force people to lose their doctor. People have a better chance of keeping their doctor when protected from losing their insurance. Frequently people are forced to change doctors because of employers changing insurance plans. Employees have a better chance of keeping their own doctor when provided more choice in plans, as under the Affordable Care Act.  Where Obama got it wrong was that the same forces already present which lead to people having to change doctors, while diminished, would still exist. It would be far better to explain this complex issue, where Obama was mostly right, than to just declare it a lie because it is not true one hundred percent of the time.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Nate Silver Opens FiveThirtyEight With Questions Raised About Data Journalism

Nate Silver’s new site, FiveThirtyEight.com, opened this week and I must say I have been underwhelmed. Certainly check it out yourself and come to your own conclusion, but so far I hardly see the posts there as adding anything of value to online sources than we had in the past. I think this is largely because Nate Silver’s numbers driven type of analysis applies far better to sports coverage and polling than it does to many of the other topics which the new site attempts to cover.

Certainly other areas also involve analysis driven by numbers. If one is to run a web site based upon claims of superior analysis of the numbers, it is also important that the numbers be well established as correct. Think Progress has raised questions about FiveThirtyEight’s science writer on climate change. This also shows that it is important to read analysis which does more than just present numbers. As I learned back in college statistics, statistics is the science which shows that the average human has one testicle and one breast.

I don’t intend to downplay the value of Nate Silver’s polling analysis, but it was hardly unique in predicting the elections. Yes, he did far better than the many Republicans who predicted Romney victories based upon opinions rather than fact, but he was not the only one. Besides watching Nate Silver’s site, I also watched a couple sites which took an aggregate of polling results to show who was leading. This provided essentially the same results. It was also easy to predict based upon past results and limited knowledge of the states which states were tending in a different direction.

Nate Silver described his vision for his site here. I certainly appreciate the use of data to substantiate opinions, but so far the posts there have not really provided terribly meaningful data in other areas. Perhaps it will improve over time, but he would have been smarter to have a really major article telling us something we don’t know based upon the numbers to initiate the new site. First impressions are important.

Needless to say, his criticism of opinion articles hasn’t been accepted very well by some opinion writers. Paul Krugman hardly ignores facts and figures but has somehow been cast as the opposing model to Nate Silver’s. Krugman responded to Silver’s criticism of opinion writers:

Nate’s manifesto proclaims his intention to be a fox, who knows many things, rather than a hedgehog, who knows just one big thing; i.e., a pundit who repeats the same assertions in every column. I’m fine with that.

But you can’t be an effective fox just by letting the data speak for itself — because it never does. You use data to inform your analysis, you let it tell you that your pet hypothesis is wrong, but data are never a substitute for hard thinking. If you think the data are speaking for themselves, what you’re really doing is implicit theorizing, which is a really bad idea (because you can’t test your assumptions if you don’t even know what you’re assuming.)

Leon Wieseltier discussed the importance of opinion writers, concluding:

Since an open society stands or falls on the quality of its citizens’ opinions, the refinement of their opinions, and more generally of the process of opinion-formation, is a primary activity of its intellectuals and its journalists. In such an enterprise, the insistence upon a solid evidentiary foundation for judgments—the combating of ignorance, which is another spectacular influence of the new technology—is obviously important. Just as obviously, this evidentiary foundation may include quantitative measurements; but only if such measurements are appropriate to the particular subject about which a particular judgment is being made. The assumption that it is appropriate to all subjects and all judgments—this auctoritas ex numero—is not at all obvious. Many of the issues that we debate are not issues of fact but issues of value. There is no numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men, and the question of whether the government should help the weak, and the question of whether we should intervene against genocide. And so the intimidation by quantification practiced by Silver and the other data mullahs must be resisted. Up with the facts! Down with the cult of facts!

An opinion with a justification may be described as a belief. The justification that transforms an opinion into a belief may in some instances be empirical, but in many instances, in the morally and philosophically significant instances, it will not be empirical, it will be rational, achieved in the establishment of the truth of concepts or ideas by the methods of argument and the interpretation of experience. A certain kind of journalistic commentary, when it is done rightly, is a popular version of the same project, an application of thoughtfully (and sometimes wittily) held principles to public affairs, and is therefore an essential service to a free society. The intellectual predispositions that Silver ridicules as “priors” are nothing more than beliefs. What is so sinister about beliefs? He should be a little more wary of scorning them, even in degraded form: without beliefs we are nothing but data, himself included, and we deserve to be considered not only from the standpoint of our manipulability. I am sorry that he finds George Will and Paul Krugman repetitious, but should they revise their beliefs so as not to bore him? Repetition is one of the essential instruments of persuasion, and persuasion is one of the essential activities of a democracy. I do not expect Silver to relinquish his positivism—a prior if ever there was one—because I find it tedious.

Silver proclaimed in the interview that “we’re not trying to do advocacy here. We’re trying to just do analysis. We’re not trying to sway public opinion on anything except trying to make them more numerate.” His distinction between analysis and advocacy is a little innocent. (Like the insistence of the man who went from the Times to ESPN that he is an “outsider.”) Is numeracy really what American public discourse most urgently lacks? And why would one boast of having no interest in the great disputations about injustice and inequality? Neutrality is an evasion of responsibility, unless everything is like sports. Like Ezra Klein, whom he admires, Nate Silver had made a success out of an escape into diffidence. What is it about conviction that frightens these people?

I have many recent posts on health care reform. Yes, many parts of the issue can be quantified. I could concentrate on the number of people who were without coverage because of preexisting conditions and the number who lost coverage due to being dropped when ill. Numbers are also important when looking at Republican horror stories and the truth about how much money people are really saving under the Affordable Care Act. These are important parts of the story, but not the full story. We also must consider explanations as to how the health care system works and opinions as to how it should. The same is true in many other areas. Facts and numbers are important, but so are analysis, opinions and values.

Update:

This is an argument where neither side is entirely right or wrong. There is even a counter argument to Wieseltier’s assertion that, “There is no numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men.” Steve M wrote:

But there is very much a “numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men” — or at least the opponents of gay marriage strongly suggest that there is. Those opponents argue that gay marriage harms society — specifically, they say that children suffer harm from not having two opposite-sex parents. How do we know this is nonsense? We can look at the lives of children raised by gay couples and compare their well-being to that of children raised by married heterosexuals. If gay marriage were harming the children of gay couples, we’d know it, but it isn’t. And it’s good that we have studies showing a lack of harm, because if we were high-mided and Wieseltierian and chose to remain above the tawdry collection of data on this subject, the anti-gay right would generate all sorts of anti-gay-marriage data and drive the debate with it. (Perhaps Wieseltier needs to be reminded of the preposterous statistics about gay people’s health that have been circulating online and elsewhere for several decades — “the lifespan of a homosexual is on average 24 years shorter than that of a heterosexual” and all that.)

While I agree with Steve regarding the numbers involved, the fact remains that any discussion of gay marriage does also involve values–in this case the values of individual choice and separation of church and state in opposition of conservative values on this issue.

The debate between Krugman and Silver is one where neither side is entirely right or wrong and the differences between the sides are exaggerated when this turns into a blog debate. I don’t think that either Paul Krugman objects to presenting the numbers or that Nate Silver really thinks that everything comes down to the numbers.

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Paul Krugman Leaving Princeton To Be Closer To Zabar’s

Paul Krugman is leaving Princeton next year to join the faculty of the Graduate Center, City University of New York and be near Zabar’s. I don’t blame him. If I was nearer to retirement I might consider moving back towards Ann Arbor to be closer to the academic atmosphere of the University of Michigan Zingerman’s.

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Fake Right Wing Claims Of Losers Under The Affordable Care Act

Last week I looked at the right wing’s inability to present losers under Obamacare. There certainly are some losers in a major overhaul of the healthcare system, however they just don’t help the Republicans with their line of attack. The losers, i.e. people paying more in premiums, are affluent Americans who don’t qualify for subsidies but, as I pointed out in the previous post, we still receive significant improvements in coverage to offset higher premiums which we can afford to pay. The types of people the Republicans portray as losers to gain sympathy for their argument have repeatedly been shown to not be losers under Obamacare once the facts are revealed. Anybody with serious medical problems such as cancer is far better off since the Affordable Care Act was passed, regardless of how the Republicans try to twist the facts.

Paul Krugman revisited this issue today, comparing the false claims of losers under the Affordable Care Act to the right wing claims of non-wealthy people being losers under the “death tax.” Krugman wrote:

I’m not sure whether conservatives realize yet that their Plan A on health reform — wait for Obamacare’s inevitable collapse, and reap the political rewards — isn’t working. But it isn’t. Enrollments have recovered strongly from the law’s disastrous start-up; in California, which had a working website from the beginning, enrollment has already exceeded first-year projections. The mix of people signed up so far is older than planners had hoped, but not enough so to cause big premium hikes, let alone the often-predicted “death spiral.”

And conservatives don’t really have a Plan B — in their world, nobody even dares mention the possibility that health reform might actually prove workable. Still, you can already see some on the right groping toward a new strategy, one that relies on highlighting examples of the terrible harm Obamacare does. There’s only one problem: they haven’t managed to come up with any real examples. Consider several recent ventures on the right:

■ In the official G.O.P. response to the State of the Union address, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers alluded to the case of “Bette in Spokane,” who supposedly lost her good health insurance coverage and was forced to pay nearly $700 more a month in premiums. Local reporters located the real Bette, and found that the story was completely misleading: her original policy provided very little protection, and she could get a much better plan for much less than the claimed cost.

■ In Louisiana, the AstroTurf (fake grass-roots) group Americans for Prosperity — the group appears to be largely financed and controlled by the Koch brothers and other wealthy donors — has been running ads targeting Senator Mary Landrieu. In these ads, we see what appear to be ordinary Louisiana residents receiving notices telling them that their insurance policies have been canceled because of Obamacare. But the people in the ads are, in fact, paid actors, and the scenes they play aren’t re-enactments of real events — they’re “emblematic,” says a spokesman for the group.

■ In Michigan, Americans for Prosperity is running an ad that does feature a real person. But is she telling a real story? In the ad, Julia Boonstra, who is suffering from leukemia, declares that her insurance has been canceled, that the new policy will have unaffordable out-of-pocket costs, and that “If I do not receive my medication, I will die.” But Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post tried to check the facts, and learned that thanks to lower premiums she will almost surely save nearly as much if not more than she will be paying in higher out-of-pocket costs. A spokesman for Americans for Prosperity responded to questions about the numbers with bluster and double-talk — this is about “a real person suffering from blood cancer, not some neat and tidy White House PowerPoint.”

Even supporters of health reform are somewhat surprised by the right’s apparent inability to come up with real cases of hardship. Surely there must be some people somewhere actually being hurt by a reform that affects millions of Americans. Why can’t the right find these people and exploit them?

The most likely answer is that the true losers from Obamacare generally aren’t very sympathetic. For the most part, they’re either very affluent people affected by the special taxes that help finance reform, or at least moderately well-off young men in very good health who can no longer buy cheap, minimalist plans. Neither group would play well in tear-jerker ads.

No, what the right wants are struggling average Americans, preferably women, facing financial devastation from health reform. So those are the tales they’re telling, even though they haven’t been able to come up with any real examples.

Even the healthy young people are able to buy catastrophic insurance policies which, once subsidies are considered, will often cost less then their current minimalist plans.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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White House Postpones Employer Mandate For Medium Sized Employers

Republicans have been trying to blame everything on the Affordable Care Act including long standing health care issues, unemployment, the poor performance of Denver in the Super Bowl, and Justin Beiber’s recent antics. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but to blame Obamacare for any of these problems is untrue. I’ve already discussed the false claims from conservatives that the Congressional Budget Office shows that Obamacare will increase unemployment when it will actually do the reverse and decrease unemployment.

Unemployment is a serious problem but the attempts to tie it to the Affordable Care Act do not hold up. In addition to the information released by the Congressional Budget Office, the argument that employers are not hiring due to the mandate to provide insurance coverage also fails to hold up. The argument fails to take into account the subsidies which will help employers provide the coverage, along with the fact that the employer mandate had not been scheduled to start until 2015. The White House has today announced a further delay in the employer mandate until 2016 for employers with 50 to 99 employees. (The mandate does not affect employers with under 50 employees).

Derek Thompson has more on the myth that Obama has been killing jobs or is responsible for an increase in part-time employment.

Paul Krugman looked more at the unemployed, and how the right wing is impervious to evidence regarding government action.

Steve Benen explains once again what the “insurance trap” means and why freeing people from having to keep their current job to maintain their insurance is a feature, not a bug, of Obamacare. Face it, if the conservatives don’t understand this yet, they are (intentionally) never going to understand.

Update: Sarah Kliff has a good rundown of the additional changes announced today including relaxing the requirements for employees covered by large companies. The most important change is probably that volunteers won’t be counted as full-time employees. There had been some speculation that volunteers such as volunteer firefighters would be covered by the  mandate, making it more expensive to use such volunteers. She also makes the valid point that, as the majority of companies offer insurance, the postponement of the employer mandate won’t affect very many people.

The conservative reaction has been to denounce this as a dictatorial action from Obama. If these people are so concerned about potential abuse of Executive power, where were they during the Bush years when Republicans backed the Unitary Executive theory which would greatly expand the power of the President (or during the Busy years, the Vice President)?

Update II: Two more thoughts on the conservative spin:

Strange that they are complaining so much about a delay in the employer mandate when they have been predicting such dire consequences of the mandate.

The reason much of this, right or wrong, is being done by executive order is that the system is broken. We know whose fault that is. Congress has voted, at last count, 47 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act but the Republicans are not willing to work on fine tuning the law as would normally be done after such a huge law was passed.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Medicaid Is Not The Route To A Single-Payer Plan

Corrente is a far left blog which I generally have little interest in, but there are bound to be times when our interests overlap. Today I must say they are right while Paul Krugman and several other liberal writers/bloggers, who I would generally side with over Corrente, are wrong. Paul Krugman and some other liberal writers have been praising Medicaid expansion as if it is a path towards a single-payer plan. A writer at Corrente counters with a post saying that Paul Krugman is wrong about Medicaid.

The writer describe some of their negative experiences in a Medicaid program and concluded:

This is not the system Krugman imagines. He’s not alone; most Democrats and many people who describe themselves as progressive are celebrating the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare as an extraordinary advance. In terms of coverage, they’re right. In terms of steering the country toward health care equity, they’re wrong. Medicaid patients are too often treated as second-class citizens, and the problem is likely to worsen without the kind of drastic reform I mentioned earlier.

There are at present about 150 million Americans being served by at least a half-dozen single-payer systems. We need to take the most popular of those systems and expand it to provide cradle-to-grave coverage for everyone in the country, and improve it to achieve the health care equity that Americans deserve and that President Obama has described as a basic human right. We need Medicare for all.

Medicaid, as the author acknowledged, varies from state to state and even within different parts of states. Some people will have better or worse experience, but the fact remains that in general Medicaid patients are second-class citizens in the health care system. Access to care does vary, but is far different from the health care experiences of most Americans who have insurance or are covered by Medicare. My office receives quite a few calls each week from both people on Medicaid who do not have physicians and from those who desire to get away from the second-class care they often receive in the clinics which will see them. While better than no coverage, to those who have better coverage Medicaid would represent all the horrors of government run health care which the right has been crying about.

I bet that Krugman, and those who echo his views, would change their minds very quickly if they had to give up their private physicians and obtain all their care through Medicaid clinics.

The blogger at Corrente is also correct that, while Medicare is not perfect, Medicare for all would be a much better model for a single-payer plan. It is far better than Medicaid, while still keeping costs down.

I must conclude by also pointing out that Medicaid expansion is not without benefits. Having Medicaid is still far better than having no coverage, despite misinterpretations being spread by conservatives regarding studies of Medicaid expansion in Oregon. I previously discussed this topic here. When the Affordable Care Act was being considered in Congress while the Democrats technically had sixty votes, there weren’t sixty votes for either a pubic option or even a Medicare buy-in, due to opposition by Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson. With limited money to expand health care coverage, and the impossibility of a single-payer system based on Medicare getting through Congress, Medicaid expansion was an understandable compromise to provide some coverage to the working poor. That does not make it a desirable model for moving to a single-payer plan.

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