Republican Economic Theories Fail In The Real World

Liberal Values is often listed as a libertarian-leaning blog, (or Libertarian Democrat at Wikipedia) and that is certainly true in terms of civil liberties, social issues, and opposition to unjust wars. However I (and other left-libertarians) must differ from libertarian views when it comes to economics. This is both due to concern for the influence of unrestricted corporate, as well as government, power, and because of a respect for the realities of a modern market economy. While we would love to be able to get rid of the rules and pay less (or no) taxes, this just is not realistic.

Conservatives and libertarians often argue that tax cuts will pay for themselves to justify lowering taxes. In rare cases where tax rates are high that can occur, but this has no relevance to our current situation. The Hill reports that the Republican-appointed director of the CBO has verified this:

The director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), who was appointed by GOP lawmakers earlier this year, said Tuesday that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves.

At a press briefing, a reporter asked Keith Hall about that theory.

“No, the evidence is that tax cuts do not pay for themselves,” Hall said. “And our models that we’re doing, our macroeconomic effects, show that.”

Libertarian and conservative economic theory holds that virtually government spending is bad, and is totally oblivious to the multiplier effect of government spending on the economy. Jay Bookman looked further into the CBO report on Obama’s budget proposal:

Yesterday, under Hall’s leadership, the revamped CBO released its analysis of President Obama’s proposed 2016 budget. Here’s what it had to say:

“CBO estimates that, under the President’s proposals, the nation’s real (inflation-adjusted) gross national product (GNP) would be 0.4 percent higher, on average, during the 2016–2020 period, and 1.7 percent higher during the 2021–2025 period, than under current law. After incorporating the proposals’ macroeconomic feedback into the budget, CBO estimates that deficits under the President’s proposals would be $1.4 trillion smaller during the 2016–2025 period than in CBO’s baseline, which is a projection of the paths that federal revenues and spending would take over the next decade if current laws generally remained unchanged.”

You read that correctly. Under the president’s proposals, which include more spending on social programs and infrastructure as well as slightly higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, the country would experience significantly higher growth than under current law, and deficits would be lowered by $1.4 trillion over the next decade. Or so says the conservative-run CBO.

If you want a stronger economy and a lower deficit, Democratic economic plans will beat Republican economic ideas.

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Planned Parenthood Fighting Back Against Republicans

Planned Parenthood is fighting back–launching ads such as the one above against vulnerable Republicans. They are targeting Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) who are expected to be in tough reelection races next year. The ads concentrate on the problems which might be created if there is a government shutdown over funding Planned Parenthood, as some Republicans have threatened:

“First Pat Toomey voted to defund Planned Parenthood — risking healthcare for millions of women,” the Pennsylvania ad says. “Now Republicans want to shut down the government — to block funding for Planned Parenthood. What would a shutdown mean for Pennsylvania?”

The ad then shows a veteran wondering about getting benefits and a senior worrying about Social Security checks.

“Tell Senator Toomey: Stand up for Planned Parenthood healthcare — not a government shutdown,” the ad ends.

The threats to defund Planned Parenthood arose from false attacks on Planned Parenthood, claiming they were selling fetal tissue. The videos spread by anti-abortion groups actually showed negotiations over reimbursement for costs. Payments for collection, preservation, and transportation of biological specimens are customary and legal, and are quite different from selling specimens. The fetal tissue is donated for valuable research which can save lives, as opposed to discarding the tissue.

Defunding Planned Parenthood would also be counterproductive for opponents of abortion as this would lead to a greater number of abortions if women did not have access to contraception and counseling from Planned Parenthood. Both men and women also receive other services, such as cancer screening, from Planned Parenthood.

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Fox Republican Debate Dominated By The Donald

Fox Debate August 2015

Fox brought in a record 24 million viewers for the first Republican debate on Thursday night , and nobody doubts it was because of Donald Trump. CNN explained what this number means:

For perspective, the first GOP primary debate four years ago, also on Fox, attracted 3.2 million viewers.

The most-watched primary debate that year, broadcast by ABC, reached 7.6 million.

Thursday’s debate audience more than tripled that one.

The audience easily exceeded pretty much everything that’s been on American television this year, from the finale of “The Walking Dead” to the final episode of David Letterman’s “Late Show.”

The debate was bigger than all of this year’s NBA Finals and MLB World Series games, and most of the year’s NFL match-ups.

It also trumped Jon Stewart’s Thursday night’s sign-off from “The Daily Show,” which averaged 3.5 million viewers.

Trump is a known ratings magnet. His reality show “The Celebrity Apprentice” used to reach 20 million viewers a week. But it has slipped over the years, averaging 6 to 8 million viewers for recent seasons.

The debate, as well as most of the talk afterwards, was about Donald Trump. They might as well have named it Presidential Apprentice. By the end, many viewers might have been expecting to go to the boardroom to see who Trump would fire. Hint–it might not have been one of the candidates considering what he has been saying about Megyn Kelley and the other Fox correspondents. Among the most crude:

Trump was the center of attention from the start when the very first question was a show of hands  as to “who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person.” Only Donald Trump raised his hand. (Full transcript of the debate can be found here).

Donald Trump did make a great case for campaign finance reform:

I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give.

And do you know what?

When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.

QUESTION: So what did you get?

TRUMP: And that’s a broken system.

QUESTION: What did you get from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?

TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding.

You know why?

She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn’t know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world. It was.

Trump also restated his opposition to the Iraq war but flip-flopped on his previous support for a single payer system. Trump could have been the best candidate in the room if he hadn’t turned into a Tea Party clown.

There were some other moments when Republican candidates deserved credit. This includes Rand Paul criticizing both his fellow Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton for their policies which on sending more arms to middle east:

I’ve been fighting amidst a lot of opposition from both Hillary Clinton, as well as some Republicans who wanted to send arms to the allies of ISIS. ISIS rides around in a billion dollars worth of U.S. Humvees. It’s a disgrace. We’ve got to stop — we shouldn’t fund our enemies, for goodness sakes.

This was followed by John Kasich defending taking funds for the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare:

First of all, Megyn, you should know that — that President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times.

Secondly, I had an opportunity to bring resources back to Ohio to do what?

To treat the mentally ill. Ten thousand of them sit in our prisons. It costs $22,500 a year to keep them in prison. I’d rather get them their medication so they could lead a decent life.

Rand Paul made a another good point when he argued with Chris Christie over NSA surveillance:

The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence, and I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.

Beyond this, we primarily learned from the debates that Republicans hate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Obamacare, and Planned Parenthood.

I am looking forward to seeing Bernie Sanders debate Hillary Clinton on foreign military intervention and suppression of civil liberties. Clinton’s record on these topics does fit well in the GOP mainstream.

I am hesitant to write about winners because we have learned that the winner of a debate is not based upon the debate itself, but the perception of the candidates after people have listened to the talking heads in the days following the debate. This is further complicated with the Republican Party as most of their voters receive their thoughts from Fox. Criticism from the Fox commentators could make Donald Trump look like a loser, but so far he has managed to survive better than the pundits have predicted, and it is not looking like Fox will be successful against him.

From my perspective, which could be quite different from that of Fox, the winners were John Kasich and Marco Rubio. Kasich barely squeaked into the prime time debate, and the two debates did show that Kasich really did deserve to be there more than Rick Perry, who was excluded, possibly by fudging the results of the polls. Kasich and Jeb Bush looked the most stable in the group. Bush already has his position as top contender after Trump, but now Kasich might replace Scott Walker as the leading challenger to Bush and move into the top tier.

I also downgraded Bush for his discussion of his brother’s policies. It wasn’t faulty intelligence which got us in Iraq as he claimed, but his brother twisting the intelligence to justify the war he wanted to start. Jeb! also seemed oblivious to the fact that ISIS and the other problems now occurring in Iraq are due to his brother destabilizing the region. They all seemed oblivious, when talking about the deficit, to the fact that the deficit is a consequence of George W. Bush both fighting the war on credit and cutting taxes on the wealthy.

The other Republican who looked good, if you ignore his actual views, was Marco Rubio. He could make a good candidate in a television-based campaign. The entry of Trump into the race made it hard for candidates like Rubio to get attention, but he did get a shot at being noticed Thursday.

On the other hand, it seemed a battle throughout the evening between Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz to be the most bat-shit candidate on stage, which was impressive considering that Donald Trump was on the same stage. I was edging towards awarding this to Huckabee, with lines such as, “The purpose of the military is kill people and break things,” until Cruz gave his closing statement, and clinched the title:

If I’m elected president, let me tell you about my first day in office. The first thing I intend to do is to rescind every illegal and unconstitutional executive action taken by Barack Obama.

The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these videos and to prosecute Planned Parenthood for any criminal violations.

The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice and the IRS to start (sic) persecuting religious liberty, and then intend to cancel the Iran deal, and finally move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

I will keep my word. My father fled Cuba, and I will fight to defend liberty because my family knows what it’s like to lose it.

In contrast, Huckabee went for the laugh as opposed to Cruz’s tirade:

It seems like this election has been a whole lot about a person who’s very high in the polls, that doesn’t have a clue about how to govern.

A person who has been filled with scandals, and who could not lead, and, of course, I’m talking about Hillary Clinton.

So, in conclusion, Trump wins for continuing to totally dominate the discussion, Kasich and Rubio had smaller victories which might improve their position if the race should return to be about the more conventional candidates, and Cruz edged Huckabee for the scariest Republican in the room. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders must really have felt happy seeing this debate and the caliber of candidate they might come up against in the general election.

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Donald Trump Continues To Threaten To Run As Third Party Candidate

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Last week I pointed out that Donald Trump was refusing to rule out running as a third party candidate. Several days later The Hill  received the same response in another interview:

Donald Trump says the chances that he will launch a third-party White House run will “absolutely” increase if the Republican National Committee is unfair to him during the 2016 primary season.

“The RNC has not been supportive. They were always supportive when I was a contributor. I was their fair-haired boy,” the business mogul told The Hill in a 40-minute interview from his Manhattan office at Trump Tower on Wednesday. “The RNC has been, I think, very foolish.”

Pressed on whether he would run as a third-party candidate if he fails to clinch the GOP nomination, Trump said that “so many people want me to, if I don’t win.”

“I’ll have to see how I’m being treated by the Republicans,” Trump said. “Absolutely, if they’re not fair, that would be a factor.”

Typically primary candidates remain in the race until they drop out of money. Donald Trump differs as he will not run out of money, not being dependent upon contributions from others. He has the ability to remain in the race as long as he desires–including after the conventions are over if he should feel that the RNC has been unfair to him.

While polls continue to show Trump with a lead (which might not last much longer after his comments on John McCain) for the Republican nomination, he is also among the weakest Republican candidates in head to head match ups against Hillary Clinton. A Washington Post/ABC News poll gives a clue as to what it would mean if Trump were to run as a third party candidate:

The survey shows that in a hypothetical three-way race, Clinton is at 46 percent, Bush is at 30 percent and Trump is at 20 percent among registered voters.

Trump takes more support away from Bush than Clinton in such a contest. In a head-to-head matchup, Clinton tops Bush by 50 percent to 44 percent among registered voters.

The current polls suggest that the Republicans will lose if they nominate Trump, or if someone else wins and Trump decides to run as a third party candidate. These numbers can change quite a bit by next November, but in this poll the vast majority of the votes taken by Trump come at the expense of the Republican candidate, and I would expect that pattern to continue. Possibly the magnitude of Trump’s vote will decrease by then, but this suggests there is an excellent chance that he could take at least five to ten points from the GOP candidate, which would probably tip the balance towards the Democrats should the race become closer (as other polls suggest it might be).

The same pattern is likely to also hold should Sanders or someone else manage to beat Clinton for the Democratic nomination, or someone other than Bush be the Republican candidate. It is certainly premature to assume Bush will be the Republican nominee. If he is, the Democratic candidate might not need any help from Trump in winning if Bush keeps taking about phasing out Medicare.

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Factcheck.org Debunks Conservative Smear Campaign Against Planned Parenthood

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The conservative attack on Planned Parenthood follows the pattern we have seen so many times in the past. Groups such as Breitbart put out edited tapes or videos to attack organizations which they disagree with based upon false claims. Now that fact checkers have had time to evaluate the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood, it is becoming clear that this is just one more example, and hardly comes as a surprise considering that most of the conservative reports on the issue which I’ve read quickly degenerate into a tirade against reproductive rights and legitimate scientific research.

Factcheck.org has evaluated the claims, and points out that, “it remains legal to donate tissue from a legally aborted fetus, and for that tissue to be used for research purposes.” They point ethical guidelines on the issue from the American Medical Association: “Fetal tissue is not provided in exchange for financial remuneration above that which is necessary to cover reasonable expenses.”

Reviewing the tapes, Factcheck.org found numerous examples which demonstrate that Planned Parenthood was operating within the law and established ethical guidelines:

Nucatola’s comment, though, isn’t evidence that Planned Parenthood or its affiliates are selling “body parts” or fetal tissue for profit. The full video shows that after Nucatola mentions the $30 to $100, she describes how those amounts would be reimbursement for expenses related to handling and transportation of the tissues. Nucatola talks about “space issues” and whether shipping would be involved…

Nucatola does make one statement in the unedited video that suggests to critics that some clinics would be comfortable with a payment that was slightly more than their expenses for providing the tissue. “I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a nonprofit, they just don’t want to — they want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that,” Nucatola says.

But immediately after this statement, Nucatola goes on to say: “Really their bottom line is, they want to break even. Every penny they save is just pennies they give to another patient. To provide a service the patient wouldn’t get.” Planned Parenthood told us that she may have been referring to more general operations of the clinics.

Nucatola repeatedly talks about affiliates only wanting to provide a service to their patients, who elect to donate the tissue for medical research, and not having that service impact their bottom lines. She says that it’s “not a new revenue stream the affiliates are looking at” and that “nobody should be ‘selling’ tissue. That’s just not the goal here.” She says some affiliates might donate the tissue for free.

Nucatola also discusses Planned Parenthood clinics’ interactions with a tissue procurement company called StemExpress. The company’s website says that partnering with StemExpress can be “financially profitable” for a clinic — a point that some conservativewebsites have singled out. But this also does not constitute evidence that Planned Parenthood is profiting in such a way…

Richards, the Planned Parenthood president, said in a video response to the controversy: “The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true.”

On July 21, the Center for Medical Progress released a second, similar video, again featuring a discussion with a Planned Parenthood official in a restaurant. The numbers mentioned in the edited video are similar to what Nucatola said. The official, Mary Gatter, quotes a rate of $75 per specimen, and says she was thinking of saying $50. The discussion only reaches $100 because the “buyers” in the video mention higher prices. At one point, Gatter says that “we’re not in this for the money,” and later she reiterates that “money is not the important thing.”

Though few studies of costs associated with fetal tissue acquisition are available, existing evidence does suggest the prices named in the video are in line with general practices. The National Institutes of Health conducts research with fetal tissue, and in the late 1990s, the Government Accountability Office (then known as the General Accounting Office) looked into the acquisition of such tissue, finding that the direct cost to researchers was “low.” GAO said payments primarily went to “central tissue suppliers,” as opposed to health clinics. In most cases, GAO found that clinics did not charge researchers, but when they did, the cost ranged from $2 to $75. The report did not address how much clinics might have received from central tissue suppliers, which is more analogous to the situation presented in the video.

PoltiFact has also reviewed the topic.

The New York Times has run an editorial on the subject. After summarizing the issue, the editorial concludes:

Anti-abortion groups have long pushed to defund Planned Parenthood, even though no federal money is used to provide abortions. But that hasn’t stopped their efforts to shut down the clinics, which provide services like contraception, cancer screening and other tests.

The Center for Medical Progress — which managed to get tax-exempt status in 2013 as a biomedicine charity, according to a report by The Huffington Post — appears to have done little beyond producing the undercover video. According to its registration form with the California attorney general, it has three officers: Mr. Daleiden; Albin Rhomberg, who has participated in anti-abortion protests; and Troy Newman, the president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

In a statement last week, Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that “our donation programs — like any other high-quality health care providers — follow all laws and ethical guidelines” and that “Planned Parenthood stands behind our work to help women and families donate tissue for medical research when they wish to.”

Researchers use fetal tissue to study and develop treatments for diseases and conditions like H.I.V., hepatitis, congenital heart defects, retinal degeneration and Parkinson’s. Last year, the National Institutes of Health gave $76 million in grants for fetal tissue research. Planned Parenthood is certainly not the only collector of fetal tissue — clinics associated with universities also supply tissue for research.

The Center for Medical Progress video campaign is a dishonest attempt to make legal, voluntary and potentially lifesaving tissue donations appear nefarious and illegal. Lawmakers responding by promoting their own anti-choice agenda are rewarding deception and putting women’s health and their constitutionally protected rights at risk.

Considering the potential health benefits, research on fetal tissue is the true “pro-life” position.

Update: The Department of Justice plans to investigate this matter.

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The Two Front Runners And Their Vulnerabilities

Graphic shows results of AP-GfK poll on Hillary Clinton; 2c x 5 inches; 96.3 mm x 127 mm;

Going by the polls, there are two apparent front-runners for their party’s nomination, but one has a far more meaningful lead than the other. While I will not totally dismiss the possibility of Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination as I discussed yesterday, it remains far more likley that we will see multiple candidates take leads for a period of time in the Republican race as we saw four years ago. Perhaps we will know when Republicans are truly scared of him when they start to bring up his previous statements, including on abortion rights, health care, and support for how Barack Obama handled the economy.

Hillary Clinton has a more significant lead in the Democratic race, and going by any conventional measures is most likley to win, but she is showing some signs of weakness which no longer make her nomination appear inevitable.

While Clinton retains a significant lead among Democrats, the AP-Gfk poll does show some softening of her support:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s standing is falling among Democrats, and voters view her as less decisive and inspiring than when she launched her presidential campaign just three months ago, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

The survey offers a series of warning signs for the leading Democratic candidate. Most troubling, perhaps, for her prospects are questions about her compassion for average Americans, a quality that fueled President Barack Obama’s two White House victories.

Just 39 percent of all Americans have a favorable view of Clinton, compared to nearly half who say they have a negative opinion of her. That’s an eight-point increase in her unfavorable rating from an AP-GfK poll conducted at the end of April.

The drop in Clinton’s numbers extends into the Democratic Party. Seven in 10 Democrats gave Clinton positive marks, an 11-point drop from the April survey. Nearly a quarter of Democrats now say they see Clinton in an unfavorable light.

“I used to like her, but I don’t trust her,” said Donald Walters of Louisville, Kentucky. “Ever since she’s announced her candidacy for the presidency I just haven’t liked the way she’s handled things. She doesn’t answer questions directly.”

While Clinton’s favorability rating fell, Obama’s stayed constant at 46 percent since April. More than 8 in 10 Democrats have a positive view of the president.

This follows another poll this week from Morning Consult showing even greater problems with trust:

Few voters say they trust former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but a majority say she has a vision for the future of the country, according to a new survey that highlights the challenges ahead for the Democratic front-runner’s campaign.

The Morning Consult poll of 2,019 registered voters shows just 19 percent say Clinton is honest and trustworthy, and only 35 percent say she has the average American’s best interests at heart.

Democrats and liberals are far more likely to credit Clinton with positive attributes, as are Hispanic and African American voters. But just 30 percent of all voters — and only 24 percent of independents — say Clinton “cares about issues important to me.”

Should Clinton win the nomination, trust issues are likely to be a greater factor in the general election. Democrats are quicker than the full electorate to ignore the scandals, and many are not paying attention to the details. Republicans are likley to bring them up far more in the general election, similar to how the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry surfaced prior to his winning the nomination, but the major attacks were held until shortly after the Democratic convention. The scandals involving Hillary Clinton’s email and contributions to the Foundation also threaten to be more damaging as, in contrast to the Swift Boat Liars, the accusations against Clinton are supported by the facts (including newspaper fact-check sites).

Distrust of Hillary Clinton may or may not play a role in the general election considering the significant faults in all the Republican candidates. Charlie Cook also pointed out that one previous candidate won a presidential election despite not being trusted–Bill Clinton:

But after a flurry of unflattering stories regarding her email practices during her tenure at the State Department and questions about possible conflicts of interest with donors to Clinton-related foundations and groups that paid her husband, former President Clinton, speech honoraria, the share of Americans who picked “is honest” dropped from the mid-70s to just 42 percent in the May CNN/ORC poll, with “not honest” jumping from the 20s to 57 percent. The ABC News/Washington Post poll also recorded an honesty drop, albeit a less precipitous one. When asked if Clinton is “honest and trustworthy” in March, Americans were evenly split—46 percent answered yes, 46 percent responded no. By May, those numbers had stretched to 41 percent yes and 52 percent no.

So will these doubts about Hillary Clinton’s trustworthiness cost her the election? There is no doubt that voters want to be able to trust a president, but it should be remembered that Bill Clinton won an election in 1992 with large deficits in the honesty department. Polling by CBS News and The New York Times in April 1992 found that, when asked if Clinton has “more honesty and integrity than most people in public life,” just 16 percent of respondents said yes, while 48 percent answered no. The ABC News/Washington Post poll also reflected concern about Bill Clinton’s integrity. In June, when ABC/Washington Post polled the statement “Clinton is honest,” 39 percent agreed and 49 percent disagreed. In October, the numbers were virtually even, at 31 percent yes, 32 percent no, hardly a rousing endorsement of his integrity, yet he beat the incumbent President George H.W. Bush anyway.

Still it would make sense to chose a candidate who is trusted by the voters going into a general election campaign.

Looking at other factors, Hillary Clinton is doing extremely well with fund raising in terms of dollars brought in but lags behind Sanders with regards to donations from the grass roots:

Of the $47.5 million that Mrs. Clinton has raised, less than one-fifth has come from donations of $200 or less. That is a far smaller proportion than that of her Democratic and Republican rivals who have excited grass-roots donors on the left and right, such as Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Ted Cruz of Texas. While Mr. Sanders raised far less than Mrs. Clinton over all — about $15 million, including money transferred from his Senate account — about four-fifths of that amount came from smaller donors.

Total contributions is probably the more important factor with regards to winning elections, but this gap might also indicate that those who support Clinton in the polls are also less enthusiastic about turning out to vote in primaries and caucuses. Despite the idea that corporations are people, it takes real voters and not corporate donors turning out to win primary elections.

Clinton also got the first major union endorsement, but there has also been grass roots opposition to the recent decision by the American Federation of Teachers to endorse Clinton.

While Clinton has a tremendous lead for the Democratic nomination at this time, she also has significant weaknesses which could still influence the outcome. The contrasting campaign styles of Clinton compared to Sanders and O’Malley, along with other potential candidates entering the race, could impact the opinions of those who now state they support Clinton, largely based upon a combination of name recognition, nostalgia, and gender. The increased disqualification we are seeing with the status quo could lead to unanticipated results.

As I have discussed previously, polls at this stage have very limited predictive value with regards to the ultimate election results. Patrick Egan looked at various polling data and found only one which appears meaningful in predicting election results–presidential approval. While this is based upon a limited number of elections, and other factors certainly could impact the final election results, Obama’s improving popularity in some (but not all) polls should be encouraging for Democrats going into the general election.

Update:  The Clinton campaign is right to be happy with their lead in the polls and the money they brought in. It is also not surprising that they are ignoring the polls showing that people do not trust Clinton and do not care about where the money is coming from or who Clinton is indebted to.

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Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Generating Unexpected Excitement, But For Different Reasons

In this photo taken May 20, 2015, Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., poses for a portrait before an interview with The Associated Press in Washington. For Democrats who had hoped to lure Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren into a presidential campaign, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders might be the next best thing. Sanders, who is opening his official presidential campaign Tuesday in Burlington, Vermont, aims to ignite a grassroots fire among left-leaning Democrats wary of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He is laying out an agenda in step with the party's progressive wing and compatible with Warren's platform _ reining in Wall Street banks, tackling college debt and creating a government-financed infrastructure jobs program. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are generating  greater excitement than anticipated in their party’s nomination battles. Maybe I wrote off Donald Trump’s chances for winning the Republican nomination too quickly in my post on him yesterday. His popularity is increasing dramatically among Republicans:

Donald Trump’s popularity has surged among Republicans after dominating several news cycles with his anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Nearly six in 10 — 57 percent — Republicans now have a favorable view of Trump, compared to 40 percent who have an unfavorable one. That marks a complete reversal from a late-May Post-ABC poll, in which 65 percent of Republicans saw Trump unfavorably.

Trump continues to be unpopular among the public at large, with negative marks outpacing positive ones 61-33. “Strongly unfavorable” views outnumber strongly positive ratings by a 3-1 ratio.

I initially figured that Trump’s recent lead among Republicans was due to name recognition, but he was just as well known before he entered the race. The difference between current polls and May appears to be more from his actual actions between now and then. Never underestimate the ability of racism and xenophobia to energize Republican voters.

Some in the media have been comparing the support received by Donald Trump among Republicans to the support received by Bernie Sanders among Democrats. This makes a simplistic story line for the press, but is misleading. Donald Trump is surging because he is saying what the Republican voters believe deep down. Republicans have been using the southern strategy to drive support, but generally avoid being as blatantly racist as Trump. In contrast, Bernie Sanders is receiving his support from liberals who are dissatisfied with the Democratic establishment and the conservative policies supported by Hillary Clinton.

So far Clinton has benefited from name recognition, gender, and nostalgia, but few are paying close attention to the issues. I doubt that most Democratic voters even realize how conservative Clinton has been on issues including foreign policy, civil liberties, and social issues, along with the economic issues which have so far framed this campaign. If Sander, or another challenger from the left, is to succeed against Clinton, they will have to demonstrate how different their views really are. I am hoping that such contrasts will come out in the debates, and disappointed that there will be so few.

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Two Liberal Decisions From A Conservative Court

Rainbow White House

It has been a good week for liberal decisions form a conservative court. Yesterday, as I was certain they would, they threw out the absurd case against the Affordable Care Act. I’m not sure that this really changes anything. Conservatives will continue to complain about the law, but lack any effective way to repeal it, and certainly have no alternative.

The case made no sense and if Roberts had wanted to destroy Obamacare he would have done so when they ruled on the individual mandate. In this case it isn’t so much that the Supreme Court has become more liberal, but that the Supreme Court is not willing to go along with every ridiculous case brought by conservatives. Earlier in the week, The New York Times showed that the court has made more liberal decisions this year. Brendan Nyhan followed this up discussing a reason why the court might appear more liberal when it is not:

In a 2009 article, the political scientists Kevin T. McGuire, Georg Vanberg, Charles E. Smith Jr. and Gregory A. Caldeira proposed a theory that provides an alternate explanation to liberal drift. They predicted that conservatives would press their luck to take advantage when they had a majority on the court, appealing more cases they lost in lower courts. (Conversely, liberals would be less likely to appeal cases because they were more likely to prefer lower-court decisions and to fear creating damaging precedents.) Mr. McGuire and his co-authors then showed empirically that this process increased the number of conservative reversals of lower-court rulings but also increased the number of cases in which a more liberal ruling was affirmed because litigants guessed wrong about how far the court was willing to go.

Their prediction seems to fit nicely with recent evidence. The court has reversed lower-court decisions and decided in favor of conservatives on high-profile cases concerning issues like campaign finance and voting rights. But Justice Kennedy and/or Chief Justice Roberts have joined the liberal wing to affirm more liberal lower-court rulings in cases like today’s decisions on health care and housing.

The case also did show a degree of sanity on the court in deciding against an argument which only bat-shit crazy conservatives(such as George Will) could accept. It also demonstrated that at least one justice was persuadable as it takes four justices to accept a case, and only three stuck with this argument in the end.

The decision in favor of same-sex marriage was also predictable but is far more significant. It really does change the status quo for those living in states where same-sex marriage has remained illegal. Andrew Sullivan returned to blogging to describe what this meant to him:

We are not disordered or sick or defective or evil – at least no more than our fellow humans in this vale of tears. We are born into family; we love; we marry; we take care of our children; we die. No civil institution is related to these deep human experiences more than civil marriage and the exclusion of gay people from this institution was a statement of our core inferiority not just as citizens but as human beings. It took courage to embrace this fact the way the Supreme Court did today…

I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation – and every one before mine – lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never be fully a citizen of their own country. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people’s lives for so long. And I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day, who died in the ashes from which this phoenix of a movement emerged. This momentous achievement is their victory too – for marriage, as Kennedy argued, endures past death.

This case also shows how the Republican Party has moved to the right while the nation has become more liberal on social issues. Compare the views of the Roberts Court with this year’s presidential candidates which are summarized at BuzzFeed. In 2004 Republicans successfully used proposals to ban same sex marriage to turn out the vote in their favor. While opposition might help some candidates in Republican primaries, it will also hurt them in the general election.

In 2013 I had posted a prediction from George Clooney which is far closer to coming true:

 

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Republicans and Denial of Racism

It comes as little surprise that Dylaan Roof, the shooter in Charleston, had posted a racist manifesto and pictures with other racist symbols:

Dylann Roof spat on and burned the American flag, but waved the Confederate.

He posed for pictures wearing a No. 88 T-shirt, had 88 Facebook friends and wrote that number — white supremacist code for “Heil Hitler”— in the South Carolina sand.

A website discovered Saturday appears to offer the first serious look at Mr. Roof’s thinking, including how the case of Trayvon Martin, the black Florida teenager shot to death in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, triggered his racist rage. The site shows a stash of 60 photographs of Mr. Roof, many at Confederate heritage sites or slavery museums, and includes a racist manifesto in which the author criticized blacks as being inferior while lamenting the cowardice of white flight.

“I have no choice,” it reads. “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

This comes as many  Republicans, such as Jeb Bush, have been trying to downplay or ignore the racism underlying the shootings.

It has become quite common the last few years to see conservatives write articles denying the racism which is endemic in the GOP, and how Republicans have used racism and xenophobia as a major part of their strategy. While there have been some exceptions with Republicans admitting use of the Southern Strategy, in general conservatives try hard to stay on message. This denial of racism in other contexts now has them reflexively denying racism even in a situation such as this. (Hat top to The Sensible Center for the last link).

Update: Leader of Racist Group Which Radicalized Dylann Roof Contributed To Republicans

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Hillary Clinton Is Correct On Voting Rights But Cannot Get Away With Cherry Picking Her Fights Forever

Clinton Voting Rights

Sometimes the Clintons are masterful politicians. Staking out a strong position in favor of protection of voting rights was an excellent move by Hillary Clinton for many reasons. It contrasts her with her Republican opponents on the right–as opposed to where she is weak on the issues against her Democratic opponents on the left. It helps expose the Republicans who oppose her as opposing voting rights, leaving them with weak arguments such as raising claims of virtually non-existent voting fraud. Republicans are not in a good position when they whine that allowing more people to vote will mean more people will vote for Democrats. Unlike many liberal positions which go against the grain of Clinton’s cultural conservatism, this is an issue where she undoubtedly does feel comfortable taking the liberal side, as it is not only the right position, but the one which helps her in the election.

This very likely will be Clinton’s strategy. Take liberal positions which will receive popular support (but avoid taking questions so she still has plenty of wiggle room to move to the right), stay quiet on other controversial issues, and stonewall on her personal strategies.

It remains questionable as to how long this will work. She certainly should manage to continue to find some liberal positions to try to shore up Democratic support, even if she leaves some liberals unsatisfied in the cases where she leaves out all important specifics and refuses to answer questions. At this early stage she might get away with avoiding talk about issues where she is to the right of the Democratic Party, from trade to NSA surveillance, but sooner or later voters might start to wonder why she is keeping quiet on so many issues.

The biggest problem might turn out to be the major ethical violations which she refuses to honestly answer questions about. Initially the conventional wisdom was that people already had their minds made up about the Clintons and a couple more scandal wouldn’t matter. That was until the latest polls, showing Clinton losing leads over the top Republican candidates, and falling tremendously on measures such as favorability and honesty. As long as Clinton remains unable to provide any honest answers the scandals will probably continue to hurt her. Some old Clinton hands, along with groups such as Media Matters which are closely aligned with the Clinton campaign. will continue to spin and distort the facts in her favor, but there might be a growing number who abandon her in favor of the truth. For example, when ABC News asked Robert Reich about the latest polls his response was not at all supportive:

The number of people, according to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, who see Hillary Clinton as trustworthy has dropped in recent months. Why do you think this is?

RR: She hasn’t yet given a convincing explanation for why she used a private email account when she was secretary of state, and why she and her husband have made so many speeches for hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop from special interests that presumably want something in return. In other words, she needs to be more open and transparent about everything.

Yes. about everything. But that is never how Hillary Clinton has operated, showing a long history of opposition to both personal and government transparency.

While I disagree with much of what Megan McArdle wrote (especially her mischaracterization of Martin O’Malley’s record), she very will might be right that Clinton Support Has Nowhere to Go But Down. Clinton might  improve in the polls from time to time, but she is looking like a progressively weaker candidate for a general election campaign. Fred Barnes is also right that “Stonewalls can work, but not forever and not in the midst of a presidential campaign. A minimal requirement of candidates is that they converse with the press. It looks bad when they don’t. It looks like they’re hiding something.”

The sad thing is that, while Clinton takes the high road on voting rights, her overall conduct leaves her so wide upon to such valid criticism from the right. She is going to have to do better for Democrats to avoid a repeat of 2014 when running Republican-lite candidates led to Democratic voters staying home.

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