Republicans, White Working Class Voters, And Race

White working class males present a particular frustration for Democratic strategists. Most independent economists agree that Republican economic policies have increasingly led to redistribution of  wealth to the ultra-wealthy at the expense of the middle class yet Republicans obtain the majority of votes from low-information white voters who are hurt the most by Republican policies.  Last week I looked at attempts by Democrats to regain the votes of white males. This is hindered by low-information voters being misled by Republican misinformation (while better educated white male voters are more likely to vote Democratic). Many vote contrary to their economic self-interest based upon social issues. This is all reinforced by the Republican southern strategy which enhances economic insecurity by playing on racial fears.

Thomas B. Edsall has an op-ed in The New York Times on How Democrats Can Compete for the White Working Class. His analysis actually leaves many reasons for Democrats to remain gloomy about these prospects. He began with some differences in attitudes between these less-educated white voters and the general population in surveys conducted by Democracy Corps:

Democracy Corps found that less well-educated whites agree, by a huge 46.2 percentage point margin, with the statement “When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful.” This is 11.6 points more than all voters.

Similarly, the general public agrees that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves” by a 19.5 percentage point margin, while whites who did not go to college agree by half that.

He also cited a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute from September 2012 entitled “Beyond Guns and God: Understanding the Complexities of the White Working Class in America.” This also showed that working class whites tend to be more conservative on social issues but also that this was far more the case in the south. Grouping these numbers nationally made these voters appear more conservative on social issues than is actually the case:

…while working-class whites in the South opposed same-sex marriage by 61-32 in the P.R.R.I. survey, in the Northeast they favored it 57-37; in the West they were split 47-45; and in the Midwest they were modestly opposed, 44-49. In the case of abortion, majorities of non-college whites outside of the South believe the practice should be legal, while those in the South were opposed 54-42.

In general, the findings of the P.R.R.I. study suggest that outside the South, Democrats should be able to make significant inroads among working-class whites – and, in fact, they have. In 2008, when Obama was losing nationally by 18 points among noncollege whites, in Michigan he carried these voters 52-46; in Illinois, 53-46; and in Connecticut, 51-47.

There remains another huge stumbling block to Democrats winning these white votes–race:

The P.R.R.I. study did point to one Democratic stumbling block: affirmative action and “reverse discrimination.”

Three out of five working-class whites believe “that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.” This view is strongest in the South, at 69 percent, but it is the majority conviction of working-class whites in all regions of the country, where it is never lower than 55 percent.

In another key measure of white working-class racial resentment, the P.R.R.I. survey found that by a margin of three percentage points, the white working class agreed “that the government has paid too much attention to the problems of minorities.” White noncollege voters were split down the middle on this issue in the Northeast and Midwest. In the South, 58 percent agreed.

Thirty years ago, in the aftermath of the 1984 presidential election in which Ronald Reagan crushed Walter Mondale, Democrats were deeply alarmed over the defection of blue-collar voters.

Stan Greenberg, the Democratic pollster, conducted focus groups in 1985 in the white working-class suburbs of Detroit and found that “these white Democratic defectors express a profound distaste for blacks, a sentiment that pervades almost everything they think about government and politics.”

The perception of reverse discrimination was an even more acute source of anger: “The special status of blacks is perceived by almost all these individuals as a serious obstacle to their personal advancement. Indeed, discrimination against whites has become a well-assimilated and ready explanation for their status, vulnerability and failures.”

A separate study that year, financed by the Democratic National Committee, found that white working-class voters were convinced that “the Democratic Party has not stood with them as they moved from the working to the middle class. They have a whole set of middle-class economic problems today, and their party is not helping them. Instead, it is helping the blacks, Hispanics and the poor. They feel betrayed.”

While these attitudes are stronger in the south, I fear that Democrats will continue to face serious obstacles to attracting white low-information voters in other regions. That does not mean I disagree with Democratic attempts to  try to pick up votes. There are white working class voters who are less conservative and less motivated by race than those in the south and some might be convinced to vote more along economic interests. Even if Democrats continue to win a minority of these voters, increasing their share could still add to Democratic margins.

This strategy has also begun to backfire against Republicans nationally. The realization that Republicans have based their electoral strategy to such a considerable degree on stroking racial fears has been one reason why they have been so unsuccessful in obtaining Jewish votes, and why Republican use of racial fears on immigration issues is hurting their long term prospects due to the loss of Latino voters.

Among other measures, Democrats have attempted to improve the economic conditions of millions of workers by pushing for an increase in the minimum wage. Now Obama has escalated this with an executive order which will provide overtime pay to millions of Americans who have been denied this:

President Obama this week will seek to force American businesses to pay more overtime to millions of workers, the latest move by his administration to confront corporations that have had soaring profits even as wages have stagnated.

On Thursday, the president will direct the Labor Department to revamp its regulations to require overtime pay for several million additional fast-food managers, loan officers, computer technicians and others whom many businesses currently classify as “executive or professional” employees to avoid paying them overtime, according to White House officials briefed on the announcement.

Mr. Obama’s decision to use his executive authority to change the nation’s overtime rules is likely to be seen as a challenge to Republicans in Congress, who have already blocked most of the president’s economic agenda and have said they intend to fight his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25…

Under the new rules that Mr. Obama is seeking, fewer salaried employees could be blocked from receiving overtime, a move that would potentially shift billions of dollars’ worth of corporate income into the pockets of workers. Currently, employers are prohibited from denying time-and-a-half overtime pay to any salaried worker who makes less than $455 per week. Mr. Obama’s directive would significantly increase that salary level.

In addition, Mr. Obama will try to change rules that allow employers to define which workers are exempt from receiving overtime based on the kind of work they perform. Under current rules, if an employer declares that an employee’s primary responsibility is executive, such as overseeing a cleanup crew, then that worker can be exempted from overtime.

White House officials said those rules were sometimes abused by employers in an attempt to avoid paying overtime. The new rules could require that employees perform a minimum percentage of “executive” work before they can be exempted from qualifying for overtime pay.

“Under current rules, it literally means that you can spend 95 percent of the time sweeping floors and stocking shelves, and if you’re responsible for supervising people 5 percent of the time, you can then be considered executive and be exempt,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research organization in Washington.

Conservatives are likely to protest the use of an executive order here, ignoring the fact that Obama is just reversing a previous executive order by George W. Bush in 2004. Think Progress has more on the economic effects of this executive order. Jared Bernstein, former executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, also predicts that “a potential side effect is that you may see more hiring in order to avoid overtime costs, which would be an awfully good thing right about now.”

The question remains whether low-information white working class voters will realize that they are benefiting from such policy differences between the parties or whether they will continue to fall for right wing talking points on the economy, and allow the Republicans to continue to scare them with the prospect of blacks and immigrants challenging them for jobs.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Are Many Conservatives Really Liberals?

Liberal or conservative, opposite signs

Polls have generally showed self-identified conservatives outnumbering liberals, with a recent slight increase in the number of liberals. I have often speculated that this is largely due to the success the right wing noise machine has had in demonizing the word liberal. Americans come out more liberal than would be expected by these poll findings when we look at individual issues.

While the pendulum swings both ways, the trend has been toward more liberal policies over the years. Most people wouldn’t think of returning to the days of child labor. Medicare and Social Security are deeply entrenched, to the point that even when Republicans vote for ending Medicare as we know it they realize they have to hide what they are doing. Recent polls show increases in the number of people who support legalization of same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana. A majority even supports the individual components of Obamacare when asked without identifying the policy as Obamacare.

John Sides reviewed a recent book to argue that many conservatives are really liberals:

In Ideology in America, Christopher Ellis and James Stimson describe a striking disjuncture. When identifying themselves in a word, Americans choose “conservative” far more than “liberal.” In fact they have done so for 70 years, and increasingly so since the early 1960s.

But when it comes to saying what the government should actually do, the public appears more liberal than conservative. Ellis and Stimson gathered 7,000 survey questions dating back to 1956 that asked some variant of whether the government should do more, less, or the same in lots of different policy areas.  On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down.  For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government).

Looked at this way, almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics.  Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics.  Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views.  The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.

This raises the question: why are so many people identifying as conservative while simultaneously preferring more government?  For some conservatives, it is because they associate the label with religion, culture or lifestyle.  In essence, when they identify as “conservative,” they are thinking about conservatism in terms of family structure, raising children, or interpreting the Bible. Conservatism is about their personal lives, not their politics.

But other self-identified conservatives, though, are conservative in terms of neither religion and culture nor the size of government.  These are the truly “conflicted conservatives,” say Ellis and Stimson, who locate their origins in a different factor: how conservatives and liberals have traditionally talked about politics.  Conservatives, they argue, talk about politics in terms of symbols and the general value of “conservatism” — and news coverage, they find, usually frames the label “conservative” in positive terms.  Liberals talk about policy in terms of the goals it will serve — a cleaner environment, a stronger safety net, and so on — which are also good things for many people.  As a result, some people internalize both messages and end up calling themselves conservative but having liberal views on policy.

Ideology has two faces: the labels people choose and the actual content of their beliefs.  For liberals, these are mostly aligned.  For conservatives, they are not.  American conservatism means different things to different people.  For many, what it doesn’t mean is less government.

This idea that nearly 30 percent of self-identified conservative are really liberals would explain the increased support for liberal positions despite a majority identifying themselves as conservatives.

There are some limitations to this, largely due to problems with these labels. It seems to use a simplistic definition of liberals as being for more government and conservatives being for less, but that does not really explain the differences. There are many areas where I am for less government. There is nowhere that I support more government for the sake of more government.

I supported the Affordable Care Act because financing of health care is an area where the market has failed, as insurance companies found it more profitable to find ways to collect increased premiums while finding ways to avoid paying out claims. Conservatives opposed the Affordable Care Act based upon greatly-exaggerated arguments that it is more government (ignoring its similarities to health plans previously advocated by conservatives). Republicans widely supported an individual mandate to buy health insurance until this became part of the plan supported by Barack Obama (who ran against Hillary Clinton opposing the individual mandate). Similarly, conservatives previously supported ideas comparable to the health care exchanges.

On the other hand, conservatives support more big government when it comes to military spending, mandatory vaginal probes, and other intrusions into the private lives of individuals. Even Ron Paul, who voted no on virtually any spending by the federal government, would allow for far greater government restrictions on individual liberties if it came from the state or local level.

Republicans in office generally perform different than their rhetoric would, with big increases in the size of government under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. This has been described as being “ideologically conservative, but operationally liberal.” If we just go by their effects on the size of government, Reagan and Bush were the liberals while Barack Obama has been the most conservative president since Dwight Eisenhower. Part of this is because Republican rhetoric is incompatible with actually governing, leading Reagan and Bush to promote far more government spending than would be expected by their rhetoric. Many conservatives realize they didn’t get what they wanted from Bush, but continue to buy the myth of Ronald Reagan as a supporter of small government.

Another problem is a concentration on economic issues and the size of government, as misleading as those issues can be in assigning labels. How would they classify someone who wants to ban abortion, limit access to contraception, opposes same-sex marriage, and supports everyone carrying a concealed weapon, but doesn’t follow the entire Republican line on economic policy? I bet a lot of self-identified conservatives would have no real opposition to a modest tax increase on the wealthy and increasing some government economic regulations (especially if they don’t affect them personally) while holding a number of other conservative positions.

Today many are self-identified conservatives based upon social issues. This didn’t always identify conservatism. Barry Goldwater was a strong opponent of the religious right. He sure called it right in 1994:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

Or maybe they just like being members of the club.  They like to listen to people like Glenn Beck and agree with what they say. However Beck has previously described himself as “a rodeo clown” and conceded, “If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.”

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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The Past Week In Conservative Stupidity

Over a year ago Bobby Jindal warned that Republicans “must stop being the stupid party.” They have not been doing particularly well at following his advice. To extrapolate this to the conservative movement, this week provided two more examples of what can only be labeled as stupidity dominating conservative conversation–the intentional misinterpretation of the Congressional Budget Office report on the Affordable Care Act and reaction to Olympic coverage from Russia.

This is not to say that all conservatives believe these things or are stupid. However, the prevalence of stupidity does seem to have increased tremendously in the conservative movement and Republican Party in recent years. Even ignoring the easy targets such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, the caliber of conservative discourse generally seen today is far different from what came from past conservatives such as William F. Buckely, Jr., who also fought to keep the Birchers and other predecessors of today’s Tea Party out of the GOP. Barry Goldwater might have many views which liberals find objectionable, but he also warned about what would happen if the religious right took control of the Republican Party. Even Ronald Reagan was not so foolish as to oppose any tax increase or to prevent increases in the debt ceiling to allow the Unites States to honor its debts.

It is understandable that some conservatives might have been misled by the initial headlines on the report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Many journalists, overly influenced by conservative arguments and lacking adequate understanding of health care policy, initially were inaccurate in their coverage. Once the report was more fully evaluated, it was clear that the CBO report actually showed that there is no evidence of an increase in unemployment due to the Affordable Care Act as Republicans had been predicting would occur.  Instead the portions of the report on employment showed that Obamacare was projected to be successful in one of its goals--saving people from the “insurance trap.”

Until the Affordable Care Act came into effect many people continued in jobs they did not want because they would be unable to obtain health insurance if they left their current job. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance is no longer tied to employment. Now people are free to retire at an earlier age if they desire, instead of waiting until age 65 when they qualify for Medicare. They are also free to leave large corporations to work for small businesses, or perhaps even start a business of their own. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct. This can help boost the economy.

While an initial mistake regarding this might have been unintentional, there has subsequently been many corrections. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post,  corrected errors in reporting in writing, “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs”.  Kessler concluded with saying, “we award Three Pinocchios to anyone who deliberately gets this wrong.” Factcheck.org also corrected the misconceptions.

As some people leave jobs they no longer want or need, their jobs can open up for others. In testimony before the House Budget Committee, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf confirmed that the CBO report suggests the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment. Even Paul Ryan corrected fellow Republicans on this point. Besides reducing unemployment, the CBO report showed that, while Republicans had been demanding an end to the risk corridors in order to agree to an increase in the debt limit, the risk corridors actually wind up saving the government eight billion dollars. The CBO projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is down from 2009 when deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP, and more in line with the average size of the deficit compared to GDP over the past forty years.

Conservatives are rarely willing to give up on their criticism of the Affordable Care Act even when contradicted by the facts. They continue to repeat fallacious arguments about death panels or their false claim that Obamacare constitutes a government takeover of health care. Finding that those who received cancellation notices from insurance companies generally received better coverage at a lower price under the Affordable Care Act did not end their claims of people supposedly losing their insurance under Obamacare.

Conservatives remain unwilling to give up the argument about people leaving their jobs, spinning it to suggest that the Affordable Care Act encourages people to be lazy parasites on society instead of working, ignoring the actual types of people this is likely to affect. Conservatives have been presenting “horror stories” of people allegedly harmed by the Affordable Care Act which typically turn out to be untrue once the details are examined. Finally we are seeing newspaper reports emphasizing the positive aspect of freeing people from the “insurance trap.”

While conservative columnists such as Ross Douthat fear that Obamacare will lead to a “strong work disincentive while looking at a population of childless, able-bodied, mostly working-class adults,” these are not the type of people I am seeing as benefiting by freedom from the “insurance trap.” If the health care debate is turning into one of anecdotal cases, I’m thinking of an affluent friend who, because of health history, cannot obtain insurance on the individual market so his wife has been working full time in a job purely for the health insurance, even though they have no need for the income beyond the benefits. I have a patient who was left without insurance when her husband retired in his early sixties and then struggled to pay her medical bills. As of January she finally has comprehensive coverage she can afford. These are the types of people who are benefiting from the supposed disincentive to work under Obamacare.

In theory there is a risk that “able-bodied, mostly working-class adults” might have less incentive to work, but I hardly think that providing affordable health care is enough to do this on a widespread level. Far more able-bodied adults are not working because jobs are not available. Besides making more jobs available, the Affordable Care Act can help relieve this problem in another way. In addition to freeing people to retire in their early sixties or leave jobs held solely for the insurance, people will be able to start small businesses without losing health insurance. In Republican-speak, this should also be beneficial to the economy due to making more “job creators.” The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct, and to a greater degree than previously projected.

Conservatives were wrong about this argument, and now appear stupid, and dishonest, when they continue to repeat the same mistakes. I spent more space on this first example than intended, but in retrospect this is an important point which deserves repeated explanations as long as conservatives are claiming that this positive aspect of the Affordable Care Act is somehow undesirable.

The second example is bizarre outrage from the right wing over the video below which comes from NBC’s coverage of the Olympic games:

Their objection is to this line: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.”

This is being spun by right wing bloggers as praise for Communism, including by FoxMarco Rubio, along with other conservatives commenting, does not appear to understand what pivotal means. The word refers to points which are critical or vitally important. The Russian Revolution was a pivotal point in their history, along with the history of the world. Similarly, Hitler’s rise to power was a pivotal moment. Both 9/11 and Katrina were pivotal moments during the Bush years.  The computer problems during the first month of the exchanges has unfortunately become a pivotal moment for the Obama administration. The word pivotal says nothing about whether the events were good or bad.

This was one line in a video narrated by Peter Dinklage as introduction to NBC’s sports coverage of the Olympics. If this was a political documentary we would expect information on the horrors of communism. This is unnecessary, and probably out of place, in sports coverage, especially if they desire to be polite and avoid criticism of the host country over a political system which has been overthrown (even if the current regime is repeating many of the same mistakes as under Communism).

I suspect this is outrage is partially motivated by the desire of conservatives to falsely paint liberals as socialists or Communists, such as with the absurd claims that a moderate such as Barack Obama is a socialist. To the conservative mind, the mainstream media represents liberals, especially when they fail to differentiate the evening commentary shows on MSNBC from the rest of NBC. There are rare examples, such as the absurd argument I noted a couple of weeks ago at Salon to nationalize the news media, but putting aside such outliers, there no meaningful interest in Marxist-style socialism or Communism on the left. In contrast, I would think that today’s Republicans would love modern Russia. Between its homophobia and substitution of a plutocracy for a working market economy, Russia has become an example of the end-result of the Republican platform.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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The 2014 State Of The Union Address

Boehner SOTU

The State of the Union address (transcript here) was rather modest, considering the limitations Obama faces in dealing with Congressional Republicans who have had the policy of opposing Obama’s agenda on political grounds since the day he took office. The few policy proposals had already been released, such as an executive order regarding the minimum wage at companies receiving government contacts. There were a few moments during the speech worth noting. He began with what was basically a defense of his record on the economy:

The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits – cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.

That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.

Of course, in what is essentially a disproof of trickle-down economics, he recognized that problems remain:

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.

This sure makes the right wing claims that Obama is a socialist sound ridiculous. Plus there is his support for small business:

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America. Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other.

While it may or may not be wise, I always wish that Democrats would do more to directly take on the absurd positions held by many Republicans. Unfortunately I’m not sure that showing Republican denial of science would be politically successful in a country with such vast scientific illiteracy. At least we did get this:

But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.

He is right about climate change, but the debate is only settled in terms of the scientific knowledge. Climate change is a fact. So is evolution. And the earth is round. Try to convince the Republicans.

Obama also defended his record on health care:

Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans.

More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.

And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.

Obama said little about the problems caused by Republican obstructionism, but did mention the “forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.” I believe the exact number is forty-seven votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Among the lines which got the most attention of the night, when discussing equal pay for equal work:

It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.

The official Republican response was rather empty, and there were also two Tea Party responses. The bulk of the opposition I saw to Obama on line (and in an op-ed by Ted Cruz)  has been to the use of executive orders, ignoring how much fewer he has used than his predecessors. Where were all the conservatives now complaining about Executive power during the Bush years, when Bush went far further than Obama is contemplating?  I doubt their complaints will receive much sympathy from swing voters (the few who exist). As I pointed out recently, voters are realizing that the Republicans are responsible for gridlock, even if the media often overlooks this in their efforts at appearing objective by treating both parties equally when they are not mirror images of each other.

sotu_ideology2

All in all, the address was liberal but hardly ground-breaking. The Monkey Cage has compared every SOTU address since 1986 based upon ideology. This year’s speech was placed around the middle of previous addresses from Obama and Bill Clinton. What I really found interesting about this chart was how far the Republicans moved to the right under Bush. State of the Union addresses are hardly an exact measurement of the ideology of a president, but it is interesting that Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush are far closer to the two Democratic presidents compared to George W. Bush. George W. Bush Started out comparable to the previous Republican presidents in his first speech, then moved significantly to the right. Maybe this was the result of 9/11.

If nothing else, I was happy that it wasn’t Mitt Romney giving the speech. I’m imagining Mitt Romney spending the evening going up and down in his car elevator. I couldn’t resist staring with the above picture which captures John Boehner, even if he isn’t orange enough. I did feel that his green tie did clash with his orange face.

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Conservative Projection

Conservatives often project their failings onto other groups. Here is a classic example of conservative projection. The Republican Party has driven out not only its moderates, but it’s less extreme conservatives. Even Ronald Reagan would be too “liberal” these days, supporting tax increases and supporting increases in the debt limit without question. Barry Goldwater would be seen as a flaming liberal with his attacks on the religious right. In contrast, the Democratic Party ranges from conservatives to liberals (most generally barely left of center by international standards). Michael Goodwin claims at the far-right New York Post that it is the Democratic Party which has driven out its moderates.

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Rand Paul’s Use Of Misinformation Dates Back To Med School

It is looking like looking back at their behavior in school can provide important insights on Republican leaders. During the last presidential campaign we learned that Mitt Romney was a bully and a homophobe while a student at Cranbrook. Rand Paul, who, like Mitt Romney, regularly makes up facts to support his position, showed that he understood how to use misinformation while in medical school.  National Journal found that Paul even admitted it:

Rand Paul was talking with University of Louisville medical students when one of them tossed him a softball. “The majority of med students here today have a comprehensive exam tomorrow. I’m just wondering if you have any last-minute advice.”

“Actually, I do,” said the ophthalmologist-turned-senator, who stays sharp (and keeps his license) by doing pro bono eye surgeries during congressional breaks. “I never, ever cheated. I don’t condone cheating. But I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important.”

He went on to describe studying for a pathology test with friends in the library. “We spread the rumor that we knew what was on the test and it was definitely going to be all about the liver,” he said. “We tried to trick all of our competing students into over-studying for the liver” and not studying much else.

“So, that’s my advice,” he concluded. “Misinformation works.”

That was a perfect lead-in for an article on the misinformation Rand Paul continues to spread:

“Under Obamacare and the current evolution of things, we have 18,000 diagnostic codes. We’re going to 144,000 diagnostic codes,” Paul told them. It wasn’t the first time he had implied that the number of codes—complete with seemingly absurd categories for injuries from macaws, lampposts, and burning water skis—was exploding as a result of the Affordable Care Act. But fact-checkers across the spectrum, from the conservative website The Blaze to USA Today to the liberal site Think Progress, had thoroughly debunked that notion months earlier. As Paul must know, the new diagnostic codes were approved by the Bush administration and have nothing to do with Obamacare.

Later in the article:

But then, there are the half-truths, cherry-picked factoids, and outright errors that Paul seems steadfastly unwilling to relinquish.

Take health care. Although he’s a doctor, Paul repeatedly misrepresents aspects of the Affordable Care Act. For example, all of those crazy-sounding new billing codes he implies are the spawn of Obamacare were in fact released by the World Health Organization 20 years ago and, as The Blaze reported, approved by the Bush administration in 2008, scheduled for 2011, delayed until 2013, and then delayed again until late 2014, so they’ll finally take effect the same year as most of the ACA.

In discussing the expenses the law will impose on consumers, Paul rarely mentions the subsidies many people will receive, and he sometimes says a single person making $30,000 a year will have to pay $15,000 a year in premiums. The government is going to require somebody to pay 50 percent of their income for health insurance? “It depends on circumstances,” Paul replies. “I can’t tell you where the cutoff is for single without kids. But I think there will be people who are single without kids who don’t get subsidies who will struggle to pay $15,000 for insurance.” PolitiFact labeled that assertion “especially off the mark.” Citing available facts, PolitiFact said such a person would pay at most about $3,000 and could pay far less due to the law’s caps, subsidies, and bare-bones coverage options.

The Louisville med students were worried and curious about Obamacare, which could greatly affect their future. “I will continue to fight to make it less bad, at the very least,” Paul told them. It sounded like he wanted to fix or improve the law. Later, away from those students, asked how he would improve the law, he told National Journal he would try to delay and defund as much of it as possible in hopes of eventually getting rid of it entirely, because “the whole thing is rotten.”

Paul’s logic in justifying the GOP drive to kill Obamacare is dicey, too. He says that while the president won reelection by “a small majority” in 2012, “a majority of the people believe Republicans should be in charge of the House” and therefore don’t want something like the law that was passed solely by Democrats. Obama won last year by nearly 5 million votes. Some people might consider that a small majority. But while Republicans won a majority of House districts, it’s not accurate to say a “majority of the people” wanted a GOP House. Democrats won the House popular vote by more than 1.7 million votes nationwide, the Federal Election Commission reported in July.

On another front, Paul routinely exaggerates the size of the annual federal deficit, pegging it at $1 trillion. In fact, the deficit for fiscal 2013 fell to an estimated $642 billion, heading toward $378 billion in two years, according to a Congressional Budget Office report in May.

Paul, like most Republicans, is also dishonest in blaming the size of the deficit on Obama when Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were the biggest spenders in recent years. The current deficit problem is a consequence of George Bush passing on a combination of unfunded expenses and tax cuts to his successor.

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Conservative Denial of Republican Racism

The Republican Party bases much of its appeal on racism and fear, scaring middle class white voters into voting against their true economic interests. They scare people into voting Republican out of fear that poor minorities will take their money, with greatly exaggerated views of the cost of programs such as welfare and foreign aide. At the same time, they have no concept of the real redistribution of wealth underway in this country–Republicans transferring wealth to the top one-tenth of one-percent at the expense of the middle class. While racism permeates the Republican Party and Tea Party movement, they tend to be in total denial of their own racism. Joe Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, posts that American Needs A White Republican President.

It is hard to deny that a headline such as this is not racist, but Joe the Plumber follows with: “Wanting a white Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American.”

The true racists according to Joe appear to be Mexicans,  liberal blacks, and white Democratic presidents. He wrote that, “Many deranged Mexicans believe we should open the country up to them, some saying that much of America belongs to Mexico anyway.”  As for blacks and white Democratic presidents:

Liberal blacks have disagreed with most Republican presidents since Eisenhower, yet these blacks are not considered racists. In fact, when blacks had sanity and disagreed with the policies of racist white Democrat presidents, nobody accused black people of being racists.

Joe believes that blacks should vote Democratic because, he claims, “Reagan ushered in a veritable Renaissance for blacks.” His source? Fox News. Remember what David Frumm said about the effect of Fox creating an artificial reality for Republicans just a few days ago?

Joe also cited current economic data as reason why Obama has been bad for blacks. I haven’t checked on his actual statistics, which I would be skeptical about, but the key factor which Joe ignores is the economic crash caused by Republican economic policies under Bush and the fierce battle waged by Congressional Republicans to hinder economic recovery, especially for the poor and middle class. It would take someone from the Fox artificial reality to really believe that blacks would not be even worse off now if John McCain or Mitt Romney were deciding economic policy instead of Barack Obama.

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Conservative Principles versus Hypocrisy on Big Government

One of the biggest myths in politics is that Republicans support small government. They invariably use calls for small government to oppose most programs when out of office, but government shows tremendous growth whenever Republicans are in power. This includes both new programs and wage and price controls under Richard Nixon to the major expansions in government spending under Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Of course Republicans tend to be selective when discussing big government, ignoring both unfunded wars and their push for greater government interference in the private lives of individuals.

Ezra Klein had a post yesterday entitled How Republicans stopped worrying and learned to love big government. This title could actually have been used many times over the past decades and for a variety of policies. Ezra used this for just one particular hypocrisy on the part of Republicans, a “demand that the federal government start predicting the deficit 30 years into the future.” Ezra outlined the difficulties in making such projections, and pointed out how this demand contradicts a key Republican belief:

A core insight of conservatism is that central planning fails because economies are too complicated for governments to effectively predict. But if you believe the government can usefully predict the path of the economy not just over the next 10 years but over 30, then you should be begging the government to intervene more directly in economic affairs.

Conservatives are generally correct in this criticism of central planning, as long as this idea isn’t used, as many conservatives do, to argue against any government regulation of the economy. This contradiction is also somewhat analogous to another hypocritical argument being made by conservatives lately regarding the IRS handling of Tea Party applications for tax breaks. While Republicans generally, and again often correctly, complain about how big and unwieldy the federal government can be, they also argue that Barack Obama must have been aware of, and actually directing for sinister purposes,  what low level IRS career bureaucrats were doing wrong because they are part of his administration.

Conservative economics actually do include some core beliefs which make sense. However, modern conservatives tend to fail to understand how these principles apply to the real world, while liberals tend to agree with these conservative beliefs where they make sense (despite the many straw man attacks seen on liberal views from the right).

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SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who and Daleks; Community and Inspector Spacetime; Sherlock as Cartoon; Person of Interest; The Americans; Utopia; Downton Abbey; Batwoman’s Gay Marriage; Captain America

Daleks London

Steven Moffat discussed the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who in a recent interview. Doctor Who returns March 30 with the final eight episodes of the season. Next fall we will have the 50th Anniversary episode (which will also be in 3D and released at movie theaters). In addition there will be the usual Christmas episode and An Adventure in Space and Time about the making of Doctor Who. This would still leave us with less Doctor Who than last fall, but Moffat does say there will be even more than these shows.

Ray Cusick who designed the look of the Daleks in 1963, died at last week at age 84.

The video above has an interview with Jenna-Louise Coleman on The Last Leg.

Last week’s episode of Community  featured a trip to an Inspector Spacetime convention and ended with how an American version of this Doctor Who parody would appear, after the producers received advice from Pierce. Here’s another take on how an American version of Doctor Who might have turned out.

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Angela Taratuta has re-imagined Sherlock as a cartoon series with pictures such as the one above.

Revolution returns on March 25. NBC is launching a prequel web series tomorrow which starts eleven years after the blackout:

In this webseries, premiering Feb. 25 on NBC.com, we flashback to 11 years after the blackout and the night Miles (Billy Burke) first tried to assassinate Gen. Monroe (David Lyons). The story will follow Capt. Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) on a mission to hunt down and kill and those who had a hand in the attempt to assassinate Monroe. While on his journey, however, Neville will apparently stumble “upon an even greater conspiracy that could change the course of the Republic forever,” according to a description.

Person of Interest Relevance

Person of Interest had an excellent episode, Relevance, in which we saw the machine used as intended. There was another team receiving numbers from the machine to fight actual terrorist threats, but they believed the information came from more conventional sources. They went after people found by the machine to be relevant, as opposed to the cases investigated by Finch and Reese not involving terrorism, and therefore considered irrelevant. One member of the team started to get too close to what is actually going on so both were set up to be killed. The female member of the team, Shaw, survived, with a little help from Reese after Shaw and her partner came up as the new numbers for Finch and Reese.

Shaw is quite a fighter on her own, and stated she has an “Axis II personality disorder,” meaning  she “doesn’t really feel anything” when she kills people. Her best moment was when she showed she was still a loyal soldier in fighting terrorism and also remained determined to avenge the killing of her partner. “A good soldier does both.” She initially refused to take Finch’s card, but later agreed after they saved her from poisoning, leaving her old superiors believing she was dead.

Shaw will make a welcome addition to the reoccurring cast of Person of Interest (assuming this as she was too good a character to only use once). Making the episode even better, Amy Acker  returned to reprise her role as Root (actually starting in the final moments of last week’s episode). Now, besides the team of Finch and Reese, we have the group involved in using the machine to fight terrorism as part of the show, with these people portrayed as both being engaged in an important task and as being somewhat evil. Having them infiltrated by Root will make matters even more interesting.

The Americans

FX has renewed The Americans for a second season. The series is about Soviet spies embedded in the United States during the Reagan years. Last week was their best episode to date, taking place at the time of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. The Russians were worried about whether the attempt would be pinned on the KGB. Some of the Russians also were concerned that generals led by Alexander Haig were carrying out a coup following Haig’s “I am in control” statement.

Utopia completed its first season last week, and hopefully will receive a second season. While not reducing my recommendations to watch the entire series or my hope for a second season, the first season finale was not up to the level of previous episodes. It was probably harder to write this episode because it had less mystery many of the secrets of the first season already revealed but also having to keep some things unresolved for second season. Major spoiler in the rest of this paragraph: I did have one problem with the explanations in the finale. If the manuscript didn’t really matter and the search was all to get Jessica out in the open, what were they doing with the interrogation of Grant and what did that chemical diagram mean? Perhaps the explanation to Jessica wasn’t entirely honest and there was information on recreating Janus to be found in case Jessica wasn’t captured.

The BBC has canceled The Hour after its second season. Hypable explains why you should watch the show despite being cancelled.

As expected following the Christmas episode of Downton Abbey, Lily James will become a regular member of the cast next season. With two members of the cast dying last season, her addition serves much the same purpose of Lesley Anne-Down joining Upstairs Downstairs as Miss Georgina. Vulture gave several reasons why ITV and PBS won’t both broadcast the show at the same time. I was especially interested in this point:

Editing episodes for PBS more quickly would also be more costly.
The version of Downton that airs in the U.K. is slightly different than the one that airs in the U.S. ITV is a commercial network that ran season three over eight installments, while commercial-free PBS ran the same season in just six. That requires some “stitching together and filling out” for the American version, Hoppe says. And because the editing is done entirely by the creative team in the U.K., “what it would mean in order for us to go simultaneously with them is that we’d have to have two editing rooms going at the same time during postproduction, one for our version and one for theirs,” Hoppe says. “It’s not one of the main factors in the decision, but it’s not an insignificant financial implication.”

I downloaded the series when it first aired on ITV and then, based upon following media stories, the series seemed to go by much faster when aired on PBS. This explains that it really did go by faster, with fewer episodes in the US. I wonder if some things were taken out of the US version. For example, there hasn’t been much discussion in the United States about the arc involving the Dalek invasion of Downton.

The Saturn Award nominations have been released–full list here.

Batwoman-Proposal

Batwoman is entering into a same-sex marriage but Alyssa Rosenberg says this  portrayal of a gay marriage is not enough to make up for DC hiring homophobe Orson Scott Card:

Something I wish I’d said more clearly the first itme I wrote about DC’s decision to hire Card to write Superman is that calls to fire him don’t appeal to me that strongly because it separates out his hiring from DC’s other hiring practices, which among other things, have produced a staff with very few women and no lead African-American writers on any comics titles. A decision by comics stores not to stock the title, demonstrating that Card’s values turn them off from a product that otherwise might have been profitable for them, makes more sense. And what would be most interesting to me is an explanation from DC about what process lead to Card’s selection. What made his pitches’ stronger than other writers? How did they weigh the likely publicity challenges from his employment against what appears to be a larger institutional imperative to modernize the brand by telling stories about committed gay couples? If DC Comics wants its image to be gay-friendly, then it should have been expected to be evaluated for consistency. More same-sex engagements doesn’t eliminate the appearance of a glaring contradiction in DC’s image.

If all DC wants is our money, rather than our social approval, that’s fine. But it needs to recognize that fishing for money on the grounds that it’s producing progressive and game-changing content is going to be a more difficult task if there’s a disconnect between what the content is, and who the money spent on it ends up going to.

The next Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, will differ from the first, and from The Avengers, in being more of a political thriller according to Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios:

The challenge is not the number of projects but rather making sure that each is a fresh take on the genre. Being able to populate the films with rich, three-dimensional characters and employing a wealth of storylines that have been developed over the decades in print makes it much easier to pull off, Feige says.

And when it all comes together, the results are boffo: “The Avengers” was one of 2012’s most popular pics, according to Rottentomatoes.com, and with more than $620 million in ticket sales it was the year’s box office champ by a large margin.

As long as Marvel stays on its game, Feige believes its pics will continue to do well in a genre that is far from a passing trend.

“If it is a fad, it’s one that lasts 30 to 40 years, as the Western did, because each one is so different,” he says. “There’s an opportunity to graft almost sub-genres onto them. Our first Captain America film was a World War II picture, and the next is a political thriller. They all have their own textures and patinas, and that’s what is exciting about it.”

 

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A Conservative Wish For A New GOP

As I last pointed out a couple days ago, this is not a good time for serious conservatives. Despite constantly repeating his name in speeches, the Republican Party has become so extreme, and so unwilling to engage in the type of negotiations and compromises necessary for government, that there would be no place for Ronald Reagan in the party today. In that post I quoted Andrew Sullivan. Many other conservatives, such as Bruce Bartlett, have the same complaints. Moderate political scientists such as Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have discussed the problems to the nation caused by the extremism of the current leaders of the Republican Party. Today Mark McKinnon writes that all he wants for Christmas is a New GOP:

What I want for Christmas is a new Republican Party. Or I’ll take the old Republican Party of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, or George W. Bush. What I don’t want is the Republican Party we have today. As former George W. Bush and John McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace said, “I’m just tired of the Republican Party being the Stupid Party.”

All sanity seems to have left the ranks of those in charge of the GOP—or, more accurately, those who want to be in charge. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) demonstrated in a jaw-dropping performance Thursday on Morning Joethe depth of the problem and why we are bound to go over the fiscal cliff. He made it clear he won’t vote for a tax increase on anyone, no matter how much they make. So, by his logic, we will end up going over the cliff, and raise taxes on everybody, because he and too many others like him in the party are unwilling to raise taxes on anyone. This intransigence will also make a core Republican tenet of broader tax reform more difficult to pursue because the new Congress will then be fixated on smaller bore issues like fixing the rates.

But there’s more. Huelskamp’s response to the Newtown tragedy? No need to change any gun laws. (Not even better enforcement of the laws we have?) And those who suggest any changes are simply “politicizing” the situation to fit their political agenda. Was George W. Bush “politicizing” 9/11 when he created the Department of Homeland Security? If so, then by all means shouldn’t we “politicize” in the wake of a national tragedy?

Other Republican elected officials said they wanted to wait to see what the National Rifle Association had to say. On Friday, Wayne LaPierre delivered. No new gun laws, but how about an armed guard in every school, because “the only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Then LaPierre went on to blame every other facet of our culture for the problem. Now, I don’t disagree that much goes into the cultural equation causing violence, and much needs to be considered to address the root causes, like mental health and violent media. But in 2008, the U.S. reportedly recorded 11,000 gun-related deaths, and Japan recorded 11—and I believe the Japanese play video games. So maybe we should at least include guns in the discussion.

Now, I don’t think more security in our schools is necessarily a bad idea. But it begs the question of funding and federalizing local control of schools, two concepts deeply out of vogue with Republican orthodoxy. And reality.

But here’s the deeper point and the bigger problem for the GOP. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the party is against everything and for nothing.

Nothing on taxes. Nothing on gun control. Nothing on climate change. Nothing on gay marriage. Nothing on immigration reform (or an incremental, piece-by-piece approach, which will result in nothing). It’s a very odd situation when the losing party is the party refusing to negotiate. It may be how you disrupt, but it is not how you govern, or how you ever hope to regain a majority.

And so, we have a Republican Party today willing to eliminate any prospect for a decent future for anyone, including itself, if it cannot be a future that is 100 percent in accordance with its core beliefs and principles. That’s not governing. That’s just lobbing hand grenades. If you’re only standing on principle to appear taller, then you appear smaller. And the GOP is shrinking daily before our eyes.

Ronald Reagan was long thought to be the most conservative of Republicans. And by any standard today he is the most popular Republican in modern history. Yet he raised taxes 11 times, supported a ban on assault rifles and the Brady Bill, which mandated background checks, and established amnesty for 3 million undocumented workers.

No one questioned Reagan’s principles or values. But he was seen as great because he had the ability to maintain his principles while adapting, evolving, and negotiating as the world around him changed. When I raise these issues, many of my Republican friends respond, “We will not become a stronger Republican Party by acting more like the Democratic Party.” And I say, “No, we become a stronger Republican Party by acting like reasonable human beings who acknowledge reality.”

The world is still changing. Faster than ever. And so should the Republican Party. Or condemn itself to a smaller and smaller base of core supporters and permanent minority status.

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