The Public Still Opposes Republicans, And Will Support Health Care Reform If Handled Better

Republicans are feeling very good this week, as would be expected after winning a Senate seat in Massachusetts and possibly being successful with their strategy to do anything to block health care reform regardless of how much they harm the country. They should not get over confident that they can win without several unusual factors which helped them in Massachusetts. Public Policy Polling found that only 19 percent of voters are happy with the direction of the Republican Party:

One lesson that can be taken from the recent GOP successes in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia is that your party can be a complete mess and still win an election.

Our national poll this week found that only 19% of voters in the country are happy with the direction of the Republican Party, compared to 56% who are unhappy with it. Even among independents, who have voted overwhelmingly for Scott Brown, Chris Christie, and Bob McDonnell 58% say they don’t like the direction the GOP is headed in.

The GOP’s own voters are displeased with where the party’s going- 38% say they are unhappy with the current direction to 35% who support it. In a trend that perhaps provides at least a ray of hope to Democrats the Republicans unhappy with their own party are disproportionately moderates. 54% of them are displeased to 25% content- the question is what Democrats can do to get those folks to actually jump ship.

Disliking the Republicans does not necessarily mean people will vote Democratic. Far too many Democrats saw the repudiation of George Bush and the previous Republican-controlled Congress in 2008 and 2006 as support for a specific agenda as opposed to opposition to the status quo. If voters remain upset about the status quo, many are likely to respond by voting Republican.

I don’t normally pay much attention to anonymous blog comments, but part of the problem can be seen in the first comment at Public Policy Polling’s site:

Tom, I personally think that you’re analysis isn’t correct, but I do think that many ppl I know, from around me, who always voted for Democrats, their whole life, and are promising never ever to put a ballot with a D near it in the ballot box! We’ll vote for the Republican always b/c the Dems went to the extreme left with Obama et al. That’s the problem!

In reality it is the Republicans on the extreme right with Obama taking a centrist course. The Republicans have managed to distort a fairly conservative fix to our health care delivery problems as a radical solution. Democrats deserve part of the blame here. This includes failing to properly prepare for this inevitable attack  as well as some policy mistakes, including Obama backing away from his opposition to the individual mandate.

Democrats  needed to do a better job of explaining that the Medicare Part D cuts were cuts in subsidies given to the insurance companies by George Bush, and not actual cuts in Medicare. It is astounding that the Democrats could ever wind up in the situation of allowing the Republicans to falsely portray themselves as the defenders of Medicare.

The Democrats  might have been better off pushing for pieces of health care reform in smaller chunks which the pubic could understand rather than having to defend themselves on far too many fronts at once. A majority would be likely to support eliminating restrictions on pre-existing conditions, eliminating rescission of policies after people become sick, offering the choice of a public option, and even paying a little more in taxes to provide coverage for those who cannot afford it. The Democrats might have won on each of these as individual battles while they now risk losing the war. It is not too late for the Democrats to take up each of these measures. Public support might lead to their victory, or if the Republicans continue to block everything they will then risk being the party which is shocked in November.

White House Blog Addresses Change In Email Program

As I noted yesterday, the White House has discontinued the email address used to send copies of viral email with misinformation about health care reform less than two weeks after the program began. While those wearing tin foil hats on the far right saw a government conspiracy to track down dissidents, this was really a case of new technology creating concerns which had not previously been considered. The White House blog has discussed the issue, correctly describing the irony of the situation:

An ironic development is that the launch of an online program meant to provide facts about health insurance reform has itself become the target of fear-mongering and online rumors that are the tactics of choice for the defenders of the status quo.

The even greater irony is that those engaging in this fear-mongering are often the same people who supported acts of true surveillance when performed by the Bush administration. Their actions betray the fact that their true concerns are over partisan politics, not civil liberties.

They also discussed how the program is being changed and affirmed their support for privacy:

The Reality Check website exists to inform public debate about health insurance reform – not stifle it.  As the President said, “We are bound to disagree, but let’s disagree over issues that are real.”  To that end, we’ve seen incredible response from website visitors who are using the tools provided on the site to share videos and other content with friends and family.

To better understand what new misinformation is bubbling up online or in other venues, we want your suggestions about topics to address through the Reality Check site.  To consolidate the process, the email address set up last week for this same purpose is now closed and all feedback should be sent through: http://www.whitehouse.gov/realitycheck/contact

The White House takes online privacy very seriously.  As our published privacy policy makes clear, we will not share personal information submitted through the site with anyone. We also ask that you always refrain from submitting others’ information without permission.

Now the right wingers can get back to worrying about Obama’s birth certificate, the NAFTA superhighway,  floride in the water, or whatever else the voices in their heads are warning them about today.

Steven Pinker on The Impact of Bush’s War on Science

AlterNet has posted an interview with Steven Pinker regarding the “war on science” conducted by the Bush administration. Here is an excerpt:

JAS: Quite a few people argue that the Bush administration has been especially misleading and meddlesome in distorting the truth about scientific research, suppressing evidence in favor of a political agenda. Do you think it’s true that the Bush administration is more anti-science than previous administrations, or do some of these problems stretch back even farther?

SP: To some extent they go back further. To be honest, I was skeptical of claims that the Bush administration is worse than previous ones. But I have now been turned around, and I see that the accusations are correct, that there is a Republican war on science, and that it does seem unprecedented. I see that in the areas with which I have firsthand familiarity. For issues like sex education and climate, I have had to take the word of the scientists who have been directly involved.

JAS: What changed your mind?

SP: I’ve been personally involved in three issues, and in each case, intervention from the Bush administration has gone against scientific consensus.

The first involved bioethics, where the President’s Council on Bioethics has been packed with cultural conservatives and opponents of biomedical research, with a concerted effort to exaggerate the downside of biomedical research and to play up the fears.

The second is evolution, where Bush himself called for the so-called “controversy” between intelligent design and evolution to be taught in schools, whereas virtually every intelligent scientist believes that there is no such controversy.

The third involves regulation of language on the airwaves, where my book The Stuff of Thought was cited by the solicitor general in a brief to a U.S. Appeals Court on whether the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to sanction the networks for failing to bleep out fleeting expletives — that is, celebrities such as Cher or Bono or Nicole Richie saying “fucking brilliant” or “they can fuck themselves” during live television broadcasts. And the government cited what I think are bogus considerations about protecting the mental health of children as a rationale for restricting speech on the airwaves. They used my writing to support their case in a way that I felt was deceptive.

JAS: Do you believe that the Bush administration’s actions will have any lasting impact on Americans’ levels of trust in science and scientific institutions?

SP: Yes. For example, the Religious Right and their supporters in the Bush administration argue that scientists are suppressing debate about evolution. Having long ago lost the legal battle to have intelligent design taught in the classrooms, they are now framing the issue as an attempt to “teach the controversy,” therefore putting scientists on the side of appearing to want to suppress controversy.

To the extent that they succeed in framing the debate that way, it would look as if scientists are pushing their own dogma. And that is simply dishonest. Scientists would have no interest in a debate between astronomy and astrology or chemistry and alchemy, simply because you have to draw the line somewhere and impose some barrier to entry of basic scientific credibility before you engage in a debate. But that can be distorted into making it seem as if scientists are as dogmatic as the defenders of religious fundamentalism.

Sarah Palin and Aerial Hunting of Wolves

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6T85cOGc8L0]

Sarah Palin continues to be criticized for her support of arial hunting, as described in the above video. I’ve previously posted this ad from The Defenders Action Fund. Humane Society Legislative Action Fund, which has never before endorsed a presidential candidate, has endorsed Obama, citing both Obama’s record on protection of animals and Palin’s record which “is so extreme that she has perhaps done more harm to animals than any other current governor in the United States.”

Why McCain Is Losing And the Conservative Era Has Ended

Hugh Hewitt ignores the polls and argues that John McCain will close and win. It is a post worth reading to better understand why not only John McCain but the Republican Party is losing across the board, with similar arguments coming from McCain and Palin. Hewitt’s argument comes down to arguing that electing Obama is too great a risk, not only because of his inexperience but because of what Hewitt sees as far left policies. What the Republicans fail to understand is that they are losing because they have moved too far to the right for the American people, and what they see as far left is far closer to the middle of American opinion.

Obama is winning because he embodies common sense ideas which transcend the left-right divisions and which are in tune with those of the American people. On the economy, Obama offers pragmatism rather than ideological extremism. While Hewitt tries to portray Republicans as the defenders of “growth and capitalism’s essential genius” the reality is that their polices represent a stark break with our capitalist system, attempting to use government to transfer the wealth to a small oligarchy. Their economic principles, like their political principles, represent those of a banana republic, not the United States of American which most Americans remember. Obama, who receives much of his economic advice from the University of Chicago, hardly a bastion of socialism, is our best hope of restoring the economic system which has made American great, not for just a few but for entrepreneurs and all Americans who desire to work hard to get ahead.

Hewitt describes the foreign policy crises we face, but it is Republican policies which have weakened us and have seriously undermined American influence throughout the world. Americans know, as five previous secretaries of state recently stated, that we must talk with our enemies, as well as work with our friends.One of the most important decisions any president must make is over whether to go to war, and John McCain has showed that he lacks to judgment to be trusted on this. John McCain’s greater experience is worthless when his decisions are so flawed.

While Hewitt tries to paint Obama as a radical, his liberal values represent traditional American values. The use of torture is a violation of our values, and John McCain’s halfhearted opposition is not enough. Americans desire to restore the separation of powers which protect us from oppressive government, and do not want someone such as Sarah Palin who desires even more power than Dick Cheney and has a history of attempting to ban books to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Americans recognize the importance of the fourth estate and understand the danger of political leaders who repeatedly attack the free press. Claims that those in the media who expose them are biased only works for so long. If the media which fails to repeat their distorted view of the world appears to conservatives to be biased, this is only because, as Stephen Colbert put it, “reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Conservatives regularly ignore reality in their defense of the Iraq war, their Voodoo economics and claims that tax cuts always pay for themselves, their denial of evolution as the basis of modern biology, and in their denial of the scientific consensus on the human role in climate change. Hewitt’s reasons for why McCain will win are similarly a denial of reality.

Hewitt attempts to repeat the tired Republican claims of liberals being hostile to religion, confusing support for separation of church and state which our founding fathers wisely supported for hostility to religion. As Obama has pointed out, traditionally it has often been religious leaders who were the strongest defenders of separation of church and state, recognizing that this is essential to guarantee the right for everyone to worship as they choose. Americans are especially wary of a political party which panders to religious extremists to increase the power of government in their lives. Following the extremism of Republican rule, Obama’s experience in teaching Constitutional law is far more important in restoring the greatness of our nation than John McCain’s years of experience in failed Republican government.

The voters have been fooled by Hewitt’s arguments in the past. The loss of Congress by the Republicans in 2006 and Obama’s strong lead in the polls today show that they are catching on. These same old arguments are no longer fooling them. Smears based upon Wright, Ayers, and Rezko no longer work as voters want to hear about the real issues and are increasingly realizing that Republicans only know how to smear and have no idea how to govern. Besides, the same type of attacks tend to apply far more to Republicans than Democrats. Americans realize that voting for Obama doesn’t represent a “lurch to the left” but a return to normalcy after a period of having government in the hands of extremists.

Humane Society Endorses Obama, Criticizes Palin’s “Retrograde Policies on Animal Welfare and Conservation”

I’ve previously noted how Sarah Palin’s history of mistreatment of animals led to The Defenders Action Fund airing commercials opposing her. Adding Palin to the ticket also led to the Humane Society Legislative Action Fund making its first ever endorsement of a presidential ticket. They note both Obama and Biden’s record of strong support for animal protection legislation. They write that John McCain has supported some animal protection bills but “has  been inattentive or opposed to others.” Then there’s the Palin problem:

While McCain’s positions on animal protection have been lukewarm, his choice of running mate cemented our decision to oppose his ticket. Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R-Alaska) retrograde policies on animal welfare and conservation have led to an all-out war on Alaska’s wolves and other creatures. Her record is so extreme that she has perhaps done more harm to animals than any other current governor in the United States.

Palin engineered a campaign of shooting predators from airplanes and helicopters, in order to artificially boost the populations of moose and caribou for trophy hunters. She offered a $150 bounty for the left foreleg of each dead wolf as an economic incentive for pilots and aerial gunners to kill more of the animals, even though Alaska voters had twice approved a ban on the practice. This year, the issue was up again for a vote of the people, and Palin led the fight against it—in fact, she helped to spend $400,000 of public funds to defeat the initiative.

What’s more, when the Bush Administration announced its decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Palin filed a lawsuit to reverse that decision. She said it’s the “wrong move” to protect polar bears, even though their habitat is shrinking and ice floes are vanishing due to global warming.

The choice for animals is especially clear now that Palin is in the mix. If Palin is put in a position to succeed McCain, it could mean rolling back decades of progress on animal issues.

It appears the prospect of Sarah Palin ever becoming president is a terrifying thought to a wide variety of people.

Palin Under Attack For Treatment of Animals

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQobIUE1zTU]

Sarah Palin is under criticism for what is being described as brutal forms of hunting animals. The Defenders Action Fund has produced the above commercial. Their web site is also critical of John McCain’s environmental record. Pamela Anderson has also criticized Palin, blurting out, “I can’t stand her. She can suck it” while speaking out against abuse of animals.

Pamela Anderson’s criticism of Palin follows Matt Damon’s criticism of McCain’s choice of Palin as being “like a really bad Disney movie.” With her record of cruelty to animals, I cannot help but wonder if this is what these stars are really warning us about:

T. Boone Chickens And The Swift Boat Liars

Last week T. Boone Pickens offered to pay one million dollars to anyone who could disprove even a single claim from the Swift Boat Liars. I wish I had heard that as it sounds like easy money. Of course if you believe Pickens would actually make good on his offer there’s some email with business offers from some Nigerians which I’d like to forward on to you.

On Friday I posted John Kerry’s letter accepting this challenge. Pickens quickly reneged and has issued the following statement:

Dear Senator Kerry:

So glad to hear from you regarding the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth political ad campaign, and an offer I made public at an American Spectator dinner in Washington, D.C. last week. I am intrigued by your letter, and am certainly open to your challenge.

My concern at the Spectator Dinner was, and continues to be, that you and other political figures were and are maligning the Swift Boat Veterans, and I want to prevent this important part of American history from being unfairly portrayed.

In order to disprove the accuracy of the Swift Boat ads, I will ultimately need you to provide the following:

1) The journal you maintained during your service in Vietnam.
2) Your military record, specifically your service records for the years
1971-1978, and copies of all movies and tapes made during your
service.

When you have done so, if you can then prove anything in the ads was materially untrue, I will gladly award $1 million. As you know, I have been a long and proud supporter of the American military and veterans’ causes. I now challenge you to make this commitment: If you cannot prove anything in the Swift Boat ads to be untrue, that you will make a $1 million gift to the charity I am choosing — the Medal of Honor Foundation.

There goes the chances of anyone other than Kerry to even attempt to collect as nobody would have access to the material requested even if there is other evidence disproving the claims of the Swift Boat Liars. Kerry’s military record has previously been posted on line (from the years he was actually in the Navy), but it is quite a change in condition to expect someone to give their personal journal to someone who has clearly demonstrated the motivation to twist whatever information is available. Besides, from their history it is clear that no amount of evidence will get them to admit that they are lying as they have no interest in the truth. It is hardly necessary to let them poke around in Kerry’s personal records to disprove a bunch of obvious lies.

Pickens also changes the wager from disproving any claims made to disproving what was in the ads. While this could still be done, it is strange that all the false claims published in their book are suddenly no longer under consideration.

Moving the goal post has been common for the defenders of the Swift Boat Liars. First they claimed Kerry could end the attacks by releasing his military records. The military records were released and posted on line and that didn’t shut them up. Then they demanded that Kerry sign a Form 180 to have his records released. Kerry did so and journalists reviewing the records verified that these were the same as the records posted on line. Naturally conservatives then said this was not enough, and many even outright lie and say Kerry never released his records. We see this tactic once again from Pickens. They are determined to spread their lies and there is absolutely nothing which they will accept as evidence to disprove their false claims. Even before reviewing the facts surrounding Kerry’s medals, the conduct of Kerry’s accusers in this matter is enough to discredit them.

Dimwit Voters and Their Biases

The Economist asks whether voters are idiots. One theory has been that, even though the majority of voters know little about the issues, the votes of the more ignorant voters will be spread randomly and the candidate who wins the majority of votes from the better informed will win. The “wisdom of crowds” often does provide wisdom, such as when the audience of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire picks the correct answer 91% of the time. In contrast, Bryan Caplan argues that voting does not provide the best results since ignorant voters do not vote randomly.

Instead, he identifies four biases that prompt voters systematically to demand policies that make them worse off. First, people do not understand how the pursuit of private profits often yields public benefits: they have an anti-market bias. Second, they underestimate the benefits of interactions with foreigners: they have an anti-foreign bias. Third, they equate prosperity with employment rather than production: Mr Caplan calls this the “make-work bias”. Finally, they tend to think economic conditions are worse than they are, a bias towards pessimism.

It is understandable why The Economist would be interested in this theory as Caplan’s biases fit in well with their editorial bias. While there is some truth to these biases, there are other biases in play, largely because prior to 2006 the Republicans were much better at spreading their message:

Security Bias: Republicans have played politics with the 9/11 attack, using it to push through their pre-9/11 goals and to claim Democrats were weaker on national security, and possibly even unpatriotic.

Values Bias: Republicans, often with the help of churches, portrayed their views as being supportive of family values and more moral, while Democrats were portrayed as sinners.

Free Market Bias: Republicans claimed to be the defenders of the free market while pursuing efforts contrary to true capitalism, including corporate welfare, collusion between businesses and regulators, and the K Street Project.

Anti-Government Bias: The message that “government is the problem, not the solution,” resonates with voters both in situations where it is true and when it is not. Republicans played up running against big government, even when they controlled all three branches of the government.

Republicans were able to take advantage of such biases until 2006 when it became clear to a vast majority that the Republicans were unable to govern. The Economist finds that the problems are easier to diagnose than to cure but part of the cure may come from Democrats better understanding the biases which have led to Republican victories in the past, and concentrate on fighting the Republican misinformation campaigns which capitalize on these biases.

Republican Principles and The New Social Conservativism

Many Democratic observers of the Republican race have argued that Rudy Giuliani cannot win because he is a social liberal. While it is far too early to predict the ultimate winner, I would not write Giuliani off. Those who think that the Republicans are a pack of far right social conservative ideologues are, in a sense, giving the Republicans too much credit. They assume that the Republicans hold principles, when ultimately their real concerns are power and paying lower taxes.

We’ve already seen how little conservative principles mean when Republicans are in power. They talk of small government but cause the government to grow far more than it would under Democrats. They speak of getting the government off our backs while allowing the government to become more intrusive in individual’s lives. They claim to support the free market while pursuing a system of corporate welfare which Adam Smith would hardly recognize as capitalism. They claimed they would fight terrorism after 9/11 (ignoring their failure to respond earlier when urged by Democrats) and then ignored the real threats using 9/11 as an excuse to pursue the neoconservative agenda. Republicans claimed to support state’s rights but ignore this if it means overriding the Florida Supreme Court to prevent a recount which might have made Al Gore President, or if it means overriding a state’s decision to allow for the use of medicinal marijuana.

Republicans may appear to have some adherence to principle at times in economic matters but this is primarily in order to justify lowering their taxes. Any thinking Republican realizes that supply side economics is Voodo Economics. They don’t care as long as it means a lower tax bill. They don’t care any more than they care about the long term damage caused by their deficits.

Another example of how little principles mean to Republicans is seen in The American Spectator. Jennifer Rubin dispenses with the objections to Rudy Giuliani by proclaiming him to be a proponent of “new social conservativism.” She acknowledges where Giuliani differs from the traditional definition of social conservative, but argues that those who question his conservativism are asking the wrong questions:

The better, at least the more interesting, question is whether Giuliani can establish a new description of what it means to be “socially conservative.” Perhaps to be socially conservative means something more than just fidelity to pro-life and anti-gay marriage positions. Giuliani has a convincing argument that he is an ethical or cultural conservative who in the end will protect the values that most conservative Republicans hold dear.

Although Rudy Giuliani disagrees on the specific issues he “will protect the values that most conservative Republicans hold dear.” It was hard to read this without laughing, trying to imagine how Giuliani’s personal life shows him as the protector of any form of conservative values. Ruben avoids this issue by staying away from traditional discussion of values as she explains the section quoted above:

What does this mean? It means that he sees the world as a battle between good and evil, and politics as a struggle between decent hard working people and elites who have too little respect for their values — public safety, respect for religion and public virtue.

It may come as a surprise to readers that the Republicans see themselves as the defender of “decent hard working people” unless she means “hard working” in the sense that George Bush is doing “hard work.” The opposing side is liberal elitists. It comes as no surprise that, after being willing to ignore support for Giuliani’s liberal positions she is reduced to calling the other side “elites” without naming specific differences. This is because the differences between conservativism and liberalism don’t help their cause when spelled out. Modern conservatives back greater government intrusion in individual’s personal lives while liberals support individual liberties. Conservatives support unchecked power in the Executive branch while liberals desire to restore the checks and balances developed by the founding fathers. Conservatives oppose science where it doesn’t fit into their views while liberals are willing to adapt their political views to the real world as described by science. Conservatives claim to be the defenders of religion, but it is separation of church and state, which only liberals defend, which is essential to guarantee freedom of worship for all. Conservatives claim to be supporters of capitalism but erode the system while liberals support a free market system which will remain viable in the global market and preserve the middle class.

In recent years support for social conservative policies was the last remaining area where conservatives appeared to hold any principles (even if the wrong principles). If Giuliani is seen as the candidate most likely to win in a general election we will quickly see more agreeing that Giuliani is a “new social conservative.” Winning is more important and for many Republicans attracting the support of the religious right was simply a matter of political expediency. While I would be happy to see the Republicans abandon their support for conservative social issues, it is also harder to respect them as a party which believes in anything beyond increasing their power.