Friday, August 12, 2011

Oy, Bai

Isaac Chotiner goes after the "pathological need to appear evenhanded" that Matt Bai shows in one of his typically awful pieces of "analysis" today. And Chotiner is correct: Bai's claim that Democrats are as inflexible as Republicans on budgetary issues is really pure bunk.

But as bad as that point is, the entire premise of the piece -- that the fanaticism displayed by the GOP candidates on taxes during last night's debate and the supposed matching Democratic attitude explains "why voters keep dumping incumbents of both parties and registering an alarming disdain for Washington generally" -- is far worse.

I'll explain. I'll try to use very small words. (Yes, I'm cranky. This stuff is really annoying).

The reason voters are unhappy is because the economy stinks. That's all. They don't have jobs. They're afraid of losing the jobs they have. The value of their houses tanked. They know people who are out of work.

That is why voters are unhappy.

Oh, and that other part, about "registering an alarming disdain for Washington"? That's certainly not because of political polarization, since it's been true, it's probably been true since before there was a Washington, D.C. People always hate Congress, whatever is happening there.

By the way, it wouldn't be Bai if we didn't have a faulty specific historical claim. In this case, it's that "fewer and fewer Americans engage as activists in either party." I don't have any handy citations on this one, but it's got to be exactly backwards -- we know that Bush '04 and Obama '08 were both highly participatory campaigns, albeit structured a lot different.

Just awful.

By the way...I probably should do a separate item about this, but I really wish that Fox had made the alternative clearer in that question about taxes and spending. I'm sure that most of the Republicans who rejected the 10-for-1 hypothetical deal would explain that what they would prefer is a 10-for-0 deal. What the moderators should have posited was a choice between the 10-for-1 deal and no deficit reduction at all. That's a real choice, and it would have made it a bit clearer that Republicans are relatively indifferent to deficit reduction. On the other hand, I do sympathize a bit with the candidates; the question asks whether they would accept a deal, but why should a candidate for president reveal what she would accept at the end of a negotiation? I mean, it's irrelevant here because the GOP position really is that tax cuts are more important than anything else, but it's still not, in my view, a very good question.


  1. I don't think it was that bad of a question only because it sets a precedent. If one of them does become president an issue like that will come up and PoltiFact will be all over it.

    Or during the general election Obama could use it to say that whoever the nominee is, is an ideologue.

  2. Great point, I think a big part of this type of bad analysis is laziness pure and simple. It takes work to make a controversial argument like “the GOP is the problem” and it takes evidence to back it up. To just make vague statements assigning blame to everyone is the easiest story to write, and once you write it once you can always dust it off and reuse it in 2 months, or 20 years. I mean this type of “analysis” is so shallow it could be applied to any situation in the history of human societies. Give Bai a time machine and he’d announce “if only the Senate and Diocletian would stop pandering to their special interest backers and work together to make tough decision we could deal with this barbarian problem.”

  3. You haven’t addressed what is behind all the Republicons are doing: stealing workers retirement funds. The CBO projected that the surpluses Clinton left for Bush were enough to pay off the entire US debt by the time that the Social Security/Medicare trust funds would have to be amortized for beneficiary payments, all without having to raise taxes to pay for the amortization of those trust funds. These “surpluses” were made up entirely of excess payroll taxes building up the trust funds. Bush took those excess payroll tax receipts and gave them “back” as income tax reductions, heavily weighted to the wealthy–who didn’t create those surpluses in the first place. By doing this, Bush guaranteed that taxes would have to be raised in order to amortize the trust funds. The failure to do so simply permits the Republicons to steal the money contributed by workers for their retirement. Everything about not raising taxes or limiting expenses, is about stealing our money.

  4. I thought the question was brilliant (and completely fair) given the limitations of the forum and the difficulty of getting a straight answer from a politician. The Repubicans need to repudiate Grover Norquist - they actually need to "slap" Norquist in public - and they all refused to do so.

  5. If at a Dem debate, the contestants were asked whether they would take a deficit reduction deal that consisted of 90% tax increases and 10% spending cuts, and not a single one were willing to signify that s/he would take that deal, that would be seen as proof that the Democratic Party had lost its mind. And rightly so.

  6. Reagan raised taxes in trade for "cuts", which were a mirage.

    Bush 41 said "no new taxes".

    He broke his pledge and raised taxes, and jacked spending as % of GDP.

    He dropped to 38% of the 1992 electorate.

    Clinton raised taxes, and watched Congress flip. He steadied the ship, and even enacted some supply side tax cuts himself, and benefited, as did the country. We were down to less than 18% spending as % of GDP when he left office, no small thanks to a fiscally conservative Congress.

    Bush the W cut taxes, revenues rose, but he also jacked spending. He was unpopular as all get out when he left office.

    Obama and Pelosi sent spending through the roof, but refused to jack taxes, because they didn't want to end up like the 1992 and 1994 electoral victims. They got punished anyways, because they didn't follow the full required script on taxes and spending.

    There is a path through to the mainstream of the electorate. It should be clear by now. It isn't through increased taxing and spending. That's clear. We know this historically.

    And that's what you heard on that stage the other night.

  7. The question was phrased "Is that a deal you'd walk away from?"

    I think that makes it pretty clear that Republicans would prefer no deficit reduction deal to a 10-to-1 deal.


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