Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Elsewhere: Obama/Bush, Puzzled GOP

At Greg's place today, I noted that with his convention bump Barack Obama remains basically just a tick behind George W. Bush at this point in 2004 in approval ratings -- which is where he's been since April. Good perspective, in my view, both for Republicans who can't understand why they aren't winning and for Democrats who mistake a convention bounce for something more.

Speaking of which, at PP I took a shot at explaining why many Republicans are baffled by the situation -- why, with the economy how it is, Mitt Romney isn't crushing Obama. Two explanations: they tend to ignore political scientists, and they think the economy is worse than it is.

Unfortunately, the Gallup numbers I discuss there reveal that my wild guess, fun-but-almost-certainly-wrong theory of why Gallup's economic index spiked up was in fact wrong (if you missed it: the theory was that all those successful "built it" businesspeople convinced voters that the economy was okay after all). The spike came from independents and Democrats, not from the Republicans who were watching the show from Tampa. Oh well.


  1. To add a level of irony to the observation that Republicans think the economy is worse than it is: the economy is particularly not worse--that is, better--for upper income people, certainly part of the Republican coalition. Corporations, the stock market and rich people are doing very well.

    So why do they think things are worse? Greed perhaps. Perhaps because of their antipathy for Obama for other reasons. Or because they think there is something automatic about unemployment numbers reaching a certain level meaning that the incumbent President is defeated, and they get even more power and influence in Washington. Which makes me think of all that cash corporations are sitting on. But maybe it's best not to go there.

    1. Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with the actual economy, but with their goal of economic branding based on the political notion that incumbents get blamed for bad economies.

      1) Trash the economy with unfunded wars, tax cuts, and lack of regulatory oversigh;
      2) GOP members of Congress obstruct recovery/regulatory efforts with an endless parade of 'tax and spend' and 'creating uncertainty' when they discuss the president;
      3) Coast your way back into the white house as people blame the president for the bad economy you both created and then failed to help recover.

      Sounds like a scheme someone like Karl Rove would cook up in his quest for a permanent Republican Majority.

    2. I really do wonder if the GOP would be a relative lock for the presidency if they simply hadn't given in in late 2011/early 2012 to the extension of the payroll cuts, etc. That was the point at which, somewhat surprisingly, the Republicans in the House and Senate did give up on their strategy, which up until that point had been working quite effectively. They seemed spooked, but I'm not sure they made the right call. Boehner/McConnell may come to regret it.

    3. That would have been a highly visible act of obstructionism affecting everyone's paychecks at a time when much of the electorate was beginning to tune into the election. Obstructionism largely worked for the Republicans over the last four years, when the public was not particularly tuned into details. Further obstruction of the payroll tax cut this winter (to the point that taxes would have actually gone up) would have been out in the open, and it would have been easy for voters to figure out who to blame. This year, Republicans had to act like "Obstruction? What obstruction?" That's why they will also process the upcoming budget resolutions.

    4. I guess you're right -- that did seem to be the GOP leaders' thought process. That it might have been "highly visible." But what's felt striking to me these past several weeks is how many many people really don't tune in until after Labor Day or the conventions. The Democrats spent a lot of their convention reminding their party members and the broader public of the most basic stuff, and even then they knew they couldn't go into the weeds on procedural/obstructionist stuff that would mean little to most people. Maybe payroll taxes are different, but no one seemed to at all notice when they went down in 2009-2011, so I really wonder if people would notice a reversion either. Or if they did notice briefly one headline in December 2011, if they'd recall it sufficiently in fall 2012 to make them correctly apply blame, rather than be pissed about a weak economy of 0-1% growth and a lower stock market.

    5. And I suppose I also have lingering doubt because if it was so obvious that the payroll tax cut obstruction would be too visible, then why did we go through a weeks long process of the GOP really convincingly threatening to block them? The two strategic options should have been either act real nice and don't hint at obstruction or actually follow through on the obstruction in order to obtain the political benefit. The mish-mash execution seems the worst of both worlds.

    6. Good points. I think more people (and the media) were tuned in last winter than in the two years before, and more people are tuned in now than were tuned in last winter, and more people will be tuned in a month from now than are tuned in now. I think the Republicans are aware of that trend and decided to quit while they were ahead (in terms of visible obstructionism). And it's one thing to play brinksmanship in DC, it's another to let a change happen that actually affects people's paychecks. People tend to notice that. But yeah, they did attract some negative attention for what they did, and it coincided with some bad poll numbers for the GOP (though the GOP Presidential clown parade also had something to do with that).

  2. No secret as to why the Left is holding their own in this presidential race, despite the miserable performance of their incumbent. Their opponent is a lying progressive crapweasel from Taxachusetts, and the electorate seems to understand this.

    As I say, we've had some pointless and absurd elections in our history, but this may be one of the most extreme examples of that phenomenon.

    1. You really have got it with the Bush/Obama comparisons here, and Romney really is Kerry. A pure crapweasel, and paving the way for the incumbent's reelection.

    2. Yeah you're right --- you should have nominated Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum instead.

      Or Hermann Cain.

      Or Michele Bachmann.

      Or Rick Perry.

      Or Ron Paul.

      Wow, you guys really had some bad choices!

    3. Actually, most of those choices would likely be leading right now. Romney's problem is that he's pretty much a clone of Obama, much as you hard leftists will go apoplectic when that's pointed out to you. ;-)

      The electorate seems to understand all this. This really is a pointless and absurd election.

    4. > Actually, most of those choices would likely be leading right now.

      Well, let's hope that you nominate one of them in 2016 so we can all see how well your political prognostications fare.

    5. Well, the biggest reason those candidates would be faring well right now is that Obama is extremely weak, but he won't be running in 2016. Fortunately for him, Willard IS running this time, which is the only reason he's still in this race.

  3. Did you see Fox News reporting that unemployment had doubled since Obama took office today? And that government workers, lucky duckies, had only a 5% unemployment rate?

    1. Did they have a story on why right-wing morons are trolling a political science blog?

  4. Wow. I thought everyone knew this instinctively, its a bit embarrassing to have to say it aloud, but those jobs in Yglesias' graph? They're shitty jobs. (Do liberals not know the difference between good jobs that support a consumer-based economy and working as a fry cook at Mickey D's?)

    There is something priceless, but far from rich, about liberals celebrating the "flowering" (sort of) of low-wage, dead-end jobs as a sign of prosperity. Conservatives occasionally suspect that liberals secretly celebrate the downscalification of society, as the larger the unwashed masses, the more reliable the voting bloc (unless they're southern whites).

    That couldn't possibly true, and certainly not here: Yglesias is no doubt celebrating the three or four dozen good jobs created among the 100K monthly new jobs in the chart to which he links.

    1. > Conservatives occasionally suspect that
      > liberals secretly celebrate the
      > downscalification of society, as the larger
      > the unwashed masses, the more reliable the
      > voting bloc

      That's because many conservatives are dumbshits.

  5. Ezra Klein cites some fascinating polling, that explores what news people are hearing as a function of party. Huge differences between Democrats and Republicans on the whether they think "Recent economic news is mostly bad."


  6. I should put down the keyboard when a rant is coming on, but in addition to the low quality of the Obama jobs, there's the craptastic insinuation that "because its not Bush's jobs record" it must be "good".

    Look, Obama's ~100 K/month jobs "growth" is not really growth when one considers that the sheer monthly replacement need of the economy is north of 100 K. Among other things, this illustrates that Obama's jobs record has done nothing - not even the crappy jobs Yglesias celebrates - to address the tremendous cost of dormant human capital from the freefall at the end of the Bush 43 regime.

    To put it in a slightly more familiar context, suppose you owned 100 shares of StockBubble.com. One month you discover that your shares have dropped in price from $100 to $10. This is a bummer, but you hold on...only to discover the next month that, via a dead cat bounce, your shares went from $10 to $11 (even though the broader market was up 20%).

    Would you celebrate that development? It seems Yglesias would.

    1. ...and the Left wants MASSIVE new deficit spending, and for Zimbabwe Ben to print MASSIVE amounts of fresh new bales of dollar bills. So I guess the Left intends to inflate all the fry cooks' wages, now that they've created this robust fry cook economy.

    2. CSH, you'll have to explain to me what Obama did that made it a "fry cook" economy and how Romney would make it different.

      And why wouldn't you be happy to see your $10 go to $11 when the overall trend has been heading toward $9? It'll never go back to $100 without passing through $11 first. And where do you see a broader market going up 20%? The US has the strongest recovery in the developed world (save in Canada, where they avoided the worst of the crisis by not deregulating their banks in the first place).

    3. Canada simply didn't give loans to people who couldn't afford to make payments on them. Their government didn't force those NINJA loans to be made, as was forced here. That's how Canada "avoided the worst of the crisis". What a concept, eh?

    4. Anonymous--aside from the questionable issue of whether the government forced banks to make bad loans--bad mortgages didn't create the crisis. It was created by trillions of dollars worth of collaterized debt obligations (which bundled bad mortgages with good in proportions that no one bothered to keep track of, thus undermining the value of all mortgage-based assets) and credit default swaps in a market so unregulated that 50 or 100 people could all take an "insurance policy" out on the same asset that none of them owned and demand to paid in full when it collapsed. This magnified the impact of the real-estate collapse exponentially.

    5. Besides, I really doubt Britain, Ireland, Spain, and all the rest were engaged in the same loan policy.

    6. Hmmmmm, so you're celebrating Canada's avoiding the "worst of the crisis", yet the only distinct difference between Canada and the US is that they didn't allow bogus NINJA loans, which you claim were not the cause of the crisis here?


      No NINJA loans... no crisis. That's what the Canada data tells us. But perhaps you don't trust their data?

      See, if there is no real estate bubble, blown up by bad loans and inflated values, then there is no crisis, no matter how those mortgages are packaged up and sold.

      And all of those nations you mention had real estate bubbles of some sort or another. China is blowing one up as we speak.

      You shouldn't use terms like "I really doubt..." as they indicate you don't understand the issues you're addressing and are only guessing. Suggest you study those other nations' real estate bubbles, and Canada's lack of one, to gain the required understanding.

    7. I missed this subthread, probably its passed me by, but it seems you set a bit of a trap for me, Scott, I'll try not to fall in it: Obama didn't do anything to make it a fry cook economy, but that's what the economy has become under his watch, a fact that some folks apparently wish to celebrate. Is it Obama's fault? Perhaps not. Is it his triumph? Please. Would Romney be any better? Romney is crap, what kind of question is that?

      To the stock price: of course $11 is better than $9, much like +100K jobs is better than -100K...the more pertinent question is, "is it good"? Especially if the stock had some "balance sheet"-type rationale (other than irrational exuberance) supporting last month's $100 price.

      What supporters of Obama's job record sometimes miss is this: those several million jobs lost in the dying throes of the Bush 43 regime "went away", but the productive human or other capital in the economy didn't. The economy had a carrying capacity for several million more jobs - to the extent we can pin such things on administrations, when one inherits such a problem, its not unreasonable to have a baseline expectation they might fix it.

      And the Obama Administration didn't fix it. Not even close. Hell, Obama's jobs aren't even meeting the replacement needs of the current, shrunken economy, much less returning us to where we were before Bush fuched everything up. Touting 100K new monthly cashier positions at Burger King is a celebration of failure.

      It may not be Obama's fault. Really. The task may be beyond a President. But. his. jobs. record. stinks.

    8. BTW Anonymous, your dispute with Scott goes something like this:

      Scott: only Canada, with its decent regulatory environment, avoided a bank meltdown

      You: Canadian banks didn't make loans to those who couldn't repay

      blah blah deterioration blah

      You: ad hominems

      Even setting aside the fact that Scott has repeatedly proven himself to be a) intelligent and b) genial, there's the little problem that - but for a few small details -

      you were both saying the same thing

    9. CSH, thanks for redirecting us into a more rational channel and tone (although I think the Canadian difference also includes a lack of unregulated markets for CDOs and CDSs).

      Yes, the employment situation is terrible, although it's moving in the right direction. Some of the slowness of recovery can justly be attributed to Obama. For instance, he hasn't come up with an adequate response to the mortgage problem. (One proposal has been to force banks to write down mortgages on houses that are underwater rather than just asking them nicely, but he appears to be reluctant to take them on directly--not that I have any special information about the administration's thoughts or motivations on that. I imagine there are probably negative side-effects to be considered as well.) Beyond that, it's hard to blame him personally. Reinhardt and Rogoff, I believe, said from the beginning that this crisis had the potential to last for five to ten years. They and Krugman and others have said that it required a much larger fiscal stimulus, but the Republicans (whether out of a sincere belief that it would only make matters worse or out of a desire to undermine the administration or both) and perhaps some Democrats have frustrated attempts to do anything about it. Fiscal stimulus requires an act of Congress. Now whether a larger stimulus would trigger the kind of jobs that you are talking about is also an open and fair question. At least part of the problem here is structural. Businesses are (and have been for some time) investing in automation. While that is understandable, it's eliminating a lot of the better-paid working-class jobs, and they probably won't come back. Robots are taking the place of thousands of workers doing repetitive tasks on assembly lines (which in some respects is probably just as well). Some of the new kinds of jobs being created will be well paid, but almost by definition there will be fewer of them. There may be--probably is--a way out of that trap, but I suspect that it won't come quickly.

  7. No, dude, we were not saying the same thing. The above poster was claiming that something other than the creation of many billions of dollars of bad loans was responsible for the crisis. Canada didn't make those bad loans, and they didn't have a crisis. He disputed that fact, so not even he agrees with your fantasy that we were in agreement.

    And no, I did not respond to this poster with ad hominems. I pointed out that he was freely admitting that he didn't understand the issues he was claiming knowledge of. There is a difference.

    I don't find this poster at all intelligent, by the way.


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