Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Dana Perino, 40. I have a long-standing policy of liking every single White House Press Secretary, and hers was a tough assignment -- an unpopular president serving out the end of his term with little agenda but plenty of disasters.

On to the good stuff:

1. Irin Carmon explains how HHS wound up backing an abstinence-based sex ed program.

2. Meanwhile, want to see some excellent local journalism? A three-part series from the San Antonio Express-News by Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje compares sex education and results in Texas and California. It ran over the are parts one, two, and three.

3. Jared Bernstein on where unemployment would be without state and local cuts. He mentions the multiplier; what I still want to see is an estimate of the effects of fear of cuts on all those teachers, cops, and prison guards who didn't get laid off.

4. Good Brendan Nyhan column on Obama, Romney, flip-flopping, and journalistic framing. I think he somewhat underplays the extent to which Romney's changing positions are fairly unusual. Consistent with electoral incentives, yes, but unusual all the same. But I certainly agree that it's another leap altogether to use it as evidence of a character flaw.

5. And John Sides updates his previous post on presidential approval ratings; upshot is that Obama is still showing up as beating his expected numbers, but only by a bit.


  1. I've actually gone back and forth (flip-flopped, if you will) on how unusual the extent of Romney's flip-flopping is. I used to think it was somewhat overstated and mostly a result of the political situation Romney found himself in. But what has struck me the more I've observed him is not so much the fact that he flip-flops, or that he's done it on so many different issues, but it's also how utterly transparent and unconvincing he is. I always ask myself, "Would another politician, facing the same situation, be acting like this?" I've started to conclude that Romney has been handling it differently from the way many others would have.

    I think Obama's posturing on gay marriage is truly Romney-like in how ridiculously transparent it is--but I also think it's an exception, a reflection of how uniquely rapid the shift in public opinion on this one issue has been in the last few years. In 2008, no serious presidential contender up to that point had openly backed SSM, not even "progressive" favorites like Howard Dean or John Edwards. In 2016, it is likely that every serious Democrat will back it. In just a few short years, a position that was considered perfectly mainstream in the Democratic Party is coming to be regarded as backwards and reactionary. Has any other issue on the Democratic side shifted so quickly in recent times? Even the shift on the Iraq War wasn't quite so rapid or dramatic.

    If Hillary Clinton or John Edwards or just about any other Democrat happened to occupy the White House now, I don't think they'd be acting substantially different from the way Obama's been acting on this issue. This is not just speculation: for example, people are making hay about Biden's recent remarks apparently endorsing SSM and then seeming to walk it back, but few have pointed out that he did virtually the same thing during the 2008 vp debate, when he stated that he supports benefits for "couples in a same-sex marriage." Gwen Ifill then asked him directly, "Do you support gay marriage?" and he replied, "No. [Neither] Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage," but he added that people of all faiths have the right to define the relationships as they please.

    Part of the reason mainstream Dems are reluctant to come around, I believe, is that they still carry memories of 2004, when Bush's backing of the Federal Marriage Amendment was widely perceived to have contributed to his victory in the presidential race. (Whether that actually was the case is less important than the fact that people believed it was.) So Dems are treading carefully despite the evidence of the shift in public opinion that seems to have occurred since then.

    1. I'd actually put the cause of Dem's reluctance on a few factors.
      1) Prop 8. I don't think the effect of gay marriage losing in "liberal California" can be overstated on the party.
      2) A significant chunk of the party being strongly opposed. African-Americans are an important group in the party and a lot of members go home to majority Af-Am districts. The rest of the party is in favor. In the 2008 ANES, among the whole population, 38% favored gay marriage, 34% opposed, and 26% gave a "civil union" kind of response. Whites are split along party lines, with white Dems 2:1 in favor and white Reps 3:1 against. And black Dems? 48% opposed, 31% in favor. In fact, black Dems are as opposed as white Reps (but much lower in the civil union category).
      3) General Dem wussiness. I know, I know...JB would chime in "Iron Law of Politics" (everyone always thinks their opponents are better organized and more tactically savvy than their side is). But I think it comes back to the debate we had a few weeks ago. When Dems get beat, their instinct is to move the party to the middle. When Reps get beat, their instinct is to make the party more conservative.

    2. Going off of the 2004 point: I think it's also that perhaps up until just very recently it has seemed like increasing the salience of the SSM issue predominantly spurs effective organizational efforts on the right, not on the left. It activates extensive church networks that are right-of-center on gender policy (be they white or black) and that do a damn good job of getting out the vote, or at least seem to. Seems to have happened in 2004, and it still seems to be happening, whether it's prop 8 or NC.

      The SSM issue does better within more deliberative bodies, be they legislative or judicial. But not so much in election/ballot type situations.

  2. Shorter Irin Carmon: Abstinence-based sex-ed works, but that just proves how dastardly evil it was all along.

    It's just standard liberal cognitive dissonance. Teen pregnancy, adultery and divorce are bad things that we want to reduce... but heaven forfend anyone say so, lest they "shame students about their sexual behavior."

    Most of the liberals I know would never dream of behaving like the proles they champion. Charles Murray is right - if they would just preach what they practice, we'd be half way there.

    1. Anon,

      The journolist didn't say what the Promise Keepers received upon being approved. Did you read through the links? I assume that the PKs just want to get some of their tax dollars back.

      The best part was:
      "That process appears to have been followed here –but it shows the limits of a narrowly technocratic approach."
      I wonder how much science is throttled by academe for giving the wrong results.

      But this is silly “girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts.” Because of near-ubiquitous obesity, females peak somewhere around 16. An extra square foot of clothing is not going to make a peak female any less interesting to a teenage male.


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