The Retro Campaign

We should not be fighting about equal pay for equal work and access to birth control in 2012. These issues were resolved years ago until the Republicans brought them back.

Elizabeth Warren

This week everybody was talking about the VP debate

Initial reports were mixed: Biden dominated the conversation, but Ryan seemed to defend his position well enough, and maybe Biden’s aggressive style turned off some voters. Democrats were happy with their guy and Republicans were happy with theirs, so the pundits called the net result a draw.

But it soon became clear that the debate’s most memorable moment didn’t go well for Ryan, who was denouncing “pork to campaign contributors and special interest groups” in the stimulus when he ran into this buzzsaw:

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: He sent me two letters saying, by the way, can you send me some stimulus money for companies here in the state of Wisconsin? We sent millions of dollars. You know why he said he needed —

MS. RADDATZ: You did ask for stimulus money, correct?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Sure he did. By the way — (inaudible) —

REP. RYAN: On two occasions, we — we — we advocated for constituents who were applying for grants.


REP. RYAN: That’s what we do. We do that for all constituents who are — (inaudible) — for grants.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I love that. I love that.

Then the fact-checkers weighed in. As in his convention speech, Ryan was making stuff up right and left: No, there wasn’t $90 billion of “green pork” in the stimulus. No, six studies didn’t prove Romney’s tax-plan arithmetic works.  (Even Fox News isn’t buying that one.) And how can Mr. Obstruction Himself criticize the Obama administration for its unwillingness to work with Republicans?

After a few days, Republicans were still claiming Ryan did well, but they were behaving as if he had lost: blaming the moderator and complaining about how “mean” Biden was to their boy wonder.

Ryan absorbed another barb when he defended Romney’s tax math:

REP. RYAN: You can cut tax rates by 20 percent and still preserve these important preferences for middle-class taxpayers —

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Not mathematically possible.

REP. RYAN: It is mathematically possible. It’s been done before. It’s precisely what we’re proposing.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: (Chuckles.) It has never been done before.

REP. RYAN: It’s been done a couple of times, actually.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: It has never been done before.

REP. RYAN: Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, increased growth. Ronald Reagan —

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy.

REP. RYAN: Ronald Reagan — (laughter) — (chuckles) — Republicans and Democrats —

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: This is amazing.

And lest you think “now you’re Jack Kennedy” was a cheap shot, New Republic’s Timothy Noah takes the time Biden didn’t have to explain why Romney’s tax cut bears no resemblance to Kennedy’s.

In short, Biden made good on my prediction from August:

The Republican rank-and-file … believe Ryan is really, really smart and expect him to wipe the floor with that doofus Joe Biden.

I think they’ll be surprised.

BTW, from my point of view (and Grist’s David Roberts’), moderator Martha Raddatz’s questions favored conservative frames and talking points: Social Security is going bankrupt. The abortion issue is about religious values rather than individual rights.

And why were there no questions about climate change or increasing economic inequality?

Many people were moved by Ryan’s story about seeing “a little baby … in the shape of a bean” on his wife’s ultrasound. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik said what I was thinking:

Ryan’s moral intuition that something was indeed wonderful here was undercut, tellingly, by a failure to recognize accurately what that wonderful thing was, even as he named it: a bean is exactly what the photograph shows —- a seed, a potential, a thing that might yet grow into something greater, just as a seed has the potential to become a tree. A bean is not a baby.

… it isn’t life that’s sacred—the world is full of life, much of which Paul Ryan wants to cut down and exploit and eat done medium rare. It is conscious, thinking life that counts, and where and exactly how it begins (and ends) is so complex a judgment that wise men and women, including some on the Supreme Court, have decided that it is best left, at least at its moments of maximum ambiguity, to the individual conscience

… and the continuing tightening of the polls

Nate Silver’s model is designed not to over-react to the current headline, so the tightening has showed up gradually. Before the first debate, Nate was giving President Obama an 86% chance of victory, but now it’s down to 63%.

There’s always a lag between events and polls about the public’s reaction, partly because it takes time for people to figure out what they think, and partly because it takes time to assemble meaningful poll results. So we don’t really know yet whether Biden’s performance Wednesday stopped the slide. (This morning’s ABC/WaPo poll, where Obama has a 49%-46% lead, hints that it did.)

Kevin Drum adds an interesting bit of hindsight: If you look carefully at the polling, Romney’s comeback started before the debate. Possibly it began as a bounceback from the public’s pro-Obama reaction to the 47% controversy.

Here’s some wild speculation: I think maybe 2-3% of voters are deciding purely on optics; they don’t want to vote for a guy who looks like a loser. After Romney’s 47% video, they swung to Obama, but after the first debate they swung to Romney.

The fate of the country may hang on those fickle 2-3%.

Meanwhile, the Republican hope to take the Senate is quietly fading. But they’re on course to retain the House.

One reason Democrats might retain the Senate is this hard-hitting ad from Claire McCaskill.

… and the campaign in general

So, Romney voters, which of these two guys are you voting for?

Speaking to the Columbus Dispatch, Mitt Romney repeated one of the “five pretty lies” I identified in August. #2 on that list was “The uninsured can get the medical care they need in the ER.” Here’s Romney’s version:

We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, “Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack.” No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.

By focusing on heart attacks, Romney avoided a direct lie and instead was just grossly misleading. A more illuminating example is high blood pressure: An ER may diagnose you with treatable hypertension and write you a prescription to control it. But if you can’t pay for those drugs, you won’t get them. If that non-treatment leads to a stroke, once again the ER can help you. But (assuming they save your life), if you need post-crisis rehabilitation to regain your ability to speak or walk or use your hands, you’re on your own again.

In short, if Romney convinced you that the uninsured are doing fine, you’ve been tricked. TPM linked to a variety of studies that estimate the number of Americans who die each year for lack of insurance. The estimates vary depending on the technique, but they are all five-digit numbers.

In other words, lack of insurance has a death rate comparable to a major war.

Paul Krugman combines this with Romney’s tax cuts and draws the obvious conclusion:

a literal description of their plan is that they want to expose many Americans to financial insecurity, and let some of them die, so that a handful of already wealthy people can have a higher after-tax income.

Some “job creators” have announced their plans to be job destroyers if Obama is re-elected. But if we do what they say, nobody gets hurt.

About those “six studies” that supposedly back up Mitt Romney’s claims about his tax plan … Bloomberg columnist Josh Barro got the Romney campaign to list them.

Guess what? They aren’t studies. (Some are newspaper op-eds or blog posts.) There aren’t six of them. (Marty Feldstein gets counted twice; once for an op-ed and then again for a follow-up blog post.) And none proves that Romney’s numbers add up. Barro comments:

Finally, I would note one item that the Romney campaign does not cite in support of its tax plan: Any analysis actually prepared for the campaign in preparation for announcing the plan in February. You would expect that, in advance of announcing a tax plan, the campaign would commission an analysis to make sure that all of its planks can coexist. Releasing that analysis now would be to the campaign’s advantage, helping them put down claims like mine that their math doesn’t add up.

Why don’t they release that analysis? My guess is because the analysis doesn’t exist, and the 20 percent rate cut figure was plucked out of thin air for political reasons without regard to whether it was feasible.

Bad talking point: Obama doubled the price of gas.

Average retail gasoline prices have more than doubled under President Obama, according to government statistics, rising from $1.84 per gallon to $3.85 per gallon.

True? As far as it goes, but look at the graph:

Gas prices are pretty much exactly where they were during the Bush administration’s final summer. They crashed with everything else in the fall of 2008, hitting their low in December. But as the economy recovered, people started driving again and gas prices went back up.

So gas prices are a perverse measure of the success of the Obama economic policy, not its failure. If we had gone into the Second Great Depression that seemed to be looming on Inauguration Day, I’m sure gas would be much cheaper now.

… but I wrote about food safety

Or, more accurately, Bloomberg News did. “When the Food Industry Inspects Itself” is a short note that overgrew its space. (It’s still a lot shorter than the original article.)

Free-market dogma says that the market provides all the motivation companies need to keep their products safe and high-quality: A company depends on its spotless reputation, it needs repeat customers, and so on. So government regulators, inspectors, and testers just get in the way.

You may not realize it, but the U.S. has been running a massive experiment to test that notion, and you’re the guinea pig. Over the last 30 years, the government has been withdrawing from its food-inspection role, leaving the job to contractors and to the food companies themselves.

How’s it working? Not so well, actually.

… and you also might find this interesting

I’m considering making “What did Chris Hayes talk about this weekend?” a regular part of the weekly summary. Sunday’s edition of “Up” had a great discussion of polling; not just “Who’s going to win the election?”, but “What is polling about and how does it enlighten or mislead us?”.

The biggest problem with polling is that it can make public opinion seem real when it really isn’t. On a complex issue like cap-and-trade as a way to mitigate global warming, the honest majority opinion might be “I don’t know what that is.” But that’s not what the headline is going to say when poll is published.

Another persistent issue is that questions tend to be abstract, when many people think in specifics. You’ll get one response if you ask “Do you support same-sex marriage?” But you might get a different one to “If two women or two men want to get married, should the government stop them?”, and a different one yet in real life, when the two guys have names and live next door.

SNL skewers geeky critics of the iPhone 5.

The WaPo reports on a follow-up to one of the classic psychology experiments, the Stanford marshmallow experiment. In the original, children got a choice between eating a marshmallow now, or sitting in the marshmallow’s presence for 15 minutes to earn two marshmallows. Years later, researchers determined that the kids who had successfully delayed their gratification were more competent young adults than the others.

The experiment is widely discussed among non-psychologists because it verifies a piece of folk wisdom: There is such a thing as self-control. Some people have it, others don’t, and it determines a lot about how successful you’ll be.

The follow-up undermines that explanation. In this case, the marshmallow offer is preceded by interactions with an adult. Some of the kids interact with a reliable adult, who keeps promises and is organized enough to make things happen on schedule. The others interact with an unreliable adult whose promises and predictions may not pan out.

Well, guess what? The first group of kids are much more likely to wait for the two-marshmallow payoff than the second group. And that suggests an alternate interpretation: Some kids grow up in reliable, predictable environments where the future is worth strategizing over, and some kids don’t. Maybe that reliable environment is what predicts success, rather than a some-got-it-some-don’t quality of a child’s character.

What’s America’s fastest-growing major religion? None of the above.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has been studying religious trends for a long time. Recently the trend towards religious non-affiliation has accelerated:

“Nones” went from 15% of the population in 2007 to nearly 20% only five years later. They now outnumber white evangelicals and are gaining on Catholics. To a certain extent individuals are leaving their churches, but the bigger story is that increasing numbers of young people never develop a religious affiliation to begin with. As their church-going elders die off, young adults are not filling the ranks.

It’s striking how much more political deference white evangelicals get, even though there are fewer of them. Six Supreme Court justices are Catholic, but I can’t imagine a nominee sailing through Congress as a confessed None.

Maybe someday, Nones will develop a sense of identity and demand equality.

And finally, remember to protect your cats this Halloween. Jack-o-Lanterns love cats.

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  • Anonymous  On October 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I protest! They counted UUs as christians saying they self-described that way. Did the UUA change what it is to be a UU when I wasn’t looking? Not that it would change the numbers much.

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