“They Vote Against Their Own Self-Interest”

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

There’s a common refrain among both parties of the American political system. Members of Group X always vote for the opposing party. But it doesn’t make sense for Group X to be so antagonistic against us. Our party’s policies are actually much more in line with what members of Group X believe. They’re voting against their own self-interest. If only members of Group X woke up and saw the light, they’d be voting for our party all the time.

For Democrats, Group X is generally the working class white southern vote. Poor white southerners, the line goes, benefit much more from Democratic economic policies than from Republican economic policies. Yet they vote strongly Republican. Why, Democrats lament, do poor white southerners continually vote against their own self-interest? If only they realized this, they would start voting Democratic.

For Republicans, Group X is the black (and, to a lesser extent, Latino) vote. I recently listened to a conservative radio host talk extensively about how it just didn’t make sense for the African-American community to be so Democratic. Black churches, for instance, are bastions of Democratic strength, yet their social policies are much more in line with Republican social policies than Democratic ones. African-Americans and Hispanics in general hold very socially conservative views on things such as religion and gay marriage; it doesn’t make sense for them to be voting Democratic when those beliefs are so opposed to Democratic ones. I’m not asking for much, the radio host said, just 30% of the black vote. It’s ridiculous to be losing African-Americans 10-to-90.

In my opinion, these arguments are less valid than they seem. Both poor white southerners and African-Americans have very good reasons to vote for the parties that they do. In both the Democratic and Republican Party there are a subtle (and sometimes not very subtle) currents of hostility towards white southerners and African-Americans, respectively. You don’t have to be in politics very long to be aware of this. White southerners and African-Americans will naturally be reluctant to vote for a party whose fundamental narrative, in many ways, paints themselves as antagonists. Voters aren’t stupid, unlike what many people say.



Why Republicans Aren’t Serious About Reducing the Deficit

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

Republicans talk a good game about why the United States must reduce its debt. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan:

We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.

On this current path, when my three children — who are now 6, 7, and 8 years old — are raising their own children, the federal government will double in size, and so will the taxes they pay.

No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country.

Frankly, it’s one of my greatest concerns as a parent — and I know many of you feel the same way.

Mr. Ryan then proposed a plan whose purpose is purportedly to solve America’s debt problems. To its credit, this plan cuts trillions of dollars in spending. It bravely – or cruelly, depending on your political orientation – cuts the sacred Medicare program.

But then Mr. Ryan’s plan does something very strange, at least if its purpose is to reduce the deficit.

To cut the deficit one has to cut spending and raise taxes. Supply-siders argue that cutting taxes will lead to more revenues raised. Perhaps in a world in which taxation levels are at 90% or 70% that is true, but right now in the United States we’re definitely not at that level (the highest tax bracket is currently 35%). So one have to raise taxes to solve the deficit.

Instead of raising taxes, however, Mr. Ryan cuts trillions of dollars in taxes in his plan.

This is not something unique to this particular Republican. As a whole, the Republican Party steadfastly refused to allow a single dime in revenue increases during the debt ceiling debate. It proudly advocated extending the Bush tax cuts for everybody before that. Fighting against tax increases is a very core element of the Republican program today. The Republican Party does this because it goes against their philosophy of small government.

Now, that’s absolutely fine; there’s nothing wrong with arguing against tax increases. The Republican Party believes that America should lower taxes and lower spending. That’s a philosophy that it will try selling to the American people during election time, and then America will have a debate over that philosophy.

But there is a problem when Republicans sell their proposals as a way to solve the deficit. Cutting taxes and cutting spending does not solve the deficit anymore than “tax and spend liberals” do. Cutting taxes increases the deficit. That’s simply a fact (unless taxes are 70%, which they aren’t in this country).

The Ryan proposal, like most Republican proposals, is a proposal to change America to be more like what Paul Ryan wants America to be like. That may be a better America or a worse America. I personally believe that enacting Ryan’s plan hurts America; many Americans, for very valid reasons, believe that it helps America.

But when Mr. Ryan – or other Republican politicians – sells his proposal as a way to cut the deficit, that’s disingenuous. The plan simply isn’t a way to cut the deficit; it has too many trillions of deficit-raising tax-cuts inside it. It’s fine for Mr. Ryan to advertise his plan as the Republican vision of what America should be like. It’s not fine for him to advertise the plan as a way to cut the deficit. That’s not what Republicans really want; otherwise they would be willing to accept tax increases.

All in all, any Republican who’s not willing to increase taxes is not serious about cutting the deficit, full stop. And since almost no Republican nowadays will agree to tax increases, then the Republican Party as a whole really isn’t serious about reducing America’s debt. It certainly talks a good game. But when push comes to shove, what the Republican Party really wants is to change American to be more like it’s vision of what America should be like (rather than cut the deficit). That’s absolutely fine on its merits. Just don’t pretend that you’re trying to reduce the deficit when you do that.



The Success of Proposition 25 in California

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

Until 2011, California’s budget process followed a very unfortunate pattern. Democrats, who control the legislature, would propose the general outlines. California’s budget required a two-thirds supermajority to pass it in the legislature, however, which Democrats do not have. So any budget would need Republican support.

Republicans would then make a series of demands for their support, demands which Democrats would find unacceptable. The two sides would then be stuck at an impasse. This would last for months, until finally (long after the deadline) some type of compromise would pass. The whole process would then begin anew the next year.

In 2011 all this changed. California passed its first on-time budget since 2006. This budget was only the sixth budget in the last twenty years which has been on-time. The accomplishment is all the more substantial given that it happened in the middle of a recession. In the past, budgets passed before the new fiscal year only during the good times – when revenues were much higher than spending.

Proposition 25, which passed in 2010, is responsible for all this. The proposition did two things to improve the process. Firstly, it annuled the supermajority requirement. From now on, budgets only require a simple legislative majority to pass (like forty-seven other states). No longer can a small minority hold the budget hostage until they get what they want.

Secondly, the proposition permanently took away legislative salaries for every day that the budget was late. Previously pay had just been delayed, not permanently taken away.

This part of the proposition turned out to be a lot more important than anybody thought it would be. At first the clause had just been put in there as a way to sell the proposition to voters. But the threat of permanently losing one’s pay has turned out to be a very powerful incentive for state legislators to pass a budget.

All in all, Proposition 25 has turned out to be an enormous success.

Nevertheless, there is one more reform which California must enact. California still requires a two-thirds supermajority in order to raise taxes. Neither party has this supermajority, although the Democrats are coming close to it.

The problem with this stipulation is very similar with the problem that until this year assailed California’s budget; it enables a small minority to hold the popular majority hostage (by refusing to allow revenue increases) until the minority gets what they want. In 2011 this happened; Democrats were unable to get a single Republican to agree to new revenues. So the budget is composed entirely of spending cuts, especially to California’s university system. Why is your college tuition going up? Because California Republican legislators refuse to allow the budget to be balanced any other way.

Still, a very imperfect budget is much better than no budget at all. Proposition 25 deserves to be commended for accomplishing that.



A Surprising Difference Between Rick Perry and George W. Bush

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

Texas Governor Rick Perry has just entered the 2012 Republican primary, and already the governor is shaking things up. Mr. Perry has jumped to the top of the polls, neck-in-neck with former Governor Mitt Romney.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Perry’s quick rise has invited comparisons to former President George W. Bush. Both, after all, were or are Republican governors of the state of Texas. Both speak with the same Texas drawl. Democrats will be quick to embellish these similarities, attacking Mr. Perry as a clone of the unpopular Mr. Bush.

There is, however, one surprising difference between the two Texas governors.

Rick Perry has campaigned as a proud conservative warrior. He gained national attention for suggesting, mostly as a political ploy, that Texas could secede from the union. He has called the Federal Reserve as acting “treasonous.”  He hosted a prayer rally for the nation just before announcing his candidacy. In the few days since he has declared his candidacy, Mr. Perry has thrown out more red meat than the Republican field has seen for months.

In 2000, on the other hand, Governor George W. Bush campaigned as a moderate. This may surprise a number of people, especially those whose opinion of Mr. Bush is more negative. But it’s the truth: Mr. Bush played much on the theme of “compassionate conservatism” in 2000. In the area of foreign policy, he promised an end to the foreign “misadventures” that the Clinton administration was so fond of getting into. Mr. Bush spent much time talking about the bipartisan success he’d had working with the Democratic Texas legislature. He promised to continue doing this as president.

Of course, the events of September 11th fundamentally upturned Mr. Bush’s presidency; after that, he spoke no longer about compassionate conservatism. Who knows what Mr. Bush might have done had America not been attacked then.

Be as that may, the fact remains that Mr. Bush and Mr. Perry campaigned and are campaigning on two very different themes. Mr. Perry is advertising himself as a conservative firebrand. Mr. Bush advertised himself as a “compassionate conservative.” The two are very different themes, and observers of the 2012 Republican primary may well be advised to pay attention to the difference.



Why Mitt Romney Shouldn’t Ignore Iowa

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Former Massachusetts governor and Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney has embarked upon an utterly stupid political strategy: ignore Iowa, the first voting state in the 2012 Republican primary. As Frank Bruni of the New York Times puts it:

If the Iowa Republican debate were to provide a truly accurate mirror of the race at this juncture, Tim Pawlenty would wear a sandwich board, with a scrawled plea to the state’s voters: “Save me.” Michele Bachmann would spin onto the stage in a giant teacup, to find a microphone three times the size of anyone else’s and a spotlight four times as bright. Newt Gingrich, looking characteristically put out, would unveil a new campaign slogan: “The Glower for This Hour.”

And the party’s most likely nominee, Mitt Romney? He wouldn’t show. The less seen of him, after all, the better.

That’s not my harsh assessment. That’s been his de facto campaign strategy this summer.

Mr. Romney is following this strategy due to his failure to win Iowa during the 2008 Republican primary. After spending enormous amounts of time and money on the state, Mr. Romney found himself outflanked by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Despite running a number of negative ads on Mr. Huckabee, the former Massachusetts governor lost the primary by a considerable margin. Crucial to his loss was the perception of Mr. Romney as a flip-flopper who wasn’t a true conservative.

So this time the candidate is ignoring Iowa.

Unfortunately, Mr. Romney simply cannot ignore Iowa, whatever he may wish. If he does so, then he will certainly lose the state. No state likes to be ignored, and Mr. Romney is weak in Iowa already.

Most probably, either Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann or Governor Rick Perry will win Iowa if Mr. Romney does not compete. A victory in Iowa will then set up either candidate as the Republican alternative to Mr. Romney. The media pays huge amounts of attention to the Iowa caucuses. Whoever wins them, if Mr. Romney does not, will instantly be catapulted into national attention. And, given Mr. Romney’s weaknesses on consistency, there’s a very good chance that he will lose the nomination to them.

So Mr. Romney shouldn’t ignore Iowa. He has to compete; if he wins, than he can eliminate the threat to his candidacy early on. If he loses, he’ll more likely than not lose the nomination.

It’s a tough choice. Mr. Romney will more likely than not lose Iowa even if he does spend the next few months of his life campaigning in the state.

Once again Mr. Romney’s problems fundamentally boil down to the fact that he is a terrible politician. Given the weakness of the current Republican field, by all rights Mr. Romney should be leading his opposition by double-digits. And if he were doing that, then Governor Rick Perry would never have joined the field in the first place.

Unfortunately, there is little that Mr. Romney can do about this anymore. The only thing that he can do at this point is to stop ignoring the most important caucus in the nation.



Misunderstanding the “Osama” Bounce

A number of Beltway pundits have remarked upon the effect that bringing justice to Osama bin Laden had on President Barack Obama’s approval ratings. The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Obama enjoyed a brief “Osama bounce” in polling. Now, with yet more bad economic news, Mr. Obama’s Osama bounce has faded.

This is a complete misunderstanding of what the killing of Osama bin Laden actually means for the president.

A “bounce” in one’s approval ratings is the result of a fleeting event which temporarily makes one look good, but which nobody will remember in a year. The political conventions that take place during every presidential election result in bounces. Modern political conventions make the presidential nominee look good, but nothing meaningful ever happens in them.

Another example of a bounce: Mr. Obama’s well-received speech after Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s shooting. This was a fleeting event which temporarily made Mr. Obama look good. But the average American probably has already forgotten who Ms. Giffords even is. (Don’t believe me? Try testing your neighbor.)

In contrast, nobody will forget the death of Osama bin Laden for a long, long time. When the history books are written one hundred years later, they will still mention it.

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Politically, Bin Laden’s death means far more than just a mere “Osama bounce” for the president. It rips an enormous hole through the Republican critique of Mr. Obama on foreign policy.

This critique is best described by the titles of two articles by conservative magazines The Weekly Standard and The National Review. Their titles are “A Leader From Behind” and “The Embarrassed Superpower.” Republican criticize Mr. Obama as weak on national security, uninterested in American exceptionalism, too apologetic for America’s mistakes, and so on. It’s a very classical critique of any Democratic politician.

That Mr. Obama’s administration brought the Al-Qaeda leader to justice fundamentally works against these themes. How can one say that the president apologizes too much after Bin Laden’s death? How can one say that the president is too “soft” after he ordered one of the most macho operations in American history?

In essence, Bin Laden’s death has sealed off foreign policy as an avenue for the 2012 Republican nominee to criticize the president. Republicans will fight the 2012 presidential election on the economy and on domestic policy. They may win; they may lose. But due to his administration’s success in bringing the world’s number one terrorist to justice, Mr. Obama looks set to be pretty much invincible in the realm of foreign policy come 2012.



Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the Ohio Gubernatorial Election

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will analyze the Ohio gubernatorial election, in which Republican John Kasich narrowly defeated Democrat Ted Strickland.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Ohio’s Gubernatorial Election

In most of the 2010 midterm elections, Democratic performances were strikingly similar to President Barack Obama’s performance in 2008. If a place had generally voted Democratic in the past, but didn’t vote for Mr. Obama – it tended not to vote Democratic in 2010 either. An example of this is southwest Pennsylvania. The same holds true for places that generally voted Republican in the past but went for Mr. Obama this time (e.g. the Houston and Salt Lake City metropolitan areas.)

Ohio’s gubernatorial election was an exception to this trend. Democratic former Governor Ted Strickland built a very traditional Democratic coalition in Ohio:

(A note: Credit for the first three maps in this post goes to the New York Times.)

This map is strikingly similar to previous Democratic performances in Ohio, and less similar to Mr. Obama’s. Mr. Obama did unusually well in Columbus and Cincinnati and unusually badly in the Ohio’s northeast unionized industrial corridor. Mr. Strickland depended less on Columbus and Cincinnati and more on the northeast.

Ohio’s 2010 gubernatorial election looks very similar to previous elections. Here, for instance, is President George W. Bush in 2004:

Even more similarly, we can look at President Bill Clinton’s victory in 1996. Of course, Mr. Clinton won Ohio by a decent margin while Mr. Strickland lost. But if you simply imagine the Republican margins widening and the Democratic margins decreasing, you get something very similar to Mr. Strickland’s map:

One can go further back – to the 1976 presidential election or even the 1940 presidential election – and get similar results. (Note that in the link for the 1976 presidential election, blue indicates Republican victories while red indicates Democratic victories; this is the opposite of the norm.)

Republican Governor John Kasich thus won a victory based off electoral patterns more than three generations old.

Two Unusual Patterns

Let’s compare Mr. Kasich’s performance with Senator John McCain’s performance:

This is a very unusual map. When most Republicans win, Republican strongholds shift more to the Republican candidate, while Democratic strongholds shift less.

This did not happen with Mr. Kasich. Rather, Mr. Kasich seems to have improved the most in the more populated areas of Ohio (Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland). He actually does worse than Mr. McCain in a number of Republican counties.

Notice also how Mr. Strickland improves upon Mr. Obama along the southeastern border of Ohio. This is not an accident; Mr. Strickland’s area of improvement directly traces the old congressional district he represented before becoming governor.

Here is a map of Ohio’s congressional districts. Mr. Strickland represented the 6th congressional district in the map:

There is one final interesting note about the 2010 Ohio gubernatorial election. Republican candidate John Kasich lost much of Appalachian southeastern Ohio. This is a rare occurrence; that part of Ohio is economically liberal but socially conservative and quite poor. It usually votes Republican but will occasionally go for a Democratic candidate.

Generally, this only happens when the Republican candidate is losing. That Mr. Kasich lost southeastern Ohio but still won the state is a rare thing.

The Democratic Party is in trouble in this part of America; it has gone from Clinton country to one of the few areas where Barack Obama did worse than John Kerry. The Democratic officeholders in this region are gradually being swept out of office.

Yet Mr. Strickland was able to win soundly in Appalachian Ohio, despite losing the state during the strongest Republican wave in a generation. That is quite a unique accomplishment. It offers a ray of hope to Democrats in Appalachian America.




The Crisis in the Developed World

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

I recently had a conversation with a college student hailing from the great country Spain. After talking about my summer activities, I asked him about the internships and jobs he had available in Spain.

He said that there was nothing. No jobs, no internships for anybody his age in Spain. No work at all. It was a crisis that had become normality. A global crisis.

It’s true. The developed world is facing an unprecedented period of weakness. All the titans of the First World are trembling. America is in the throes of high unemployment and a stagnant economy. Even so, it is better off than the other pillars of the developed world.

Japan has been stagnant for decades. The tsunami and the nuclear meltdown have intertwined with political weakness to further damage the nation.

Then there is Europe. Europe’s periphery is in danger of going bankrupt (or already bankrupt). Countries with enormous economies, such as Spain or Italy, are being sucked in this very moment.

So the developed world is in an unprecedented crisis. There are pockets of strength. Canada’s economy is strong. Germany’s economy is too strong. Australia and South Korea are benefiting from China’s economic coattails.

While the First World languishes, the Third World is booming. Brazil and Peru are leading the charge in Latin America; Africa is experiencing its best decade for a long time. And then there are the titans of India and China.

The result is that global inequality is on the decline. People have said for decades that the Third World is catching up to the First World. Sometimes this has been true; more often it has been not.

But now the Third World really is catching up, and catching up fast. It’s not pretty for the First World.


Don’t Overrate Barack Obama’s Campaign

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

In the 2008 presidential election, Senator John McCain ran the better campaign.

This statement goes strongly against conventional wisdom. After all, President Barack Obama’s campaign is widely praised by the media for its masterful turn-out operation and other achievements. This is, of course, because Mr. Obama won the election. Winning candidates, by definition, are almost always considered to have run the better campaign. (Quick: name a losing politician who ran a better campaign than his opponent.)

In fact there were two things that propelled Mr. Obama to victory in 2008, and neither of them had to do with his campaign apparatus. The first was the political environment. Mr. Obama had the fortune of running after a two-term unpopular Republican administration. He did this, moreover, in the midst of a financial meltdown for which blame went to said administration. It’s hard to lose an election under those circumstances.

Secondly, Mr. Obama was a more attractive candidate than Mr. McCain. He was younger, he looked better on camera, he gave much better speeches. Mr. Obama had a magnetism that could attract crowds numbering greater than 100,000. His opponent simply didn’t have that.

But Mr. Obama’s campaign itself wasn’t actually that amazing. It was a fairly conservative operation that took things very safe. The campaign tried to be very cautious, avoiding any risky and exciting maneuvers. This happened under the principle that the senator probably was going to win anyways – so a boring, conventional campaign was much safer than a risky, unconventional one. It’s hard to fault his operation for this conclusion, because Mr. Obama did in fact win.

It was Senator John McCain’s campaign that took risks and made headlines. In many ways his campaign was better than Mr. Obama’s. It won more of the daily media battles until the financial crisis – and there was nothing it could really do about that. It ran better ads. How many Obama ads do you remember, for instance? What about McCain ads? I bet a lot of people remember this one.

Mr. McCain’s campaign also made the more memorable moves. It selected an unforgettable Vice Presidential nominee (in contrast, Mr. Obama once again took the safe route in picking Senator Joe Biden). It famously promised to suspend its campaign in the midst of the financial meltdown. Some of these moves worked; some of them didn’t. But they were very rational moves to take; there was simply no way Mr. McCain could have won in 2008 without taking enormous, risky gambles.

Mr. Obama’s campaign is widely credited for bringing many young and African-American voters to the polls who otherwise wouldn’t have shown up. But those voters came not because of the campaign, but because of Mr. Obama himself. If the entire campaign operation had remained the same, but Senator Barack Obama had been replaced by Senator John Kerry, how many of those people would have shown up?

The moral of this analysis is not to overrate the Obama campaign. There was a Democratic wave in 2008, and Mr. Obama’s campaign deserves credit for riding that wave with the help of a very gifted politician. But to say that ”Obama put together one of the most impressive campaign operations of all time” is a big exaggeration.



One of the Most Heartless Articles I’ve Ever Read

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

The rising cost of higher education is one of the main ailments affecting America. The earnings differential between those with college degrees and those without has become greater during this recession. This is because the recession hit jobs like construction, which don’t require a college degree, especially hard.

So as college becomes more expensive and more important, it becomes harder for the poor to climb the economic ladder. American inequality is a fundamental problem today, and the rising cost of college doesn’t help.

With this context in mind, I recently had the displeasure of reading one of the most heartless articles I’ve ever looked at. This article, by conservative commentator Michael Barone, argued that the rising cost of college is due to government subsidies. Specifically, college is so expensive because the government keeps on giving money to poor people so that they can attend college:

…government has been subsidizing higher education with low-interest college loans, Pell grants, and cheap tuitions at state colleges and universities.

The predictable result is that higher education costs have risen much faster than inflation, much faster than personal incomes, much faster than the economy over the past 40 years.

What is Mr. Barone’s presumed solution? Stop giving federal aid to poor people who want to attend college! After all, “government subsidies can go too far.”

Firstly, Mr. Barone is wrong on why college costs are rising so exponentially. The value of “government subsidies” has in fact gone down as college tuition has risen. The federal Pell Grant gives low-income students money to attend college. When it was first introduced in 1979, it covered three-fourths the cost of the typical four-year university. Today it covers only about one-third the cost of a typical four-year university. For private universities, it amounts to barely more than one-tenth the cost.

But that’s almost beside the point. What this article really brought to mind is my fundamental problem with conservatism and the Republican Party. Mr. Barone’s article lacks a single note of empathy for the poor. Indeed, in today’s political climate, conservatives have actually made the phrase “helping the poor” sound like a bad thing.

And this pattern is not just related to the poor. It always seems that conservatives and Republicans are against actions helping those society has left behind – whether it be minorities, immigrants, the poor, women, or whomever. Fundamentally, and to speak impolitely but honestly, they just don’t give a damn about anybody unlike themselves.




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