Let’s say you’re a Democratic political consultant who has never worked for Barack Obama. How do you feel about him and his team? Well, chances are that although you respect their skill, you also think they’re too insular and too unwilling to listen to outside advice. Like yours! Because after all, if you’re a Democratic political consultant and you don’t work for the Obama campaign, you probably wish you did. There’s a lot of prestige, and not a little money, in working for the president’s re-election effort. If you didn’t work for the historic 2008 effort, you probably feel a little left out. And you probably also feel that you’re just as smart as David Axelrod or David Plouffe, and you ought to be going on Meet the Press to share your wisdom just like they do.
But you can’t. So what can you do? You can complain anonymously to reporters that the Obama campaign is doing it wrong:
That kind of unflappability is a hallmark of the Obama political operation — and was a crucial ingredient in its success in 2008. But some Democratic veterans are wondering whether the reelection campaign, run by the same tight-knit group that led it four years ago, is equipped for what lies ahead.
“The bad thing is, there is no new thinking in that circle,” said one longtime operative in Democratic presidential campaigns who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
Eight other prominent Democratic strategists interviewed shared that view, describing Obama’s team as resistant to advice and assistance from those who are not part of its core. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity as well.
When a consultant says the Obama team is “resistant to advice,” what he or she means is, “They won’t take my advice.”
I’m not saying every decision the Obama campaign has made has been perfect. But you know what? They’re pretty good at this running for president thing. The economy is stuck in the crapper, which should spell doom for an incumbent president, yet they remain a couple of points ahead of their opponent. They have a voter contact operation that is light years ahead of anything that’s ever been done before. They’ve barely begun airing ads attacking Mitt Romney. All in all, things are going pretty well.
Again, I’m not saying they can’t lose, and I’m not saying they haven’t made mistakes or won’t make more. But it’s important to remember that these kinds of complaints from people who aren’t working for the campaign happen in every single election. And the fact that these complaints are coming from political professionals tells you virtually nothing about how valid they are, since they are likely heavily motivated by professional jealousy.
You’ll do a lot better emotionally over the course of the next four and a half months if you keep this in mind: The polls are going to go up and down. At some point, Mitt Romney will be leading. This will almost certainly happen just after his convention; that’s usually how things go (John McCain led Barack Obama after his convention in 2008, and so did a lot of other candidates who went on to lose, perhaps most famously Michael Dukakis, who led by a remarkable 17 points). The important thing is not to assume that all is lost and everything the campaign has done has been a failure when those movements in the polls happen. Just chill out.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 13, 2012
People like me often complain about “he said/she said” reporting, which treats all claims by competing political actors as having equal validity, and doesn’t bother to determine whether one side or the other might not be telling the truth. There are lots of reasons why that kind of reporting is harmful, but it’s important to understand that it doesn’t just keep people soaking in a lukewarm bath of ignorance, it can actively misinform them, leading them to believe things that are false.
Today’s New York Times has a textbook example of what happens when political reporters can do when they refuse to adjudicate a factual dispute between candidates. In the story, Michael Barbaro doesn’t just allow Mitt Romney to deceive, he actively abets that deception in the way he constructs his narrative. Here’s the key excerpt:
In a speech here in Orlando, Mr. Romney seized on a statement that the president made on Monday about the Affordable Care Act.
In an interview, a television reporter had asked the president about a small business in Iowa, whose owner claimed that the president’s health care legislation had contributed to its closing in the state. Mr. Obama said that such an assertion of cause and effect was “kind of hard to explain.”
“Because the only folks that have been impacted in terms of the health care bill are insurance companies who are required to make sure that they’re providing preventive care, or they’re not dropping your coverage when you get sick,” Mr. Obama said. “And so, this particular company probably wouldn’t have been impacted by that.”
A gaffe? Mr. Romney treated it that way, and in his speech at a factory that makes air filters, he called the statement “something else that shows just how much out of touch” the president is. “He said he didn’t understand that Obamacare was hurting small business,” Mr. Romney said. “You have to scratch your head about that.”
Mr. Romney cited an online survey of almost 1,500 small-business owners, performed last July for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which found that three-quarters of them said they would be less likely to hire because of the burdens of the Affordable Care Act.
The candidates disagree about things many, many times a day, but because Barbaro’s whole story is about “gaffes,” his inclusion of this particular disagreement implies that Obama’s statement must belong in that category. After all, if what Obama said was a plainly accurate description of the Affordable Care Act, then not only wouldn’t it be a “gaffe,” the disagreement would actually be an example of Mitt Romney being dishonest. But Barbaro classifies it as a gaffe (and don’t tell me the inclusion of a question mark gets him off the hook for doing so), which can only mean that Romney is right, or at the very least that Romney has a reasonable case to make.
But of course, that’s not true. Not even remotely. Obama was absolutely accurate in what he said. First of all, there are no provisions of the ACA that have already taken effect that affect small businesses. Secondly, the provisions that will take effect in 2014 will benefit small businesses. So if there’s a business owner in Iowa who says he closed his business because of the Affordable Care Act, there are only two possibilities: either he’s crazy, or he’s lying. It’s as simple as that. It would make no more sense to ask the president, “Mr. President, there’s a guy in Iowa who says his business shut down because the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act mandated that he spend eight hours every day building life-size butter sculptures of Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem, and that left him no time to balance his books. Doesn’t this show that the law is imposing impossible burdens on small business?”
I don’t doubt that many small business owners believe that the Affordable Care Act is one day going to impose some terrible, as-yet-to-be-specified burdens on them. After all, they’ve been told that many times by Republicans, by conservative media figures, and by pro-Republican groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I’m also sure that many small business owners believe that they’ve been abducted by anal-probing aliens, or that astrology is a science. But that belief doesn’t make it true. There is an objective reality here, and it isn’t a complicated one to figure out.
If the candidates have a disagreement about how the ACA affects small businesses, and a political reporter isn’t actually familiar enough with it to determine who’s telling the truth, he has a few choices. He could use that secret trick known to only the most experienced journalists, called “picking up the phone,” and call someone who knows what the Affordable Care Act does, and ask that person how it affects small businesses. There are a few hundred people in Washington who’d be happy to take his call and explain things. The reporter could also go to this thing called “the Internet,” which can prove quite helpful on matters like this one. If you type “Affordable Care Act provisions affecting small businesses” into Google, you get this handy fact sheet from the Kaiser Family Foundation as your first result. Read it and you’ll learn that most of the provisions relating to small businesses will make the coverage they obtain more comprehensive, and probably less expensive. You’ll also learn, if you didn’t know it before, that companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the Act’s requirement to carry health coverage. It’s true that companies with over 50 employees will have to offer insurance to their employees, but the fact sheet will tell you, intrepid reporter, that 92 percent of companies with between 50 and 100 employees already do, as do 97 percent of companies with over 100 employees.
These aren’t complicated things to learn. You don’t need a public policy degree to grasp them and incorporate them into your reporting. You could even ask Romney or his representatives exactly what burdens they believe the ACA imposes on small business, and when they say, “Um, regulation and stuff!” ask them again to be specific, and when they can’t actually come up with anything, relate that fact in your story. Or there’s a final option available to you, one that this reporter chose, and many other reporters do every day: You can just not bother to find out the truth and share it with your readers. Why do they deserve it, anyway? Better to just wait for the next exciting “gaffe” and write four or five stories about that.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Writer, The American Prospect, June
It’s no secret that the presidential election will be decided by the state of the economy and which candidate has a better plan for creating jobs. So, toward that end, consider a few relevant numbers:
+ 1.4 million to 3.3 million—that’s how many jobs were created or saved by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the stimulus, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
+ 1.9 million—that’s the number of new jobs the American Jobs Act, unveiled by President Obama in September 2011, would create, according to Mark Zandi of Moody’s.
- 4.1 million—that’s how many jobs Paul Ryan’s budget, which Mitt Romney called “an excellent piece of work,” would eliminate through 2014, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
+11.5 million—that’s how many jobs Romney claimed last September he would create in the first term of his administration. But true to form, Romney never said how he would create that many jobs, nor has any reputable economist backed up his claim. “Nowhere in the 160 page plan could I find a stated job creation number,” wrote Rebecca Thiess of EPI. “The math doesn’t just appear to be fuzzy—it appears to be nonexistent.” Added David Madland of the Center for American Progress: “It is a plan from the Republican candidate for president designed to maximize corporate profits. What it doesn’t do is help the middle class or create jobs.” Even the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal called Romney’s fifty-nine-point economic tome “surprisingly timid and tactical considering our economic predicament.”
Following last month’s disappointing jobs report, Romney offered six specific ideas to lift the flagging economy. Reported Greg Sargent:
He said he would tap our energy resources to “put a lot of people to work in the energy sector.” He said he’d repeal Obamacare, which is “scaring small businesses from hiring.” He said he’d balance the budget so people know “investing in America is going to yield a return in dollars worth something.” He vowed to “open up new markets in American trade.” He said he’d revamp the National Labor Relations Board and lower tax rates on employers, both of which would make it easier to hire people.
Sargent asked a few top economists whether Romney’s ideas would actually create jobs. “On net, all of these policies would do more harm in the short term,” responded Mark Hopkins, a senior adviser at Moody’s Analytics. “If we implemented all of his policies, it would push us deeper into recession and make the recovery slower.”
Hopkins’s quote might just be the most important one of the campaign so far. Every story about the candidates’ positions on the economy should mention this essential dynamic: Obama has a jobs plan. Romney doesn’t. In fact, according to economists, Romney’s prescriptions for the economy would only make a bad situation significantly worse.
By: Ari Berman, The Nation, June 12, 2012
If someone asked you to come up with a good reason that Mitt Romney—the boring one-term governor of a state he left with high debt, poor job-creation and low approval ratings—became a credible national candidate, you might have a hard time doing so. The fact that he is wealthy and could self-finance his way into the top tier of Republican presidential contenders helped, as did the fact that he had won in the bluest of states, Massachusetts.
But the main reason, ironically, is that he was associated with a policy achievement—healthcare reform—that he has completely come to oppose. Back in 2007, Republicans still pretended to care about the crisis of 45 million uninsured Americans and costs that keep spiraling upwards. And so they looked to the one Republican who had tackled that problem at the state level and had done so with a program that harnessed the private sector rather than creating a massive new entitlement program. Conservative organs such as National Review, which would later inveigh against the Affordable Care Act (ACA), cited Romney’s experience with reforming the health insurance system as one of his most valuable credentials.
Throughout this campaign Romney has walked a tiny tightrope on healthcare: he attempts to make amends for passing the state level template for the ACA by issuing over the top denunciations of socialist, unconstitutional “Obamacare.” Meanwhile he has studiously avoided saying anything of substance about how he would address the massive market failure that defined the pre-reform American healthcare system.
On Tuesday in Orlando Romney gave a speech intended to create the false impression that he intends to replace the ACA with something that would provide the same benefits through other means. Here is how the Washington Post summarized the speech: “Romney fleshed out a plan he proposed earlier that would apply free-enterprise principles to the nation’s health-care system rather than operate it like a ‘government-managed utility,’ letting competition drive down prices and increase quality.” The “earlier” they refer to is Romney’s big healthcare speech last May that was meant to make it clear how different he is from Obama on the subject.
That was the main thrust again on Tuesday. Romney repeated the usual right-wing shibboleths: that the ACA has hamstrung the economic recovery by placing “unaffordable” cost burdens and new taxes on families and businesses. He has been at this for a while, using misleading anecdotes, such as his blatant misrepresentation of a passage from Noam Scheiber’s book that he claims shows the White House knew healthcare reform would damage the recovery, when it only shows that it knew more stimulus might have been more valuable to the short-term recovery. Of course, had Obama proposed more stimulus spending instead of healthcare reform in the fall of 2009, Romney and other Republicans would have opposed it.
In fact, the Romney campaign appears to disagree with the Post that Romney offered much more substance than he did last May. When I asked for details of what he is proposing, the campaign said he laid it out last year and the program is available on the campaign website.
The healthcare page on Romney’s site does not, in fact, tell you much about what Romney would do. Instead it mostly offers vague, inoffensive sounding principles such as “Ensure flexibility to help the uninsured, including public-private partnerships, exchanges, and subsidies” and “Offer innovation grants to explore non-litigation alternatives to dispute resolution.”
Some of the principles are more blatantly ideological and potentially quite troubling, such as “Limit federal standards and requirements on both private insurance and Medicaid coverage.” Those federal standards and requirements are in place to protect citizens from rapacious companies and miserly state governments that would deprive recipients of necessary treatments. Any given federal requirement might be too costly or unnecessary. But Romney doesn’t specify which federal requirements he would eliminate so as to avoid inviting scrutiny of what his policy would do to the vulnerable.
The few specifics Romney offers could reduce, rather than expand, medical coverage. Romney would turn Medicaid into a block-grant program. That way, if poverty increases the federal government would not be on the hook for covering more Medicaid recipients. It would be the state’s problem. And what would the states do? Reduce the quality of coverage, or tighten eligibility rules to reduce the number of people covered.
The only other major change to the health insurance delivery system Romney offers is this: “End tax discrimination against the individual purchase of insurance.” That’s a euphemism for creating an expensive new tax deduction. That’s pretty hypocritical coming from someone who promises to cut tax rates and somehow magically make up for the lost revenue by eliminating tax expenditures.
Currently employer-provided health insurance is not taxed as income. Consequently, we overspend on health insurance by favoring that compensation over money employers pay to workers and the workers spend on anything else. This is actually not a very good policy for anyone. Employers are stuck with escalating healthcare costs, employees see their wage increases get diverted to healthcare, and the individual insurance market offers inferior, expensive coverage that unfairly disadvantages the self-employed and thus discourages risk taking.
These are all good reasons to get rid of our current system and switch to a universal, single-payer approach, such as making everyone eligible for Medicare. The alternative way to eliminate the current market distortion would be to end the tax deductibility of employer-based health insurance. That’s the program John McCain ran on in 2008. Back then, conservatives made sensible arguments in favor of doing so. For example, the Family Research Council complained in 2007 that employer-sponsored health insurance enjoys the single largest subsidy in our tax code.
But Mitt Romney is not John McCain. He is a coward, who lacks an iota of McCain’s political bravery. Consequently, Romney fears the backlash that would ensue if he took the principled position in favor of removing this inefficiency. So instead he proposes to equalize the treatment by making it also tax-deductible for individuals to buy their own insurance. That’s good for them, but it does nothing for the market. (The advantage to the market of McCain’s proposal was that it would move millions of health working-age Americans into the individual insurance market, much as the individual mandate would.) The ACA creates a flat tax credit for buying insurance. Romney would repeal that and offer a tax credit based on how much you spend on health insurance, so it would disproportionately benefit richer people who can afford more expensive tax plans.
In a similar act of falsely telling voters they can have their cake and eat it too, Romney promises to keep the most popular provision of the ACA, the rule preventing insurers from excluding prior conditions, without explaining how he would prevent the insurance market from a death spiral of cost increases. (The current mechanism for preventing that, the individual mandate, is the core of what Romney promises to repeal if the Supreme Court doesn’t do so first.)
As a freelancer who pays for his own insurance, I stand to benefit. But as American citizens, we all stand to lose.
By: Ben Adler, The Nation, June 12, 2012