“Obamacare Crosses The Finish Line”: The People Who Are In Charge Of Our “Perception” Will Catch Up With Reality Someday
Brace yourself, friends, for the new hate-and-snicker-fest on the right about the Obamacare numbers. It started over the weekend—actually, it’s been more or less ongoing since last fall—but it’s going to crescendo now that the enrollment deadline has been reached. Six million, eh? Bah. A million below expectations, they’ll say, and in any case a fake number. That’s what Wyoming Senator John Barrasso said Sunday on Fox; the administration is “cooking the books.” He didn’t reveal how he knows this, but of course he wasn’t pressed on the point.
As of Sunday morning while Barrasso was speaking, the enrollment figure was edging close to 6.6 million, and by midnight tonight it might well hit 7 million. Conservatives will say it’s all a big con. Two criticisms have some merit. First, it’s certainly true that signing up isn’t the same thing as paying premiums on a month-to-basis. So we’ll have to see about that over time. Second, the percent of enrollees who are young and healthy is apparently a little lower than the most optimistic hopes (it’s around 27 percent).
Those are open questions that can’t be answered for a while. But they provide no basis on which to doubt the raw numbers. There was a similar late rush on Romneycare, when nearly 7,800 Bay Staters signed up in the last month before the deadline, around twice as many as during a typical earlier month. And they certainly don’t demonstrate fraudulence. Unless the photographers who snapped these photos that appear on the White House blog are working under the same orders from Pyongyang as the people who allegedly concocted Barack Obama’s birth certificate, there’s nothing fraudulent going on here, either: What you see here, instead, are long lines of people waiting to enroll at sign-up centers in cities across the country.
It’s still going to be a huge challenge to shift public opinion. Or is it? Maybe it’s shifting already. Consider these numbers from a Kaiser Foundation poll from last week. Percent who like the ACA’s extension of dependent coverage: 76. Percent supportive of the act’s closing of the Medicare drug “donut hole”: 73. Percent favoring “guaranteed issue” of coverage to people who are already sick: 69. Percent who back the Medicaid expansion: 62.
Oh, wait. Those are the Republican percentages. The overall percentages, respectively, are 80, 79, 70, and 74.
It’s the same old disconnect. Just as majorities of even rank-and-file Republicans support things like restricting the gun-show loophole (indeed a majority of NRA members support that), majorities of Republicans back these and other basic common-sense provisions of the ACA. And yet these same Republicans keep reelecting to Congress a horde of dishonest and ideologically driven harlots who’ve voted 50-whatever times to do away with all these positive changes.
And the mainstream media continue to insist that because of one congressional race in Florida in a district Republicans have held since Nixon was president, that this law is going to be the Democrats’ downfall this November. And why is that? Well, because they’ve decided. Obama and the Democrats are forcing this whole thing down people’s throats, and the Republicans’ repeal position represents the will of the besieged people.
Is that so? Here are two other numbers from the Kaiser poll. They gave people four options: keep the law as is, keep it and change it where needed, get rid of it and replace with a GOP alternative, and simply get rid of it and replace it with nothing. The first two and the second two can be reasonably grouped together as “basically support the law” and “basically oppose the law.” The numbers are 59 to 29. Not against—in support of the law.
My main point here is not to argue that Obamacare will be a plus for Democrats this fall. I think, as I’ve often written, that it can be—or that it at least can be a draw if Democrats pound away on the specifics and challenge Republicans to defend a world in which sick people can again be denied coverage and all the rest. That would be a nice little layer of icing, because it would prove the smug conventional wisdom as wrong as it usually is.
But the cake has to do with the way this entire conversation has been framed in the media. Imagine that the Democrats were standing implacably behind a position that had the backing of 29 percent of the people. (This number on repeal, by the way, is in line with most recent polls, which find the percentage favoring repeal to be in the low 30s, like this one; I should note that there was recently one poll, by AP, which put the repeal number much higher, at 41. I bet you can guess which of those polls has received more media coverage.) They’d be murdered in the press. Out of touch elitists.
But it’s one of the key rules of lazy political journalism that Republicans are the heartland and by definition can’t be out of touch with it (rules dreamed up, by the way, mostly by people from the Eastern seaboard who went to private universities and haven’t the slightest idea in the world about the actual heartland). Only Democrats can be. That’s how it can come to pass that liberals and Democrats can be defending a law whose major provisions enjoy broad support, and a law that most Americans have come around to accepting as a part of life that they’ll learn to live with, and be called out of touch. And it’s why John Barrasso can get away with making evidence-free allegations on Sunday morning television. But remember: Unwell people are getting health coverage for the first time in their lives by the millions. The people who are in charge of our “perception” will catch up with reality someday.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 31, 2014
“No Bellwether Or Harbinger Of Anything”: Meaningless Special Elections And The Press’s Consequential Imperative
If it were up to me, I would eliminate special elections for the House of Representatives entirely. They make sense when it comes to the Senate, where every state has only two senators and terms run six years, meaning a vacancy can leave a state without significant representation for an extended period of time. But when a congressman dies or retires and there’s another election to fill that critical 1/435th portion of the lower house’s lawmakers in a few months, do we really need to mobilize the state’s electoral resources, spend millions of dollars, and get a bunch of retirees to haul themselves down to the polls, only to do it all again before you know it? Hardly.
The other objectionable thing about special elections is that because they’re almost always the only election happening at that moment, they not only get an inordinate amount of attention, the results also get absurdly over-interpreted. This is a symptom of what we might call the Consequential Imperative among the press (note: if you have a better moniker for this that could propel me to the front rank of contemporary neologism-coiners, hit me up on Twitter). The Consequential Imperative is the impulse, the desire, the need to assert that whatever a journalist happens to be reporting on is very, very important. So for instance, if your editor sent you down to Florida to do a week’s worth of stories on the special election that just concluded there, you are extremely unlikely to write that this election was a contest between a couple of bozos, and means next to nothing for national politics (unless you’re Dave Weigel, who for some reason seems to be almost the only reporter capable of saying such a thing). It’s the same impulse that causes every gaffe, polling blip, and faux-controversy of every campaign to be presented as though it could dramatically alter the outcome of the election, despite all the experience telling us it won’t.
What happens after every special election is this: The losing side says, “This means nothing!”, while the winning side says, “This is a bellwether, signifying more victories to come for us!” And the press almost always agrees with the winning side, whichever party that happens to be, because the Consequential Imperative dictates that, like every other political event, this one must be of great consequence.
So in the case of yesterday’s special election in Florida, we get articles like “Why a Republican Wave In 2014 Is Looking More Likely Now” (National Journal) and “Florida Loss Big Blow to Democrats’ 2014 Hopes” (Politico), explaining that the results of this low-turnout election in one district in Florida can reasonably be extrapolated to tell us what will happen in the November 2014 elections.
As it happens, this race was decided by less than 3,500 votes. To believe that it emphatically means one thing for election outcomes all over America eight months from now, whereas if those 3,500 votes had gone the other way it would have just as emphatically meant the exact opposite, is just absurd. But, you may be saying, that’s because the Republican won! And if the Democrat had won, I’d be saying it really was significant! Well, no. Special elections don’t mean anything beyond deciding which person is going to represent that district until the next election. They may be interesting for one reason or another in and of themselves, but they’re never a harbinger or a bellwether of any national trend. If you ever catch me saying otherwise, feel free to call me a hypocrite and a fool.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 12, 2014
In the accountability-free zone that passes for Sunday morning news shows, it takes a lot for a politician to generate any kind of pushback from their intellectually malleable hosts. So, it passes as noteworthy when Bob Schieffer, host of CBS News’ Face the Nation, recently followed up on a ridiculously false statement by one of his show’s guests, Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
BOB SCHIEFFER: All right, lemme—lemme go back to one thing and—the question I asked you was, “Would you ever conceive of threatening to shut down the government again?”
SEN. TED CRUZ: Well, as I said, I didn’t threaten to shut down the government the last time. I don’t think we should ever shut down the government. I repeatedly voted—
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well—
SEN. TED CRUZ: —to fund the federal government.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Senator—
BOB SCHIEFFER: —if you didn’t threaten to shut down the government, who was it that did? I mean, but we’ll go on—
Not exactly withering cross-examination, to be sure. But what even the transcript of the absurd exchange doesn’t fully capture, though this video clip does, is Schieffer’s astonishment—to the point of outright amusement—at Cruz’s brazen embrace of an obvious lie. The clubby world of DC punditry depends upon an unspoken agreement of plausible deniability between both pundits and politicians. So when one of the latter so clearly and consistently leaps off the cliff of reality, members of the former who try to stick with the equivocating, “both sides” script risk being taken down as well. That someone like Schieffer could be reduced to near giggles by Cruz’s duplicitousness symbolizes how timid and soft the Washington press corps has grown. And it reveals how ill-prepared the media is to deal with someone like Cruz, whose shtick is naked, intellectual dishonesty.
Put more simply, Cruz is little more than a Congressional troll. Since his election fifteen months ago, he has embarked upon a non-stop campaign of willful antagonism, privileged contrarianism, and unabashed self-aggrandizement. Trolls peddle phony outrage and crave undeserved attention and, not coincidentally, Cruz’s political toolkit contains just two elements: monkey wrenches and soapboxes.
As just one among 100 in the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” Cruz tends to get written off by the press as merely a colorful, mostly harmless crank. The Senate’s precarious legislative process and the House’s deep polarization, however, means Cruz’s disingenuous obstructionism makes an already dysfunctional Congress even more unpredictably combustible. All last summer, he ran a traveling political medicine show for the FEMA-camps-and-Benghazi-conspiracy crowd, touting the potential for repealing Obamacare as part of the impending government budget showdown. Though his trolling was an obvious fundraising and publicity stunt with zero chance of success, Republicans in Congress went along with his no-win scenario, taking the whole of the federal government down with his party in October.
In the past week, Cruz pulled two more variations on this same reckless behavior. While Senate Republican leaders had already accepted the necessity of passing a clean debt limit bill and were willing to let Democrats approve it with a simple majority, Cruz nearly blew up the process by threatening a filibuster at the last minute. Facing yet another publicity disaster, not to mention risking the full faith and credit of the nation’s financial system yet again, twelve GOP Senators reluctantly voted for passage. And while disaster was temporarily avoided in that case, Cruz likely killed off the House’s numerical advantage on immigration reform when he unexpectedly stuck the incendiary “amnesty” label on Speaker Boehner’s broad principles for reform last week.
Of course, no one should shed tears for folks like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell when they have to publicly confront the embarrassment of the GOP’s slouching towards Bethlehem. And if the Republicans’ refusal to address immigration before next fall’s midterm elections costs it seats in the House or its chance for the majority in the Senate, so much the better. But make no mistake, Republican self-immolation on this scale means millions of Americans are burned in the backdraft.
Sadly, the press rarely connects the dots on the long-term, real-world damage of Cruz’s legislative sabotage. In fact, his tactics have so mesmerized the media that what would otherwise be unprecedented intransigence by the rest of the GOP caucus gets normalized. For example, there was this New York Times story last week, which soft-peddled Cruz’s key role in sparking the potential debt ceiling disaster but that gave credit to Senate Republican leaders for having “rescued” the aforementioned debt ceiling vote. Politico, as only it can do, one-upped the Times with a long, behind-the-scenes process story that also glossed over Cruz as provocateur and instead featured this laugher of a quote from Senator John McCain about Mitch McConnell’s “yea” vote: “I must say it was a very courageous act.” Yes, inside the Beltway, it takes “courage” for the Senate Minority Leader to vote for a bill to pay for things that Congress has already spent money on.
The usual suspects, apathy and ignorance, are no doubt contributing factors in the political press’s unwillingness to call out Cruz’s spiteful grandstanding. I suspect subconscious bias is at work as well. The “Everybody hates him” reputation Cruz has now firmly and deservedly established sounds an awful a lot like the old newsroom shibboleth about objectivity—that when both parties are complaining about your reporting that’s a sure sign you’re doing it right. If you’ve ever wondered how far afield from honest governance a politician can wander before the “objective” media finally calls out his or her bullshit, Ted Cruz looks to be the ongoing case study.
This kind of journalistic negligence emboldens other extremist Republicans in Congress to sow even more dysfunction, though. In addition, the lack of public accountability only serves to discourage more rational members of the GOP who might otherwise be tempted to leverage intra-party pressure in stopping the needless obstruction. Indeed, it’s gotten so bad that the fear of facing a primary threat on the right from the next wannabe Ted Cruz—whom the press will lavish with uncritical attention—has reduced some feckless House Republicans to concern trolling with their Congressional votes, as part of what’s being called the “vote no, hope yes” caucus.
In the end, this is the most pernicious effect of Cruz’s trolling—the way his deceitful behavior disconnects political rhetoric and action from the good faith of those Americans he represents—and more importantly—how it impacts those Americans he doesn’t. Any press corps that proclaims to be a beacon of truth and accountability in a free society should feel compelled to call out these anti-democratic tactics for what they are. Failure to do so really is no laughing matter.
By: Reed Richardson, The Nation, February 18, 2014
“What Makes a Scandal Stick?”: Why Scott Walker’s Proponents Aren’t Paying Attention To His Misconduct
Scott Walker is one of the few GOP figures in a position to benefit from Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal. The Wisconsin governor is uniquely appealing as a potential presidential candidate to both the moderates in his party and its far-right members. Walker is also the first governor in United States history to win a recall election, so if he wins reelection this year, he will have won three times in five years.
But Walker’s prospects aren’t totally rosy. Charles P. Pierce at Esquire has a good rundown of the lurking scandals: Aides from Walker’s first campaign went to jail for using his Milwaukee County Executive office to campaign for him for governor, another former aide was convicted of stealing money from a fund for families of U.S. soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Walker’s administration gave raises that skirted state limits after a series of phantom job transfers took place. Another corruption probe is ongoing.
For now, however, the myriad of corruption charges against his administration are being largely ignored by both the right-wing sites that love the Wisconsin governor and the mainstream media. Why hasn’t Walker’s questionable past been addressed in much of the national coverage he has received?
I put the question to Dr. Amelia Arsenault, Assistant Professor of Communication at Georgia State University and author of the article “Scandal Politics in the New Media Environment.” Arsenault told me that in cases like these, there are multiple explanations that often interact. For one thing, there’s what she calls “impact journalism”—a kind of domino effect in media coverage. “If CNN is covering it, or if The New York Times is covering it, then they all pile on, and it becomes this cycle,” she said. “Some scandals are just sexier than others, and Christie is a huge personality. He has more charisma than Scott Walker in a lot of ways in terms of being a media personality.”
Apart from the personality factor, there’s also a more deliberate element at play. Lesser known right-wing news sites often serve as the springboard for determining which scandals will enter the mainstream, according to Arsenault. “Even though they don’t have high readership, sites like The Blaze and Breitbart.com really glom onto a particular scandal, and they’re very good at activating particular scandals and then pushing them forward, so they have to be covered by [outlets] like Fox News,” says Arsenault. “People on either side of the political spectrum are going after Christie, whereas Scott Walker has sort of been the darling of the online scandalmongers.”
Then there’s the matter of various incentives on either side of the political spectrum: Far-right conservatives don’t want a pro-gun control Northeasterner as their leading presidential hopeful; Democrats are similarly eager to discredit a compelling GOP candidate, and it may work in their favor for now to ignore Walker’s skeletons in order to keep the focus on Christie.
Should Walker decide to run, however, opposition researchers would have plenty to work with. What does it say about the GOP that their next-best potential contender has scandal aplenty of his own?
By: Lane Florsheim, The New Republic, February 12, 2014
“Fiscal Fever Breaks”: 2013 Was The Year Journalists And The Public Finally Grew Weary Of The Boys Who Cried Wolf
In 2012 President Obama, ever hopeful that reason would prevail, predicted that his re-election would finally break the G.O.P.’s “fever.” It didn’t.
But the intransigence of the right wasn’t the only disease troubling America’s body politic in 2012. We were also suffering from fiscal fever: the insistence by virtually the entire political and media establishment that budget deficits were our most important and urgent economic problem, even though the federal government could borrow at incredibly low interest rates. Instead of talking about mass unemployment and soaring inequality, Washington was almost exclusively focused on the alleged need to slash spending (which would worsen the jobs crisis) and hack away at the social safety net (which would worsen inequality).
So the good news is that this fever, unlike the fever of the Tea Party, has finally broken.
True, the fiscal scolds are still out there, and still getting worshipful treatment from some news organizations. As the Columbia Journalism Review recently noted, many reporters retain the habit of “treating deficit-cutting as a non-ideological objective while portraying other points of view as partisan or political.” But the scolds are no longer able to define the bounds of respectable opinion. For example, when the usual suspects recently piled on Senator Elizabeth Warren over her call for an expansion of Social Security, they clearly ended up enhancing her stature.
What changed? I’d suggest that at least four things happened to discredit deficit-cutting ideology.
First, the political premise behind “centrism” — that moderate Republicans would be willing to meet Democrats halfway in a Grand Bargain combining tax hikes and spending cuts — became untenable. There are no moderate Republicans. To the extent that there are debates between the Tea Party and non-Tea Party wings of the G.O.P., they’re about political strategy, not policy substance.
Second, a combination of rising tax receipts and falling spending has caused federal borrowing to plunge. This is actually a bad thing, because premature deficit-cutting damages our still-weak economy — in fact, we’d probably be close to full employment now but for the unprecedented fiscal austerity of the past three years. But a falling deficit has undermined the scare tactics so central to the “centrist” cause. Even longer-term projections of federal debt no longer look at all alarming.
Speaking of scare tactics, 2013 was the year journalists and the public finally grew weary of the boys who cried wolf. There was a time when audiences listened raptly to forecasts of fiscal doom — for example, when Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairmen of Mr. Obama’s debt commission, warned that a severe fiscal crisis was likely within two years. But that was almost three years ago.
Finally, over the course of 2013 the intellectual case for debt panic collapsed. Normally, technical debates among economists have relatively little impact on the political world, because politicians can almost always find experts — or, in many cases, “experts” — to tell them what they want to hear. But what happened in the year behind us may have been an exception.
For those who missed it or have forgotten, for several years fiscal scolds in both Europe and the United States leaned heavily on a paper by two highly-respected economists, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, suggesting that government debt has severe negative effects on growth when it exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P. From the beginning, many economists expressed skepticism about this claim. In particular, it seemed immediately obvious that slow growth often causes high debt, not the other way around — as has surely been the case, for example, in both Japan and Italy. But in political circles the 90 percent claim nonetheless became gospel.
Then Thomas Herndon, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, reworked the data, and found that the apparent cliff at 90 percent disappeared once you corrected a minor error and added a few more data points.
Now, it’s not as if fiscal scolds really arrived at their position based on statistical evidence. As the old saying goes, they used Reinhart-Rogoff the way a drunk uses a lamppost — for support, not illumination. Still, they suddenly lost that support, and with it the ability to pretend that economic necessity justified their ideological agenda.
Still, does any of this matter? You could argue that it doesn’t — that fiscal scolds may have lost control of the conversation, but that we’re still doing terrible things like cutting off benefits to the long-term unemployed. But while policy remains terrible, we’re finally starting to talk about real issues like inequality, not a fake fiscal crisis. And that has to be a move in the right direction.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 29, 2013