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“Learning From Obama”: Voters Have Lately Been Given A Taste Of What Really Bad Leaders Look Like

Like many political junkies, I’ve been spending far too much time looking at polls and trying to understand their implications. Can Donald Trump really win his party’s nomination? (Yes.) Can Bernie Sanders? (No.) But the primaries aren’t the only things being polled; we’re still getting updates on President Obama’s overall approval. And something striking has happened on that front.

At the end of 2015 Mr. Obama was still underwater, with significantly more Americans disapproving than approving. Since then, however, his approval has risen sharply while disapproval has plunged. He’s still only in modestly positive territory, but the net movement in polling averages has been about 11 percentage points, which is a lot.

What’s going on?

Well, one answer is that voters have lately been given a taste of what really bad leaders look like. But I’d like to think that the public is also starting to realize just how successful the Obama administration has been in addressing America’s problems. And there are lessons from that success for those willing to learn.

I know that it’s hard for many people on both sides to wrap their minds around the notion of Obama-as-success. On the left, those caught up in the enthusiasms of 2008 feel let down by the prosaic reality of governing in a deeply polarized political system. Meanwhile, conservative ideology predicts disaster from any attempt to tax the rich, help the less fortunate and rein in the excesses of the market; and what are you going to believe, the ideology or your own lying eyes?

But the successes are there for all to see.

Start with the economy. You might argue that presidents don’t have as much effect on economic performance as voters seem to imagine — especially presidents facing scorched-earth opposition from Congress for most of their time in office. But that misses the point: Republicans have spent the past seven years claiming incessantly that Mr. Obama’s policies are a “job killing” disaster, destroying business incentives, so it’s important news if the economy has performed well.

And it has: We’ve gained 10 million private-sector jobs since Mr. Obama took office, and unemployment is below 5 percent. True, there are still some areas of disappointment — low labor force participation, weak wage growth. But just imagine the boasting we’d be hearing if Mitt Romney occupied the White House.

Then there’s health reform, which has (don’t tell anyone) been meeting its goals.

Back in 2012, just after the Supreme Court made it possible for states to reject the Medicaid expansion, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that by now 89 percent of the nonelderly population would be covered; the actual number is 90 percent.

The details have been something of a surprise: fewer people than expected signing up on the exchanges, but fewer employers than expected dropping coverage, and more people signing up for Medicaid — which means, incidentally, that Obamacare is looking much more like a single-payer system than anyone seems to realize. But the point is that reform has indeed delivered the big improvements in coverage it promised, and has done so at lower cost than expected.

Then there’s financial reform, which the left considers toothless and the right considers destructive. In fact, while the big banks haven’t been broken up, excessive leverage — the real threat to financial stability — has been greatly reduced. And as for the economic effects, have I mentioned how well we’ve done on job creation?

Last but one hopes not least, the Obama administration has used executive authority to take steps on the environment that, if not canceled by a Republican president and upheld by future Supreme Courts, will amount to very significant action on climate change.

All in all, it’s quite a record. Assuming Democrats hold the presidency, Mr. Obama will emerge as a hugely consequential president — more than Reagan. And I’m sure Republicans will learn a lot from his achievements.

April fools!

Seriously, there is essentially no chance that conservatives, whose ideas haven’t changed in decades, will reconsider their dogma. But maybe progressives will be more open-minded.

The 2008 election didn’t bring the political transformation Obama enthusiasts expected, nor did it destroy the power of the vested interests: Wall Street, the medical-industrial complex and the fossil fuel lobby are all still out there, using their money to buy influence. But they have been pushed back in ways that have made American lives better and more secure.

The lesson of the Obama years, in other words, is that success doesn’t have to be complete to be very real. You say you want a revolution? Well, you can’t always get what you want — but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, President Obama | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Time-Loop Party”: The ‘Foxification’ Of The GOP, Saying And Doing The Same Things Over And Over And Over Again

By now everyone who follows politics knows about Marco Rubio’s software-glitch performance in Saturday’s Republican debate. (I’d say broken-record performance, but that would be showing my age.) Not only did he respond to a challenge from Chris Christie about his lack of achievements by repeating, verbatim, the same line from his stump speech he had used a moment earlier; when Mr. Christie mocked his canned delivery, he repeated the same line yet again.

In other news, last week — on Groundhog Day, to be precise — Republicans in the House of Representatives cast what everyone knew was a purely symbolic, substance-free vote to repeal Obamacare. It was the 63rd time they’ve done so.

These are related stories.

Mr. Rubio’s inability to do anything besides repeat canned talking points was startling. Worse, it was funny, which means that it has gone viral. And it reinforced the narrative that he is nothing but an empty suit. But really, isn’t everyone in his party doing pretty much the same thing, if not so conspicuously?

The truth is that the whole G.O.P. seems stuck in a time loop, saying and doing the same things over and over. And unlike Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Groundhog Day,” Republicans show no sign of learning anything from experience.

Think about the doctrines every Republican politician now needs to endorse, on pain of excommunication.

First, there’s the ritual denunciation of Obamacare as a terrible, very bad, no good, job-killing law. Did I mention that it kills jobs? Strange to say, this line hasn’t changed at all despite the fact that we’ve gained 5.7 million private-sector jobs since January 2014, which is when the Affordable Care Act went into full effect.

Then there’s the assertion that taxing the rich has terrible effects on economic growth, and conversely that tax cuts at the top can be counted on to produce an economic miracle.

This doctrine was tested more than two decades ago, when Bill Clinton raised tax rates on high incomes; Republicans predicted disaster, but what we got was the economy’s best run since the 1960s. It was tested again when George W. Bush cut taxes on the wealthy; Republicans predicted a “Bush boom,” but actually got a lackluster expansion followed by the worst slump since the Great Depression. And it got tested a third time after President Obama won re-election, and tax rates at the top went up substantially; since then we’ve gained eight million private-sector jobs.

Oh, and there’s also the spectacular failure of the Kansas experiment, where huge tax cuts have created a budget crisis without delivering any hint of the promised economic miracle.

But Republican faith in tax cuts as a universal economic elixir has, if anything, grown stronger, with Mr. Rubio, in particular, going even further than the other candidates by promising to eliminate all taxes on capital gains.

Meanwhile, on foreign policy the required G.O.P. position has become one of utter confidence in the effectiveness of military force. How did that work in Iraq? Never mind: The only reason anybody in the world fails to do exactly what America wants must be because our leadership is lily-livered if not treasonous. And diplomacy, no matter how successful, is denounced as appeasement.

Not incidentally, the shared Republican stance on foreign policy is basically the same view Richard Hofstadter famously described in his essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”: Whenever America fails to impose its will on the rest of the world, it must be because it has been betrayed. The John Birch Society has won the war for the party’s soul.

But don’t all politicians spout canned answers that bear little relationship to reality? No.

Like her or not, Hillary Clinton is a genuine policy wonk, who can think on her feet and clearly knows what she is talking about on many issues. Bernie Sanders is much more of a one-note candidate, but at least his signature issue — rising inequality and the effects of money on politics — reflects real concerns. When you revisit Democratic debates after what went down Saturday, it doesn’t feel as if you’re watching a different party, it feels as if you’ve entered a different intellectual and moral universe.

So how did this happen to the G.O.P.? In a direct sense, I suspect that it has a lot to do with Foxification, the way Republican primary voters live in a media bubble into which awkward facts can’t penetrate. But there must be deeper causes behind the creation of that bubble.

Whatever the ultimate reason, however, the point is that while Mr. Rubio did indeed make a fool of himself on Saturday, he wasn’t the only person on that stage spouting canned talking points that are divorced from reality. They all were, even if the other candidates managed to avoid repeating themselves word for word.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 8, 2016

February 8, 2016 Posted by | GOP, GOP Primary Debates, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Extremely Weak Tea”: The Media Circus Finds A New Spectacle

Political coverage of President Obama can be odd sometimes. We’ve reached the point at which media professionals no longer evaluate the president’s comments at a press conference, for example, but rather evaluate how the comments might be used against him later.

What matters isn’t the substance, then, but whether the substance has the potential to be wrenched from context in future attack ads.

Take this morning, for example. Obama hosted a press conference at the White House, starting with a seven-minute opening statement on the economy and the need for Congress to act on pending job legislation. Then he opened the floor to questions, most of which dealt with the Eurozone crisis.

At one point, a reporter asked, “What about the Republicans saying that you’re blaming the Europeans for the failure of your own policies?” Obama responded:

“The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last two, 27 months — over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government, oftentimes cuts initiated by, you know, governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in.”

Reporters figured Republicans would seize of the notion of the private sector “doing fine,” so pretty much every other word uttered during the press conference has been deemed irrelevant. Now, the “gaffe” is what matters — include Obama’s important explanation of the policies needed to improve the economy and the damage done by austerity-like measures in the public sector.


As gaffes go, this strikes me as extremely weak tea. The choice of words probably could have been slightly better, but really, to treat this as some kind of breakthrough moment in the campaign is pretty silly. Indeed, what Obama said, in context, is largely correct — compared to the public sector, the private sector really is doing fine.

This isn’t complicated. Corporate profits have soared, the stock market is up, and private sector job growth has fueled the recovery entirely on its own. In fact, private sector job growth last year was the second best year we’ve seen since the late 1990s, and 2012 is on track to be even stronger.

The public sector, meanwhile, continues to be a drag on the economy, laying off workers and cutting budgets. Comparing the two sectors, there’s nothing shocking about saying one is “fine” and the other isn’t.

If the media pushback is that the current growth rates aren’t yet good enough, that’s certainly fair — but I think everyone realizes Obama has said the same thing several thousand times. Republicans and reporters may enjoy being opportunistic with these comments, but that doesn’t make the story legitimate.

For his part, Mitt Romney quickly learned of the media reports and told voters that the president is “out of touch.” Yes, Mr. Elevator For My Cars who isn’t concerned about the poor and who enjoys firing people wants to talk about which presidential candidate is “out of touch.”

The election is 150 days away. It’s only going to get sillier.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 8, 2012

June 9, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Media | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We’ve Heard it All Before”: Hey Mitt, You Can’t Cry For Teacher When You Started The Fight

The latest attack from the Obama campaign takes aim on Romney’s rhetoric and record in Massachusetts.

The latest Obama campaign ad—which will air mainly in swing states—continues the attack on Mitt Romney’s record in Massachusetts:

This attack goes directly to the heart of Romney’s presidential campaign. The Republican nominee has based his entire on argument on the claim that—by dint of his business experience—he is uniquely qualified to lead the country into a more robust recovery. Indeed, private sector experience has totemic properties in Romney’s narrative; Obama is a failure because he’s “never met a payroll” and “doesn’t understand the economy,” while Romney sees business as the most important qualification a president can have.

But, with a quote from Romney’s gubernatorial campaign—“I know how jobs are created”—the Obama campaign raises a basic question: When Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts he used his business experience as proof he could create jobs for Massachusetts, instead, he led the state to the bottom of the pack for job creation. Now, running for president, he’s using the same arguments. Why should we expect different results this time? This is a play on the familiar trope of the businessperson who talks more than they deliver, and it could be an effective assault on Romney’s perceived competence, especially if paired with continued attacks on Bain Capital.

The Romney campaign has had an interesting and familiar response to this attack. As Pema Levy points out at Talking Points Memo, the Romney team correctly hits Obama for neglecting the extent to which the former governor inherited a bad situation. Here’s Ed Gillespie, a surrogate for the Romney campaign:

“This is what they’re doing, Chris,” Gillespie said. “You take the first year, which is a low base year when the governor came in and took office, because it was 50th in job creation out of all of the states, dead last … and they’re averaging out over the four years. So, they are bringing down the gains of his fourth year in office, which shows the real impact of his policies and diluting it with the first year in office.”

This is exactly what the Romney campaign is doing with regards to Obama’s economic record. By blaming Obama for job losses that occurred before his policies passed or took effect, the Romney team is able to say that the United States lost jobs under his tenure. But if you count from when Obama’s policies took effect, then you end up with more than two years of private sector job growth.

This situation is similar to the one that developed last year, when the Romney team hammered Obama with a deeply misleading ad that took the president’s words out of context. When Democrats responded with their own set of context-free attacks, the Romney campaign cried foul. In other words, if the Romney campaign insists on using misleading attacks, then it has to expect that the same treatment in response. You can’t cry for teacher when you’re the one who started the fight.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, June 4, 2012

June 5, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You’re Under Oath”: Which Party Creates More Jobs?

Here’s a little something everybody ought to know about, from Bloomberg News. They tallied up private-sector job creation since Kennedy’s presidency. Democrats have held the White House for 23 of those years, according to Bberg, and Republicans 28. So fill in this blank: The U.S. economy has created ___ private-sector jobs in the Democrats’ 23 years, and ___ such jobs in the Republicans’ 28 years.

Before we get to the answer, let’s toss in a little background. The political scientist Larry Bartels published a book, Unequal Democracy, on precisely this subject in 2008. I reviewed it for The New York Review of Books. It was interesting because social scientists like Bartels don’t want to think that politics really drives events, but Bartels looked at the evidence on job creation and economic growth under every president since Truman and reached certain inevitable conclusions.

Does that give you any hints? I’ll tell you: Adjust your first-instinct numbers. Then adjust them again.

Ready? Now I’m just killing time so that the answer will be below the fold.

The answer is that 42 million jobs were created under Democratic presidents, and 24 million under Republicans. You can check out the chart here. The champion of course is Clinton, with 20.8 million under Bberg’s numbers. Then comes Reagan at 14.7. Then come Johnson and Carter (yep, Carter). Then Nixon. And so on.

George W. Bush? The private sector lost 600,000 jobs. Imagine. In eight years, he did not create a single job. Obama is now in positive territory to the tune of 40,000, so even though Dubya handed him the biggest economic catastrophe in 80 years, he at least is in the black.

Anyway. The numbers are amazing. And it gets even better. Bloomberg’s Bob Drummond also counted up the number of public-sector jobs created in the respective 23 and 28 years. Results: Federal, state, and local government payrolls grew by 7.1 million under Republicans, and 6.3 million under Democrats.

So drink this in: Private-sector job growth is massively greater under Democrats, and it’s Republicans who’ve increased the public tit.

Now, some sophisticates will say well, you can’t really measure these things from the day a president took office. Better to start when that president’s policies started taking effect. But that is exactly what Bartels did (read my Review piece for details)—and it still came out to a huge advantage for Democratic presidents. In fact, the Obama jobs numbers would be pretty terrific under this methodology, because he wouldn’t have all those Bush-created job losses hanging around his neck. And at the front end, Dubya got credit for some jobs that Clinton’s policies actually created.

If I were the head of the DNC, I’d buy a billboard on a prominent roadway in every county in America and slap these numbers up there.

By: Michael Tomasky The Daily Beast, May 10, 2012

May 11, 2012 Posted by | Economy | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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