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“What Actually Matters”: Joe Biden Was A Good Vice President. The Democratic Candidates Should Learn From This

It won’t be long now before the political world begins the quadrennial festival of pointless yet momentarily diverting speculation on whom the presidential nominees will choose to be their running mates. So let me suggest a radical idea before that process gets underway: The candidates should choose someone who would actually — are you ready? — do a good job as vice president.

Sounds crazy, I know. But it’s something almost no one talks about when debating this decision. And the guy who has the job now is a good example, believe it or not.

Before we discuss Joe Biden, there’s something important to understand about the “veepstakes”: Almost everything you’ll hear about how the nominees should make their decision is wrong. (I should mention that more detail on what I’m discussing here can be found in an article I wrote for the latest print edition of the American Prospect; the article isn’t online yet, so you should immediately head down to your local newsstand to procure a copy.)

It’s wrong because the choice of a running mate makes little or no difference to the outcome of the election. Should the candidate pick someone who comes from a swing state? No, because it won’t matter — while the nominee might get a boost of a couple of points in their own home state (above what a generic nominee from their party would get), vice presidential nominees don’t bring in any home-state votes.

Should the candidate pick someone who’ll help them unify the party after a contentious primary season? No, because in most cases the party is going to unify no matter what. We live in an era of negative partisanship in which voters’ dislike for the other side is a more powerful motivating factor than their affection for their own party. Republicans are unusually fractured this year, but if they come back together it will be over their shared hatred of Hillary Clinton, not because of a vice presidential nominee. Democrats, on the other hand, will be unified by Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Don’t believe the Bernie Sanders supporters who are saying they’ll never vote for Clinton — almost all of them will, just as the Clinton supporters who said they’d never vote for Barack Obama in 2008 did in the end.

Should the candidate pick someone with an interesting demographic profile? No, because as with all the other considerations we’re discussing, in the end the difference that could make will be minuscule next to how voters feel about the person at the top of the ticket. That isn’t to say it would have zero effect if, say, Clinton picked a Latino as her running mate, but the effect in persuading more Latinos that they should vote for the Democratic ticket will be so small as to be barely worth considering.

All of this is why political scientists who have studied this question have been almost completely unable to locate a significant effect of vice presidential choices on the final outcome of the race. The outlying case is Sarah Palin, who likely cost John McCain a point or two. The other running mate who might have made a small difference is Dan Quayle in 1988. But both of those were picks that went horribly wrong; what you won’t find is a running mate who actually helped the candidate at the top of the ticket in any meaningful way.

So if you’re Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz (I won’t pretend to know what bizarre calculations might be whirring through Donald Trump’s mind), that means you should just pick someone who would actually be good at being vice president, and as long as the person isn’t a political disaster during the campaign, you’ll have done yourself a favor. Which brings us to Joe Biden.

John Harwood (who has really been killing it with these) has an interview with Biden out today, and from Biden’s answers, it’s obvious that he still hasn’t quite made peace with the idea that he’s never going to be president. When asked about his “Goofy Uncle Joe” persona, he said: “if you notice, I beat every Republican in every poll when they thought I was running. You notice that my favorability was higher than anybody that’s running for office in either party.” He also vigorously defended not only his record as a senator but the administration’s accomplishments. Which you’d expect, but what most people don’t realize is that Biden has been an extremely effective vice president.

Thanks to his decades in the Senate, Biden came to the job with a deep understanding of the way the federal government operates, which enabled him to oversee projects that spanned different agencies and different branches. Most importantly, he was in charge of implementing the Recovery Act, which was one of the administration’s great unsung successes. It involved a huge amount of work and coordination, and by every account Biden performed exceptionally well at it. Just the fact that they managed to distribute over three-quarters of a trillion dollars without any major scandals of graft or theft was an extraordinary accomplishment.

And perhaps most critically for a vice president, Biden has kept a strong relationship with the president throughout the last seven years, which many VPs can’t say (most notably, Dick Cheney was hugely powerful in George W. Bush’s first term, but lost favor in the second term). That isn’t to say he hasn’t had some Bidenesque screwups along the way, but he seems to have done about as good a job as President Obama could have hoped.

To what degree Obama knew that would happen when he picked Biden isn’t clear — though as someone from Delaware who had run a couple of weak runs for the White House, Biden didn’t look like electoral gold at the time, so Obama couldn’t have been worrying too much about getting a boost to the ticket. And it can be hard to predict how someone will do in a job they haven’t done before. But if the 2016 candidates take a good look at history, they’ll realize that there’s little to be gained by worrying too much about how their running mate will affect the election’s outcome. Pollsters will tell you that after a running mate gets picked, the candidate will get a bump in the polls for a few days based on all the positive news about the choice, and then the race settles right back down to where it was before.

I realize that means the millions of words that will be spilled on the veepstakes will all be for nought. I’m not telling anyone to stop speculating and musing. Go right ahead; I might do some of it myself. But we shouldn’t forget what actually matters about the choice.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 19, 2016

April 22, 2016 Posted by | General Election 2016, Joe Biden, Vice-President Candidates | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Politics Of The Deficit Are Utterly Backward”: Ignore The Rending Of Garments From Deficit Paranoiacs

One of the most frustrating things about being a lefty during the depths of the Great Recession was watching giant policy errors build on the horizon like some sewage tsunami, and being powerless to stop them. And in 2010 the biggest and sewage-iest of the errors was the turn to austerity — the combination of budget hikes and spending increases that has slowed economic recovery across the developed world.

Five years later, as the deficit has fallen dramatically and so has interest in its supposed danger, it provides an interesting window into the politics of deficit paranoia — and how it is 180 degrees from reality.

Let me quickly review the story up to the present. A recession means the economy is suffering a shortage of aggregate demand. People are losing their jobs, meaning companies have fewer sales, so they fire employees or go out of business — rinse and repeat. The standard response to this is economic stimulus, both monetary and fiscal. For the former, the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates, making loans easier to get and thus stoking the economy; for the latter, the government borrows and spends directly, mechanically jacking up total spending.

Like the Great Depression, fiscal stimulus was particularly important during the Great Recession, because by late 2008, the Fed had cut interest rates all the way to zero — pushing its economic accelerator all the way to the floor — and it didn’t halt or even much slow down the recession.

Initially, with big Democratic Party majorities in both the House and Senate, the government did the right thing. Right after President Obama took office, it passed the Recovery Act, a fairly sizable piece of fiscal stimulus. But as trusted center-left commentators like Paul Krugman pointed out, it wasn’t nearly big enough to fill the economic hole visible at the time — and later measurements would show the hole to be vastly larger than the initial estimates.

So after that first round of stimulus, the deficit was very large due to all the borrowing. However, its inadequacy was also obvious, as unemployment plateaued at nearly 10 percent — then stayed there for an entire year. During and immediately after the crisis, the centrist establishment was too shocked to respond, but they eventually regrouped and began demanding immediate cuts to balance the budget — effectively aligning themselves with resurgent conservatives, who as usual demanded all social insurance programs be torched.

After the 2010 election, the centrists and conservatives got much of what they supposedly wanted: tons of austerity, most of it in cuts to government spending (particularly when compared to previous presidencies). The effects were obvious: a recovery that was grindingly slow and weak. It still shows no sign of returning to the previous trend.

In other words, austerians were successful in cutting the short-term deficit at the worst imaginable time. But what about now, as the economy is returning to at least a modicum of health? According to the standard economic script, government deficits aren’t always good. When recovery has been reached, then it’s time to cut back. “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury,” as John Maynard Keynes said (though adherents of Modern Monetary Theory would quibble with this).

What are the centrist austerians doing? Why, they’ve gone almost totally silent, of course. Ron Fournier, the avatar of D.C. centrism and a fanatical austerian, has barely mentioned the subject over the last year. More broadly, as Andrew Flowers documents for FiveThirtyEight, mentions of “deficit” and “debt” by Republican presidential candidates have fallen by about two-thirds since 2012. Mentions in Congress have fallen even further.

This demonstrates that the conventional politics around deficits and debt are fundamentally disconnected from any sort of rational understanding as to why they might be a problem. And due to those same actual mechanics, the political salience of austerity moves in inverse proportion to its real importance — insane overreaction when the deficit should be very high, bland disinterest when it ought to be coming down again.

It’s maddening, but at least predictable. The next time a liberal administration is in charge during a recession, it may safely ignore the rending of garments from deficit paranoiacs. As soon as the immediate crisis is over, they’ll quickly forget all about it.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, January 15, 2016

January 16, 2016 Posted by | Austerity, Deficits, Great Recession | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stunt Of The Week: Heritage Foundation Plays A Foolish Game

I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the poor quality of the Heritage Foundation’s scholarship, but this week’s stunt is awful, even by Heritage standards.

The conservative think tank published an item yesterday purporting to show that passage of the Affordable Care Act immediately stalled private-sector job growth. Conditions were quickly improving, Heritage argues, right up until those rascally Democrats felt the need to overhaul the health care system.

This is deeply foolish, both as an exercise and as an attempt to manipulate data. Here, for example, is a chart showing private-sector job growth in the 12 months after implementation of the ACA began.

Note, three of those months reflect the strongest private-sector monthly totals in the last five years. One might also mention that private-sector employment bottomed out shortly before the Affordable Care Act passed, and has been on an upwards trajectory ever since.

To clarify, I’m not saying the successful passage of health care reform necessarily caused private-sector job growth to improve. There are all kinds of other facts that gave the economy a boost, most notably the Recovery Act (which, incidentally, the Heritage Foundation also dislikes).

But to argue that the ACA was somehow responsible for undermining the economy is unbecoming an institution that claims to be a “think” tank. I know the right hates the reform law — despite the fact that it includes several provisions, including the individual mandate, which had been endorsed by the Heritage Foundation — but this just reeks of desperation.

As Matt Yglesias explained, referring to the Heritage piece, “Clearly … no fair-minded person actually interested in the subject is going to be persuaded by this kind of nonsense. I think it’s really too bad that conservative institutions spend a fair amount of time and energy on projects whose only possible effect can be to mislead their own constituency.”

 

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Political Animal-Washington Monthly, July 21, 2011

July 23, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Health Care, Health Reform, Ideology, Jobs, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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