Want a better economy? Vote Democratic

The evidence for my titular proposition is actually quite strong and Michael Kinsley has been pushing it for years.  Here's his latest in Slate:

There is no secret about any of this. The figures below are all from the annual Economic Report of the President,
and the analysis is primitive. Nevertheless, what these numbers show
almost beyond doubt is that Democrats are better at virtually every
economic task that is important to Republicans.

In other words,
there are no figures here about income inequality, or percentage of the
population with health insurance, or anything like that. This exercise
implicitly assumes that lower taxes are always good and higher
government spending is always bad. There is nothing here about how
clean the air is or how many children are growing up in poverty. The
only point is that if you find the Republican mantra of lower taxes and
smaller government appealing, and if you care only about how fast the
economy is growing, not how that growth is shared, you should vote
Democratic. Of course, if you do care about things like economic
inequality and children's health, you should vote Democratic as well…

Some people believe that the president has little or no effect on
the economy. If so, that would be a serious flaw in this exercise. But
it would also be a serious flaw in the exercise called democracy, since
people tell pollsters that the economy is the most important issue for
them in deciding whom to vote for. No doubt any particular bad year in
any of these statistics can be explained by some extrinsic special
event?a war, for example. But surely patterns that emerge over half a
century account for these. At some point, if Republicans or Democrats
tend to start more wars, and wars cost money, that can be a legitimate
part of the calculation.

Finally, as economist Greg Mankiw points out in his blog, reacting to a similar calculation
by Alan Blinder (both of them former chairs of the president's Council
of Economic Advisers), correlation is not causation. Maybe economic
statistics are better when the president is a Democrat for reasons
having nothing to do with the president's skill in handling the
economy. My own feeling about that is that as long as the pattern
continues, who cares why? Correlation will do just fine.

Shockingly, focus economic policy on allowing the rich to make as much money as possible with little direct emphasis on keeping middle class people working does not really work all that well.  It would be nice if Republicans would learn their lesson on this.  But, why listen to evidence when it contradicts your ideology?

The pharmaceutical scam

I noticed that I meant to blog about this a few weeks ago, but somehow forgot.  Fear not, it is relevant as ever. From the Times:

When the Food and Drug Administration approved a new type of cholesterol-lowering
medicine in 2002, it did so on the basis of a handful of clinical
trials covering a total of 3,900 patients. None of the patients took
the medicine for more than 12 weeks, and the trials offered no evidence
that it had reduced heart attacks or cardiovascular disease, the goal
of any cholesterol drug.

The lack of evidence has not stopped doctors from heavily
prescribing that drug, whether in a stand-alone form sold as Zetia or
as a combination medicine called Vytorin. Aided by extensive consumer
advertising, sales of the medicines reached $5.2 billion last year,
making them among the best-selling drugs in the world. More than three
million people worldwide take either drug every day.

But there is
still no proof that the drugs help patients live longer or avoid heart
attacks. This year Vytorin has failed two clinical trials meant to show
its benefits. Worse, scientists are debating whether there is a link
between the drugs and cancer.

Got that?  Based almost purely on aggressive marketing, people world-wide are spending over $5 billion annually on a drug that has almost no evidence it is actually making them any healthier and may, be may be increasing their risk of cancer.  Think about that the next time your doctor gives you a prescription.

The burn bras, don’t they?

I recently received the papers for the favorite writing assignment I give any of my classes (PS 306 Gender and Politics).  Here's the assignment:




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Informally discuss the meaning of feminism with at least
five people. Make sure to ask them if they are a feminist, why or why not, and
what do they think of when they hear the term. How did people respond? Why do
you think that people reacted as they did? What did these conversations help
you learn about perceptions and reality of feminism in America? You
are responsible for the full details on the assignment available at
http://www2.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene/ps306/paper1.htm 6 pages maximum.

Among all the interviews my students described in their papers, what is truly amazing is the number of people who spontaneously associate feminism with “bra burning.”  Seems like almost every paper I looked at mentioned at least one interviewee who thought of bra burning when asked about feminism.  For myself, I had always just assumed that bra burning was a minor, fringe event, that got blown way out of hand by the media and conservative backlash.  Turns out, it was never even that.  Snopes.com (debunker nonpareil of urban legends) has a nicely-researched post that clearly explains there was never any organized bra burning as a feminist statement.   Absolutely amazing that something almost entirely fictitious would have such a lasting and pervasive negative impact on a doctrine that really asks nothing more than that women have the same rights and treatment as men.

Sarah Palin’s command of grammar and the issues

Dan Drezner, no ivory tower liberal, highlights a few of Sarah Palin's struggles with talking about economic issues coherently:

On fixing the economy:  ?Through reform, absolutely.  Look at
the oversight that has been lack, I believe, here at the 1930s type of
regulatory regime overseeing some of these corporations.  And we?ve got
to get a more coordinated and a much more stringent oversight
regime?government can play a very, very appropriate role in the
oversight as people are trusting these companies with their life
savings, with their investments, with their insurance policies, and construction bonds, and everything else.?

Drezner's post has several more entertaining examples.  Drezner concludes:

What I?ve learned about Sarah Palin to date is that she doesn?t know a
lot about foreign policy, doesn?t know a lot about the economy, and she
sounds just as bad in friendly interview situations as she does in
slightly more probing interviews.  Her best skill displayed to date was
delivering a speech off a teleprompter (not insignificant in politics,
mind you) and she?s apparently exaggerating that skill as well.

In fairness, I think she sounds pretty good in friendly interviews if the viewer/listener doesn't actually know anything about policy, either.  Palin is quite good at sounding like she knows what she's talking about when it is quite clear all she is doing is reciting talking points with no deeper understanding.

Graph of the day

Ezra Klein put this nice chart together based on a Washington Post fact check on Sarah Palin's energy claims:

The title of the graph really says it all.


Sarah Palin responds to the latest financial crisis:

The GOP vice presidential candidate couched most of her speech,
regardless of the subject, in terms of reform. The U.S. financial
system, she said, “needs some shakin' up and some fixin'.”

“With your help we're going to Washington to shake things up,” she
added. “We're going to be there in Washington, working for you.”

Boy, I'm confident all that “shaking up” will fix the Wall Street mess.  Who needs regulatory reform of financial markets (which I'm sure Palin is an expert on– I bet she's been to New York City!), when you know how to “shake things up.”

Tipping Point on McCain’s lies

I think that we will see that McCain really overplayed his hand with the lipstick fiasco last week on top of the unremitting lies about the bridge to nowhere.  Based on a number of recent newspaper stories, it seems that McCain has lost his real base– “the elite liberal media” he loves to rail against, but that has, in actuality, given him a huge pass because they personally like him so much.  Whatever ground he gained by the lies, I suspect will be lost and more as the campaign narrative increasingly focuses on whether McCain is honest and truthful– let's not forget what that did to Al Gore.  By his repeated lying he has very much opened himself up to effective attacks, like this one from Obama:

If Obama had tried something like this a month ago, I don't think it would have worked.  But now that the media is very much on to the McCain is lying bandwagon, there is very fertile soil for this line of attack to work.  The most amazing piece of evidence– pushback on the lies from Fox news of all places:

Drill baby, drill!!

If there's on thing that should shut up all those “drill baby, drill” idiots, it is this graph (via Ezra):

This graph makes it painfully obvious just how little off-shore drilling has to do with our long-term energy policy.  Yet, this is what Republicans offer us as a solution.  A rough analogy would be for Republicans to insist that we address the crisis in health care expenditures by finding ways to limit the costs in hypodermic needles and IV tubing (which might actually be more helpful than what McCain is proposing).

Why I could never be a politician (part deux)

So, I started to write this post with the above title, when auto-fill reminded me I had already done so.  After Friday's Dole event, I realized an even better reason I could definitely never hack it as a politician– my incredibly low tolerance of boredom.  Elizabeth Dole had to just sit there on stage for a long time (hours) while listening to other people go on and on about stuff she has surely heard a million times.  No waiting offstage and doing something else; no reading a book or magazine while others droned on.  She just had to sit there awake and pretend like it was interesting.  And she's got to do this all the time.  I would go absolutely nuts if I had to do that on a regular basis– heck, I cannot sit through a commercial break without reading a magazine.  Clearly, I could never cut it as a politician.

Bob Dole & me

Elizabeth Dole had a campaign event yesterday at a VFW hall that happens to be less than a mile from my house.  Given the proximity to my home and that Bob Dole was with her, I could not pass up the opportunity.  Though I did feel a little funny, being a clean-cut middle-aged white guy did not exactly draw suspicion upon me as a Democratic infiltrator.  Especially as I happy placed every Republican sticker handed me onto my crowded Polo shirt.  So, among my pedestrian observations…
1) You know to expect a white crowd at an event like this, but I think I saw two non-white faces (both Black) in a crowd of at least a couple hundred.
2) I really enjoyed Bob Dole's speech to lead off the event.  It was suprisingly non-partisan.  He made several references to all Americans coming together to improve the country.  It was actually much like a lot of Obama's rhetoric.  When he was done, he left the venue and I was on the aisle on the way out.  I told him that I was a Democrat and that I had very much enjoyed and appreciated his speech and he thanked me and he responded by mentioning the importance of country, not partisanship (country first?).  Anyway, I did genuinely appreciate it.
3) People just cannot resist the physical contact with famous people.  Bob Dole has never really been able to use his right hand since WWII.  I read a while back that he's been having trouble with his left hand and that he's been wearing an ace bandage on it to discourage people from shaking it.  From my observations, ace bandage or not, most people could not resist.  He reached his hand toward me, but I just told him I'd give his hand a break. 
4) After Bob Dole, it became apparent I would have to listen to a parade of GOP hacks before Elizabeth went.  Since I was already missing family time, I decided I'd have to settle for seing Elizabeth Dole from 4 feet away as she enterered and not hear her speak.
5) I think Sarah Palin's name may have been mentioned more than John McCain.  There is no doubt that mentions of Palin were met with considerably more enthusiasm than mentions of McCain. 
6) Somehow, I forgot to bring my camera.  Kim grabbed this photo of me right after I got home, though…

Why do Republicans play dirtier?

I think it is almost conventional wisdom across the political spectrum that Republicans excel at “hardball” politics and are willing to play dirtier in order to win than Democrats.  Recently, a reporter asked me why I thought that is the case.  I answered, “they are lesser human beings?” mostly in jest.  But it really is a good question and I think Matt Yglesias does a nice job of tackling it here:

There are a lot of answers to that question, but one thing worth
observing is that the process of turning politics into a senseless
screaming match about bullshit is not an ideologically neutral

The default state of things in the world is for the levers of state
to be dominated by the people who already possess social and economic
power in order to protect and expand their sphere of privilege. The
contention of progressive political reform is that it?s possible to
organize, educate, and mobilize sufficient quantities of people to
overcome the power of the few and instead implement policies that
benefit the many. Clearly, a well-timed or well-placed smear or
deception can serve those ends effectively. But a politics that?s dominated
by bullshit and bullshit artists is, ultimately, not going to be
conducive to progressive ends even if some folks with progressive
instincts get really really good at flinging the BS.

Which is to say that of course effective progressive political
leaders need to be ? and, historically, have been ? good at ?playing
the game? but they?ve also been good at cutting through the
smokescreen and refocusing attention. That?s how Bill Clinton managed
to survive and even thrive during impeachment. But though I wouldn?t
have believed it at the time, the quality of the media ecosphere has
actually gotten radically worse in the interim, such that
prominent media figures now openly brag about how uninterested they are
informing the public and how exciting they find it to wield arbitrary
power in capricious and senseless ways. Which, I suppose, is to be
expected. On an optimistic view, there?s be a pendulum that swings back
from ?terrible? to ?good.? But more likely it?s a cycle ? only a
sociopath would look at campaign reporting as done from 1998-2002 and
say to themselves ?that?s a line of work I?d like to get into!? And so
you get what we have.

At last, have you no decency John McCain?

I have seriously spent today somewhat anxious and depressed (a very unusual state for me) and it took me a little while to realize that these feelings were emanating from my utter disgust with the McCain campaign.  This lipstick on a pig fiasco is just about the lowest, basest, most cynical thing I have ever seen in presidential campaigning.  Here's nobody's media liberal Mark Halperin, (via Steve Benen):

…even Time's Mark Halperin, hardly a reflexive Democrat, has had it. From CNN last night:

“Stop the madness. I think, with all due respect to the
program's focus on, listen to David just said. I think this is the
press just absolutely playing into the McCain campaign's crocodile
tears. […]

“They knew exactly what he was saying. It's an expression. And
this is a victory for the McCain campaign in the sense that every day
they can make this a pig fight in the mud. It's good for them because
it's reducing Barack Obama's message even more. But I think this is a
low point in the day and one of the low days of our collective coverage
of this campaign. To spend even a minute on this expression, I think,
is amazing and outrageous.”

To any half-awake political observer, it is and was 100% clear that Obama was using this expression, as he has all summer, to refer to McCain's policies, not Sarah Palin.  Heck, McCain himself used the expression about Hillary Clinton's health care plan.  To cynically turn this into an all-out attack on Obama as some kind of sexist, is the most base, cynical, and morally disgusting of politics.  John McCain may know how to survive 5 years as a POW, but he certainly does not seem to know much about honor.  Added to the fact that the McCain campaign has spent over a week now perpetuating the lie that Palin is truly Ms. “I stopped the Bridge to Nowhere” when it has been thoroughly debunked by many major news organizations is just too much. 

EJ Dionne nicely and succinctly takes on many of the major ongoing lies here. He conlcludes by stating: “And I wonder if the media will really take on this onslaught of half-truths and outright deception.”  Sorry, EJ, it is already clear that the answer is no. 

As I was pondering all this I was asking myself whether McCain had truly sunk to a new low and I really believe the answer is yes.  The 1988 campaign is noted for George H.W. Bush's absurdly trivial attacks on Dukakis (pledge of allegiance, anyone) and the race-baiting of Willie Horton, but as sleazy as this was, Bush's charges against Dukakis were not out-in-out falsehoods.  And if they had been, I suspect he would have been shamed into not continuing them.

Today, I feel radicalized.  I give lots of interviews, analysis, etc., as “Associate Professor of Political Science” and I try hard to play it down the line and be fair (as I think the Op-Ed shows).  But I've decided in upcoming appearances, I am not going to pretend that McCain's campaign is not the absolute affront to democracy that it is in the interest of some pretend objectivity.  Sometimes you've got to call a spade a spade (and I can imagine the McCain campaign claiming I'm racist for that little expression), and good people who believe in what democracy is about need to stand up to the lies.  I sure do wish some Republicans would, but I'm not exactly counting on it.   I truly believe this transcends partisan politics.  Today, I am utterly outraged as and American citizen, not as a Democrat.  

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