Is good policy a campaign liability?


Amy Davidson starts out with observations on Hillary Clinton’s “Between Two Fenrns” appearance (I generally find these quite entertaining, and this was no exception), but segues into a broader critique of Clinton.  The part that frustrates me so is that being smart and sensible about policy is essentially a campaign liability.  Here’s Davidson on college expenses:

Many of the policies outlined by the campaign and available on its Web site are serious proposals, rooted in academic research and the more-respected center-left think tanks in Washington. For example, her proposals about student debt and the cost of higher education—which she raised at that rally in Philadelphia—are sophisticated and complex. Her team worked with many thoughtful wonks, including Sandy Baum, of the Urban Institute, who is one of the nation’s leading scholars on the topic. The plan recognizes that the federal government must work with state and local officials, as well as parents and students, to improve access to affordable higher education. It is also based on an understanding that wealthier families have different needs than the poor, and so it offers graduated benefits for families that earn less than a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars a year. It reads as if Clinton told her staff to find a workable solution to a big problem, one that seeks to have a real impact while recognizing political and economic realities. It stands in marked contrast to Bernie Sanders’s free-college-for-everyone idea, which was popular among some of his supporters but would have been extremely costly and was designed in a way guaranteed to alienate the state and local officials who would need to partner on any public-education plan. Clinton’s plan was widely hailed by education experts, while Sanders’s was quickly dismissed as unserious. Clinton’s higher-education policy is flatly superior to Trump’s, as he has no education policy, other than to eliminate or cut “way, way down” the Department of Education. [emphasis mine]

And we all know who the Democratic voters– especially the young ones– loved on the college issue.  And the general electorate currently has 40+% support for a man who essentially has no serious issue proposals whatsoever.  It’s almost as if our country deserves bad policy.  Sad.

What to “expect” in the debates

Love this from Paul Waldman:

Most of what you hear before and after is going to be a twisted version of reality presented as an objective, savvy assessment, offered up so you can consider yourself one of the clever insiders who has a keen grasp of how the whole thing played with the rubes. Don’t buy into it.

The first and perhaps most important element of this distorted picture is that holy concept of “expectations.” Many liberals are concerned that lowered expectations for Donald Trump will lead the media to declare him the winner. They worry about this kind of conventional wisdom, from the Associated Press:

“By virtue of her long political resume, Hillary Clinton will enter her highly anticipated fall debates with Donald Trump facing the same kind of heightened expectations that often saddle an incumbent president. Trump, as the political newcomer, will be more of a wild card with a lower bar to clear.”

Or as the sage Mark Halperin puts it, “Winning has less to do with pure performance, it’s almost all about beating expectations.”

It’s important that we pause for a moment to acknowledge how ludicrous this idea is. If someone who was expected to come in last in an Olympic race actually comes in fifth, we don’t give him the gold medal and put a huge picture of him on the front page because he exceeded expectations. We might note his performance, but he still lost. The truth is that if one candidate exceeded expectations, the only thing it really means is that the expectations were wrong. In other words, the people doing the expecting didn’t understand the situation adequately. Yet we talk about it as though the candidate who exceeded expectations has somehow proven themselves to be more capable of being president than the candidate who merely met expectations. What’s more, as this blog has previously noted, it’s often the reporters themselves who have determined what these expectations “should” be… [emphasis mine]

But there’s a problem with my analogy of the Olympic race, too: The presidential debates don’t have to have a winner and a loser. The election will have a winner and a loser, but the debates are supposed to be a means to get greater insight into the candidates and help voters make their decisions. You can have a terrific debate — lively, enlightening, revealing — in which nobody actually wins or loses. Yet a huge amount of time will be spent talking about whether Trump or Clinton “won” — pundits will opine on the question, polls will be taken on it, and throughout almost no one will ask why it matters.

Yes, a thousand times, yes.  Of course, I will “buy” into it when everybody asks me who “won” the debate.  The winner is simply whomever political journalists decide won the debate and that very much drives coverage going forward.  In that sense, there will be a winner.  It’s not actually rational, just reality.

Just embarrassing

Seriously, if I was a Republican I would be so horrifyingly embarrassed of my party.  Check out the latest public opinion results on the “birther” issue:

The experiment lays bare two of the competing rationales that can motivate survey-takers.

On the one hand, people tend to jump at the chance to endorse any negative statement about their candidate’s political opponents, a tendency that’s only been exacerbated by increasing political polarization in recent years. That’s always been part of the appeal of birtherism for many Republicans, who loathe Obama and are prone to agree with any statement that casts him in a bad light.

On the other hand, people also tend to rely on partisan cues when answering surveys, making them more likely to take a particular stance on an issue if they think it puts them in line with their party’s leaders. HuffPost/YouGov polling last yearfound that, for instance, Republicans were far more likely to support universal health care when the idea was attributed to Trump, while Democrats were more enthusiastic about the concept when it was attributed to Obama.

That leaves Republicans who’ve supported birtherism caught between either abandoning their belief or opposing their presidential nominee.

“The best they can do, while still ‘saving face’ is to move to the ‘uncertain’ category,” Miller said. “A full reversal would be too identity threatening.”

So amazingly pathetic that only 1/3 of Republicans can bring themselves to admit Trump was born in America.

Yes, surely Democrats believe some dumb things, too.  Partisanship has an amazing power to make people stupid, but, really, nothing anywhere close to this.

And just for fun, a survey from May that shows how Republican hatred for Obama has convinced them he’s ruined the economy:

And, yes, you know how dumb that is, but nice to see just how wrong:

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