November 30, 2007
Primary Election Reform
by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math
Yet another reason to shorten the primary campaign schedule: Midwestern (and Northeastern!) winters are unbelievably cold. With the arrival of late August/early September conventions, there's no reason to have primary challengers battle it out in sub-zero temperatures, only to have presumptive nominees traipse around the country for eight months before most of the country starts paying attention. You could have an election every two weeks between April 1 and August 1, and as long as you averaged seven states per week, you'd be fine. Even if you just held off until March 1st, that would make a huge difference.
My secret hope is that, should Edwards not be the nominee, both parties find that they exhaust their supply of donors well before October, forcing them to rethink the long and overweight structure of modern campaigning.
Ezra's Commenters Are Smarter Than I: Politics of Man Dates
by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math
Reader 'Christmas' on the optics of enforcing an individual mandate:
"And I've said this before over at Matt Yglesias's place, but it's pretty obvious to me that the top Democrats - along with pundits like Ezra Klein - have really learned the wrong lesson from '94. Clinton's plan didn't just fail because it would've changed people's coverage; it failed because it was very complex and hard to explain, and was easily portrayed as dangerously impenetrable and convoluted."
Setting aside Christmas' preference for single-payer (and a pony!), I'm not so sure. People understand how an individual mandate would work. And on the campaign trail, Democrats make tremendous efforts to have health care policies that map to straightforward sound bites ("anyone who likes their current health insurance can keep it", "every American should have the same health care that Congress gets", "we should mandate health insurance, the way we do today with car insurance, but help people who have trouble affording it", etc.).
The trouble comes when you start getting into the details; but of course, that would happen with any massive health care reform. On the one hand, we can just sweep the nitty-gritty details under the rug. On the other, we can use the competition of the primary election as a chance to come up with enforcement mechanisms that the public will find palatable, which will help smooth the way for passing the bill when the time comes. This all looks like real eat-your-vegetables stuff now, but in the long run it will be helpful.
Friday Frank: A Cold Dark Matter; Trance Fusion
By Deborah Newell Tornello
I love the floaty guitar solo in this piece. And I defy you to listen to it--while watching the dolphins' slow, spiraling dance and joyful surfriding--and not feel calmer and perhaps a little floaty yourself.
With Frank Zappa, Ike Willis, Mike Keneally, Bobby Martin, and company.
I'll be writing up a storm later tonight; until then,
Bon Weekend, everyone.
Man Date and Sub Sud Eyes
by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math
In all this discussion about the enforcement of an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that the Clinton, Obama, and especially Edwards plans all provide generous subsidies. Poor, working-class, middle-class, an barely-middle-class-in-NYC-and-SF Americans will only pay part of the cost of health insurance, with the government picking up the rest. It's bad politics to make the middle class pay too much for health care; thus, the President (and Congress!) will have huge incentive to make sure it doesn't cost too much. Thus, in practice, the number of people who would actually see their wages garnished or get taken to collections would be relatively low. And if there are huge complaints about affordability, that will create the political will to increase the subsidies. Is this all a little bit backwards? Shouldn't we just pay for health insurance directly out of the general fund, or just build some state-run hospitals? Maybe. But if the goal is to get a system that's truly universal with one swing of the bat, it's probably the only way to get from here to there given the country's current political dynamics.
Kudos to the Times' Michael Cooper for coming as close as the conventions of newspaper reporting allow to calling Rudy Giuliani a serial liar. Kicking things off with just a couple misstatements of fact, Cooper writes:
That's exactly right. In many ways, Giuliani is selling himself as the Compstat President. Even if he weren't, though, the pattern would be troubling; this mangling of facts is the sort of thing that only a few pundits, like Paul Krugman, were worrying about during the 2000 election, and we know how that turned out. And, of course, it's very convenient that "virtually all of [Giuliani's misstatements] cast Mr. Giuliani or his arguments in a better light." As the Times notes in one of the more damning episodes, involving Giuliani's use of blatantly false prostate cancer statistics, he persisted in making claims even after he, his staff, and everyone else paying attention knew they were false. That, of course, is the very definition of a lie.
All of these statements are incomplete, exaggerated or just plain wrong. And while, to be sure, all candidates use misleading statistics from time to time, Mr. Giuliani has made statistics a central part of his candidacy as he campaigns on his record.
In the hilarious-if-it-weren't-true department, the Times notes elsewhere that Giuliani's latest ad features a claim about other people lying that "does not appear to be based on any evidence."
Let Them Eat Facts
I think it says a lot about my life that, even in Amsterdam, Tim Russert's worth as an interviewer comes up at dinner. The argument was made that he is absolutely as tough as any interviewer working today, and what more can we expect? My rejoinder, which I thought exceptionally on-point, was that it's not the "toughness" of the questions but the content. Just once, rather than see him compare some politician's current position to the one they held when they were eight, I'd like to see him compare some politician's current position to the actual data from a Congressional Budget Office graph. That would still be tough, but it would also be relevant. Sadly, this clever rejoinder appears to be Paul Krugman's argument, rather than mine, but it's still correct.
I'm hesitant to say too much on this issue lest I cannibalize a forthcoming article on a related subject, but I think folks are overlooking the political merits of the individual mandate. I'm quite open to the idea that the best electoral move is to mention the principle and refuse to define its enforcement (though I also think politicians should be rewarded for being truthful), but setting it against an actual government enrollment program, where everyone is simply signed up through taxes, sort of misses the point.
You can take a lot of lessons from 1994, but the most important political teaching was that You Do. Not. Fuck. With. What. People. Have. If Americans are concerned about health insurance, it's because they may someday lose theirs. If you guarantee that they will lose their insurance -- even en route to a better, stronger, more comprehensive system -- they will reject your plan. Status quo bias is an inescapable fact when you're talking medical coverage. And that's what you run afoul of when you centralize enrollment. What people have now is employer-based insurance paid for through premiums. They can't keep that if you're moving to a government-based system paid for through taxes. What the individual mandate does is try and square that circle: If you like what your employer is giving you, write down the premium # on this form, and we'll never bother you again. If you don't, we're signing you up for a program. Building on the current system isn't necessarily the best policy, but in a country where 80-some percent are pleased with their current insurance, it's the only viable politics.
As for concerns about enforcability, and the evils of the IRS, we're going to have to face those down one way or the other. A big political selling point of the individual mandate is that it's still based on premium payments that are transferred, privately, to insurers. It does not transmogrify the billions we're currently privately into a lump "tax increase." Such increases are much harder to sell. As Rep. Pete Stark recently told me, "[The 1994 reforms] failed because the democratic caucus in the House couldnt deal with the tax. A majority of the Democratic caucus couldn’t support anything with a tax in it." As Chairman of the House Health Subcommittee and a career supporter of Medicare-for-All, I take that judgment seriously.
The individual mandate will still face hurdles as we argue over enforcement, but it basically trades away certain amount of economic efficiency in order to evade the political implications of nationalizing health spending. Figuring out how to enforce it -- which will really only take a modified version of Obama's language, that it's not as if people don't want health care -- is an easier sell than trillions in "new" taxes. And the idea that these plans will automatically enroll individuals in health care should, for liberals, be an exciting prospect, one they're enthusiastic about advocating for. How you enforce this on the tiny remnant who refuse to pay their premiums is a really weird place to focus, and applies as much to Obama with his mandate-4-kidz as it does to Edwards and Clinton.
Also, read Krugman.
November 29, 2007
Paragraph of the Day: "It's 5:05am And My Body Clock Is Off" Edition
Back in the late 1950s, 60% of the second-graders in a study by political scientist Fred Greenstein said that President Eisenhower was “the best person in the world” — even better, apparently, than Mom or Dad or that other venerated figure of the period, the police officer. That a U.S. president should occupy such a high place in the American pantheon, at least among impressionable young children, should have occasioned no great surprise in light of a Gallup Poll finding from the preceding decade: In that survey, 28% of those polled called Franklin Delano Roosevelt “the greatest person, living or dead, in world history.” Finishing second, with 15%, was Jesus.
Mike Huckabee's FairTax Proposal Is Crazy
by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math
Let's be very clear on this: Mike Huckabee's claim that he would "abolish the IRS" is bunk. "Abolishing the IRS", of course, is the purported effect of enacting the "FairTax" proposal Huckabee supports. This would replace the income tax with a national sales tax. But you would still need a bureaucracy to enforce the sales tax! Business owners aren't going to be willing to hand over 30% of the cost of goods sold [the tax rate you would need to have a revenue neutral sales tax] just because they're a bunch of really swell people. In addition, a sales tax of that magnitude is terrible economics. The FairTax idea is beyond silly, and in the unlikely event that Huckabee is the GOP nominee, right-of-center economists will be committing professional malpractice if they don't rise up en masse to debunk this malarky. Bruce Bartlett provides a good template: "In short, the FairTax is too good to be true, and voters should not take seriously any candidate who supports it."
Frustration with the complicated nature of the tax code is a reason to simplify the tax code, not to enact some crazy regressive tax scheme that would have the side effect of creating a massive informal market in untaxed goods. You could have an income tax that computed your tax liability based on a seventh degree polynomial that you could fill out on a post card, so long as the only input is "How much money did you make last year?". Instead, our tax code asks you how much you made from working, which is treated differently from money earned from interest and dividends, which is treated differently from capital gains. And then we start asking how much you gave to charity, how much you spent on health care, how many kids you have, whether any of them are in college or require child care, whether you bought a hybrid car, etc. ad nauseum. In addition, all these nickel-and-dime deductions and credits end up forcing the government to increase its overall tax rate on the income that is taxable. It makes you have a lot of sympathy for the "broad base, low rates" position that used to be the mainstream position in the Republican party.
Giuliani, Misappropriation, Sex And The Press
by Stephen of the Thinkery
Rudy Giuliani has not only been married three times, and he not only was forced out of the Mayor's Residence by his then-wife because of his affair with his now-wife, apparently used New York City funds to pay for his romantic getaways with his then-mistress/now-wife in the Hamptons. He used his security detail to help cover things up and tried to hide the public financing of his private affair by using the budgets of fairly obscure city departments like the Office for People with Disabilities.
I'm sure everyone reading this blog already knows about this. You knew about it yesterday. The question is, what about the rest of the country? My recent Google News search for "Giuliani" brought up over 1,000 articles relating to the debate last night and how Rudy and Mitt went after each other. There were approximately 250 articles on Giuliani's misappropriation of city funds.
Drudge led with the story for a while, and even Fox News has paid some attention to it, although "Special Report with Brit Hume," for example, spent most of their time blathering about Bill Clinton and managed to squeeze in only a hurried reference to the Giuliani story at the end.
That, I think, is the real problem with the story: it's not about Bill Clinton. Or to put it another way, it doesn't fit established storylines and narratives. It has the potential to be treated as a Big Deal, but there's no guarantee at this point that it'll really go anywhere in the press. Giuliani was a pretty rotten mayor. When he left most New Yorkers hated him, none more than the FDNY because of how Giuliani's decisions regarding their radio system led to many of the Fire Department's losses on 9/11. His BFF Bernie Kerik is a complete crook. Almost everything he's said about his record in NYC has been not only false but easily demonstrated as such.
Yet he still has managed to sit atop polls and receive good press, not only from Roger Ailes but other media outlets as well. They've crafted a narrative around him, one that a bunch of the country seems to accept, and that's what will make it hard for the news media to turn on him now rather than just dismiss this story.
Nothing shows the news media's dysfunction more than how loyal they are to the myths they construct. It's why everything is good news for Republicans, why people are concerned about Bill Clinton's potential for infidelity in the White House and not Giuliani's, why it keeps getting reported that the Democrats' FISA bill would have required court approval for President Bush's bathroom breaks (as opposed to Condi's) or whatever it is Joe Klein made up.
The danger we face in trying to pressure the media to report stories like the US Attorney purge or Giuliani's criminal misuse of NYC money is that we'll only be able to change the prevailing narrative rather than actual journalistic practice. Broder is mythologically committed to his perverted "centrism" rather than ideologically committed, and the same is true for the rest of them. We can change the myth; the GOP has the route all mapped out, and that destination is easier to reach with all of the technological tools available to us now. But all that means is someday the tide will turn against us again. I want a media that reports facts, that doesn't consider the horserace to be the only side of a campaign that exists, that doesn't mistake he said/she said articles with false equivalence as balance. If we can get them to report on the Giuliani story because it's about criminal activity and breach of the public's trust and not because Giuliani was having The Sex, then we'll have a real accomplishment under our belt.
I'm not holding my breath for either the possibility that the press will really run with it or, if they do, that they'll put the focus where it belongs.