Monday, April 12, 2010

2010 Is Not 1994. Unless it Is.

There's lots of talk these days about some early indications of a coming bloodbath for the Democratic Party in the 2010 midterm elections, and a lot of that talk--somewhat understandably--involves parallels to 1994, when the party lost control of both houses of congress in the aftermath of a contentious battle to reform the health care system in this country. Just as many things are different this time, however: from the dearth of Democratic retirements (at least so far), to the absence of a Somalia-like misstep by the President on the foreign-policy side (at least so far), to the fact of his election by a popular majority of the country--a counter example to what most people don't remember was the original cassus belli the extreme right-wing brought to their hatred of Bill Clinton: In a plurality-take-all system at the state level, he'd comfortably amassed 270+ electoral votes while over six in every ten people were industriously voting for someone else. Not this time.

Most of all, there is the glaring difference that the Democrats this time actually *passed* their health insurance reform effort, and (somewhat less importantly when it comes to electoral strategies, I'm afraid) the bill they passed is a far more politically conservative effort than the one they failed to pass in '94, anyway. Indeed the gist of the thing--increased access to care through the establishment of exchanges, individual mandates, and regulation of the industry's capacity to deny coverage--were also the main talking-points of the counter-proposal to Clintoncare that had been authored by The Heritage Foundation in '93. Having just passed a Heritage Foundation look-alike, then, it would seem unlikely that the Democratic Party could be routed in November of '10 for dragging the country too far to the left. The parallels to '94, as I've been arguing in various political aggregator fora for weeks, simply aren't there. The Democrats should be a in a far, far stronger position than they were in April of 1994. But here's the thing: Because of these differences, they should also be in a far stronger position than they are, too.

There's no point raging at the dying of any light, of course, and raging against one that has been raged against since before I was born by everyone and Will Rogers, is doubly un-productive. But the position in which the Democrats now find themselves is really nothing short of stupefying. Everywhere I look, in fact, I cannot help but feel the uneasy sense that the Democrats are in the process of once again snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The stimulus bill passed last spring (you remember, the one that was derided as socialist and profligate, yet consisted of over 50% tax cuts?) has begun to work after precisely the sort of time-lag predicted by professional economists, and the methodology behind it has been (once again) validated as a matter of settled paradigmatic fact, negating the willfully counterfactual drivel that has tumbled from the mouths of the Palinites regarding the supposedly ineffectual policies of the New Deal. That bill passed without a single a Republican vote, and now that they've spent a year poking holes in it on fallacious grounds as it continued to quietly do its work (while they dragged the health-care debate out to its maximum duration through Senate filibuster), the Republicans are brazenly now pivoting to a charge that the President has frittered-away time on a contentious health insurance fight instead of--get this!--concentrating on the economy.

The health insurance reform bill itself, meanwhile, does none of the things that were suggested it was going to do by the same people who called it socialist as well. And yet those people keep banging away about it as if they lived in a parallel universe. I recently found myself in a two-weeks-long flame war on Facebook with a friend-of-a-friend who insisted, over and over again, that the parallel to the '93 Heritage Foundation proposal was a delusional fantasy on my part, dismissing link after link as beneath his time to either read or counter-cite, on the basis of this bill's supposedly self-evident inconsistency with the guiding principles over at Heritage. And finally, when I found the link that truly settled the matter, he disappeared. There was no "well, it's not as similar as you make it out to be, Dave," no mealy-mouthed grumblings about how the circumstances were the difference, no faint about how Heritage was hoping their own bill wouldn't pass, or some-such: He just flat-out disappeared. There simply was no comeback. The bill we just got done passing, is, not, a socialist, takeover, of, the, health, care, system. Period. And still, in other venues, they keep at it.

All of this should make for some pretty strong Democratic bargaining leverage with the American people. Nobody likes it when a political movement turns shrill, and people especially don't like it when that negativism is inconsistent with the reality on the ground. Just ask Newt Gingerich, who predicted a sixty-seat Republican majority in the House after the Monica Lewinsky matter, and whose bitter slash-and-burn strategy about a matter that most people honestly didn't care about one way or the other very nearly lost the Republicans their control of the body, and did eventually cost him the Speakership.

So why isn't this 1998 all over again, instead of continuing--alarmingly--to poll like 1994? The equalizing factor is the same one it always is: While Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have been making policy and presuming the self-evidence of the lies being told by the other side, what they haven't been doing nearly as good a job of, is MESSAGING.

Tell some of the most incendiary trolls in political news sites that the stimulus was over 50% tax-cuts, and they scream denials back at you... until you post a link that proves it, and then they abruptly vanish for days at a time, and come back wanting to talk about something else. Tell some blow-hard facebook nobody who's used to spitting-out Glenn Beck nonsense that the Heritage Foundation proposed something not unlike what we just passed, and he embarrasses himself insisting that it isn't true until you've blugeoned him with so many references that he finally reads one of them... and abruptly vanishes, too. But in order for this to happen, you have to actually do some of this telling.

The elected Democrats in Washington, it would seem, are in the process of instead making the same mistake they always make when they're in power. They assume that the absurdity of the things being said about them is its own counter-argument, and they don't respond aggressively enough. George McGovern spoke about it not too long ago. The '72 Nixon campaign was saying things about McGovern that were so outrageous that the Democrats feared the charge of "stooping to their level" by responding, and chose not to. As a result of which (with a little bit of help from Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, of course), they got clobbered.

And this, folks, this is the alarming parallel to both 1972 and 1994. There are far too many smart people on the left who are assuming that the passage of the main component of their legislative agenda, and the absence of a plague of locusts descening instantly aftwerward, will serve as a de facto response to the gibberish nonsense still being spewed out by the Republicans. And in this country, as Democrats should know only too well, there is no such thing as a de facto response to gibberish nonsense. If Democrats continue to make the same mistake now that the health insurance reform bill has passed, they're going to have huge swathes of the country going to the polls in November believing that it's a socialist takeover of health-care, even though it already isn't, and they're going to get clobbered by the same boring, lying liars who've done it so many times before.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida
Click Here to

Friday, April 2, 2010

Drunk on Power or Just Drunk?

Alert and loyal reader Bill S. points out that the first sentence of my last post is pretty doggone silly. Next time, maybe one more proof-read?

That's all I've got right now, folks; you've earned the time off.
Click Here to

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Oh, Nate, You Know I Love You, But We Have to Talk

I would like to hope to like to think that my rivalry with Nate Silver at could be three things that it might today be something closer to zero of, at least the way I've conducted myself so far. I'd like to hope to like to think, specifically, that it could be respectful, jealousy-free, and constructive -- at least to the extent that it might elevate the quality of the work of at least one of us. Indeed it would appear that some of my blog commentators have missed the frequency with which I've said complimentary things about Mr. Silver and his site -- something I've done often. He deserves them.

But the current post on his site, penned under his by-line, is, well, just nutty, frankly.

The article, written by a guy whose credential as a political analyst was secured for all-time by using an elaborate and econometrically rigorous model to correctly predict forty-nine of fifty states in the 2008 Presidential election, argues that there is no proof of the widely savored rumor that the extreme right wing in this country is hurting its own cause by refusing to fill out its census forms. To prove this, Mr. Silver posts the current national average for already-returned forms at the top of a data-table -- about 50%, so far -- and then lists the return rates of all twenty-one states that have voted Republican in the three most recent Presidential elections. Some of these states, as he notes, have higher census return-rates than the national average; others have lower ones.

And then? Then, Mr. Silver -- who, let's face it, is self-evidently a better econometrician with a hangover, a migraine, and a concussion than I'll be on the best day of my life -- does a very, very, very curious thing: he averages the return-rates of all twenty-one of those states, with positively no regard to differences in their populations. And this, folks, this is supposed to be the smoking-gun proof that the red-state-refusal hypothesis is unfounded. To consider just how sloppy a statement this is on his part, one needs to know just which states are being over-represented in his average and which ones are being under-represented, and by how much. The July 2009 estimate for the population of Texas, for example, is 24,782,302. At a 44% response-rate to the census mailing, Texas is lagging 6% behind the national average -- considerably more than the population of an entire congressional district in this country, indeed closer to two district's worth. Arizona, meanwhile, was estimated in 2008 to have a population of 6,500,000 people, and is running at 48%, which means it's currently shorting itself by 130,000, which may not be a full congressional district's worth of people yet, but still ain't chicken-feed. Georgia, with a population estimate of 9,829,291 in July of 2009, is running 5% behind the national average, shorting itself 491,464 people, which happens to be inching right up to being as much as the entire population of Wyoming, which gets equally-weighted credit in Mr. Silver's analysis for being 3% ahead, as Georgia does for being as far behind as Wyoming's projected total.

In all Mr. Silver's analysis shows that the red states are actually running behind by a total of almost 1,500,000 people -- or roughly the entire populations of North and South Dakota put together.

And the thing is, folks, this is just a current "tally," it isn't even extrapolated to the mail-deadline.

Listen, I allowed a little too much personal envy of to cloud my discourse on the subject of what the very smart people over at FiveThirtyEight are accomplishing with their site -- especially when one considers that, first, it isn't a zero-sum game, and, second, even if it were, it can't be won by someone who takes a year off from playing -- and I got deservedly spanked for it. Mr. Silver and his team did a positively superlative job of covering the shocking absence of a McCain ground offensive during the 2008 campaign: it was a Peabody-worthy effort on their part, in the highest, grandest traditions of gumshoe journalism. Since then his coverage of the political strategies behind health insurance reform have been consistently incisive, often witty, and sometimes poignantly predictive of the drama's next chapter. He's a great writer, and a great economist. A pro in a world of hack amateurs, doing a peerless job of trying to keep the fractious liberal blogosphere on-task.

...But in an era in which every single statement of fact is carefully scrutinized by the (factless) other side for even the slightest hint of book-cooking, the fellow among us whose angle is nailing-down the numbers simply must be held to a higher standard than this most recent article.
He knows better.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida.
Click Here to