Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pushing the Narrative

QOTD, TeaBaggerSmith, in response to "What exactly are they 'angry' about? What has the Democratic majority actually done to make them so angry?"

I'm mad as hell that I live in a country where a negro can be President, my future tax dollars are spent on infrastructure, a great company like BP get's painted as a monster, and government thinks I need to pay for health insurance when I could just go to the ER for free.

GOP candidates: poor sports or political disarray? Rachel Maddow notes the unwillingness of Republican candidates who lose in primary elections to endorse their opponents to unite toward a common political cause.

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Just the Narrative, Ma’am

From the headline (“Obama Against a Compromise on Extension of Bush Tax Cuts“) to the horse race frame and conventional wisdom narrative, this Times front-page article is a pure distillation of the stupid analysis we’re going to see for the next two months:

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday will make clear that he opposes any compromise that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy beyond this year, officials said, adding a populist twist to an election-season economic package that is otherwise designed to entice support from big businesses and their Republican allies.

Mr. Obama’s opposition to allowing the high-end tax cuts to remain in place for even another year or two would be the signal many Congressional Democrats have been awaiting as they prepare for a showdown with Republicans on the issue and ends speculation that the White House might be open to an extension. Democrats say only the president can rally wavering lawmakers who, amid the party’s weakened poll numbers, feel increasingly vulnerable to Republican attacks if they let the top rates lapse at the end of this year as scheduled.

It is not clear that Mr. Obama can prevail given his own diminished popularity, the tepid economic recovery and the divisions within his party. But by proposing to extend the rates for the 98 percent of households with income below $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals — and insisting that federal income tax rates in 2011 go back to their pre-2001 levels for income above those cutoffs — he intends to cast the issue as a choice between supporting the middle class or giving breaks to the wealthy.

Perhaps I’m just a partisan to point this out, but since when is it a “compromise” to give Republicans everything they want, why is it a dirty word (“populism”) to let tax cuts on the rich expire, and can we ever have a mention of Obama’s “diminished popularity” that points out that it still beats other recent presidents facing recessions in their first term?

More importantly, if the new narrative is that everything Obama proposes after Labor Day merits the adjective “election-season”, where has the DC media been for the past 18 months? We’ve had a record level of obstruction from Republicans in hopes that they’d be able to kill or water down the Democrats’ legislative agenda. For the GOP, every day has been the day before election day, yet now we’re supposed to discount the next two months of the Obama administration’s proposals as “election-season” politics.

  • Steve Benen adds:

    Good for him (Obama). The White House plan will be identical to the one he promised to pursue during the campaign -- rates for households making less than $250,000 a year (98% of the country) would stay at the lower rate, while the top 2% would go back to the Clinton-era rates.

    I don't doubt that Republicans will be apoplectic -- fighting for tax breaks for the wealthy is just part of their DNA -- but they should keep a few things in mind. The first is that the Republican approach isn't exactly popular -- the latest Newsweek poll found only 38% of the country wants to extend all of the Bush-era tax rates. A recent CBS News poll put the figure even lower, at 36%.

    Second, remember that Obama is basically just following the plan as set by Republicans themselves. When Bush and the congressional GOP passed these cuts, Republicans set them to expire at the end of 2010. The president will go along with keeping the lower rates on the middle class, but in light of deficit concerns, can't justify the lower rates for the rich.

    Third, if Republicans were serious about their own fiscal priorities, they'd try to find a way to pay for the $680 billion cost of keeping these breaks for the wealthy. So far, they've refused to even try.

    Fourth, the number one talking point today will be that this tax policy will hurt small businesses. It's not true.

    As for the bigger picture, I'm glad to see a more assertive president stepping up on this. Obama's prepared to let Republicans fight for the wealthy with tax cuts the country can't afford, while he makes his case for the middle class.

    It's good policy and good politics.

Last week, Gallup's generic-ballot tracking poll showed Republicans leading Democrats by 10, 51% to 41%. It was billed as the GOP's biggest Gallup lead in the history of humanity, and the results generated massive media attention, including a stand-alone Washington Post piece on page A2. It was iron-clad evidence, we were told, of impending Democratic doom.

I strongly recommended caution -- Gallup's generic-ballot tracking poll has been erratic and unreliable. Both parties had built up big leads in recent months, only to see them quickly disappear, for no apparent reason. I made the case that inconsistent polls with bizarre swings are necessarily suspect, but the media had its narrative -- the GOP tsunami is coming -- and couldn't be bothered to consider whether the Gallup poll had merit.


Wouldn't you know it, a week later, that massive, unprecedented, world-changing lead Republicans enjoyed is gone. The new Gallup numbers show the GOP losing five points and Dems gaining five points, leaving the parties tied at 46%. Is there any coherent rationale to explain a 10-point swing in Dems' favor over the last week? Of course not.

Just to be perfectly clear, I don't consider this evidence of a surge in Democratic support, and Dems who rejoice at this poll are making the same mistake Republicans and reporters made last week. The point is Gallup's generic-ballot tracking poll just isn't telling us anything useful, no matter which party likes the results in any given week.

What's more annoying, though, is the media double-standard. After the vast news coverage last week's Gallup numbers received, it's striking to see how little outlets care this week. I'm still looking for the headline that reads "Resurgent Dems close gap against GOP" in a major daily, but can't seem to find it.

Indeed, take Chris Cillizza, for example. Last week, the Gallup generic ballot was the lead story in his "Morning Fix" column, and he devoted more than 500 words to the results. Today, Cillizza's "Morning Fix" column doesn't mention the new Gallup results at all.

When the media culture decides poll results that Republicans like are more newsworthy than results Democrats like, there's a problem.

Sargent: The Morning Plum

* Framing the fall: The big question: Will even the starkest framing of the elections enable Dems to cut through public anger over the economy, and persuade voters that they face a choice between giving current policies a chance to work and restoring Bush policies that ran the economy into the ground?

Can Dems re-nationalize the elections on their own terms, when the sputtering recovery has already framed the story the GOP's way?

President Obama and DNC chair Tim Kaine are set to give big speeches today -- a double-barreled effort to take back the storyline as we head into the final eight weeks of the midterm elections. Kaine will repeatedly hammer away at the "choice" idea.

"On Election Day, it will be Americans' turn to choose. They can choose Republicans who drove our country into a ditch," Kaine will say. "Or they can choose Democrats who are helping us climb out of that ditch. Who have taken the bold actions necessary to repair the damage caused by nearly a decade of failed Republican leadership."

* And: Obama will bring a personal tone to his speech in Cleveland today, discussing his own family's economic hardships even as he takes a hard shot at Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner.

White House communications chief Dan Pfeiffer previews Obama's attack on Boehner, arguing that the GOP has "no new ideas, just the same philosophy we tried for the last decade and which led to the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression."

* But again, here's the rub: The problem is that there's simply no evidence that voters buy the claim that a vote for today's GOP is a vote to return to Bush. The question is whether this will change, now that Dems are kicking into high gear and voters are focusing harder on the choice before them.

* Drawing a line in the sand: In his speech today, Obama will also insist that we must not flinch from letting the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire -- this year. No "compromises."

So here's the question about this: Are we now going to see eight weeks of aggressive populism from the White House, and will it enable Dems to re-nationalize the elections on their own terms?

* Boehner to White House: Please continue elevating me: You'll be startled to hear that Boehner's office says they're loving the White House strategy of elevating Boehner as the face of the Bad Old GOP, sensing White House "panic."

* "Ground Zero mosque" Imam will reveal financial backers: Feisal Abdul Rauf, not backing down, makes the case for his plan to build the Islamic center, adding: "We will clearly identify all of our financial backers."

That should prove deeply disappointing, er, reassuring, to the right.

* Yes, Dems were right to pursue health care reform: Jonathan Chait skewers the absurd notion that Dems would have been better off politically if they had abandoned a major campaign promise.

* Media greets Gallup poll with crickets: Steve Benen wonders why the Gallup poll showing the GOP up 10 points got so much more attention than yesterday's survey showing a tie.

* DCCC to media: Can we let the voters decide the midterms? DCCC spox Jennifer Crider cites the Gallup poll in an email to reporters: "With eight weeks until Election Day, Republicans and beltway pundits may want to hold off on calling the race for the House before voters cast their ballots."

Oh, come on. If professional Beltway prognosticators refrain from predicting a GOP takeover, they won't get any media attention! Everyone in D.C. knows exactly how this works, and everyone just plays along anyway.

  • from the comments, bernielatham:

    I talk to dozens of people from around the country every day who come into my store and your notion here isn't validated by those conversations (yes, my wife thinks I shouldn't talk politics but she's from Texas and I've learned that it's prudent to do the reverse of what Texans believe).

    The overwhelming sentiment I hear has two components: 1) worry about the suffering and uncertainties re economy and 2) that Republicans have gone nuts. I've found all of this (few exceptions) very encouraging.

    Greg's and Benen's notes re the more recent Gallup polling really points to the effective manipulation of media and media narrative by conservatives. They do this very well because 1) they play to win, 2) they are very well funded, 3) they have the lion's share of marketing knowledge, and 4) as a consequence of the above, they have built the institutions in and around the media to manipulate narrative.

    But you don't have to just suck all this in and succumb to the "reality" that is posited in this narrative-creation enterprise. A fundamental and important aspect of the game here is to not merely galvanize the conservative base but to dispirit the liberal/progressive base - for the obvious electoral consequences.

    Just a reminder.


    I really ought to ad here the perspective that arises if one imagines ANY other individual presently occupying the WH and what he/she might have done or might do in the face of what this President faces in terms of real world situations and in terms of purposeful obstruction of all things all the time. Would another person in the WH face a less utterly cynical opposition? Not a chance.

    And then, given that perspective, consider the policy accomplishments that have been achieved even in the face of all this.

    This is an exceptional fellow. He does not however (and you ought to be happy as hell about this) move forward on the perfect wings of whispers from God. He's a very smart guy who is working very hard to keep the US from falling into the abyss. Weigh his intentions and his honesty against those of Boehner or Palin or Gingrich.

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Pearlstein: The bleak truth about unemployment

Somewhere between the rantings of the Republican right, which is peddling the nonsense that excessive government spending is to blame for high unemployment, and the Democratic left, which clings to the false hope that another helping of fiscal stimulus is all that is needed to get millions of Americans permanently back to work, is this stubborn reality:

The loss of 8 million jobs reflects problems that are largely structural, not cyclical, which means they won't be brought back by fiddling with a magic dial in Washington that controls how much the government spends.

When I say that the problems are structural, I mean something more than what labor economists refer to when they talk about the mismatch between the skills of the people who of are out of work and the skills needed for the jobs that are being created - although that certainly seems to be a factor.

Since 2007, the manufacturing and construction sectors have each lost 2 million jobs, with finance, hospitality and retailing accounting for 2 million more. Those categories alone account for three-quarters of the nation's job losses, and while a fraction of those jobs might return as the economy recovers, it will be a long time before automakers or home builders or investment banks or retailers see the sales numbers they had at the height of the biggest credit bubble the world has ever seen. Some of those laid-off workers may have been in this country illegally and have now returned home, but most will be looking not only for new jobs but also new careers.

In other cases, the mismatch has more to do with geography than skill - the businesses with jobs are in one place, and the people with the necessary skills in another. But with many Americans living in homes they cannot sell, or can sell only at a price less than the value of the mortgages they took out to buy them, the willingness and ability of workers to move to a new city have been noticeably diminished.

One telltale sign of this mismatch is the number of job openings and the length of time it takes to fill them. As Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, noted in a recent speech, those numbers have been going up over the last year, not down, as you would expect. Another sign, he said, was the widening gap in unemployment rates between the states with the highest rates and those with the lowest. Before the recession, it was just over four percentage points; now it is more than six.

The structural problems, however, go well beyond these mismatches. The reason there were 8 million additional jobs back in 2007 is that demand for goods and services was artificially - and unsustainably - inflated by cheap, plentiful credit. Between 2002 and 2007, household debt was increasing at the torrid pace of more than 10 percent annually, while business debt and the debt of state and local governments was growing at an average of 9 percent. Much of that money was used to finance present consumption.

Now all that has reversed. Household debt is shrinking at a rate of 2.4 percent per year as the savings rate has risen from nearly zero to more than 5 percent. Meanwhile, business debt declined 2.5 percent last year and is now flat, as is the case for state and local governments.

All that deleveraging and living within our means is obviously a good thing in the long run. But what it means for the economy in the short run is that neither the excess consumption nor the jobs it supported are coming back. During the past two years, the federal government has been actively trying to take up some of the slack by going on a borrowing-and-spending binge of its own. But continuing on that path is also unsustainable - certainly politically, and probably economically as well. And once federal deficits begin to decline next year, we'll have yet another drag on economic growth and employment.

At this point, there is only one clear path out of the unemployment box we have created for ourselves.

Right now, the United States is running a trade deficit that is likely to reach $450 billion this year. That's down considerably from the $750 billion at the height of the economic bubble, but still more than a wealthy advanced economy should have. Bringing it down - either by producing more of what we consume (fewer imports) or more of what other countries consume (more exports) - represents the path toward sustainable, long-term job creation.

The problem with that strategy is that for the past two decades we have allowed our industrial and technological base to deteriorate as talent and capital were grossly misallocated toward other sectors of the economy, even as other countries were able to attract the investment, the technology and the know-how to serve the U.S. and global markets.

For a time, none of this seemed to matter because we were consuming so much that we were able to support job creation at home as well as overseas. But now that the debt-fueled consumption binge is over, we find that we don't have the companies, the workers or the competitive products to replace the stuff we now import or expand our share of export markets. Even when we do, our companies are disadvantaged by an overvalued currency or unfair trading practices.

As Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies, wrote this month for Project Syndicate, a wonderful new economics Web site: "It is relatively easy to manage a structural shift out of manufacturing during a real-estate boom, but it is much more difficult to re-establish a competitive manufacturing sector once it has been lost."

A structural shift toward exports and import substitution," Gros warns, "will be difficult and time consuming." He might have added that it will also be expensive, requiring sustained investment by government and industry, and internationally disruptive, requiring a much tougher line with trading partners that consistently tilt the playing field in their favor.

In this election season, the politicians who are really serious about creating jobs and bringing down unemployment won't be the ones screaming about tax cuts, or stimulus or some imagined government takeover of the economy. They'll be the ones talking about how to make the American economy competitive again.

Michael Moore: Happy Fuckin' Labor Day!
Dear Rahm Emanuel:

Happy Fuckin' Labor Day! I read this week that — according to a new book by Steven Rattner, your administration's former "Car Czar" — during White House meetings about how to save the tens of thousands of jobs that would be lost if GM and Chrysler collapsed, your response was, "Fuck the UAW!"

Now, I can't believe you actually said that. Maybe Rattner got confused because you drop a lot of F-bombs, or maybe your assistant was trying to order lunch and you said (to Rattner) "Fuck you" and then to your assistant "A&W, no fries."

Or maybe you did mean Fuck the UAW. If so, let me give you a little fucking lesson (a lesson I happen to know because my fucking uncle was in the sit-down strike that founded the fucking UAW).

Before there were unions, there was no middle class. Working people didn't get to send their kids to college, few were able to own their own fucking home, nobody could take a fucking day off for a funeral or a sick day or they might lose their fucking job.

Then working people organized themselves into unions. The bosses and the companies fucking hated that. In fact, they were often overheard to say, "Fuck the UAW!!!" That's because the UAW had beaten one of the world's biggest industrial corporations when they won their battle on February 11, 1937, 44 days after they'd taken over the GM factories in Flint. Inspired by their victory, workers struck almost every other fucking industry, and union after union was born. Had World War II not begun and had FDR not died, there would have been an economic revolution that would have given everyone — everyone — a fucking decent life.

Nonetheless labor unions did create a middle class for the majority (even companies that didn't have unions were forced to pay at or near union wages in order to attract a workforce) and that middle class built a great country and a good life. You see, Rahm, when people earn a fucking good wage, they spend it on stuff, which then creates more good paying jobs, and then the middle class grows fucking big. Did you know that back when I was a kid if you had a parent making a union wage, only one parent had to work?! And they were home by 3 or 4pm, 5:30 at the latest! We had dinner together! Dad had four weeks paid vacation. We all had free health and dental care. And anyone with decent grades went to college and it didn't fucking bankrupt them. (And if you ever used the F-word, the nuns would straighten you out in ways that even you couldn't bear to hear about).

Then a Republican fired all the air traffic controllers, a Democrat gave us NAFTA and millions of jobs were moved overseas (hey, didn't you work in that White House, too? "Fuck the UAW, baby!"). Unions got scared and beaten down, a frat boy became president and, like a drunk out of control, spent all our fucking money and our children's money, too. Fuck.

And now your assistant's grandma has to work at fucking McDonald's. Ask her for pictures of what the middle class life used to look like. It was effing cool! I'll bet grandma doesn't say "Fuck the UAW!"

Hey, don't get me wrong, Rahm. I fucking like you. You single-handedly got the House returned to the Dems in 2006. But you and your boss better do something fucking quick to put people back to work. How 'bout making it a crime to take an American job and move it out of the country? In other words, treat it as if It were a fucking national treasure like you would if someone stole the Declaration of Independence out of the National Archives or some poacher stole eggs out of the nest of an America bald eagle.

Or how 'bout arresting some of those Wall Street guys who fucking stole our money, the money that ran the American economy. Now that would take some fucking guts.

And maybe, just maybe, that one act of real guts might save your ass come November 2nd.

Oh, I can just hear you now: "Fuck Michael Moore!" No problem. But Fuck the UAW? How 'bout if I just leave off the ‘A’ and the ‘W’?

Michael Moore

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