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Blankley Likens Media to Nazis

In a loathsome Washington Times column attacking reporters' treatment of Barack Obama, Tony Blankley likens the mainstream media to the official Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter and to "Goebbels' disciples":

The mainstream media have gone over the line and are now straight out propagandists for the Obama campaign. While they have been liberal and blinkered in their worldview for decades, in 2007-08 for the first time, the major media are consciously covering for one candidate for president and consciously knifing the other. This is no longer journalism -- it is simply propaganda. (The American left-wing version of the Volkischer Beobachter cannot be far behind.) And as a result, we are less than seven weeks away from possibly electing a president who has not been thoroughly and even half way honestly presented to the country by our watchdogs -- the press.

...The mainstream media ruthlessly and endlessly repeats any McCain gaffes, while ignoring Obama gaffes. You have to go to weird little Internet sites to see all the stammering and stuttering that Mr. Obama needs before getting out a sentence fragment or two. But all you see on the networks is an eventual one or two clear sentences from Mr. Obama. Nor do you see Mr. Obama's ludicrous gaffe that Iran is a tiny country and no threat to us. Nor his 57 American states gaffe. Nor his forgetting, if he ever knew, that Russia has a veto in the United Nations. Nor his whining and puerile "come on" when he is being challenged. This is the kind of editing one would expect from Goebbels' disciples, not Cronkite's.

Blankley also engages in one of the most bizarre attempts at guilt by association that I've ever seen:

But worse than all the unfair and distorted reporting and image projecting, is the shocking gaps in Mr. Obama's life that are not reported at all. The major media simply has not reported on Mr. Obama's two years at Columbia University in New York, where, among other things, he lived a mere quarter mile from former terrorist Bill Ayers-- after which they both ended up as neighbors and associates in Chicago. Mr. Obama denies more than a passing relationship with Mr. Ayers. Should the media be curious? In only two weeks the media has focused on all the colleges Mrs. Palin has attended, her husband's driving habits 20 years ago and the close criticism of Mrs. Palin's mayoral political opponents. But in two years they haven't bothered to see how close Mr. Obama was with the terrorist Ayers.

Bill Ayers lived "a mere quarter mile" away when Obama was at Columbia? So did tens of thousands of other people -- it's Manhattan!

Brendan blogs at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Gail Collins vs. Numbers on Earmarks

In her column on Saturday, Gail Collins of the New York Times makes the important point that earmarks aren't a pressing national priority:

McCain hates, hates, hates earmarking -- the Congressional habit of sticking appropriations for special back-home projects in the budget without going through the normal priority-setting process. He talks about it with an enthusiasm that he never manages to summon for the economy, health care or education.

Earmarks are indeed a bad thing. If you ever become a U.S. senator, please dedicate yourself to getting rid of them. But for the chief executive of the country, they're about as critical a problem as the overlong Christmas shopping season.

The problem is that Collins never actually proves her point. Without the relevant data, the statement above is just an assertion. Here's what's missing: the reason earmarks aren't a critical problem is that they are a tiny percentage of total federal spending.

For instance, estimates from watchdog groups of total earmark spending in fiscal 2008 range from $16-18 billion. Current estimated outlays for the federal government in fiscal 2008 are $2.9 trillion (PDF). That's less than one percent.

To put it another way, the current projected deficit is roughly $400 billion. Even if John McCain got rid of every earmark (an impossible task), it would only make a small contribution to deficit reduction. (See Factcheck.org's takedown of McCain's exaggerated claims of how much it can save by reducing earmarks.)

If only Gail Collins could tell her readers these things...

Brendan blogs at Brendan-Nyhan.com

How Liberal Are Obama and Biden?

In the wake of Joe Biden's nomination, Fred Barnes drags out the National Journal 2007 Senate ratings to argue that Obama and Biden are the first and third most liberal sentors:

Once regarded as a centrist, Mr. Biden was rated by the National Journal in 2007 as the third most liberal member of the Senate. Mr. Obama was rated the most liberal. Neither has a record of bucking the wishes of liberal interest groups or promoting bipartisanship.

However, as I pointed out back in February, the National Journal ratings are seen as simplistic by political scientists who study voting in Congress. The far more respected ranking produced by UCSD's Keith Poole and UCLA's Jeff Lewis places Obama and Biden as the 11th and 10th most liberal senators (respectively) in the first half of the 110th Senate (2007) and as the 21st and 29th most liberal in the 109th Senate (2005-2006).

By contrast, Poole and Lewis rate the "maverick" McCain as the eighth most conservative senator in the first half of the 110th and the second most conservative in the 109th, so the comparison isn't actually as flattering as Barnes thinks (though see my previous post on the methodological problems posed by his inconsistent voting record).

Brendan blogs at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Things to Remember Friday and Saturday

A handy clip 'n' save guide:

1. Vice presidential selections rarely affect election outcomes.*
2. The selection is therefore only likely to be important insofar as the VP choice (a) helps or hurts the president they serve during his time in office and (b) becomes more likely to be a future president.
3. The selection should therefore be assessed primarily in light of #2, not #1. (It will not be.)

* You could tell a story where Obama's VP could help prevent defections from white working-class voters who would otherwise have voted Democratic (a possibility that was obviously not relevant in past elections). However, this idea is purely speculative and would be difficult to test even after the fact.

Brendan blogs at Brendan-Nyhan.com

NYT Adopts Conservative Jargon

Since when do New York Times reporters use "big government" as an adjective? The lede of a Jackie Calmes story on Friday predicts "a new round of big-government financial regulation" that is vaguely attributed to "experts":

Modernizing the nation's New Deal-era defenses against financial disaster is not high among the priorities that either Barack Obama or John McCain list for the next president. But events could well plop the issue right in the middle of the winner's plate.

After a string of financial scandals and crises, a quarter century of deregulation and free-market experimentation is giving way to a new round of big-government financial regulation, regardless of who captures the White House, experts say.

Though a single expert (Alan Greenspan) is quoted expressing opposition to aggressive new regulation, the characterization of proposed rule changes as "big-government" is an embellishment added by Calmes. It's reminiscent of the way that newspapers adopted the jargon of "death tax" and "partial birth abortion" in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

What's especially striking is that the Times, which is frequently accused of having a liberal bias, used language that is more conservative than even the Bush White House. In a recent interview with Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson called for "[m]ore modern regulation":

[W]e have a regulatory system that is very outdated. It was put in place many years ago, and...

MR. BROKAW: There's going to have to be more modern regulation...

SEC'Y PAULSON: Yes, absolutely.

MR. BROKAW: ...of Wall Street across the board.

SEC'Y PAULSON: Across the board. More modern regulation and more authorities.

Liberal media critics, take note.

Brendan blogs at Brendan-Nyhan.com

NYT Adopts Conservative Jargon

Since when do New York Times reporters use "big government" as an adjective? The lede of a Jackie Calmes story on Friday predicts "a new round of big-government financial regulation" that is vaguely attributed to "experts":

Modernizing the nation's New Deal-era defenses against financial disaster is not high among the priorities that either Barack Obama or John McCain list for the next president. But events could well plop the issue right in the middle of the winner's plate.

After a string of financial scandals and crises, a quarter century of deregulation and free-market experimentation is giving way to a new round of big-government financial regulation, regardless of who captures the White House, experts say.

Though a single expert (Alan Greenspan) is quoted expressing opposition to aggressive new regulation, the characterization of proposed rule changes as "big-government" is an embellishment added by Calmes. It's reminiscent of the way that newspapers adopted the jargon of "death tax" and "partial birth abortion" in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

What's especially striking is that the Times, which is frequently accused of having a liberal bias, used language that is more conservative than even the Bush White House. In a recent interview with Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson called for "[m]ore modern regulation":

[W]e have a regulatory system that is very outdated. It was put in place many years ago, and...

MR. BROKAW: There's going to have to be more modern regulation...

SEC'Y PAULSON: Yes, absolutely.

MR. BROKAW: ...of Wall Street across the board.

SEC'Y PAULSON: Across the board. More modern regulation and more authorities.

Liberal media critics, take note.

Brendan blogs at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Balz: Close Campaign Still Close

I don't understand political journalism. Dan Balz is a top reporter, but the lede for his big-picture analysis of the presidential campaign doesn't make sense:

The opening round of the general-election campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain has produced memorable images, negative ads, snarling e-mails and pointed exchanges over war, the economy and energy. What it has not done is begin to resolve questions among voters that both candidates must address to win in November.

Has any race with close fundamentals ever "resolve[d] questions among voters that both candidates must address to win" by August? Voters are not paying attention yet. The only races that are resolved by now are the ones that were destined to be blowouts.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

The Myth of Bob Casey's 1992 Non-Speech

A New York Times story this morning headlined "Obama's View on Abortion May Divide Catholics" begins with this parable:

Sixteen years ago, the Democratic Party refused to allow Robert P. Casey Sr., then the governor of Pennsylvania, to speak at its national convention because his anti-abortion views, stemming from his Roman Catholic faith, clashed with the party's platform and powerful constituencies. Many Catholics, once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, never forgot what they considered a slight.

In fact, the campaign officials who made the decision said Casey was denied a speaking slot because he hadn't endorsed the Clinton-Gore ticket, as Michael Crowley reported in The New Republic:

According to those who actually doled out the 1992 convention speaking slots, Casey was denied a turn for one simple reason: his refusal to endorse the Clinton-Gore ticket. "It's [Casey's claim that he was denied a convention speech because of his pro-life views] just not factual!" stammers James Carville, apoplectic over Casey's claims. "You'd have to be idiotic to give a speaking role to a person who hadn't even endorsed you." "Why are you doing this to me?" moans Paul Begala, who, with Carville, managed two Casey campaigns before joining Clinton's team in 1992. "I love Bob Casey, but my understanding was that the dispute was not about his right-to-life views, it was about the Clinton-Gore ticket."

Media Matters further points out that anti-abortion speakers have repeatedly been given the opportunity to speak at Democratic conventions:

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Sens. John Breaux (D-LA) and Howell Heflin (D-AL), and five other governors who opposed abortion rights did address the convention in 1992, as detailed in a September 16, 1996, article in The New Republic on the Casey myth. In addition, anti-abortion speakers have spoken at every Democratic convention since 1992, including Breaux in 1996 and 2000, former House Democratic Whip David Bonior (D-MI) in 1996 and 2000, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in 2000 and 2004.

Unfortunately, the story reinforces an accurate narrative about the parties dividing more clearly on the abortion issue. As a result, it lives on as conventional wisdom more than fifteen years later.

Update: In its post on the controversy today, Media Matters unearths another salient fact: [T]he Times itself reported in an August 1, 1996, article that White House officials 'have always said that had [Casey] not declined to endorse Mr. [Bill] Clinton in 1992, he would have been allowed to speak to the convention.'"

Tom Maguire dissents, citing a 2005 post. I stand by what I wrote, but I do hope we can agree that the Times should have acknowledged that this claim is disputed.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

McCain Distorts Obama on Nuclear Power

When are the media going to start pointing out that John McCain and his campaign are misrepresenting Barack Obama's position on nuclear power?

On Monday, McCain said "[Obama] doesn't want nuclear power" and claimed that "[Obama] continues to oppose the use of nuclear power." Similarly, during a press conference yesterday, McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin claimed "[Obama] has said no to nuclear power."

However, as Time's Michael Scherer points out, these claims are all false:

Does Obama oppose the "use of nuclear power"? No. But he is more cautious about expanding nuclear (which would require significant federal spending, say most analysts) than McCain.

Here's what Obama's position paper on energy says (PDF):

Safe and Secure Nuclear Energy: Nuclear power represents more than 70 percent of our non- carbon generated electricity. It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table. However, there is no future for expanded nuclear without first addressing four key issues: public right-to-know, security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation.

And here's what he said in New Hampshire last year:

On one specific energy matter that is important to many in New Hampshire, he would not pledge to stop all new nuclear power plants.

"When you're a politician, you're always tempted to get some applause, but on this one I have to be more qualified," Obama said.

"We shouldn't simply remove nuclear power from the equation," Obama said. "But there has to be a high standard and a high threshold. ... I'm not going to automatically rule it out as a reasonable option."

None of this is particularly hard. Yet the New York Times failed spectacularly at fact-checking McCain today, referencing McCain's misrepresentation of Obama's position in an oblique, "he said"/"she said" aside:

Even before Mr. McCain left South Dakota, where he campaigned at the freewheeling Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on Monday night, and headed to the plant in Michigan, Mr. Obama's campaign had put out a statement rebuffing what it called Mr. McCain's misrepresentation of Mr. Obama's position on nuclear power."

The Times then quotes the passage from Obama's policy paper above. However, the reader is not told what McCain said or why Obama's campaign alleged that he was misrepresented. And the wording used by the Times ("what [the Obama campaign] called Mr. McCain's misrepresentation of Mr. Obama's position") offers no indication that McCain actually did misrepresent Obama's position.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Myth of the Democratic Landslide

John Sides reiterates an important point: the perception that Barack Obama "should" be winning by a huge margin (echoed today by David Brooks) is not supported by empirical evidence. The leading statistical models of presidential election outcomes forecast a narrow Obama win.

The consequences of this are actually more serious than most people realize. In the seminal work on mandates, Jim Stimson, David Peterson and two other political scientists argue that "mandates" are a collective interpretation of election results that carries an informational signal to nervous incumbents worried about re-election. As a result, members of Congress briefly shift their voting behavior in the direction of the perceived mandate (the three times in which this happened, Stimson et al argue, are 1964, 1980, and 1994). With expectations about Obama so high, there's almost no way that anything short of an LBJ-esque landslide will be perceived as a "mandate," which will make it harder for him to enact his legislative agenda.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Obama's Dollar Bill Comment Triply Distorted

Has anyone else noticed that Barack Obama's comment that George W. Bush and John McCain are going to remind voters that he "doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills" is being distorted in multiple ways? It's a reminder of how disturbed the national debate on race can be.

Here's what Obama said:

Obama began his day Wednesday in Springfield, Mo., charging: "Nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He's risky."

In Rolla and then in Union, Obama issued similar lines. "They're going to try to say, 'Well, you know, he's got a funny name, and he doesn't look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the five-dollar bills,' and they're going to send out nasty e-mails," he told an audience in Union.

First, as commenter Seth, Mark Thoma, and others point out, McCain did superimpose Obama's face onto a $100 bill in a previous campaign ad -- a fact that has been omitted from most coverage of the controversy:

Obamadollar

Continue reading "Obama's Dollar Bill Comment Triply Distorted" »

John McCain's Silly Analysis of Oil Prices

Via TNR's Chris Orr, John McCain made this fantastical claim about President Bush's influence on the price of crude oil:

"In case you missed it, soon as the President announced that we were going to end the moratorium on offshore drilling the price of a barrel of oil went down $10," the presumptive Republican nominee said at a Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania town hall.

Orr links to an CNN.com article that instead attributes the decline to reports of "higher-than-expected stockpiles of crude and gasoline," but isn't the problem with McCain's claim more fundamental? Bush's action lifting the presidential moratorium on offshore drilling has no effect unless Congress also acts. Here's the New York Times:

By itself, the move will have little impact, because Congress enacted a moratorium in 1982 that remains in place.

So why on earth would the market care? When McCain said "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should," he wasn't kidding.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Is Obama Vetting Tim Kaine's Eyebrow?

Via Drudge, the Washington Post and Politico are suggesting that Virginia governor Tim Kaine is high on Barack Obama's vice presidential shortlist.

Substantively, I don't have strong feelings about Kaine either way at this point. But on a more practical level, did Obama and his vetters watch Kaine's State of the Union rebuttal back in 2006? After watching it, I wrote that Kaine's left eyebrow is "too distracting for the party to ever put him on national television again," prompting the Columbus Dispatch to call this "the site for chatter about 'Tim Kaine's crazy eyebrow."

You really have to watch the C-SPAN Real Player video with the volume off to understand, but here's a screen shot that gives you some sense of what he looked like:

Captny13802010350state_of_union_democrat

It's true that (a) Kaine got elected in Virginia anyway and (b) vice presidential nominees probably don't have a significant effect on election outcomes. But given that national politics is centered around television, do you want someone who looks that strange on TV on the ticket? Maybe I'm being superficial, but it seems like a legitimate strategic question.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

McCain Raises Obama's Lack of Service

ABC's Jake Tapper reports that John McCain is questioning Barack Obama's judgment because he didn't serve in the military:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Monday hit Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, not for only being, in his view, wrong on the surge of troops in Iraq, but also for not having served in the military. Arguing that he, unlike Obama, doesn't "need any on-the-job training," McCain said, per ABC News' Jen Duck, that "I also agree with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who said it would be very dangerous...to do what Senator Obama has advocated."

Added the former Navy flier and Vietnam P.O.W.: "I hope we'll pay attention to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Particularly someone that has no military experience whatsoever."

As Tapper notes, McCain previously responded to Obama's criticism of his position on a GI bill by saying he "will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did." McCain also once jabbed incorrectly at Obama for using the spelling "flack jacket" rather than "flak jacket."

Practically speaking, these comments are silly. McCain's heroic service as a Vietnam War fighter pilot and POW is not relevant to being commander-in-chief. As Wesley Clark said somewhat tactlessly, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."

But what's really objectionable is the anti-democratic idea that candidates have to serve in the military to serve as president and command American troops. Bill Clinton was handicapped throughout his presidency by this perception, which weakened his leverage in trying to get the military to go after Osama bin Laden. Some liberal pundits and bloggers have bought into a similar notion by describing pro-war conservatives who didn't serve in the military as "chickenhawks," which suggests that only veterans can argue for war.

A related problem is the growing politicization of the military itself, which has an increasingly conservative tilt, especially among officers. Since 9/11, President Bush has used military imagery for partisan purposes and repeatedly attacked Democrats during speeches at military bases. Rather than decrying these tactics, Democrats like John Kerry have fetishized their support from retired officers and hyped any criticism of President Bush by active-duty officers.

It's time to restore balance in this relationship. The presidency is a civilian institution that controls the military, not the other way around.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Quoting Emails from "John McCain"

Isn't the New York Times really stretching it by attributing an email message to John McCain today?

"I returned to the Senate with greater influence than before I ran, and I used that influence to work with senators on both sides of the aisle," Mr. McCain said in an e-mail message. "I don't believe in hoarding political capital just for the sake of possessing it."

Remember this is John "It's a Google" McCain, who has admitted that aides "go on [the Internet] for me. I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself." It's generally implausible that any email from a politician to a reporter isn't at least vetted by a press staffer, but in McCain's case there's almost no question that he did not write the email.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Marshall Suggests AP Biased Against Obama

In All the President's Spin, we wrote about how liberals were increasingly adopting conservative tactics. The latest example: Josh Marshall saying the "Associated Press officially endorses McCain" (to which he added "Well, pretty much") for running a negative story about Barack Obama.

The article itself is less than ideal -- it's an example of the genre of campaign story in which the reporter says one candidate is "dogged" by accusations and then repeats all of them in a less-than-critical way, implicitly giving credence to them. But surely there's a more constructive response than suggesting the AP is biased against Obama, which apes the standard conservative tactic of blaming all negative stories on liberal media bias.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Frank Rich Reads Charles Black's Mind

Frank Rich asserted Sunday that John McCain adviser Charles Black's comments to Fortune magazine (which McCain repudiated) weren't an "improvisational mishap":

Don't fault Charles Black, the John McCain adviser, for publicly stating his honest belief that a domestic terrorist attack would be "a big advantage" for their campaign and that Benazir Bhutto's assassination had "helped" Mr. McCain win the New Hampshire primary.

In private, he is surely gaming this out further, George Carlin-style. What would be the optimum timing, from the campaign's perspective, for this terrorist attack -- before or after the convention? Would the attack be most useful if it took place in a red state, blue state or swing state? How much would it "help" if the next assassinated foreign leader had a higher name recognition in American households than Benazir Bhutto?

Unlike Hillary Clinton's rumination about the Bobby Kennedy assassination or Barack Obama's soliloquy about voters clinging to guns and faith, Mr. Black's remarks were not an improvisational mishap. He gave his quotes on the record to Fortune magazine. He did so without thinking twice because he was merely saying what much of Washington believes.

Even if we grant that the second paragraph is satirical hyperbole, the third paragraph makes a direct claim -- that Black's remarks "were not an improvisational mishap" because he "gave his quotes on the record to Fortune magazine." In fact, however, the remarks were almost certainly an improvisation -- Fortune, not Black, raised the issue of another terrorist attack on the US, as Bob Somerby pointed out (emphasis added):

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an "unfortunate event," says Black. "But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who's ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us." As would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. "Certainly it would be a big advantage to him," says Black.

You certainly can't assert that Black intentionally raised the issue -- that is, unless you write novels about politics for a living.

Brendan blogs at Brendan-Nyhan.com

MoveOn Promotes McCain "100 Years" Myth

MoveOn.org is running an ad that reinforces the myth that John McCain wants to continue the Iraq war for 100 years:

Hi, John McCain; this is Alex. He's my first. So far, his talents include trying any new food and chasing after our dog -- that, and making my heart pound every time I look at him. So, John McCain, when you said you would stay in Iraq for 100 years, were you counting on Alex? Because, if you were, you can't have him.

As I've written before, McCain didn't say what the ad suggests. Here's the New York Times fact-check:

In several forums last January, Mr. McCain said he could envision a United States troop presence in Iraq for 100 years or more. But he did not mean to advocate a prolonged war, and he was clearly speaking in terms of a peace-keeping presence. The quotation Democrats most commonly refer to was from a town-hall-style meeting on Jan. 3 in Derry, N.H., when a voter mentioned that President Bush had spoken of "staying in Iraq for 50 years." Mr. McCain interrupted to say, "Maybe 100." But his comment came in the context of a broader lecture equating such a decades-long mission to American troop deployments in South Korea and Japan. He had also included a pretty big "if," saying that such an enduring presence in Iraq, "would be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed."

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Orrin Hatch Warns of "Democratic Tsunami"

How bad are things for the GOP? In a fundraising letter to the National Republican Senatorial Committee email list, Senator Orrin Hatch warns that "the coming Democratic tsunami" could lead to a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate (PDF):

For all of us, there comes a time when the choices are so stark, the risks so great, we have to take a stand. We can no longer assume someone else will save us. We have to step forward and be counted.

We face such a time today. If we don't take a stand against the coming Democratic tsunami, the country we know and love today will be lost.

...Just this week, the Senator in charge of raising money to get Democratic Senators elected said they are going to pickup nine seats in the US Senate. Nine seats! Do you know what that would mean! That would mean they could pass every piece of their liberal agenda through the House and the Senate untouched! There would not be a tax they could not raise or a freedom they could not abridge.

...I am doing all I can to ensure the Democrats don't have a super-majority. You need to do all you can to help.

As part of his email, Hatch misstates Democratic tax plans, saying that "I believe the Democrats when they say they plan to double our taxes." What evidence is there to support that claim? In fact, contrary to both Hatch and John McCain, Barack Obama would cut income taxes on Americans with incomes under $75,000 while rolling back the Bush tax cuts for people with higher incomes.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Does Obama's Health Care Plan Save Money?

Last week, I questioned Barack Obama's statement that "over the long term we will save money" under his health care plan, which suggests that the plan actually decreases government health spending in the long term. This is not true. However, estimates for Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker's health care plan, which is similar to Obama's plan, show that it would reduce national health spending.

At the end of the post, I asked for feedback from blogosphere health policy wonks Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn. Over the weekend, Klein stepped up. The short answer is that cost savings from Obama's plan are ambiguous:

Continue reading "Does Obama's Health Care Plan Save Money?" »

How Liberal is Obama on the Economy?


There's been a surge of stories describing the Obama/McCain debate over the economy as some sort of throwback to the 1980s. For instance, a day after NPR reporter Adam Hochberg described Obama's economic plan as "heavy on working class populism," NPR host Michele Norris framed Obama's plan as "tax and spend liberalism" in an interview yesterday:

Now, as you well know, John McCain is also out this week talking about the economy. His campaign has already said that your "Change that works for you" campaign really amounts to change this country can't afford. The GOP has used the same argument for decades, that tax and spend liberalism is bad for America. "Tax and spend" is almost a hyphenated phrase that's become equivalent a dirty word. Are tax and spend policies really bad for America or is that what you're intending to do?

Obama is probably the most liberal Democratic nominee since Michael Dukakis, but these descriptions are a caricature. His top economic advisers are establishment moderates (University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee and Brookings Institution economist Jason Furman); his health care plan, while ambitious by historical standards, is more cautious than Hillary Clinton's; and his proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy largely represent a return to the status quo before President Bush took office. In addition, Norris is implicitly misrepresenting the effect of Obama's tax plan on most Americans. As the New York Times points out this morning, he would actually reduce taxes on Americans making less than $75,000.

However, I do take issue with Obama's claim during the Norris interview that "over the long term we will save money" under his health care plan:

John McCain doesn't have a plan to make health care affordable and accessible to every American. I do believe that it's important for wealthier Americans to contribute a little bit more by giving up some of the Bush tax cuts so that we can provide health care to every American. I think over the long term we will save money because people will be getting regular checkups, regular screenings. That's something that John McCain does not do.

To me, this suggestion sounds disturbingly reminiscent of the phony supply-side claim that tax cuts pay for themselves. I'm sure that Obama's plan would generate some savings from preventive care, but I've never seen a serious estimate suggesting that any plan like his would actually cause a net reduction in government health care spending. Is there any support for that idea? Over to you, Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn...

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

John McCain on Other Wars


Via Brad DeLong, Digby notes the irony of this passage from John McCain's forward to David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest:

It was a shameful thing to ask men to suffer and die, to persevere through god-awful afflictions and heartache, to endure the dehumanizing experiences that are unavoidable in combat, for a cause that the country wouldn't support over time and that our leaders so wrongly believed could be achieved at a smaller cost than our enemy was prepared to make us pay. No other national endeavor requires as much unshakable resolve as war. If the nation and the government lack that resolve, it is criminal to expect men in the field to carry it alone.

As I noted last December, he said something similarly ironic about the US presence in Lebanon back in 1983:

The fundamental question is "What is the United States' interest in Lebanon? It is said we are there to keep the peace. I ask, what peace? It is said we are there to aid the government. I ask, what government? It is said we are there to stabilize the region. I ask, how can the US presence stabilize the region?...

The longer we stay in Lebanon, the harder it will be for us to leave. We will be trapped by the case we make for having our troops there in the first place.

What can we expect if we withdraw from Lebanon? The same as will happen if we stay. I acknowledge that the level of fighting will increase if we leave. I regretfully acknowledge that many innocent civilians will be hurt. But I firmly believe this will happen in any event.

Will anyone in the press ask him about these quotes?

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

The Remarkable Rise of Barack Obama


Matthew Yglesias notes how improbable it was that Barack Obama would win the Democratic nomination:

The fact that Obama's had this kinda sorta wrapped up since March 5 has tended to obscure the fact that his primary victory has got to be the greatest upset in the history of American presidential politics. In retrospect, whatever happens looks obvious and somewhat inevitable, but back in the day all that was obvious was that Clinton had the party locked down. Obama's entire meteoric ascent from the State Senate to the cusp of the presidency is just a very, very, very unlikely story.

It's worth underlining this point. Consider, for instance, the Intrade futures market price on Obama winning the Democratic nomination, which represents his predicted probability of winning. It shows that he was given very little chance of winning as late as winter 2007:

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Continue reading "The Remarkable Rise of Barack Obama" »

John McCain's Anti-Partisan Tics


As many observers of John McCain have noted, one of the reasons the press loves him so much is the way he signals his disdain for normal politics. Even when McCain delivers partisan attack lines, he winks and nods to reporters as if to say "I know this is silly." The problem his speech last night revealed is that those tics seems to have become so ingrained that, as Josh Marshall writes, McCain seems to "[find] it impossible to pretend he's actually thinking what he's saying." The cheesy fake smiles that were interspersed with his attacks on Obama -- which the press may appreciate as signals of insincerity -- only enhanced the phoniness of the effect on television.

On a more substantive level, embracing the idea of "change" is probably the right idea given the political fundamentals, but -- like Hillary -- McCain's identity and length of service mean that he will never take that role away from Obama. Also, unlike Hillary, he has few policies to promote that actually would represent significant changes from the current administration. In short, he's boxed in, which means his message will ultimately boil down to the claim that entrusting Obama with the presidency is too risky.

Brendan blogs at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Joe Klein Reads Hillary's Mind

Bob Somerby flags some absurd mind-reading by Time's Joe Klein, who claims to know that Hillary Clinton's two innocuous references to RFK's 1968 assassination mean "that Obama's vulnerability to racist nutjobs has been in her mind for months now":

I take all of Karen's points below--and the fact that Hillary Clinton mentioned Bobby Kennedy's assassination in conversation with Rick Stengel in March shows that Obama's vulnerability to racist nutjobs has been in her mind for months now--but still, I have a certain amount of sympathy for her. The woman is clearly exhausted.

Even elite journalists like Klein (who probably gets paid $5/word for his Time columns) do not understand logic or epistemology. They do understand what sells, however -- cartoon-style psychodramas that can only be constructed by pretending to know the innermost thoughts of the candidates.

PS If you go to Klein's house, he'll read your palm too. Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

How to Predict the General Election

The usually savvy Matthew Yglesias gets things a bit wrong in this post on the utility of state-level polling:

It's really too bad that the folks behind Five Thirty Eight.com have gone and created such a compelling website based around state-by-state general election polling. It's all really well done and, as such, I can't really bring myself to look away. But this stuff is all really and truly meaningless. Six months ago, no polling showed Barack Obama winning the Democratic race, and no polling showed John McCain winning the Republican race and the general election is about six months away.

The comparison in the last sentence isn't valid, however. Presidential primaries are inherently unpredictable for reasons including the lack of clear ideological differences and the greater importance of perceived viability. General elections, by contrast, can be forecast with a high degree of accuracy.

That doesn't mean that state-by-state polling is the right way to predict outcomes -- previous research has shown that macro-level variables like the state of the economy, job approval of the president, war deaths, and/or the length of the incumbent party's time in office explain most of the variance in the national two-party vote. Yglesias and others should focus on those predictors instead.

Continue reading "How to Predict the General Election" »

Kennedy and Khrushchev

Obama has been citing Kennedy's meeting with Khrushchev as an argument why he believes that his proposal to meet without preconditions, but with preparation, with the leaders of Iran is the right policy. Yes, Kennedy did meet with Khrushchev, but not quite as Obama described it. Obama seemed to be placing the meeting of the two leaders during the Cuban Missile Crisis.



When Kennedy met with Khrushchev, we were on the brink of nuclear war."



The Cuban Missile Crisis took place in October of 1962. The two leaders did not meet during that crisis. But they had met over a year earlier, in the Spring of Kennedy's first year in office in June, 1961 in Vienna. And the results were not pretty as Nathan Thrall and Jesse James Wilkins write today in the The New York Times.

Continue reading "Kennedy and Khrushchev" »

Bush's History on Appeasement/Strawmen

Back in 2006, I proposed Nyhan's corollary to Godwin's law in a column for Time.com:

A well-known rule of Internet discourse is Godwin's law, which states that, as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches inevitability.

Let me propose Nyhan's corollary: As a foreign policy debate with conservatives grows longer, the probability of a comparison with the appeasement of Nazis or Hitler approaches inevitability.

What's incredible is that my prediction has come true only days after Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Continue reading "Bush's History on Appeasement/Strawmen" »

West Virginia Results by Demographics

As predicted, Obama got drubbed in West Virginia, so it's time to update my series on the predictors of his state-level support. If we put the exit poll data in context, we can see that he did much worse among whites in West Virginia than we would expect based in states with similar black populations:


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Continue reading "West Virginia Results by Demographics" »