Could becoming a grandmother ease Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House? By Haley Sweetland Edwards
During a brief break this afternoon I did a radio interview where I was asked twelve complex questions about safety net politics. Didn’t resort to anecdotes about school lunch bags even once.
Here are some remains of the day:
* Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill to remove military sexual assault cases from the chain of command fails to overcome filibuster as 10 Democrats join with 35 Republicans to kill it. To give devils their due, Cruz, Paul and McConnell backed Gillibrand.
* Tabloidish conservative outlet Newsmax announces plans for new cable channel to challenge Fox on Right.
* TNR’s Alec MacGillis reports that Chris Christie’s biggest applause line at CPAC was a shout-out to Scott Walker. Tells you everything you need to know about the deflating balloon of Christie ‘16.
* At Ten Miles Square, Jamie Malanowski responds to Rush Limbaugh’s claim that the word “slave” in the title guaranteed 12 Years a Slave an Oscar with a very, very long list of slave-titled movies that somehow eluded the award.
* At College Guide Robert Kelchen Kelchen notes very small request of funds for development of a college rating system won’t necessarily kill progress on this Obama administration initiative, but it’s not the best sign of the priority assigned to it.
And in non-political news:
* Oscar Mayer offers Bacon Alarm app. 47 lucky people will get app that not only emulates sound of sizzling bacon, but emits smell of bacon, too.
That’s it for Thursday. We’ll close with one more fine picking and singing tune from Rev. Gary Davis, “If I Had My Way” (a.k.a. “Samson and Delilah”).
Among the headliners at today’s CPAC was Paul Ryan, everybody’s favorite Objectivist-Thomist “reformer.” It was a brief speech, mainly involving name-checks of a long list of fellow-conservative worthies (Tim Scott, Eric Cantor, Tom Graves, Mike Lee, Martha Roby, Dave Camp, Phil Roe, Tom Price, Phil Roe, Tom Coburn, Scott Walker). But amidst the blandness, he made one remark that offers a deep insight into his famous approach to poverty programs:
What [the Left is] offering people is a full stomach—and an empty soul. The American people want more than that.
This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
Jonathan Chait exposes the fine reformist “thinking” behind this parable:
Okay, fine. Some kid would rather have his parents pack him a lunch than get it for free at school. Most kids would also rather have their parents drive them to school and drop them off then ride the bus. But just as not ever child has a parent who can drive them to school, not every kid has parents who can afford to give them lunches every day. That’s why “the left” supports things like school buses and free and reduced-price school lunches. Because a free bus ride and a free lunch may not be the best possible way to transport and feed children, but it’s better than nothing.
Ryan’s plan is to reduce funding for the school lunch program. So more kids will have empty stomachs, but their souls will be full.
Totally aside from whether it is the role of government to fill the souls of children, the idea that the first step towards soul food is to eliminate the food is a mite cruel. The very basic fact that safety net programs do in fact reduce hunger and homelessness and disease does not register into the equation—which is why Ryan’s own measures of poverty exclude the tangible value of government benefits.
The old saying about minimal income from whatever source that it is just enough “to keep body and soul together” is actually pretty profound. Poverty may improve the spiritual condition of mystics, but it’s really bad for kids and sick people and people who have to work long hours in difficult physical jobs to make ends meet. And if you look at and listen to Paul Ryan, the notion that this is a man of great moral and spiritual depth entitled to lecture the poor on their slavery to government is a bigger outrage than all the actual “welfare fraud” that has ever existed.
In interviews with The Nation and TIME, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (an independent caucusing with Democrats) made it know that he is considering a presidential run (probably as a Democrat, since he acknowledges building a national third-party effort cannot occur overnight) in 2016, whether or not (or perhaps particularly if, since he trains a lot of fire at her) Hillary Clinton runs.
Now let me start by saying a Sanders run makes more sense to me that a Brian Schweitzer run. Sanders’ brand of “populism” isn’t combined with Schweitzer’s occasional culture-issue conservatism or anti-government libertarianism. He’s been around the block politically, or perhaps around several blocks.
But that’s part of the problem: he’ll be 75 on election day in 2016. And while HRC will be 69, and Republicans have nominated two septuagenarians in recent years, it’s still creates an issue that somebody running a wildly uphill campaign doesn’t need.
Then there’s the “S Word” issue. Polling shows Americans (particularly younger Americans) aren’t as terrified by the word “socialist” as they were during the Cold War. But it still has a negative connotation for 60% of Americans, which matters since Bernie is a self-identified socialist.
In his interview with John Nichols of The Nation, Sanders exhibits a rather mechanical notion of how he would put together a majority coalition:
If I run, my job is to help bring together the kind of coalition that can win—that can transform politics. We’ve got to bring together trade unionists and working families, our minority communities, environmentalists, young people, the women’s community, the gay community, seniors, veterans, the people who in fact are the vast majority of the American population.
This reminds me of nothing so much as Walter Mondale’s 1984 strategy, which involved this same effort to work through liberal constituency groups that haven’t commanded any electoral solidarity among “the troops” in a very long time.
Sanders also talks, as insurgents often do, of using a campaign to “educate” people, and that’s a worthy goal if he has the stomach to continue it long after he’s been written off and ignored by the news media.
More likely, boosters of a Sanders campaign will argue that someone like him should run to keep leftward pressure on HRC. That makes even more sense than an “educational” campaign, though it also runs the risk—particularly in a contest against someone named “Clinton”—of simply allowing her to “triangulate” against his “radical” views to buttress her appeal to swing voters in the general election.
But it’s a free country, and Bernie has earned the right to do as he wishes. I don’t buy his “move left to win” argument any more than I buy the “move right to win” claims that Ted Cruz articulated at CPAC this morning, though it is one way Democrats could distinguish themselves, for better or worse, from their embattled incumbent. More likely Sanders will stay in the Senate until his current term ends in 2019, giving most everybody hell.
It didn’t get as much attention as it might have merited, but on Tuesday night Janet Murguia, the president of the Council of La Raza, one of the country’s major Hispanic advocacy groups, called Barack Obama “deporter-in-chief” and demanded that he suspend deportations of undocumented people.
At The Hill, Fernando Espuelas argues that the organization, despairing of congressional action on immigration reform, is making a big strategic error by training its guns on Obama and asking him to do something he may not have the legal authority (much less the political capital) to do. Whether that is an accurate assessment or not, Murguia’s shift in tactics was certainly welcome to Republicans who thereby escape the concentrated fire of immigration-reform advocates, and for dessert, get to claim Obama is considering an illegal exercise of executive authority.
Sen. John McCain is one of the most familiar faces in American politics, and the beneficiary of many years of positive (sometimes adulatory) media coverage. So it’s interesting to note from a new PPP survey of his home state that McCain is now probably America’s most unpopular U.S. Senator.
PPP’s newest Arizona poll finds that John McCain is unpopular with Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike and has now become the least popular Senator in the country. Only 30% of Arizonans approve of the job McCain is doing to 54% who disapprove. There isn’t much variability in his numbers by party- he’s at 35/55 with Republicans, 29/53 with Democrats, and 25/55 with independents, suggesting he could be vulnerable to challenges in both the primary and general elections the next time he’s up.
I’d note from the crosstabs (which the folk at PPP, bless their hearts, always release) that you can’t quite conclude that McCain is just a brave and isolated “centrist” in a polarized political system. Aside from being least popular among independents, he’s also underwater (though by a much lesser extent) among self-identified “moderates” (40/41). “Somewhat liberal” voters (29/54) and “somewhat conservative” voters (30/52) dislike him a lot. And his future prospects don’t look any better: his ratings are strongly negative in every age cohort, but his best group is over-65s (36/52).
Sunday show bookers might want to take note.
Georgia Lady Bulldogs survive first game in SEC tournament with 53-43 win over Vanderbilt, giving Andy Landers his 29th 20-win season in 35 years.
Here are some midday news-views items from the virtual concession stand:
* Today’s opening prayer in the U.S. Senate delivered by—the Dalai Lama. Amazing.
* Obama rejects referendum on Crimea’s status, arguing it would violate international law.
* Prospect’s Amelia Thomson-Deveux reports on closure of the last two rural abortion clinics in Texas after their inability to comply with new state provider laws aimed at producing this very outcome.
* WaPo’s Dana Milbank argues Darrell Issa’s silencing of Democratic colleague Elijah Cummings represented a “new low” for the Californian. That’s saying a lot.
* Something I missed in early reporting of Christie CPAC speech: he blasted Harry Reid for “picking on” those “great Americans” Charles and David Koch. Think Chris is trying to score brownie points with most powerful figures in American conservatism?
And in non-political news:
* 91% of Great Lakes now covered in ice. Brrrr.
But good for water supplies.
As we break for lunch, here’s the Rev. Gary Davis again, performing the dark, powerful “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.”
Sounds like a pretty ho-hum morning at CPAC.
First up, Ted Cruz repeated the electoral catechism of the conservative movement: nobody loses by moving right, ever!
“There are a lot of D.C. consultants who say there’s a choice for Republicans to make: We can either choose to keep our head down, to not rock the boat, to not stand for anything, or we can stand for principle,” he said. “They say if you stand for principle you lose elections. The way to do it — the smart way, the Washington way — is don’t stand against Obamacare, don’t stand against the debt ceiling, don’t stand against nothing. I want to tell you something — that is a false dichotomy….”
Cruz said that in three of the past four election cycles, Republicans followed the consultants’ advice and ended up losing as a result.
“In ‘06, ‘08 and ‘12, we put our head down, stood for nothing — and we got walloped,” he said.
But 2010, when Republicans won a “historic tidal wave of an election,” was different, Cruz continued: That year, the GOP took strong positions against Obamacare and “bankrupting the country,” and voters rewarded them with big electoral gains across the board.
That is, of course, the most cartoonish of interpretations of the various elections he’s talking about. But as I said, it’s part of the catechism.
But the big media manget of the morning was Chris Christie’s long-awaited speech and—surprise, surprise—he touted his anti-union, antichoice record while pounding Elitist Liberals and the news media. Says veteran conservative-watcher Dave Weigel at Slate:
Christie did nothing that would upset his audience. No foreign policy talk apart from deriding the president for “letting other countries walk all over us.” No mention of his Medicaid expansion, which he’s defended many times, but a generic plea for Republicans to say “what we’re for.”
Give ‘em red meat, and when you can’t do that, give ‘em bland starchy side dishes.
But the moment that probably seemed banal to CPAC attendees but is still a bit jarring to us liberals was this one:
So Mitch McConnell gives retiring senator Tom Coburn an antique rifle as an award for “distinguished service.” Not missing a beat, Mitch’s Democratic opponent back home, Alison Lundergan Grimes (or more likely, one of her smart-ass social media tyros) immediately tweeted:
Someone tell @Team_Mitch that’s not the way to hold a gun. KY women do it better.
That may well be true. But for those of us who don’t regularly handle shooting irons, it was a reminder of how thoroughly this sort of imagery is now used by Republicans. Back in 1996, when Pat Buchanan had just beaten Bob Dole in the New Hampshire presidential primary, he told supporters:
Do not wait for orders from headquarters, mount up everybody and ride to the sound of the guns.
And then, campaigning in Arizona, Buchanan had himself photographed a number of times brandishing a rifle, much as McConnell did today.
He was pretty much hooted out of the presidential contest and off the national stage as a crazy person.
Today, he wouldn’t much stand out at CPAC.
It’s an ancient truism of political science that a significant slice of Americans are “philosophically conservative but operationally liberal.” This is often explained as a habit born of ignorance or selfishness: folks don’t like government in general but like specific programs or those from which they personally benefit.
But at Monkey Cage today, John Sides looks at some new research on this subject and reaches a slightly different conclusion:
[A]lmost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics. Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics. Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views. The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.
This raises the question: why are so many people identifying as conservative while simultaneously preferring more government? For some conservatives, it is because they associate the label with religion, culture or lifestyle. In essence, when they identify as “conservative,” they are thinking about conservatism in terms of family structure, raising children, or interpreting the Bible. Conservatism is about their personal lives, not their politics.
But other self-identified conservatives, though, are conservative in terms of neither religion and culture nor the size of government. These are the truly “conflicted conservatives,” say Ellis and Stimson, who locate their origins in a different factor: how conservatives and liberals have traditionally talked about politics. Conservatives, they argue, talk about politics in terms of symbols and the general value of “conservatism” — and news coverage, they find, usually frames the label “conservative” in positive terms. Liberals talk about policy in terms of the goals it will serve — a cleaner environment, a stronger safety net, and so on — which are also good things for many people. As a result, some people internalize both messages and end up calling themselves conservative but having liberal views on policy.
Being conservative, it seems, feels authentic and cool. Who’d a thunk it?
Yesterday Greg Sargent drew attention to WaPo/ABC poll findings showing support for marriage equality continuing to increase, with Americans supporting it by a 59/34 margin, with half now viewing the right to marry as constitutionally protected. His main point was that Republicans were held back from accommodating this rapid and likely irreversible shift (have you ever heard of a former supporter of marriage equality?) in public opinion by the stolid opposition of white evangelicals, who aren’t much shifting at all.
I think it’s useful to underline the isolation of white evangelicals on all issues related to homosexuality, using the handy WaPo/ABC crosstabs.
Since the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is pretty heavily invested in efforts to resist same-sex marriage and to create broad “religious liberty” protections for those who resist it in a way that might violate discrimination laws, let’s look at how rank-and-file white Catholics compare to white evangelicals on these issues:
On same-sex marriage itself, white Catholics support it 70/26, while white evangelicals oppose it 28/66.
On gay/lesbian adoptions, white Catholics favor allowing them by a 73/22 margin; white evangelicals are opposed 38/60.
On the alleged right of businesses to refuse service to gay folk on religious grounds, white Catholics are opposed by a 23/76 margin, while white evangelicals favor this right 50/44.
These are some pretty big splits, eh?
As Greg notes, white evangelicals are too big a deal in the GOP to enable Republican pols to follow more general opinion on these subjects. So what you hear instead of frank acknowledgement that the party is at the south end of a north-bound brontosaurus are (a) constant injunctions to focus on other issues (Obamacare! Benghazi!), or (b) various dog whistles about the relationship of social ills to the decline of “traditional” marriage, plus the usual “constitutional conservative” invocation of eternal “natural laws.”
But the tensions between political relevancy and constituency group resistance just continue to rise.
How would you like to get $2,000 in free money today, fresh off the government printing presses? And what if I told you it wouldn’t just be a nice windfall for you and your friends and family, but that we’d do it for all Americans on an ongoing basis, and that doing so would solve our crippling problem of mass unemployment?
Not long after the financial collapse in September 2008, my friend Duncan Black began recommending that then Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke should just throw money from helicopters. Despite the fact that Mr. Black is a Brown-educated economist who I personally respect a great deal, I thought his recommendation was one part utopian and one part delusional. I no longer think he is delusional, and Ryan Cooper’s piece explains why.
Black got the idea from Milton Friedman, through testimony given by none other than Ben Bernanke himself.
Milton Friedman suggested that monetary policy could never fail to cure mass unemployment, because as a last resort the central bank could just drop cash out of helicopters—an enticing analogy that former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke borrowed in a 2002 speech, earning himself the persistent nickname of “Helicopter Ben.”
It was Black who introduced me to the term “Helicopter Ben,” which he initially used derisively as he watched him preside over the Housing Bubble. After the bubble burst, Black began urging Bernanke to live up to his moniker, writing in the USA Today that “The Federal Reserve should give people free money.”
The only potential risk of this is increased inflation, though higher inflation is a potential consequence of any expansionary monetary policy, and the Fed has demonstrated its ability to reduce inflation when necessary. In any case, an additional bit of inflation would be welcome right now, as it would reduce the real values of fixed rate mortgages and help to decrease the number of “underwater” borrowers.
The Great Recession, with its long period of extended high unemployment rates, has caused unnecessary economic hardship for millions. Remarkably, there’s a simple way to help people and improve the economy. Even more remarkably, we aren’t doing it.
If you are like me, you learned about German hyperinflation in the 1920’s at a relatively young age, and you probably were taught that the hyperinflation was caused by the overprinting of money. The idea is simple: the more units of money there are, the less each individual unit is worth. After all, printing money doesn’t create wealth.
But that may not be true. As Mr. Cooper explains, the key to a healthy economy is strong aggregate demand:
The key economic idea undergirding this policy idea is something called aggregate demand, which, stated simply, is the total amount of spending in the economy. During a financial crisis, aggregate demand goes down, since newly unemployed workers have less money and people who manage to keep their jobs reduce their spending out of fear. When people spend less money, sales fall, and businesses are forced to lay off workers, who then spend even less money, and so on. In other words, money goes in circles: my spending is your income, and your spending is my income. If we all simultaneously cut back on our spending—if aggregate demand declines—then everybody’s income declines, too. That is, very crudely, what happened during the Great Depression, when there were millions of perfectly able workers desperate for jobs, while perfectly functional factories lay idle due to lack of customers. It’s also what has been happening, to a milder degree, in our economy since the 2008 crisis.
The government can increase aggregate demand by increasing spending and/or by lowering taxes and fees. In the former case, they replace absent consumers and give businesses someone to sell to. In the latter case, they can let consumers keep a little more of their money in the hope that they will spend it. The more money there is in the economy to buy stuff, the fewer people will be unemployed, the more revenue will come into the treasury, and the less money will go out for things like unemployment insurance and food stamps. Unfortunately, whenever the economy takes a sharp turn for the worse, the natural political reaction is to ask the government to tighten its belt like everyone else. What we wind up with is a movement that demands governmental austerity and claims that it has been Taxed Enough Already, despite taxes being at the lowest level they’ve been since the Eisenhower administration.
It may be politically difficult, but the basic economics here aren’t controversial among economically-literate people. Somehow, someway, more aggregate demand must be created if we are going to succeed in lowering the persistently-high unemployment rate.
Cooper details four plans for solving the problem, all of which are responses to the failure of the existing tools in the Federal Reserve’s toolbox to function as they used to.
The first is to push interest rates below zero. The idea here is fairly simple. If the problem with our economy is framed in terms of people trying to save too much relative to their spending, then negative interest rates would make saving money expensive. If you kept cash in a savings account with a negative interest rate, you would actually lose money. There are a few major problems with this idea, one of which is cultural. We Americans consider saving virtuous; a Fed policy that punished savers would simply not go over well. Another problem is that if interest rates on money were sharply negative, investors might just pour their money into commodities like wheat, oil, or copper as a store of value, which would keep those raw materials from socially positive uses and be tough to regulate. Yet another problem, which the economist Miles Kimball (an advocate of this idea) points out, is that if we really wanted to make this work, all money would have to be subject to interest rate fluctuations, which means we’d have to get rid of paper money. (If everything were electronic, there would be nowhere for savers to hide.)
The second major policy option, championed by International Monetary Fund economist Olivier Blanchard, is functionally very similar to the negative interest rate proposal, although it’s a little sneakier. Right now, the Fed targets inflation of 2 percent. Raising the target to 4 or 5 percent (assuming it could be achieved) would discourage savings and promote spending in the same way that negative interest rates would, but without the probable outrage at having money subtracted from one’s bank account.
The third policy option is known as nominal gross domestic product targeting, the major proponent of which is the economist Scott Sumner. The idea is all about self-fulfilling expectations. Recall that the central bank owns the printing press, so it can create arbitrary quantities of dollars. By making a pre-commitment to keep the economy on a particular spending trajectory, self-fulfilling collapses in spending would not happen. Something similar to this policy seems to have kept Australia and Israel out of the Great Recession. But in order to sustain such a policy, the Fed might have to intervene in the economy quite frequently, and then the distributional consequences could be serious. Quantitative easing, for example, helps push up asset prices (the stock market has regained all the ground lost since 2009 and then some), which disproportionately benefits the wealthy.
The fourth and final policy proposal on the table is what I’ll call the “helicopter money” option. It too is fairly simple. Under such a policy (which could be combined with aspects of the first three), every U.S. citizen would receive a regular payment, in the form of, say, a check from the Internal Revenue Service. The amount of each check would change depending on the health of the economy, but it could be fairly substantial during times of economic slack. To jar us out of our current slump, for instance, I’d start with payments on the order of $2,000 per person. These checks would arrive on an as-needed basis, depending on the state of the economy.
When I look at those four options, none of them appear particularly viable from a political perspective, but, perhaps for that reason, the helicopter option no longer seems like a radical outlier. Simply put, the tools that have more or less worked in the postwar era are out of juice. Interest rates are at their lower bound, and Congress is incapable of delivering fiscal stimulus. Workers can’t borrow more money, and they’re getting an ever-decreasing percentage of the wealth created by productivity gains. Under the circumstances, there is no simpler way to pump up aggregate demand than to simply throw money at people.
Cooper argues that conservatives may warm up to this idea, but not until they are put back in power and charged with fixing the economy.
Democrats should be for it because it is straight-up economic stimulus, writ large. And Republicans should be for it because it is the stimulus option that’s most in line with conservative values. To be sure, a whole lot of right-wing conservatives will object to the very notion—government checks give them the willies. And for conservatives with the strongest tendencies toward gold buggery, who are already freaked out that the Fed’s quantitative easing is debasing the currency and setting us up for hyperinflation, the idea will never be in favor…[but]
…The helicopter money policy, by contrast, keeps government almost completely out of the picture. It distributes resources directly to citizens, with no limits on how they can spend it, thereby strengthening individual choice and the private sector, not government bureaucracies. It’s a stimulus Milton Friedman could love. And if everyone gets the same-sized check, there’s not even a concession to the god of progressivity—it’s like a flat tax in reverse! There will be a Republican president again someday, and as we’ve seen, it is highly likely that government will face the same weak growth and high unemployment we face today. This is a tool as friendly to the conservatives’ ideology as they are likely to find.
Giving people free money still sounds crazy and utopian, but it seems like the most rational and plausible option left to us.
So the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicks off today in Washington—three days of right-wing fellowship, jockeying for attention, factional infighting and red meat consumption. As always, there will be a presidential straw poll announced at the end, but this year, attendees will choose among 26 names before probably endorsing Rand Paul, unless organizers have found a way to limit attendance by local college students from the Revolution.
This morning’s session should start with a bang, with Ted Cruz first up, followed by John Bolton—who can be expected to go completely bonkers on the Obama administration’s handling of the Ukraine crisis. But MSM folk covering the conference are riveted on just one speaker today: Chris Christie. The thinly veiled hope is that the New Jersey governor will revive his presidential viability by rallying hard-core conservatives to his side, presumably by attacking the self-same MSM that is so invested in his success. Yes, it’s all a little twisted.
Just in time for CPAC, WaPo/ABC have released new poll findings on how Americans of varying hues feel about potential ‘16-ers. The big headline news is that 30% of self-identified Republicans say they “definitely would not” vote for Christie, a higher level of “resistance” than that facing any other named pro to-candidate.
Another newsy item from the poll, which I find more interesting than Christie’s numbers, is that 48% of Americans generally say they “definitely would not” vote for Jeb Bush. Of the named candidates, only Mitt Romney with 49% does worse (by comparison, the “definitely would not” number for HRC after a billion years of being demonized is just 32%). So once again, the “Republican Establishment’s” two faves aren’t doing so well.
My Georgia Bulldogs women’s basketball team enters the SEC tournament tomorrow uncomfortably close to the NCAA bubble. They’ve been in 19 straight NCAA tournaments.
Here are some final items of the day:
* Greg Sargent notes powerful evangelical opposition to same-sex marriage makes any “adjustment” to changing public opinion difficult. More about that tomorrow.
* Administration quietly extends for another year the ability to continue non-ACA-compliant individual insurance policies in states going along with it.
* Prospect’s Robert Waldman argues for getting rid of invariably invidious talk about pols being “pro-” or “anti-Israel.”
* At Ten Miles Square, Keith Humphreys warns coalition of private prison owners and public corrections employees could slow down de-incarceration trend.
* At College Guide, Jill Barshay sorts through conflicting evidence on whether starting college at two-year or four-year institutions boosts graduation rates.
And in non-political news:
* SAT moves back to 1600 scale and an optional essay.
That’s it for the day. Since some of you are probably chafing at the religious music today, here’s a more secular reflection on mortality from David Bowie: “Ashes to Ashes.”
At Wonkblog today, after reading some administration talking points bragging about how low non-defense discretionary spending levels have become, Zachary Goldfarb asks the White House a question many of us have been wondering about for quite some time:
On Tuesday, I asked White House economic advisers at a budget news conference whether the low rate of discretionary spending represents an achievement or a failure. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Obama’s budget director, said she thought it was a success. “I think what we think is that the proposed president’s budget is the right level over the 10-year period and that we believe that those levels are the correct level,” she said.
What’s hard to know is whether Obama and his top advisers really believe this. Given their statements on the importance of public investment, it’s hard to think they truly believe reducing discretionary spending to such lows is a good thing. But the politics may be that Obama has no room to maneuver. On his left, liberal Democrats have no appetite for dramatic cuts to entitlements like Social Security and Medicare that might allow for significant boosts in discretionary spending. On his right, Republicans totally reject the idea of raising taxes to fund discretionary spending. And even though investors are willing to lend the Treasury money at extremely low rates, nobody seems to have an interest in borrowing to finance investments.
So is the White House just trapped here? I’m not so sure about that. A lot of Democrats actually do “have an interest in borrowing [e.g., boosting deficits] to finance investments.” Others are interested in deeper defense cuts. Still others think a more forceful position on health care costs could generate savings without messing with the basic benefit structure of Medicare (much less Social Security).
In any event, since the current budget is a political document more than it is a fiscal blueprint, it would be nice if the administration stopped bragging about its budget-battle defeats and just made the case for appropriately robust investments. Someday, it might help Democrats win a few more.
I mean to write earlier about a mammoth piece by Henry Olsen in the March-April issue of the National Interest that seeks to make some predictions about the 2016 GOP presidential nominating contest by way of a new typology of the GOP rank-and-file. This is perilous because both predictions and typologies can be slippery matters.
I won’t go through the whole thing (perhaps I’ll give it another look later), but do want to draw attention to one assumption Olsen makes which I consider questionable, amid a lot of useful brain food and polling data about the composition of the GOP in various nominating contest states. His typology of Republicans is broken down into “moderates and liberals,” “somewhat conservative” voters, “very conservative evangelicals,” and “very conservative secular voters.” This last category he more or less identifies with the Tea Party. It’s unclear where highly traditionalist Catholic voters go, but I guess they get to choose.
While Olsen is entirely right that the winnowing process in a crowded presidential field can involve a series of sub-primaries where various factions pick their candidates, it’s less clear to me that they are quite so hermetically sealed. In 2016, he envisions the 2008 and 2012 Iowa winners, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, slugging it out for the “very conservative evangelicals” nod while Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and perhaps others fight it out over Tea Party voters. Particularly in Iowa, these categories significantly overlap. It’s highly debatable to place Ted Cruz into the basket of candidates mainly pursuing “secular” voters, as anyone who has caught his act—much less his father’s act—on the hustings can tell you. And how, exactly, do you pigeon-hole Scott Walker, whose social-issues views are just as conservative as Huckabee’s, and whose donor base greatly overlaps with Tea Party organizations? Is he really a “moderate” or just “somewhat conservative?” Hard to say.
I think Olsen’s typology, while useful for sorting polling data and analyzing past Republican contests, misses the emergence of “constitutional conservatism,” which spans both religious and secular hard-line voters, and also understates the hardening of conservative ideology across all the factions, which vary mostly by degree. The hero of “moderates” and “somewhat conservative voters” in 2012, Mitt Romney, was a lot more conservative than his predecessor John McCain (who beat Romney when the shifty tactician was running as the “movement consservative” candidate). So the lines are shifting and perhaps blurring more than any typology or notion of sub-primaries can entirely comprehend.
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