McCain and GOP Blind to Upcoming Political Realities

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How does one know when a politician isn’t up with the times? I suspect there are a number of devices that get to this metric, but one might be looking for someone harping about the nation being “center-right.”

John McCain, of 2008 “Country First” fame, appeared with Sarah Palin the other day to speak to a crowd of Tea Partiers. While Palin continued to gloss over the constant references to violent acts in her exhortations to Tea Partiers over the past couple days, McCain railed against health insurance reform, vowing a repeal of the newly-passed law.

When McCain spoke, he responded to President Obama’s speech yesterday, in which Obama defied Republicans to campaign on a platform of repealing the health care reform law, in light of the various benefits included within it. “And my attitude is, ‘Go for it,'” Obama said.

McCain declared: “We’re gonna ‘go for it,’ an we’re gonna repeal this bill. We’re gonna stop this spending.”

McCain also said: “Our answer is, yes, we’re gonna ‘go for it,’ and we’re gonna get it, and we’re gonna restore the government back to the people of this country, because this is a right-of-center nation, and this president is governing from the left, and it will not stand.”

When I finish reading that, the question that immediately pops into my head is… “What happens if it does stand?” What happens if people like this health insurance reform, given that a majority of Americans had already liked the bill’s individual previsions or believed they weren’t liberal enough? What happens if the world does not end? More broadly, what happens when the entirety of the nation’s most diverse generation ever comes of age and is largely politically active, expressing its left-leaning viewpoints?

I think this all comes back to many members of the GOP and the conservative fringe being unable to zoom out and view these events over the long-term. We saw this with McCain himself in his poorly-run campaign in 2008 — the difference between tactics and strategy. Yes, Obama faced some trouble with the Rev. Wright controversy, but he gave a forward-looking and eloquent speech that muted much of the criticism. Yes, the McCain campaign was enjoying success in its portrayal of Obama as a celebrity political novice that summer, but because it wasn’t rooted in anything, the McCain camp apparently didn’t think anything of choosing a mayor with frighteningly little experience as their vice presidential nominee. Yes, health insurance reform has had its troubles, and while the GOP was responsible for many of those Democratic struggles, their refusal to do anything other than saying no left them without any input whatsoever. And now, there’s this call for repeal, a move to take away all the benefits given to 32 million people. A conscious choice to choose the student loan industry over young Americans.

As the GOP leans more to the right, its rhetoric closer and closer to a boiling point, it will increasingly place itself in untenable political positions. The GOP chooses to live in the moment, ignoring the political realities around the corner. Contrary to John McCain’s wishes/statements, this is no longer a center-right nation. As the Millennials come of age politically, their size and pro-government/socially liberal positions will tip the country to the left, a la the 1930s.

So, again John — what happens if it does stand? What’s the contingency plan?

Public Broadcasting Gets $10 Million to Better Cover Local Issues

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37 local NPR and PBS affiliates will be receiving over $10 million in total funding in order to better cover local and regional news stories. The funding is intended to make up for a fledgling newspaper industry.

On Thursday, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced the creation of local journalism centers in five regions. NPR and PBS stations in each region will collaborate on covering key issues, including immigration, agribusiness, the economy and health care. They will jointly hire about 50 multimedia journalists.

[...]

The funding initially targets the Southwest, the Plains states, the upper Midwest, upstate New York and central Florida. Proposals also are being accepted from stations in the South and Northwest, and Harrison hopes to expand the effort.

It will involve 37 local stations, though at least 100 applied. To date, 13 radio stations, 13 joint ventures operating both radio and TV outlets, and one stand-alone TV station have signed on. Stations were selected on the basis of a business plan that included an outline for becoming self-sustaining within two years.

“The idea of pulling together radio and television for content that is broadcast and online this is going to be our template going forward,” Harrison said.

The Corporation – already the single largest source of funding for NPR and PBS – will provide $7.5 million of the investment for the project, while the stations involved contribute $3 million.

Preparing public broadcasting to fill in for failing private media is a great move on behalf of American citizens. Though just part of a larger effort, providing Americans with substantive coverage of issues (as opposed to personality) is an important step in increasing civic engagement.

Irresponsible Rhetoric on the Right

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Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post discusses why the heated rhetoric among prominent right politicians and pundits is particularly bad for our society.

It is disingenuous for mainstream purveyors of incendiary far-right rhetoric to dismiss groups such as the Hutaree by saying that there are “crazies on both sides.” This simply is not true.

There was a time when the far left was a spawning ground for political violence … But for the most part, far-left violence in this country has gone the way of the leisure suit and the AMC Gremlin …

By contrast, there has been explosive growth among far-right, militia-type groups that identify themselves as white supremacists, “constitutionalists,” tax protesters and religious soldiers determined to kill people to uphold “Christian” values. [...]

Demagogues scream at people that their government is illegitimate, that their country has been “taken away,” that their elected officials are “traitors” and that their freedom is at risk. They have a right to free speech, which I will always defend. But they shouldn’t be surprised if some listeners take them literally.

Those on the right blamed for this incendiary language often chalk it up to there being radicals on both sides of American politics. Yet, as Robinson notes, this culture of political violence hasn’t been stoked in recent years/months by the left. It’s been the well-known conservative politicians and pundits talking about “reloading” and the like.

David Brooks’ Description of Obama’s Presidency

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In today’s New York Times, David Brooks takes a stab at describing Barack Obama and his performance in office so far. In doing so, Brooks paints a portrait of how polarizing Washington is and what that polarization does in shaping Americans’ sense of reality.

Who is Barack Obama?

If you ask a conservative Republican, you are likely to hear that Obama is a skilled politician who campaigned as a centrist but is governing as a big-government liberal. He plays by ruthless, Chicago politics rules. He is arrogant toward foes, condescending toward allies and runs a partisan political machine.

If you ask a liberal Democrat, you are likely to hear that Obama is an inspiring but overly intellectual leader who has trouble making up his mind and fighting for his positions. He has not defined a clear mission. He has allowed the Republicans to dominate debate. He is too quick to compromise and too cerebral to push things through.

You’ll notice first that these two viewpoints are diametrically opposed. You’ll, observe, second, that they are entirely predictable. Political partisans always imagine the other side is ruthlessly effective and that the public would be with them if only their side had better messaging. And finally, you’ll notice that both views distort reality. They tell you more about the information cocoons that partisans live in these days than about Obama himself.

[...]

In a sensible country, people would see Obama as a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism. In a sensible country, Obama would be able to clearly define this project without fear of offending the people he needs to get legislation passed. But we don’t live in that country. We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect. They come away with perceptions fundamentally at odds with reality, fundamentally misunderstanding the man in the Oval Office.

It’s unfortunate that our “information cocoons” insist on simplifying the most complex of matters to yes/no or good/bad answers. I like that Brooks shows us what we can get with complexity despite its boring reputation. When we look at phenomena like Obama’s performance with the goal of gaining better understanding as opposed to getting an explanation, we preserve the complexity of the matter and enhance our own analysis skills.

Young Americans Not Excited to Vote in Midterms

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In what is some bad news for the Democratic candidates in November’s midterm elections, young people simply aren’t that excited to vote.

According to Gallup daily tracking poll data from March 1 – March 7, 18-29 year olds were the age group with the highest lack of enthusiasm toward voting, with 44 percent of respondents noting that they were “not enthusiastic” about voting in 2010.

One potential problem for Democrats is the lower enthusiasm about voting among young Americans. Twenty percent of registered voters aged 18 to 29 say they are very enthusiastic about voting this November. That compares with 31% to 39% of older age groups who are very enthusiastic.

Younger Americans are decidedly more Democratic than the national average. Thus, their apparent lack of motivation to vote — if it continues until Election Day — could deprive Democrats of the full benefit they could in theory derive if all 18- to 29-year-olds were to vote.

Democrats need to knock this number down quickly if they want to have anything resembling success this November. One way of doing that would be to pass comprehensive health care reform legislation. Young people want to see their politics made up of officeholders who are strong, problem-solving leaders, instead of weak, timid politicians.

While David Plouffe and Barack Obama drew praise with his outside-the-box approach in the 2008 election, including the amazing mobilization of thousands of new young voters, 2010 will be a different story for Democrats across the country unless something significantly changes. While it is only March, this is still very disappointing.

Assumption-Based Journalism Says Youth Are More Conservative

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As a journalist, isn’t one supposed to report the facts, not what they think the facts mean?

The other day in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Salena Zito penned a piece headlined “Young Voters Increasingly Identify with Conservative Politics.” Not surprisingly (especially considering the paper’s conservative editorial page), that conclusion is flawed.

The headline writer seems to base his or her conclusion on this:

Civic involvement among politically aware young people is growing, based on attendance at the Feb. 18-20 Conservative Political Action Conference in the nation’s capital.

Elementary, high school and college students who pre-registered for the conference accounted for 60 percent of the crowd, up 10 percent from 2009, said the event’s director, Lisa De Pasquale. They wore business attire, but many could be seen connecting to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook while mingling.

Yes, young people are engaged in politics at a higher rate — even at conservative political conferences.  But I am still waiting for something to prove the headline hypothesis.

Zito next moves to the recent Pew Research Center study on the Millennial generation.  The report found that youth job approval of President Barack Obama is decreasing.

In Pew Research’s February 2010 survey, 57% of Millennials approved of the way Obama was handling his job as president, down from 73% in February 2009. Moreover, Millennials have become much more critical of Obama’s handling of several major issues, especially the war in Afghanistan. In January, Millennials were the only age group in which more disapproved than approved of Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan.

Also, the Democratic Party’s appeal among Millennials has taken a hit as well. This has resulted in an increase in the number of Millennials identifying with the Republican Party.

Between the 2004 and 2008 presidential election years, the Democratic Party opened a substantial advantage nationwide in party identification. In 2004, Democrats held a slim 47% to 44% advantage in leaned party identification among registered voters. By 2008, this lead had expanded to 51% to 39%.

But the Democrats’ advantage peaked in 2008 and early 2009, and it has decreased over the past year. In the first quarter of 2009, 53% of registered voters identified with or leaned to the Democratic Party, compared with 38% who identified with or leaned to the Republican Party. But in the final quarter, Democrats had only a 49% to 42% advantage over Republicans among
voters.

This overall shift has taken place within most age groups. The share of Millennial voters who identified or leaned Democratic fell from 60% at the beginning of 2009 to 54% at the end of the year, while the share who identified or leaned Republican rose from 31% to 40%. While the Democratic Party still maintained an advantage among Millennials at the end of 2009, the margin had shrunk substantially.

So, yes, the Republican Party has attracted Millennials over the past year. And while one could fairly question whether or not young people are becoming more conservative, one cannot credibly conflate the phenomenon of more young people attending CPAC and the report that Millennials are becoming disenchanted with Democrats and gradually identifying with the Republican Party to make that case. Both are faulty generalizations. The first one doesn’t allow for better recruitment efforts, better weather, or better economics that also could have enabled more young people to attend CPAC. The second seems to equate the Republican Party with “conservative.” Ask some Texas Republicans about Kay Bailey Hutchison and they’ll let you know that the two terms are mutually exclusive.

Indeed, the subtitle of the very same Pew Research report Zito cites labels Millennials “a pro-government, socially liberal generation.” The data reveal that Millennials still hold on to pro-government values. More than half (the only generation that can claim this) of youth favor government intervention and an activist government.

Millennials are significantly less critical of government on a number of dimensions than are other age cohorts. This tendency has been seen on a variety of individual survey questions as well as on a three-question index of items from the political values survey; this index covers opinions about government’s effectiveness, government regulation of business and whether the government has too much control over people’s lives.

What does it take for us to get better journalism in this country? I would assume a headline writer or editor constructed the headline in this case, but Zito still was trying to conflate the two examples above to seemingly make some kind of faulty conclusion that youth are more conservative. As long as our citizens continue to read misinformation, our democracy and trust in institutions like the press suffers.

Youth and Health Insurance: Link between Insurance and Income

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Catherine Rampell, from the New York Times blog Economix, suggests an alternative to the conventional wisdom that youth aren’t insured (and don’t care about reform) due to their invincibility.

Rampell constructs her argument using some Gallup data released last week. First, she confronts the idea that young people, assumed to be healthier than the rest of the population, would rather risk not buying health insurance, thus leading to higher costs for the rest of the pool. In fact, Rampell finds that young people are actually less willing to take risks than you might think:

Three-quarters of those 18-29 year-olds describing themselves as healthy still purchased health insurance. As Rampell explains, one can dig deeper into this data, inquiring about variables like income. Rampell does that and finds something.

Perhaps people who are likely to have health insurance are also likely to be healthy for an independent reason: It costs money to buy health insurance, and it costs money to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In other words, perhaps it is money, not perceived risk of getting sick, that determines whether young people get insurance.

As it turns out, people who can afford health insurance are much, much more likely to get it:

Among young adults, 86 percent of those in the top third of the income distribution (people earning $48,000 or more annually) have health insurance. In the middle third (those earning between $24,000 and $48,000), 72 percent have health insurance. And in the bottom third (those making less than $24,000), just 58 percent are on a health plan.

It appears to be affordability, not recklessness (or even rational cost-benefit analysis of health risk), that is driving young people away from insurance policies.

Though reporters and pundits might think something is true, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other unseen or unmentioned possibilities or factors affecting the phenomenon. Thanks to Catherine Rampell for digging deeper.

Wall Street Journal Lies about Teen Unemployment

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I want to start today by pointing to a post by Jonathan Chait at The New Republic. Chait attempts to refute the suggestion the Wall Street Journal put forth in an editorial claiming that the minimum wage increase was to blame for rising youth unemployment numbers. The chart to the left appeared in the Journal to augment the editorial board’s argument.

Chait draws on analysis from University of Michigan political scientist Brendan Nyhan explaining that the unemployment increase in ALL age demographics undoes the Journal’s argument. The Journal can’t seem to distinguish between correlation and causation, Nyhan writes.

While it’s certainly plausible that the increases in the minimum wage over the last three years have worsened teen unemployment, correlation doesn’t prove causation. Any variable that trended in one direction during the current economic downturn will be correlated with the unemployment rate among teens or any other group.

More importantly, unemployment is rising across the board, which cuts against the WSJ’s hypothesis that the minimum wage is having a particularly devastating effect on teens.

Though the Wall Street Journal might like to think they can downplay youth unemployment by practicing amateur science, they’ve made their ignorance quite apparent. It’s another example of a contribution to our political dialogue that misleads citizens in an attempt to assist the right-wing conspiracy.

Brooks: Tea Partiers Are the New ‘New Left’

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David Brooks’s column today in the Times explores the similarities between the Tea Partiers of today and the New Left of the late 1960s and 70s. It’s an interesting comparison/contrast, however it’s interesting to me that Brooks can’t make a final determination about the Tea Party.

The New Left then, like the Tea Partiers now, had a legitimate point about the failure of the ruling class. But they ruined it through their own imprudence, self-righteousness and naïve radicalism. The Tea Partiers will not take over the G.O.P., but it seems as though the ’60s political style will always be with us — first on the left, now the right.

His description of the New Left as “[imprudent], [self-righteous], and naive” begs the question of where he predicts the Tea Party might be headed. But instead, Brooks puts forth an obvious last conclusion without commenting on the future of the party. There’s something fishy there to me.

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