David Brooks had started down the road to Damascus when he was called back into the fold by Dear Leader. His Op-Ed in today’s NYT is the result.
Most of Brooks’ offering is a rather transparent attempt to shame congressional Republicans into supporting Pres. Obama’s agenda:
The Democratic response to the economic crisis has its problems, but let’s face it, the current Republican response is totally misguided. The House minority leader, John Boehner, has called for a federal spending freeze for the rest of the year. In other words, after a decade of profligacy, the Republicans have decided to demand a rigid fiscal straitjacket at the one moment in the past 70 years when it is completely inappropriate.
The G.O.P. leaders have adopted a posture that allows the Democrats to make all the proposals while all the Republicans can say is “no.” They’ve apparently decided that it’s easier to repeat the familiar talking points than actually think through a response to the extraordinary crisis at hand.
There are myriad problems with Brooks’ line of reasoning, including many in just to two foregoing paragraphs (e.g. How much input did Republicans have into the recent legislation? By “adopted a posture” is he referring to “not having control of either the House or the Senate”?), but I wanted to focus in on a couple of points in particular.
After some platitudinous admonitions, Brooks launches into his prescription for Republicans to save capitalism:
Third, Republicans could offer the public a realistic appraisal of the health of capitalism. Global capitalism is an innovative force, they could argue, but we have been reminded of its shortcomings. When exogenous forces like the rise of China and a flood of easy money hit the global marketplace, they can throw the entire system of out of whack, leading to a cascade of imbalances: higher debt, a grossly enlarged financial sector and unsustainable bubbles.
I really don’t know what point Brooks thought he was making, but he failed miserably on any score. First of all, “exogenous forces” cannot be “weaknesses” and/or “shortcomings” with capitalism since, by definition, they come from outside that system. At best, examining such forces can be used to understand better ways of protecting capitalism from them. In the context of the entire Op-Ed piece, however, it appears that Brooks is pitching the tired line that capitalism must be reigned in so that people don’t get hurt. That’s like diagnosing the problem with house, finding termites, and then thinking of ways to protect the termites from the house.
Furthermore, Brooks cites a “flood of easy money” (which, of course, is caused by government) as an example of an exogenous force, and then lists the following “shortcomings” of capitalism: “higher debt, a grossly enlarged financial sector and unsustainable bubbles.” What do any of those things have to do with capitalism? If anything, these are once again a failure of government skewing incentives.
In fact, when the government does its darnedest to make the cost of borrowing money historically low, people would be really stupid not to take advantage of that. We all know that rates fluctuate, and that the cost of money will be more expensive when they go back up. Logically therefore, it only makes sense to borrow when the Fed turns the money spigot on and then to find some sort of an asset to grow that money in. That, of course, is what leads to bubbles as everyone has barrels of money but not as many clear ideas of what makes a good investment. Instead of taking the time to really investigate what opportunities are available, and which ones fit a particular person’s portfolio, the herd mentality takes over and we all tend to keep up with the Jones and Smiths whether that means buying tulip bulbs or a run-down house we intend to flip.
The bottom line, however, is that these sorts of scenarios start with government intervention into the market place. In addition to turning on the money spigot, the federal government was also encouraging lenders to make high-risk loans, and for the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to buy them up, securitize them and sell them into the derivatives market. Again, that’s all fine and dandy (until it it all goes to hell), but it has nothing to do with “weaknesses” and “shortcomings” of capitalism, and everything to do with government sticking its big fat honker where it doesn’t belong.
If the free market party doesn’t offer the public an honest appraisal of capitalism’s weaknesses, the public will never trust it to address them.
The “free market party”? Who does he think he’s kidding here? The Republicans haven’t acted like a free market party since … well … it’s been so long I can’t remember.
Moreover, I simply can’t fathom how Brooks thinks a “free market party” would ever be able to reconcile itself to joining hands with Obama on his completely anti-capitalist agenda.
Power will inevitably slide over to those who believe this crisis is a repudiation of global capitalism as a whole.
Earth to Brooks: that’s already happened. Look who the president is for crying out loud, or take the time to read your own newspaper. Each and every day we hear about how the excesses of capitalism caused this crisis, and how the “libertarian” policies of Bush (HA!) have landed us in this awful spot. Capitalism didn’t get a trial, Mr. Brooks, it was rounded up, convicted and summarily shot as soon as the latest grand experiment in government do-goodism failed (again).
The NYT’s White House reporters got an exclusive interview with Pres. Obama, and one of the pressing questions on their minds was what his ideology is. They asked if, given his spending priorities, he is a socialist, to which he said no, and when they asked if he was a “liberal” or a “progressive” or any other one-word answer, he declined to comment. I can understand him saying that.
But then, after the interview, the president called the reporters back, like he’d thought up a really good zinger after the fact:
It was hard for me to believe you were entirely serious about that socialist question. I did think it might be useful to point out that it wasn’t under me that we started buying a whole bunch of shares of banks. It wasn’t on my watch. And it wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement – the prescription drug plan – without a source of funding. And so I think it’s important just to note when you start hearing folks thro[w] these words around that we’ve actually been operating in a way that is entirely consistent with free-market principles and that some of the same folks who are throwing the word ‘socialist’ around can’t say the same.
Q. So who[se] watch are we talking about here?
A. [*Chuckle*] Well, I just think it’s clear by the time we got here, there already had been an enormous infusion of taxpayer money into the financial system. And the thing I constantly try to emphasize to people is that if, coming in, the market was doing fine, nobody would be happier than me to stay out of it. I have more than enough to do without having to worry the financial system. And the fact that we’ve had to take these extraordinary measures and intervene is not an indication of my ideological preferences, but an indication of the degree to which lax regulation and extravagant risk-taking has precipitated a crisis.
This is bittersweet, because on the one hand, he clears up any misconception that Bush was effectively conservative (or as John Kerry claimed, extreme libertarian). He says, to his credit, that buying up shares of banks and passing a massive new entitlement (or at least one financed by borrowing) are inconsistent with free-market principles.
I like how Obama says that the financial bailout wasn’t on his watch, when he voted for it as a Senator. But he’s right about Bush. With Obama’s help, a Republican president did dump mountains of wealth into the thermal boreholes of the most heavily regulated sector of the economy–that’s the financial sector, dear reader, although health care is way up there. And afterward, Bush was frank enough to admit that he had “abandoned free-market principles,” although he had the monumental cheek to say he had done so “to save the free-market system.”
But on the other hand, Obama claims that his team’s been operating in a way that is “entirely consistent with free-market principles“! I feel like launching into one of those “Really!?!” segments from SNL, only less funny and more desperate.
Really, Mr. President? And you’re not shoveling piles of taxpayer money into the financial system? You’re not planning any massive expansions of entitlement spending? Really? And you’re going to come up with a source of funding for all of this? Without taxing anyone but the top two five percent? Really.
Really, Mr. President, all you’ve talked about since this crisis started is how everyone in the private sector needs a regulatory cavity search deep enough to do a ventriloquist act. As if what we really need is more Sarbanes-Oxley, SEC and FASB rule changes – because it was our lax regulation that all those businesses ran overseas to escape.
And if I’m putting together a line-up of who caused the “extravagant risk-taking” like the massive overborrowing that inflated the residential real estate bubble, shouldn’t my first suspects be Fannie & Freddie, the Fed and government subsidies?
Your response to this crisis is to borrow more money to subsidize energy, public transportation, public education and state-mandated health care, and really, isn’t that what the free market is all about? Thanks for the assurances that you’re not in favor of bigger government.
Your budget, the stimulus, that second stimulus you hinted at, and rescuing all those giant institutions, some of them for the second and third time: these are all entirely consistent with free-market principles? I mean, really.
Someone help me out. Exactly which free-market principles has the president adhered to, either in his campaign promises or in his actions in office? Tell me why Obama is not mistaken or lying.
As Dale has mentioned before, ginning up support for massive federal expenditures and deepening deficits was much easier for FDR because he had Nazis. Obama does not have any such luxury, so he has to invent an equivalent enemy. Luckily for him, decades of propaganda have cemented the idea into many heads that capitalism=rightwing=nazi, leading to the inexorable conclusion that anyone or thing whose primary purpose is to make profit is dangerous and must be controlled.
Dovetailing nicely with that need is the meme that deregulation is to blame for the current financial mess. Although it’s a fairly ridiculous claim (as I’ve pointed out before), that won’t stop “studies” like this from being published and reported on:
$5 BILLION IN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS BOUGHT WALL STREET FREEDOM FROM REGULATION, RESTRAINT, REPORT FINDS
Steps to Financial Cataclysm Paved with Industry Dollars
March 4 – The financial sector invested more than $5 billion in political influence purchasing in Washington over the past decade, with as many as 3,000 lobbyists winning deregulation and other policy decisions that led directly to the current financial collapse, according to a 231-page report issued today by Essential Information and the Consumer Education Foundation.
The report, “Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America,” shows that, from 1998-2008, Wall Street investment firms, commercial banks, hedge funds, real estate companies and insurance conglomerates made $1.725 billion in political contributions and spent another $3.4 billion on lobbyists, a financial juggernaut aimed at undercutting federal regulation. Nearly 3,000 officially registered federal lobbyists worked for the industry in 2007 alone. The report documents a dozen distinct deregulatory moves that, together, led to the financial meltdown. These include prohibitions on regulating financial derivatives; the repeal of regulatory barriers between commercial banks and investment banks; a voluntary regulation scheme for big investment banks; and federal refusal to act to stop predatory subprime lending.
The quote above comes directly from the report’s financial backers, Essential Information and the Consumer Education Foundation. The former is a non-profit that was created by Harvey Rosenfield, a lawyer who also controls the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, formerly known as the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. The latter is an entity created by Ralph Nader. None of that information is found either in the press release, or in the news stories reporting on (i.e. quoting) the release.
The organizations are a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy groups which push for stronger consumer protection laws and to curb “excessive corporate power.”
The report alleges that excessive deregulation of the financial sector combined with undue influence from the billions spent in lobbying and political contributions resulted in the current financial crisis.
The two men behind the report are California lawyer Harvey Rosenfield of the nonprofit Consumer Education Foundation and Robert Weissman of Essential Information, a Washington nonprofit “that seeks to curb excessive corporate power.”
The report argues that the lobbying and contributions kept financial derivatives from being regulated, led to the repeal of regulatory barriers between commercial banks and investment banks and kept the government from stepping into halt predatory subprime lending.
The remainder of the reporting is merely quoting and paraphrasing the press release. Absolutely zero analysis of the actual report is offered. Why would they report anything else? Well, just looking at the press release provides one clue:
Financial deregulation led directly to the current economic meltdown. For the last three decades, government regulators, Congress and the executive branch, on a bipartisan basis, steadily eroded the regulatory system that restrained the financial sector from acting on its own worst tendencies. “Sold Out” details a dozen key steps to financial meltdown, revealing how industry pressure led to these deregulatory moves and their consequences:
1. 1. In 1999, Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which had prohibited the merger of commercial banking and investment banking.
2. Regulatory rules permitted off-balance sheet accounting — tricks that enabled banks to hide their liabilities.
3. The Clinton administration blocked the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from regulating financial derivatives — which became the basis for massive speculation.
4. Congress in 2000 prohibited regulation of financial derivatives when it passed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act.
5. The Securities and Exchange Commission in 2004 adopted a voluntary regulation scheme for investment banks that enabled them to incur much higher levels of debt.
6. Rules adopted by global regulators at the behest of the financial industry would enable commercial banks to determine their own capital reserve requirements, based on their internal “risk-assessment models.”
7. Federal regulators refused to block widespread predatory lending practices earlier in this decade, failing to either issue appropriate regulations or even enforce existing ones.
8. Federal bank regulators claimed the power to supersede state consumer protection laws that could have diminished predatory lending and other abusive practices.
9. Federal rules prevent victims of abusive loans from suing firms that bought their loans from the banks that issued the original loan.
10. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac expanded beyond their traditional scope of business and entered the subprime market, ultimately costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
11. The abandonment of antitrust and related regulatory principles enabled the creation of too-big-to-fail megabanks, which engaged in much riskier practices than smaller banks.
12. Beset by conflicts of interest, private credit rating companies incorrectly assessed the quality of mortgage-backed securities; a 2006 law handcuffed the SEC from properly regulating the firms.
The damning list offers only one instance of actual deregulation (the Glass-Steagall Act), at least seven instances of regulation that the authors simply disagree with (nos. 2-5, and 8-10), one claim each of “global regulators” and ratings agencies failing to do their respective duties (nos. 6 and 12), and two allegations that federal regulators didn’t pursue their jobs aggressively enough (7 and 11). So, despite the bold claim that “Financial deregulation led directly to the current economic meltdown,” the authors produce almost no evidence to support their conclusion.
It seems like that may have been a little more newsworthy than simply regurgitating the press release.
Then there is the fact that a Ralph Nader organization is partly responsible for the funding. Not only has the man run for president four times, one of those times perhaps leading to the election of George W. Bush, he’s notorious for his left-wing politics, including having a serious distaste for corporate America and capitalism.
Could be relevant, no?
But the real failure of journalism here was to take anything that Harvey Rosenfield has to say at face value.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) [owned by Essential Information creator, Harvey Rosenfield] has decided to re-brand itself as “Consumer Watchdog.” Will a simple name change help shore-up the eroding reputation of this “consumer group?”
Few days pass without someone from FTCR pontificating in a newspaper story or TV report. Agents of this organization often are quoted — without explanation of their credentials — about auto, fire or health insurance, gasoline pricing, stem-cell research, or just about any public policy debate on the FTCR’s mind.
Behind the pithy quotes from FTCR’s leaders lies an organization with too much to hide and too many faults to be taken seriously anymore. It has survived by quietly pocketing millions of dollars in fees stemming from an initiative it wrote and sponsored nearly two decades ago. Along the way, it has engaged in hypocritical and speculative stock trading, enjoyed the secret patronage of wealthy trial donors, and either cozied up to or bullied politicians. All of this came despite operating under IRS rules as a “public-benefit” charity.
Of course, the public has no idea what is really motivating FTCR because its agents refuse to disclose their financial backers. Their reasons for hiding the facts are insulting to the average Californian’s intelligence.
FTCR declined to release a list of donors on its website by ludicrously equating their work to the civil rights movement in the South. It’s refusal to list details about its financial backers is particularly galling since FTCR spends a lot of time lambasting politicians for alleged corruption surrounding their own political donations.
One source of income is clear, thanks to some available public disclosure forms. Following the disastrous 1994 Northridge earthquake, founder Rosenfield extracted $5 million in a consumer-protection settlement with Allstate Insurance. The money was placed in a new group he controls, the Consumer Education Foundation, which was supposed to prevent the kinds of insurance disasters that followed the Northridge quake.
But nearly a decade after the group was formed, its biggest accomplishment appears to be paying Rosenfield a $100,000 salary and writing a few grant checks … including to Rosenfield’s own FTCR, to fund its operations. One wonders what the judge in the Allstate settlement would think about this cozy relationship, let alone why Northridge consumers have yet to see much benefit from the $5 million that was paid out supposedly for the public good.
It gets even more absurd.
Rosenfield’s Consumer Education Foundation invested some of its Northridge windfall in Enron stock — the Texas company that bilked California consumers out of billions of dollars. This laughable investment, which the CEF was forced to reveal in disclosure statements, is almost too incredible to believe. The “consumer” foundation put its money in one of the biggest consumer ripoff companies in U.S. history.
Enron wasn’t the only hypocritical stock purchase made by the Rosenfield’s Consumer Education Foundation. The group purchased stock in Abbott Labs, Amgen, Merck, Pfizer, Idec Pharmaceuticals, Johnson and Johnson, and Proctor and Gamble. Meanwhile, FTCR would soon get busy lambasting politicians for accepting campaign donations from these same companies. And while FTCR has lashed out at automobile and chemical companies, the “consumer” foundation has invested in Clorox, DuPont, General Motors, Ford Motors, and Toyota Motor Credit.
There’s more on Rosenfield’s endeavors here (scroll through the comments to the ftcrfollies.org stuff), but the original site is now defunct, so caution is warranted.
In any case, it seems that Rosenfield’s alleged background as an agent provocateur should raise enough red flags to warrant at least a mention that perhaps the report he’s funded (written?) should be taken with a grain of salt. Instead, we get news stories that basically repeat exactly little more than the juiciest allegations from the press release, absolutely zero analysis of the actual report (or the press release for that matter), and nothing more than the bare bones information regarding the provenance of the report.
With apologies to Mike Judge, “What would you say ya do here, MSM?”
Chrysler said the only reason it was back asking for more money so soon was that the car market was worse than it had expected two months ago.
This cavalier approach to the public purse raises a very big question. If Chrysler is really on track for a turnaround and all it needs is some financing to get over a bad patch in sales and debt markets, why doesn’t Cerberus Capital Management, which owns 80 percent of the company, put up the money itself? Why should taxpayers have to take the risk? That’s what private equity funds like Cerberus are supposed to do.
Cerberus and Daimler, which retained a stake in Chrysler, have promised to convert $2 billion in loans to Chrysler into equity, which should help reduce its debt. But Cerberus said giving fresh money would violate its fiduciary duty to investors, breaking company rules limiting how much it can commit to any given investment.
We suspect these rules would be more pliant if Cerberus deemed Chrysler to be a good deal.
It seems the secretive private-equity fund is willing to gamble on Chrysler’s survival with the taxpayer’s dime, but not its own.
The real question is, if it is violative of Cerberus management’s fiduciary duty to bail out its own company, why is it fiscally responsible for the federal government to do so?
And what does it say when the leader of liberal opinion has more qualms about a bailout than the federal government? Nothing good I would think.
While it was clear they wanted to write a gushing approval of his first days in office, even WaPo couldn’t quite bring themselves to “suspend disbelief” enough to do that.
I started chuckling at the second sentence:
But the presidency does not come with a magic wand; nor, we have learned, is Mr. Obama, however talented, a wizard.
They’re just “learning” that? My goodness, how in the tank were they?
Second discovery by WaPo:
The president’s admitted mistakes on nominations have served as a reminder that he is, after all, rather new to the game of national politics and the art of balancing the lofty aims of campaign pledges against the real-world demands of governing.
Campaign rhetoric, most remember, which was steadfastly supported (and apparently believed) by the Washington Post. As most of us understood, but WaPo is now discovering, inexperience in national politics has its price.
The narrow and rushed passage of his stimulus package underscored the difficulty of living up to his grand promises of transparency; the campaign trail talk about not cutting deals behind closed doors yielded to the demands of the moment. And if it was this hard for Mr. Obama to lure Republican votes to spend money, how will he manage to entice Republican support to deal with even more contentious issues, such as climate change or health care?
Grand promises of transparancy that were additionally unfulfilled on two pieces of legislation which weren’t rushed – the equal pay and S-CHIP legislation. Neither were delayed the 5 days his campaign had promised voters for them to review the bills prior to signing. Neither required the rush they received. The stimulus bill is just the worst of the bunch.
And while it isn’t necessary to entice Republican support on the more contentious issues in order to pass the bills, such support provides invaluable political cover. Given how badly both Democratic Congressional leaders and Obama handled the bi-partisan effort on the stimulus bill, there’s nothing that says they’ll ever change enough to entice Republicans.
Then there is Timothy Geithner:
The immediate challenge for the new administration, one that is harder and more important than the stimulus measure, will be to bring stability to the nation’s banking system. On that task, “chastening” is a mild word to apply to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner’s debut of the administration’s plan. The president promised that his treasury secretary would offer “very clear and specific plans,” after which Mr. Geithner laid out a blueprint only. The result was to undermine both Mr. Geithner, who is abler than he seemed at the rollout, and the plan, which is more promising than its reception would suggest.
Geithner, the man who was so important to the bailout effort that his tax cheating had to be ignored, has been less than impressive. Perhaps that will change, but to this point, he has done little to inspire confidence either among voters or the financial sector. The WaPo’s declaration that Geithner is “abler than he seemed” has yet to be proved.
WaPo then leavens its criticism with some faint praise, overstating the importance of the first two bills signed. They were simply retreads of bills Democrats had tried to pass during the Bush administration. Unlike what the Post tries to imply, there was no real leadership exercised by Obama or his administration in their passage.
Unfortunately for Mr. Obama and the nation, the current economic situation does not allow for the usual margin of error; fairly or not, he will not be measured against normal historical standards. Sooner rather than later, he will have to find the right balance between reassurance and alarmism; sooner than in past administrations, he needs a full team in place.
Sooner is much preferable to later. Part of the problem we’re experiencing today is the alarmism being spread from the nation’s premier bully pulpit. “Catastrophe” is a word to be used sparingly from that platform and should be reserved for actual catastrophe. After calling for swift action and passage of the bill on Friday and claiming the nation couldn’t wait another hour, we understand now he won’t be signing the bill until Tuesday, a weekend Valentine get-away taking priority. That’s not leadership, and it certainly will cause critics to discount any such future warnings as more fear-mongering.
WaPo then contradicts itself:
Fortunately for the nation, while Mr. Obama has an experience deficit, he possesses a surfeit of smarts and steadiness.
He certainly has an experience deficit, and that is becoming increasingly apparent. However, given his recent penchant for alarmism as discussed in the article, it seems rather contradictory to then laud him for his “smarts and steadiness”. Smart and steady people don’t resort to fear-mongering to drive their agenda. However the unsure and inexperienced do.
WaPo then concludes that things will straighten out, and the nation’s optimism in Obama will be rewarded and, now that he has lowered expectations (through his alarmism), will patiently wait the years, not months, necessary to see the recession through. I find that to be mostly wishful thinking.
All totaled, the Washington Post, to use a phrase that has become rather trite in the last year, is trying to put lipstick on a pig. Following a WaPo article touting the passage of the massive pork laden spending bill as a “victory of historic proportion“, it stands to reason they’d try to double down on their presidential bet, hoping it all works out as they’ve imagined it will. But by their own words, the dream isn’t off to a good start.
he Democrats in Congress keep talking about it, and talking about it: The Fairness Doctrine. The newest musings about it come from Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY).
More and more Democrats in Congress are calling for action that Republicans warn could muzzle right-wing talk radio.
Representative Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from New York is the latest to say he wants to bring back the “Fairness Doctrine,” a federal regulation scrapped in 1987 that would require broadcasters to present opposing views on public issues.
“I think the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated,” Hinchey told CNNRadio. Hinchey says he could make it part of a bill he plans to introduce later this year overhauling radio and t-v ownership laws.
When Bruce addressed this recently, commenter PogueMahone responded:
Well then you are kooks. This is no fairness doctrine. Despite the wishes of some, there will be no “fairness doctrine” bill passed.
Huh. maybe. But for people who aren’t going to pass it back into law, they sure talk about it a lot.
Do Americans support the stimulus bill proposed by Congress, or hate it? The only way to glean a credible answer is by looking to reliable polls. Bruce did that earlier with respect to the ATI-News/Zogby poll which found that:
Amidst all the rhetoric surrounding President Barack Obama’s first signature piece of legislation, a massive $800 billion economic “stimulus” bill, one thing is clear: a majority of Americans reject the President’s handiwork. A just-released ATI-News/Zogby International poll shows that clear majorities of Republicans and Independents are against it.
Public support for an $800 billion economic stimulus package has increased to 59% in a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Tuesday night, up from 52% in Gallup polling a week ago, as well as in late January.
So which is it? Is support up or down? Frankly, I don’t think we can really tell. Here’s why.
Both polls reveal the number of people questioned, and break down the results by party affiliation (although the ATI-News commissioned poll did not provide any numbers for Democrats). However, neither poll details how many participants of each party were polled, and/or whether the results were weighted. In short, if the ATI-News poll included substantially more Republicans and Republican leaning people among the 7,010 voters questioned, then the results should predictably skew towards the Republican side of the issue. Similarly, if there were significant number of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents among those 1,021 national adults polled by the USA Today poll, then we should expect that poll to favor the Democratic side.
Because we aren’t informed as to the breakdown of the total by party affiliation, we really can’t say how reflective the polls are of the country as a whole. Seeing as how the polls contradict one another, it’s safe to say that neither one accomplishes that task.
It’s tempting to conclude that, since the ATI-News poll was conducted over 5 days, as opposed to one, and interviewed almost 7 times as many people as the USA Today poll, the larger sample provides a more accurate picture. Moreover, the poll showing that the public is against the stimulus bill claims a margin of error (+/- 1.2%) that is far lower than the other poll (+/- 3.5%). Yet, the confidence interval for the latter poll is 95% and none is given for the ATI-News offering. If it was only 90%, I think (but could be wrong) that makes the USA Today poll slightly more accurate. In addition, without knowing how many answers came from each party (D/R/I), it’s impossible to say just how representative the poll actually is.
By the same token, the USA Today poll appears to offer a more comprehensive look at those questioned, and the questions asked seem less likely to evoke biased answers. For example, the main USA Today poll question was this:
As you may know, Congress is considering a new economic stimulus package of at least $800 billion. Do you favor or oppose Congress passing this legislation?
Compare that question to the following:
Most Republicans oppose the currently proposed stimulus bill supported by President Obama because they say there is too much money being spent for non-stimulus items. Do you agree or disagree that too much money is being spent on items that won’t improve the economy?
The first question above is simple, straightforward, and doesn’t present any potential bias words with respect to the issue. The second, however, sets up a premise, attaches “Republican” to it, and then asks for agree or disagree. Not surprisingly, the second question elicited a much stronger response from Republicans (93% agreed) and Independents (66%) than the first (56% Independents; 28% Republicans). Perhaps then the USA Today poll, despite its small sample, is the more accurate?
Once again, we don’t know how many of each party were questioned. If it was overwhelmingly Democratic Party leaners, then the results would have to be expected. In addition, the USA Today poll questioned all adults, while the ATI-News poll only queried voters, whom one might assume are somewhat better informed. Finally, the fact that any poll of voters could find a string correlation between the words “agree” and “Republicans” suggests that the wording was not causing any undue bias (unless, of course, it was mostly Republicans interviewed, which is pretty unlikely).
In the end, I don’t know how to view these two contradictory polls in a way that sheds any light on how the populace is actually feeling about the stimulus bill. Other than the glaring fact that Democrats overwhelmingly favor its passage, while Republicans do not, there is nothing definitive to be learned. I do agree with Bruce’s assessment that Independents are the best to look for answers, however the poll numbers we have don’t seem to match up.
I guess its possible that the a majority of people are ambivalent about the stimulus bill — yeah it’ll probably be a big screw up, but we have to do something, don’t we? — which would explain some of the apparent contradiction. And maybe Obama’s sales job made the difference in the numbers (the ATI-News poll ended on the 9th, while the USA Today poll was taken on the 10th).
Whatever the reason for the contradiction, I think it’s interesting that each day we have a different poll telling us that the public loves/hates the stimulus package, yet we never see any polls testing the public’s knowledge of what’s in the bill (much less anyone in Congress). Maybe if people were better informed about the contents of the legislation we see more consistent polling. Instead of constantly reading polls asking if the Republicans are right or wrong, or if $800 billion is a good number to spend, perhaps we’d learn more about what the public really thinks if we asked them how stimulated they would be by $4.2 billion for “neighborhood stabilization activities,” or $34 million to renovate the Department of Commerce headquarters, or $88 million to help move the Public Health Service into a new building, or $55 million for Historic Preservation Fund, or $6.2 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program, or $2.4 billion for carbon-capture demonstration projects. Now there’s a poll I’d like to see.
The rent-seekers find another ally:
BILL PRESS: …And, thanks for your leadership, thanks for your good work, it’s great to have you there Senator. And, great to have you on the show. Appreciate it.
SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA): Well, anytime – just let me know Bill. I love being with you, and thanks again for all you do to get the truth and the facts out there. By the way, I read your Op-Ed in the Washington Post the other day. I ripped it out, I took it into my office and said ‘there you go, we gotta get the Fairness Doctrine back in law again.’
BILL PRESS: Alright, well good for you. You know, we gotta work on that, because they are just shutting down progressive talk from one city after another. All we want is, you know, some balance on the airwaves, that’s all. You know, we’re not going to take any of the conservative voices off the airwaves, but just make sure that there are a few progressives and liberals out there, right?
SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA): Exactly, and that’s why we need the fair—that’s why we need the Fairness Doctrine back.
BILL PRESS: We’ll work on that together. Hey, thanks, Senator! Always good to talk to you.
SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D-IA): Thanks Bill, see you, bye.
BILL PRESS: There it is – you heard it here on the Bill Press Show. Senator Tom Harkin: bring back the Fairness Doctrine!
If you can’t make it on your own merit, get the government to step in and grant you what you haven’t earned.
Good work there, Billy.
Also included at the press conference was a blogger from the left-wing Huffington Post (and more power to him, I might add):
Longtime members of the White House press corps who are accustomed to sitting in the front row of presidential press conferences were surprised to find their prime real estate occupied by Ed Schultz, a strident liberal who hosts a nationally syndicated radio program originally based in Fargo, N.D., but of late broadcasting from the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
So, since no right-wing bloggers or talk show hosts were included, does this mean we need a Fairness Doctrine for Presidential press conferences?
Clearly, President Obama was making a point of showing deference to the Left at his first prime-time press conference, which was broadcast to millions from the stately East Room of the White House on Monday.
Like such a show was actually necessary. I can’t wait for Sen. Debby Stabenow to bring the Fairness Doctrine up again in the Senate. Watching someone embarrass themselves is usually pretty entertaining.
I won’t go into the whole kit’n kaboodle about how “bi-partisan” has recently come to mean “all of one party plus 3 of the other,” but instead point to this (supposedly) journalistic effort to shore up the new definition:
Harry Reid spokesman Jim Manley on Heath Shuler’s comment that Reid and Nancy Pelosi “failed” on bipartisanship.
It’s a good one
Quite the set up, eh? It must be something awfully devastating. The way that Glenn Thrush, the Politico “reporter” detailing Shuler’s walk into the wilderness, leads into the allegedly withering comments with little more than a snarky swipe at the Congressman’s dubious NFL career (“Manley sacks Shuler”)one would think that Manley had something important to say. One would be wrong.
Before getting to Manley’s “sack” (in Thrush’s words), let’s take a look at the sole account of Shuler’s misdeed, which incidentally is from Glenn Thrush:
“In order for us to get the confidence of America, it has to be done in a bipartisan way,” Shuler said in Raleigh following an economic forum, according to the AP.
“We have to have everyone — Democrats and Republicans standing on the stage with the administration — saying, ‘We got something done that was efficient, stimulative and timely … I truly feel that’s where maybe House leadership and Senate leadership have really failed.”
Shuler, rumored to be mulling a ’10 Senate run, was one of 11 House Democrats to vote “no” on the stimulus and was already deep in Pelosi’s doghouse. Now he’ll have to build a Harry Reid wing.
Apostasy! How dare a Democrat call the incompetent leaders of the House and Senate incompetent. What is he, a Republican? It’s almost as if Shuler really bought into all that post-partisan claptrap that Obama spouted on the campaign trail. Well, Earth to Shuler. The campaign’s over. Time to get in line and do what your told like the rest of America.
But I kid.
According to Thrush, Manley had a much better takedown of Shuler’s insubordination:
Let me get this straight – this is coming from a guy who threw more than twice as many interceptions than touchdowns?
Maybe Someone should tell congressman Shuler that under the leadership of President Obama we have put together a bipartisan bill that will create or save 3 to 4 million jobs, and that We have been more than willing to work with our republican friends. We have accepted some of their ideas and will continue to do so. But not at the expense of creating jobs, investing in our future of helping the middle class. He can stand on a stage if he wants, but senate democrats are busy trying to pass legislation that will provide essential investments designed to create and save jobs.
Hmmm. I didn’t realize that Shuler’s career as an NFL quarterback was somehow relevant. Didn’t get that memo. But Thrush sure did:
In four years as an NFL QB — three with the Redskins, one with the Saints — Shuler threw 32 INTs while tallying only 15 TDs. Shuler was the third overall pick in the 1994 NFL draft and held out for a seven-year $19 million contract, but completed fewer than half his passes — with a rock-bottom 54.3 lifetime passer rating.
In 2008, ESPN rated him the 4th biggest draft bust in league history.
Ummm … OK. So, that’s it? That’s the “good one”? Cracking on Shuler’s life before becoming a Congressman? I mean, I see that Shuler’s point concerning the lack of bi-partisanship is roundly countered by Manley’s response to the effect of “Nuh’uh.” But is that really so devastating? Does that have anything to do with Shuler’s point about the failure to include Republican’s in the Mother of All Spending Bills? Judging from Thrush’s reporting, the “good one” was little more than a schoolyard taunt.
Perhaps the larger point was that Thrush simply wanted to generate some controversy so that he’d have something to write about. Take a critical remark from a supposed friendly and use it to elicit a stinging retort. That’s the world of lazy journalism and tabloid reports.
But Thrush misses the real story here in a spectacular fashion. Where Schuler takes a political risk in challenging the leaders of his own party by pointing to the actual lack of any Republicans signing onto the bill, Thrush instead focuses on the sarcastic response, completely ignoring the glaring fact that only three out of 219 have been brought on board. Manley’s retort may generate guffaws in the Democratic lunchrooms, but it’s hardly the caliber of a “good one” even for a sophomore in high school. Thrush has reduced himself to little more than a gossiping sycophant, content with relaying the latest insults delivered by the cool kids in order to ingratiate himself with the in-crowd. And in the process, he has perpetuated the myth that the stimulus bill is any way bi-partisan.
One would think there was a good story in there somewhere. That is, if one were really a journalist.