Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Paul Ryan vs Polling - Painting outside the lines

Picking up on Ace's "DOOM!" meme, if we're to believe the polling about Paul Ryan's Medicare plan, the GOP is doomed.  And not just the GOP, but the nation as well, because ignoring the issue is going to put us in a Greek-like situation in relatively short order.  Problem being that we're not Greece, we're the US of A, and there will be a lot more collateral damage.

But Ryan isn't backing down, ignoring the hand-wringing pollsters.

Republicans need to learn to paint outside the proverbial lines.

Ryan on Meet the Press (emphasis added):
REP. RYAN:  First of all, if people are describing this accurately in polls, it's far more popular than the poll you've referenced.  Second of all, leaders are elected to lead.  I don't consult polls to tell me what my principles are or what our policies should be.  Leaders change the polls.  And we are leading in the House.  We are not seeing this kind of leadership from the president of the United States.  The Senate Democrats haven't even proposed or passed a budget for 753 days, and we have a budget crisis.  So yes, we are going to lead, and we are going to try to move these polls and change these polls because that's what the country wants.

I, I just did 19 town hall meetings, David, in, in the district that I work for that went for Obama, Dukakis, Clinton and Gore.  People are hungry for solutions, and I really fundamentally believe that the people are way ahead of the political class.  And I think they're going to reward the leader who steps up to the plate and actually fixes these problems, no matter how much demagoguery, no matter how much distortion, no matter how much political parties try to scare seniors in the next election.  I just don't think they're going to buy it this year, and they're hungry for leaders to fix this problem before it gets out of our control.

There's a maxim among political consultants -- "If you're explaining, you're losing."  And there is some truth to that, like if you're trying to explain why you voted for something before voting against it, you're in trouble.  Or if you're trying to explain that, yes, the candidate does read a lot of news sources despite failing to name a single one in an interview, you're losing.  If you're explaining that you cheated on your wife because of how much you love your country, you're losing.

But on certain issues, particularly existential issues, you need to do some explaining.  You need to lead.  You need to call the other side out for lying like Jon Lovitz on his old Saturday Night Live sketches.  Paul Ryan has done that, and wins in his not-overly-conservative district because he consistently takes the time to explain his positions and people trust him.

Unlike some "damn the torpedoes" conservatives, I am generally appreciative of the wisdom obtained from good polling. But there are limitations to the utility of polls.  Polls are clumsy at detecting social tipping points, and poor at anticipating results involving exogenous circumstance -- exogenous circumstances like an imminent sovereign debt crisis and a politician actually willing to lead on that issue.  I have personally witnessed polling in a state-wide race where the politician moved significant numbers based on a screwball issue no pollster or consultant would have ever dreamed of.  It can be done.  "Leaders change the polls."

But the limitation is not just with polling and pollsters, but with the entire professional partisan political consulting universe.  Consultants only know how to paint inside the lines, caring more about the quick 50-percent-plus-one win and caring less about an electoral future two years distant. Draw a quick contrast grid, emphasize your candidate's positives, slam your opponent's negatives, make a bunch of phone calls, and hang on for dear life.  It's a process that works enough of the time to be useful, but it isn't a strategy for changing a lot of hearts and minds.

The special election in NY-26 illustrates this ineptitude.  Corwin has backed off her support of the Ryan plan, no doubt following the advice of pollsters and other consultants.  In doing so, she has forfeited credibility among both conservative Tea Partiers and independent swing voters alike.  She is somehow simultaneously an ideological squish and a mean, grandma-killing ghoul.  The Republican party apparatus, having lost the last two Congressional special elections in upstate New York, knows nothing other than its previous recipe for failure -- calling in (well-meaning) out-of-state shock troops and barraging the electorate with phone calls and advertisements well past the point of saturation.

I know -- "What about Jack Davis?"  First of all, a lot of Davis voters are breaking Democrat.  Second, to the extent that Republicans "protest" with a Davis vote, it reflects poorly upon the ability of the NYGOP and the Corwin campaign to hold their own.  I despise him as much as the next guy, but don't go blaming all of this mess on Davis.

Imagine if Corwin had explained (gulp!) that the Democratic plan is to either (1) ignore the problem and blow up the system, or (2) force rationing from DC central planners?  Given those two choices, isn't it preferable that oldsters have a hand in determining how best to manage their own health care budgets?  If society wants to spend less money on health care, who should make those decisions, bureaucrats or individuals with their doctors?

Instead, Corwin painted inside the lines.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Newt Officially Worse than Romney on Health Care

There are two categorical objections to a federal individual mandate for health insurance.  The first is that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to force an individual to purchase a product -- any product.  The second is the libertarian objection that it is wrong in any circumstance, whether constitutional or not, to impose such a mandate.  Romney is right on the first question, and wrong on the second.  Newt seems to be wrong on both.

Romney's position that MassCare was just fine, while Obamacare is unconstitutional is a perfectly coherent view.  Just because it is unconstitutional for the federal government to do something does not automatically make it unconstitutional for a state government to do the same.  While I disagree with Romney's defense of the mandate in MassCare as a matter of policy, it does not automatically follow that his legal reasoning is unsound.

Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, seems to defend some variation on the individual mandate at the federal level. 

Newt on Meet the Press today:
(Videotape, October 3, 1993)
REP. GINGRICH:  I am for people, individuals--exactly like automobile insurance--individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance.  And I am prepared to vote for a voucher system which will give individuals, on a sliding scale, a government subsidy so we insure that everyone as individuals have health insurance.
(End videotape)
MR. GREGORY:  What you advocate there is precisely what President Obama did with his healthcare legislation, is it not?
REP. GINGRICH:  No, it's not precisely what he did.  In, in the first place, Obama basically is trying to replace the entire insurance system, creating state exchanges, building a Washington-based model, creating a federal system. I believe all of us--and this is going to be a big debate--I believe all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care.  I think the idea that...
MR. GREGORY:  You agree with Mitt Romney on this point.
REP. GINGRICH:  Well, I agree that all of us have a responsibility to pay--help pay for health care.  And, and I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy.  I've said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond...
MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.
REP. GINGRICH:  ...or in some way you indicate you're going to be held accountable.
MR. GREGORY:  But that is the individual mandate, is it not?
REP. GINGRICH:  It's a variation on it.
REP. GINGRICH:  But it's a system...
MR. GREGORY:  And so you won't use that issue against Mitt Romney.
REP. GINGRICH:  No.  But it's a system which allows people to have a range of choices which are designed by the economy.  But I think setting the precedent--you know, there are an amazing number of people who think that they ought to be given health care.  And, and so a large number of the uninsured earn $75,000 or more a year, don't buy any health insurance because they want to buy a second house or a better car or go on vacation.  And then you and I and everybody else ends up picking up for them.  I don't think having a free rider system in health is any more appropriate than having a free rider system in any other part of our society.

While there are certainly ways that a system that included a mandate could be significantly less onerous than Obamacare, there is no way to square the circle on the constitutionality of a mandate.  Either a mandate is constitutional, or it is not.  Newt claims that Obamacare is unconstitutional, yet still supports a mandate of sorts.  He cannot have it both ways.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Quote of the Day: Contented Cows

A Depression-era anecdote that seems relevant in the current environment...

From Bob Dole's humor compilation book, Great Political Wit:

In the depths of the Great Depression, Hoover and Coolidge found themselves together in Marion, Ohio, dedicating the memorial to Warren G. Harding.  Hoover outlined all the steps he was taking to end the nation's economic spiral, making clear his resentment over what he regarded as unfair criticism from the public.

"You can't expect to see calves running in the field the day after you put the bull to the cows," said Coolidge.

"No," replied Hoover, "but I would expect to see contented cows."

Of course, to the extent that the Obama administration's policies are just as ineffective and counterproductive as Hoover's, there's little wonder the cows aren't contented.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

So we're back to dithering now?

I say we should release the bin Laden photo(s), but I understand the argument against it.  What's really confusing and irritating is the high level of public anguish displayed by the Obama administration.  You might even say Obama is "dithering" about the decision.

All this "will they or won't they release it" stuff is idiotic.  I'm not sure if I was hearing the TV correctly, but folks on a certain "forward leaning" channel seemed to suggest that the public anguish over this issue was being done with the explicit purpose of showing how seriously the administration was taking the decision.

But in the grand scheme of things, the photo-release decision is not especially consequential. If they don't release the photo, some whacky folks might not believe OBL is really dead -- but then again those are the mostly same folks who wouldn't believe it even if they did see a photo.  On the other hand, some whacky folks might be offended or incited by the photo -- but those people are always finding reasons to be offended or incited regardless of what we do.

I've seen people speculate that the OBL take-down sealed Obama's 2012 re-election victory.  I maintained that the OBL success wouldn't really affect Obama's long-term political trajectory.  Little did I know that the forward-momentum established by the administration wouldn't survive the actual OBL story.

Stop dithering, Obama.