Browsing the archives for the elections category.


Politics of the Id

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elections, Obama Administration, Republican Party

I avoided political news yesterday, but this morning I bit the bullet and took a look at a few postmortems. I think Charles Pierce comes closest:

I think it was contemplating the fact that both Sam Brownback and Paul LePage both may have survived as governors that was the last straw for me tonight. Brownback has wrecked his state. Even Kansas Republicans believe that. LePage is a local embarrassment who became a national embarrassment in the final days before the election. Even Maine Republicans believe that. But Brownback will go back to wrecking his state, and LePage will go back to embarrassing his because of an attitude that Republicans, and the conservative movement that has powered the party, have cultivated carefully over the last three decades. They have engaged, quite deliberately and quite successfully, in a concerted effort to convince the country that self-government is a game for suckers. Nobody does what they say they’re going to do, so ignore the fact that our candidates have drifted so far to the right that they’ll be falling into the Thames any minute now because they’re not going to act on their fringe beliefs, and just go out there and vote your Id. Once you’ve divorced the act of voting from the conviction that voting will have any connection to what the government actually does, voters do not vote their desires, they vote their anger and their fear. And Sam Brownback goes back to wrecking his state and Paul LePage goes back to embarrassing his own.

Seriously, if we’d all taken a drink every time some election night bobblehead declared voters were tired of “politics as usual” or “fed up with Washington” we’d still be passed out. The bare-assed facts of the results would suggest that voters want more of the same. They want more wreckage, more gridlock, more drama, more stagnation. Except, they probably really don’t. They’re probably mostly really disgusted. So they vote for the candidate who personifies their disgust. As Pierce says, they are voting their Id. That’s the only explanation that makes sense.

Also, too:

Let us dispense with some conventional wisdom before it petrifies. First of all, the president’s basic unpopularity was unquestionably a factor, but not anywhere near as much of a factor as was the reluctance of the Democratic party — from the president on down — to embrace the actual successes that the administration has achieved. The economy is, in fact, improving. It is the responsibility of the president and his party that we have the paradoxical polling that indicates that the elements of the Affordable Care Act are popular, while “Obamacare” is not. (Mitch McConnell told a transparent lie that Kentucky could get rid of the ACA and still keep its very popular state exchange. He didn’t suffer at all for that.) The senatorial candidates who lost were senators who ran away from the administration.

I think President Obama’s single biggest mistake as President is that he has allowed himself to become too remote. It seems to me we don’t see as much of him as we have seen past POTUSes while in office. He’s a likeable guy, and while I don’t always agree with him he’s turned the economy around quite a bit and considerably lowered the deficit. How many Americans actually know President Obama has reduced the deficit? I’d be willing to bet real money that if you stopped people randomly in the street and asked them whether the deficit has gone up or down under Obama, 99 out of 100 would say “up.”

And, of course, a lot of the reason for this is that news media don’t inform the public of anything the public needs to know about their government. All we ever hear is the spin. News for the Id.

Second, I think it’s generally true that Democratic politicians campaigning for higher offices now probably started their political careers in the 80s or 90s or early 00. They learned that the way to succeed is to not stick their necks out for progressivism. So their don’t offer a real contrast to the Republican candidates except for seeming, well blander. No Id appeal. Combine that with apparently successful voter suppression efforts, and there’s nothing to stop the Republicans from swamping the ship of state.

Last, and I hate to break this to Tom Brokaw, and to Kasie Hunt, who talked about how the Republicans know they have to “govern,” but this election couldn’t have been less of a repudiation of the Tea Party.

That’s the other howler we heard over and over election night — the GOP establishment prevailed; the Tea Party has been leashed. Seems kind of the other way around to me.

Now the bobbleheads are putting on their best suits and telling us in their polished and resonate baritones that the Republicans will have to govern. No, they don’t, and they have no intention of doing so. In fact, The Editors of National Review have declared governing to be a trap. The reasons, boiled down, are these:

  1. Governing may require compromise which may require giving Democrats something they want.
  2. If we attempt to pass legislation Democrats will just obstruct us, doing to us what we did to them. The nerve.
  3. If we actually do something it might piss off the Tea Party.
  4. If government actually started working while a Democrat is in the White House, voters might elect another Democrat in 2016.
  5. Because of the four reasons above, instead of trying to pass legislation that would require compromises with Democrat and which might not be vetoed by a Democratic President, we should focus on what we will be able to accomplish after 2016 when we are in complete control.

Seriously, look for yourself. That’s what they’re saying.

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Derp Nation

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disasters, natural and unnatural, elections

Headline on an AP Story: “Exit poll: Voters unhappy with Obama and GOP.” So they elect more Republicans to send to Washington? Why do voters hate America?

We’re in for a nasty couple of years.

Peter Baker writes in the NY Times that President Obama is “fighting for his own relevance.” But President Obama’s relevance is the least of my concerns today. What’s really at stake is America’s relevance. If we thought U.S. politics has mostly been a clown show for the past 20 years, I fear that was just the warm up act. I know we’ve been joking for years about moving to Canada, but frankly were I a young person I would seriously be considering finding a more stable country to live in. We can’t keep this up.

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See You Later

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elections

I have a lot to do today, but consider this an open thread. I’ll plan on live-blogging election returns tonight unless it gets too depressing. Feel free to drop by if you need company.

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I’m Getting Tired of Winning by Losing

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elections

Dems are bracing themselves for losing the Senate tomorrow. Some are consoling themselves by saying this will be a wake-up call for progressives. To which I say, sweetums, if they ain’t awake already, I don’t know what’s going to do it.

Others are saying there are very tight races in states that will be key in the next Electoral College count, and given the “fundamentals” Republicans ought to be doing better, and this is a bad omen for them in 2016. In other words, a near miss is something like a win for the Dems. But a near miss is still a near miss.

Some commenters think the GOP is bound to overreach and spend the next two years making fools of themselves and proving their own ineptitude, and they won’t have Harry Reid to blame any more. Ah, but they can still blame President Obama. So sorry if I’m not in silver lining mode right now.

I’m personally hoping to see some governors going away, notably Brownback, Walker and Scott. These are very close races. Right now Brownback and Scott are considered likely to lose and Walker to win, but they’re all going to be nail biters.

But, y’know, in a sane world it shouldn’t even be close.

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Bring Back MWO

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elections, News Media, Obama Administration

Not to bum you out or anything, but it appears Iowa is about to elect a certifiable whackjob to the Senate. Molly Ball writes at The Atlantic,

Joni Ernst is an Iowan, born and bred, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, and the Republican nominee for the Senate in Iowa. She has also flirted seriously with wacky conspiracy theories, especially Agenda 21, which takes off from an innocuous, voluntary UN resolution and turns it into a sinister plot which, as the John Birch Society says, “seeks for the government to curtail your freedom to travel as you please, own a gas-powered car, live in suburbs or rural areas, and raise a family. Furthermore, it would eliminate your private property rights through eminent domain.” And she has made comments about Americans totally dependent on government that make Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” observations look almost populist by comparison.

She’s a Michele Bachmann clone, in other words, but she’ll be in the Senate where she can do a lot more damage than Bachmann could in the House. Thanks loads, Iowa.

However, we might not entirely blame Iowans. Molly Ball also writes that news stories and profiles of Ernst in mainstream media make her seem harmless, even charming.

The other day, The Washington Post carried a front-page profile of Joni Ernstby feature reporter Monica Hesse. The piece was particularly striking—a long, warm, almost reverential portrait of a woman candidate charming Iowans by doing it “the Iowa way”—no doubt, an accurate portrayal by a veteran journalist. Hesse did suggest, in passing, that Ernst has taken some controversial positions in the past, such as supporting “personhood,” but emphasized that she has walked them back. Not mentioned in the piece was Ernst’s flirtation with one of the craziest conspiracy theories, or her comments on dependency—or her suggestion that she would use the gun she packs if the government ever infringed on her rights.

For those of you who don’t remember, the MWO in the title refers to one of the first liberal blogs that made an impact, Media Whores Online. MWO was the blog everybody talked about in 2002, but then it ceased to be, sometime in 2003 I think. As I remember it, MWO was instigated in part to rage against the fawning deference and considerable slack news media had given GW Bush in the 2000 campaign, as opposed to the pubescent piling on of Al Gore, who was treated as the kid nobody wanted at his lunchroom table.

Ball writes that media is falling into its old habit of writing The Narrative. The Narrative is the story of the campaign, or the general theme in which political coverage is framed. Use of The Narrative is a natural storytelling device that makes politics news stories more interesting to the public at large, I suppose, but it also  introduces considerable bias.

I found an article from the 1990s discussing the media’s tendency to create frames that are “frequently drawn from, and reflective of, shared cultural narratives and myths and resonate with the larger social themes to which journalists tend to be acutely sensitive.” Although it goes back several years I think what it describes is still going on. See also “The Master Narrative in Journalism” by Jay Rosen.

Molly Ball writes,

The most common press narrative for elections this year is to contrast them with the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. Back then, the GOP “establishment” lost control of its nominating process, ended up with a group of extreme Senate candidates who said wacky things—Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle—and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in races that should have been slam dunks. Now the opposite has happened: The establishment has fought back and won, vanquishing the Tea Party and picking top-flight candidates who are disciplined and mainstream, dramatically unlike Akin and Angle.

It is a great narrative, a wonderful organizing theme. But any evidence that contradicts or clouds the narrative devalues it, which is perhaps why evidence to the contrary tends to be downplayed or ignored. Meantime, stories that show personal gaffes or bonehead moves by the opponents of these new, attractive mainstream candidates, fit that narrative and are highlighted.

However, by all accounts Ernst and some of the other “establishment” GOP candidates are every bit as wacky as Akin or Angle, but the public wouldn’t know this by media coverage. The “establishment” Republican candidates are being fluffed, but as Ball describes, their Democratic opponents are not. Media are, possibly unconsciously, attempting to give the Senate to Republicans.

Steve M agrees but thinks Ball is missing the bigger story on The Narrative.

It’s also that the press agrees with the GOP (and much of the public) that Barack Obama is a terrible president who needs to be punished. Journalist resent Obama because he hasn’t always been nice to them (why weren’t they allowed to watch him play golf with Tiger Woods?). He hasn’t been the guy they thought he was in 2008, the the cool, hipster bro capable of solving all of America’s problems without breaking a sweat. He let them down, so no matter what it does to the country, they’re going to put the boot in as he gets stomped. Plus, they’ve already got a crush on a whole new crop of dreamboat frat boys — Rand, Jeb, Christie, Ryan. And besides, if they’re nasty toward the Democrats, maybe right-wingers will stop denouncing them as “the liberal media.” So what if that’s never happened before? It could totally happen now, right?

It’s Bush v. Gore coverage all over again. At least it’s just a midterm.

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More on the Kansas Experiment

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elections, Republican Party

Y’know, maybe we all should have been paying more attention to Kansas. I wasn’t fully aware that Gov. Brownback had not only refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA; he actually privatized it.

Let’s start with what looks like a re-written press release from 2011.

Gov. Sam Brownback and his administration’s top social service officials today unveiled their proposal for reforming the state’s Medicaid program.

In a nutshell, it would expand managed care to all currently on Medicaid, including nursing home residents, the disabled and the mentally ill. It also would prompt reshuffling of departments at four state agencies. Officials said the plan would save the state $12.5 million in the coming fiscal year and a total of about $367 million over the next five years.

The plan was to turn the Kansas Medicaid program over to private companies, who as we know always do everything better for less money, right? Anyway, the retooled Medicaid program was named KanCare, and lots of stuff got shuffled around from this department to that one, which obviously was another cost saving. So how did it work out? This is now:

Since Brownback’s inauguration, 1,414 Kansans with disabilities have been forced off of the Medicaid physical disability (PD) waiver. In January of 2013, Brownback became the first governor to fully privatize Medicaid services, claiming he would save the state $1 billion in 5 years without having to cut services, eligibility, or provider payments. Now, under Brownback’s “KanCare,” PD waiver cases are handled by for-profit, out-of-state, Fortune 500, publicly-traded managed care services. Kansas has contracts with three managed care profiteers — United Healthcare, Sunflower State Health Plan (owned by Centene Corporation), and AmeriGroup. Amerigroup and Centene each gave $2,000, Kansas’ maximum allowed contribution, to Brownback’s re-election campaign. …

… Brownback’s claims of savings without risking patient eligibility is mere sleight of hand when taking a closer look at the numbers. When Kansas experienced a $217 million revenue shortfall in April of 2014, Brownback actually broke a promise made to the federal government as to how many people with disabilities would be served. When applying to launch the KanCare program, the Brownback administration originally promised the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services it would accommodate 7,874 people on the PD waiver, according to numbers from the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. After the first revenue shortfall, Brownback changed that number to 5900 – nearly a 25 percent cut in services amounting to $26 million.

Note that some of the services being cut could mean life or death for some people.

Death panels? Do I hear death panels?

One of the people whose services were cut complained.

Bullers, a former 15-year veteran reporter for the Kansas City Star and father of two, fought from the time of his managed care review in January of 2013 all the way to New Years Eve of 2013 for his full-time care to be restored. He used his status as a public figure in Kansas to organize awareness campaigns in both traditional and social media, and even arranged a meeting with Gov. Brownback. Bullers said he “got really pissed off” at Brownback’s response to a question he asked about not having a home care provider available if his ventilator came loose, stopping air from getting into his lungs.

“He said, ‘Just go over to your neighbor’s house and they’ll put it back on for you,’” Bullers said. “I mean, here’s the governor of the state of Kansas, telling me that, you know, your life isn’t worth it, that it’s okay if you die and leave two small children without a father.”

Death panels!

About a year ago The Pitch published a long expose on the screwup that is KanCare. The points it makes, in brief — Privatizing a service doesn’t make the cost go away; it just shift the cost around. And then in addition the private companies take profits and administrative costs, so less money goes to the patient. How in the world this scheme was going to save the state money seems to have been magical thinking. Ultimately the only way to make the program less expensive is just to pay for less stuff.

And I understand there have been issues with the private companies failing to disclose information to the state that has frustrated people responsible for eliminating fraud. See also KanCare companies lost money in first year.

And, of course, Brownback turned down million of federal dollars by refusing to expand Medicaid.

The wonder to me is that while Brownback has been trailing his Democratic opponent in polls, it hasn’t been by a huge amount. Apparently a substantial percentage of Kansas voters intend to return this loser to office.

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Sparkly Things That Distract Us From the Really Bad Stuff

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elections, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The Washington Post has a story about evidence that non-citizens sometimes manage to vote in U.S. elections. The story is a bit squishy about actual numbers, however. It seems to be a very small number, although in an extremely close local election a small number of votes matters.

Note also that the story says there’s no evidence requiring photo IDs at the polls makes any difference. People who manage to register and vote without being citizens don’t seem to have a problem getting photo IDs. Duh. Interestingly, the authors of the article suggest that non-citizens most likely to vote possibly don’t understand they aren’t legally allowed to vote. More educated non-citizens are less likely to try.

Anyway, since these non-citizens tend to vote for Democrats, the wingnuts are freaking out.  The Right increasingly has to depend on gerrymandering and voter suppression to win elections, so it’s understandable that they’d seize upon any excuse for why it’s becoming harder for them to win elections fair and square on an even playing field.

But while the Right is having an outrage spasm over what may be a relative handful of illegal votes — as I said, the article is squishy about actual numbers — millions of dollars in dark money are underwriting much of the current campaign season. Thanks to Citizens United, we have no way to ensure that voters aren’t being “educated” and influenced by ads and literature paid for by foreign governments, companies and interest groups. And those foreign interests may not have America’s interests in mind.

Nicholas Confessore writes,

More than half of the general election advertising aired by outside groups in the battle for control of the US Congress has come from organizations that disclose little or nothing about their donors, a flood of secret money that is now at the center of a debate over the line between free speech and corruption.

The advertising, which has overwhelmingly benefited Republican candidates, is largely paid for by nonprofit groups and trade associations, some of which are established with the purpose of shielding the wealthy individuals and corporations that contribute. More money is being spent on advertising by the secret donors than by super PACs, the explicitly political committees whose fortunes have dominated attention with the rise of big money in politics.

Andy Kroll wrote back in 2012,

… for the secretive nonprofit groups pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 elections, the rules are different. These outfits, organized under the 501(c) section of the US tax code, can take money from foreign citizens, foreign labor unions, and foreign corporations, and they don’t have to tell voters about it because they don’t publicly disclose their donors. What’s more, with a savvy attorney and a clean paper trail, a foreign donor could pump millions into a nonprofit without even the nonprofit knowing the money’s true origin.

We don’t know that foreign interests are trying to sway the election, but we don’t know that they aren’t. We have no way to know. Although foreign money is supposed to stay out of our elections, thanks to Citizens United it wouldn’t be impossible for foreign elements indifferent or even hostile to American interests to influence how Americans vote. And if such interests haven’t tried it yet, they’ll get around to it eventually.

But you can’t get most wingnuts to understand why that’s a problem. Our righties are simple critters, easily distracted by the little stuff so they don’t notice the big stuff.

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The Wave That Is Not Waving

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elections

The GOP have their hopes pinned on a “wave” election in November, but right now several of the “statistical models” being use to predict the Senate elections are moving in the direction of Democrats. Nate Silver says the Dems have drawn almost even. The Washington Post’s prognosticators  have moved from predicting a huge Republican win to giving Dems a 51 percent edge. The New York Times now says it’s a tossup, although their model has shifted around quite a bit. Sam Wang still says 80 percent Dems.

What seems to be happening with at least some models is that as we move closer to the election the models are giving less weight to history and more to actual polls. We have many conditions in place that history says point to a Republican wave. But in real world land, it appears the wave isn’t waving.

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Nate Silver vs. Sam Wang

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elections, Obama Administration

In 2012, as I remember, Silver and Wang’s election forecasts remained close to each other. But right now they are considerably apart. Silver says Republicans have a 63.8 percent chance of winning a majority. Wu says Dems have a 79 percent chance of keeping the Senate.

Where do they differ? Silver thinks Pat Roberts of Kansas will keep his Senate seat; Wu does not. The pair of prognosticators also split over North Carolina. They must disagree on some other races but I cannot tell which ones.

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When Facts Don’t Matter

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elections

File this under “Lies Speak Louder Than Facts.” A professor at Loyola University has been looking at elections going back to 2000 for actual incidents of the sort of voter fraud that would have been stopped by voter ID laws.

So far, he says, out of more than a billion ballots he has found all of 31 examples.

Arguments for voter ID laws use misdirection, the professor says, by citing examples of voter fraud that would not have been stopped by voter ID laws.

Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you’ll actually hear about. Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren’t designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam. …

…Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.

But of course, these facts won’t make a damn bit of difference in our ongoing political discourse, in which all elections won by Democrats are assumed to be illegitimate by the Right. And it especially won’t matter because the people pushing voter ID laws don’t give a hoo-haw about clean and fair elections. They just want to be sure that the majority of people who are able to vote are white and Right.

See also Proof That Voter Impersonation Almost Never Happens and Missing the Point at the Times.

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