Help Us Make Conservatives Even More Miserable

The progressive movement is being torn from within. It’s close to a civil war. The fault line runs straight through the heart of the Democratic coalition, but not through Mother Jones. We stand on one side of the chasm, while many of our friends have set up shop on the other. And quite a few others think they can stand with one foot on—

Oh wait. That's actually Jonah Goldberg writing an epitaph for the conservative movement and begging for money for National Review. I tried to rework it for MoJo's spring fundraising drive, but it just doesn't fit. There's no liberal equivalent of Donald Trump. Also: the prose is a little too purple for my taste.

So how about this: If you donate some money to us, we'll use it to try and make Jonah even more miserable. That's a movement I can get behind! And we accept either PayPal or credit cards.

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Here is President Obama, in the course of defending his economic performance:

If we can’t puncture some of the mythology around austerity, politics or tax cuts or the mythology that’s been built up around the Reagan revolution, where somehow people genuinely think that he slashed government and slashed the deficit and that the recovery was because of all these massive tax cuts, as opposed to a shift in interest-rate policy — if we can’t describe that effectively, then we’re doomed to keep on making more and more mistakes.

This train has long since left the station, and Republicans are dead set on making sure it never returns. But that doesn't mean Obama is wrong. He's not. Even conservative James Pethokoukis acknowledges this:

A recent Brookings literature review noted that Martin Feldstein and Doug Elmendorf found in a 1989 analysis “that the 1981 tax cuts had virtually no net impact on economic growth.” They find that the strength of the recovery over the 1980s could be ascribed to monetary policy. In particular, they find no evidence that the tax cuts in 1981 stimulated labor supply.

Feldstein was Reagan's chairman of the CEA, so he's hardly some liberal shill trying to take down Reagan's legacy. As I noted a few years ago, there were five main drivers of the 80s boom. In order of importance, they were:

  1. Paul Volcker easing up on interest rates/monetary aggregates in 1982
  2. The steep drop in oil prices after 1981
  3. Reagan's devaluation of the dollar
  4. Reagan's deficit spending
  5. Reagan's tax cuts

Conservatives will never admit any of this, but there's no reason the rest of us have to go along with their fairy tale about Reaganomics. Taxes matter, but they simply don't matter nearly as much as they claim, and it's long past time for the mainstream press to acknowledge all this. It's hardly controversial anywhere outside the Fox News bubble.

Economic Growth Slows to 0.5% in First Quarter

The economy grew at a sluggish 0.5 percent annual rate in the first quarter. The main culprits for the poor performance were downturns in durable goods, nonresidential construction, and defense spending. This is the third year in a row in which growth has been poor in the first quarter, which means that one-off excuses about snowstorms and so forth don't really hold water anymore. But it might be a statistical artifact. Jared Bernstein says "there’s some concern with the seasonal adjusters, which some argue are biasing Q1 down and Q2 up." I guess we'll have to wait until Q2 to find out.

Even if that's true, however, growth is still fairly listless, averaging around 2 percent per year. It's yet another indication that the global economy remains fragile and the Fed should think twice before raising rates any more than they've already done.

Even among conservative voters, Obamacare's protection of people with pre-existing conditions has always been popular. In a recent Kaiser poll, it garnered 74 percent approval from Democrats, 70 percent approval from independents, and 69 percent approval from Republicans.

Technically, this protection is guaranteed by two different provisions of Obamacare: guaranteed issue, which means that insurance companies have to accept anyone who applies for coverage, and community rating, which means they have to charge everyone the same price. But popular or not, Paul Ryan wants nothing to do with it:

In election-year remarks that could shed light on an expected Republican healthcare alternative, Ryan said existing federal policy that prevents insurers from charging sick people higher rates for health coverage has raised costs for healthy consumers while undermining choice and competition.

...."Less than 10 percent of people under 65 are what we call people with pre-existing conditions, who are really kind of uninsurable," Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, told a student audience at Georgetown University. "Let's fund risk pools at the state level to subsidize their coverage, so that they can get affordable coverage," he said. "You dramatically lower the price for everybody else. You make health insurance so much more affordable, so much more competitive and open up competition."

It's true that the cost of covering sick people raises the price of insurance for healthy people. That's how insurance works. But there's no magic here. It costs the same to treat sick people whether you do it through Obamacare or through a high-risk pool—and it doesn't matter whether you fund it via taxes for Obamacare or taxes for something else. However, there are some differences:

  • Handling everyone through a single system is more efficient and more convenient.
  • High-risk pools have a lousy history. They just don't work.
  • Implementing them at the state level guarantees a race to the bottom, since no state wants to attract lots of sick people into its program.
  • Ryan's promise to fund high-risk pools is empty. He will never support the taxes it would take to do it properly, and he knows it.

This is just more hand waving. Everyone with even a passing knowledge of the health care business knows that high-risk pools are a disaster, but Republicans like Ryan keep pitching them anyway as some kind of bold, new, free-market alternative to Obamacare. They aren't. They've been around forever and everyone knows they don't work.

From former House speaker John Boehner, asked what he thinks of Ted Cruz:

I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.

The interesting thing about this is that it's not very interesting. It's just par for the course for Cruz.

What are the big fault lines within the Democratic and Republican parties? According to a recent Pew report, Democrats have a class gap: Democratic elites are far more liberal than less educated members of the party. But there's not much of a generation gap: old and young voters are pretty similar ideologically.

Among Republicans, it's just the opposite. They have a huge generation gap, with older voters skewing much more conservative than younger voters. But there's no class gap: their elites are in pretty close sync with the party base. The raw data is here, and the chart below shows the magnitude of the difference:

This is interesting, since the most talked-about aspect of the Democratic primary was the astonishingly strong preference of young voters for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. But why did they prefer Bernie? The obvious answer is that they're more liberal than older Democrats and therefore preferred his more radical vision—but the Pew data says that's not the case.

So what is the answer? The age gap could still explain a bit of it, since young Democrats are a little more liberal than older Democrats. And the class gap could also explain a bit of it, since Bernie voters tend to be both young and well educated. But even put together, this doesn't seem like enough.

Obviously there was something about Bernie that generated huge enthusiasm among younger voters. But if it wasn't ideology, what was it?

Weekly Flint Water Report: April 16-22

Here is this week's Flint water report. As usual, I've eliminated outlier readings above 2,000 parts per billion, since there are very few of them and they can affect the averages in misleading ways. During the week, DEQ took 302 samples. The average for the past week was 15.03.

The Media Weighs In On Carly Fiorina

The reviews are in on Ted Cruz's choice of Carly Fiorina as his running mate. Can you spot the consensus opinion?

There we were, as a nation, watching Sen. Ted Cruz attempt to gin up some momentum by announcing Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential running mate, Wednesday afternoon. I was a bit bored. Then this happened, and oh, how I screamed with my mouth and with my keyboard:

Here is the full video for your enjoyment—and for any future horror show reel you want to produce:

We tried to warn him.

Ted Cruz may be mathematically eliminated from clinching the Republican presidential nomination before the convention, but that didn't stop the Texas senator from announcing a running mate on Wednesday: Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina, who dropped out of the Republican presidential race after the New Hampshire primary and previously lost a US Senate race in California, is a notable pick not just because she is a woman, or because she previously criticized Cruz for saying "whatever he needs to say to get elected," but because of her past experience—she would be the first vice president in 76 years to have ascended to the post without previously holding elected office.

The last time a major party picked a vice presidential nominee without legislative or gubernatorial experience was in 1972, when Democrat George McGovern chose Sargent Shriver, who had previously run the Peace Corps and worked on President Lyndon Johnson's "war on poverty." But you have to put an asterisk next to that, since Shriver was chosen only after McGovern's original running mate, Sen. Thomas Eagleton, resigned amid reports about his previous mental health treatments. Four years earlier, Alabama Gov. George Wallace selected as his running mate Air Force General Curtis LeMay, but Wallace, a longtime Democrat, had chosen to run (and lose) under the American Independent Party.

To find a running mate with no experience in elected office who actually won, you have to go back to 1940, when Franklin D. Roosevelt named Agriculture Secretary Henry Wallace as his second vice president, following eight years of John Nance Garner. Prior to that, Calvin Coolidge tapped Charles Dawes, President Warren Harding's budget director, to be on his victorious ticket in 1924. Dawes had lost a Senate race 23 years earlier and written a hit song in the interim, before being dragged into the executive branch. Dawes himself seemed to recognize his lack of qualifications. "I don't know anything about politics," he said after being selected as Coolidge's running mate. "I thought I knew something about politics once. I was taken up on the top of a 20-story building and showed the promised land—and then I was kicked off."

But okay, both of those vice presidents had some experience in the executive branch. The last true outsider to win was in the 19th century. Prior to becoming James A. Garfield's running mate in 1880, Chester A. Arthur had no political experience other than stints as port collector of New York City and chairman of the state Republican Party. In a nice bit of symmetry with Cruz's campaign, Arthur's future presidential campaign was marred by allegations that he was ineligible because he was born in Canada.