While we pass the time waiting for tonight's debate, I'm going to talk through something else. Yesterday I wrote about one of the emails in the Podesta hack, and basically dismissed it. It was a review of the most potentially damaging statements from Hillary Clinton's paid speeches, and none of them struck me as damaging at all. Since then, several people I respect have suggested that they really are problematic. So let's go through the ones that are getting the most attention. There are eight.

1. Public and private positions: "I mean, politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position."

I get how this can be spun to make it look like Clinton is advocating that politicians should lie publicly. But seriously? This is just Negotiation 101. You always have a public position—We will never compromise!—and a private one—What will it take for you guys to make a deal? Anyone over the age of five knows this is how all negotiation everywhere works. The faux outrage over this doesn't impress me.

2. Oversimplification: "That was one of the reasons that I started traveling in February of ’09, so people could, you know, literally yell at me for the United States and our banking system causing this everywhere. Now, that’s an oversimplification we know, but it was the conventional wisdom. And I think that there’s a lot that could have been avoided in terms of both misunderstanding and really politicizing what happened with greater transparency, with greater openness on all sides."

First, Clinton is acknowledging that it's an oversimplification to say that the US banking system was solely responsible for the 2008 crash. Surely everyone understands now that this is true? European banks were heavily leveraged too, and were just as eager as US banks to lend too much money with too little oversight. They were also eager to play the derivatives game. What's more, there was more to the housing bubble than just the banks. Clinton's statement here seems unexceptional to me.

Second, she suggests that more transparency from the banks might have prevented "politicizing" the crisis. This probably merits a closer look than I originally gave it. Is she referring to Republican opposition to TARP? That would be reasonable. Or is she talking about taking a tough line against bank executives? That would be harder to excuse. Clinton would need to explain what she meant before we can really make any judgment about this.

3. Bankers know the banking system best: "Today, there’s more that can and should be done that really has to come from the industry itself." AND: "There’s nothing magic about regulations, too much is bad, too little is bad. How do you get to the golden key, how do we figure out what works? And the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry."

This doesn't sound great, I admit. On the other hand, Clinton is talking to bankers. So naturally she's talking about the role bankers can play in reforming financial regulation. Her wording may not thrill me, but it's not as if she's suggesting that the finance industry should be allowed to regulate itself. It's hard to get too worked up about this.

4. Principled bankers: "When I was a Senator from New York, I represented and worked with so many talented principled people who made their living in finance. But even thought I represented them and did all I could to make sure they continued to prosper, I called for closing the carried interest loophole and addressing skyrocketing CEO pay. I also was calling in ’06, ’07 for doing something about the mortgage crisis, etc."

This is a nothingburger. There are plenty of principled people in the finance industry, and there's nothing wrong with saying so. And anyway, the gist of this excerpt is that even though she represented New York in the Senate, Clinton still called for regulating the finance industry because it was the right thing to do. This strikes me as entirely positive.

5. Bias against successful people: "But, you know, part of the problem with the political situation, too, is that there is such a bias against people who have led successful and/or complicated lives. You know, the divestment of assets, the stripping of all kinds of positions, the sale of stocks. It just becomes very onerous and unnecessary."

This is actually a pretty common criticism of public service these days: we lose a lot of good people because we make it too onerous to serve. The disclosure forms are hundreds of pages long. The divestment rules are thorny. The Senate hearings are nasty and partisan. It takes months or more to get through the whole thing. Plenty of people agree that things have gotten out of hand on this front.

6. Simpson-Bowles: "But Simpson-Bowles — and I know you heard from Erskine earlier today — put forth the right framework. Namely, we have to restrain spending, we have to have adequate revenues, and we have to incentivize growth."

A few people have tried to play this as an attack on Social Security, since the Simpson-Bowles plan included cuts to Social Security. This is ridiculous. Clinton is obviously taking about generalities: tackling the federal deficit by cutting spending and raising more revenue.

7. Open borders: "My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere."

I really have no idea what this is about, but I assume Clinton is talking about some possible far future scenario, and pandering a bit to her Brazilian audience. She's never even remotely taken any actions that would push us toward a "hemispheric common market." Meh.

8. Protectionism: "I think we have to have a concerted plan to increase trade....Governments can either make it easy or make it hard and we have to resist, protectionism, other kinds of barriers to market access and to trade."

I guess the Bernie supporters will take this as some kind of huge betrayal, but I don't. Clinton is opposed to protectionism. I've never thought otherwise, and I don't think anyone else has either.

Out of all this, I have two questions. What did Clinton mean by "politicizing" the financial crisis? And what did she mean when she kinda sorta implied that we should listen more to bankers because they know the banking system the best?

That's it. In other news, we learned that Clinton is pretty much the same person in private that she is in public. She's moderate, pragmatic, and willing to work across the aisle. She dislikes protectionism and thinks we should try to cut the budget deficit in a balanced way. She doesn't demonize Wall Street.

You may or may not like this, but it's who Hillary Clinton has been forever. There are no surprises here. So while I may have skipped past a couple of small things too quickly on my first read, my overall opinion remains the same: There's just nothing here that's plausibly damaging, even when it's run through the Donald Trump alternate universe pie hole. I guess we'll find out tonight if I'm right.

POSTSCRIPT: It's also worth noting that this is apparently the worst, most banker-sympathetic stuff they could find out of thousands of pages of speeches to bankers. If anything, this suggests that Clinton hasn't privately said much of anything that's especially friendly to Wall Street.

Of course I'll be liveblogging tonight's debate. How often do you get to watch a presidential candidate collapse in a heap on national television? It might happen! Or Trump might declare that we're about to be invaded by Martians and only he can save us. Who knows? Either way, hopefully tonight is the night that a lot of people wake up, rub the sleep out of their eyes, and finally say "Donald Trump? The reality TV clown? How did he make it this far? Was there something in the water or what?"

Anyway, the debate starts at 9 pm Eastern time and goes for 90 minutes without a break. I'll start up a few minutes before that. See you there.

Obviously Pussygate has to be addressed at tomorrow's debate. In theory, all the questions will come from the audience, but I'm assuming the moderators will open things up with a question or two of their own. My recollection—possibly mistaken—is that this is how past town-hall style debates have worked.

I hope so, anyway, because that will give them a chance to ask Trump the right question. They need to ask not about Donald Trump's lewd comments, but about his actual behavior. On the tape, Trump says "You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful ― I just start kissing them....And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything."

Forget the "locker room bantering." The question for Trump needs to be: How many times has this happened? How many times have you grabbed women "by the pussy"?

It's been obvious for a long time that the Republican Party has a big demographic problem: their core base is white voters, but the country is getting less and less white every year. Republicans are well aware of this, and have worked assiduously to overcome this weakness. In the early 90s, they zealously pursued pack-and-crack gerrymandering to create more majority-white congressional districts. A few years later Fox News came along, dedicated to nurturing the GOP's white base. George Bush and Karl Rove squeezed the last few drops out of the white evangelical community. Finally, in the late aughts, Republican legislatures passed a raft of voter ID laws in a last ditch attempt to suppress the non-white vote by a point or two.

But that was it. What more could they possibly do? The answer, to my surprise, was to nominate a man who was a straight-up bigot, and then run a campaign that was only a hair's breadth from being openly white nationalist. But it didn't work. Even in a Republican year against a flawed opponent, Donald Trump has lost as much as he's gained from his bald-faced appeal to whites. And now that his defeat is all but certain, the question hanging over the GOP is simple: what's next?

It's now plain—beyond any doubt—that Republicans can no longer win the presidency with only their white base. But after Hurricane Donald's performance this year, they're even further in the hole with minorities than ever. And there's really no sense that their white base is ready to accept a more minority-friendly party anyway. Past attempts at "post-mortems" and "autopsies" that recommended even bare minimum amounts of outreach to women and minorities were quickly and thoroughly crushed.

So now what?

I'm kind of curious: how do you think the whole "grab 'em by the pussy" affair would have played out if we'd had a transcript but no tape? The same? Or would it have dropped quickly out of sight without some audio and video to play constantly on cable news? I'd guess the latter. The power of sound and images has always been strong, but in the past couple of decades it's become simply immense. "Photo or it didn't happen" is a bit of a Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat joke, but it's not really much of a joke anymore.

Last month, after Donald Trump Jr. decided to compare refugees to a bowl of Skittles, the Mars Corporation felt obligated to tweet a response. So naturally, now that Tic Tacs are on a 24/7 cable loop as Donald Trump's favored breath mint before assaulting women, they too feel the need to put out a statement:

Which colorful pellet-shaped food item will be next?

From a purely political perspective, should Democrats root for Trump to drop out of the race? On the one hand, it would throw the Republican Party into total chaos. That has to be good for Team D. On the other hand, it would allow Republicans to start fresh with a new candidate who wasn't a huge albatross around their necks. On the third hand, it would demoralize Trump's core supporters, who might stay home entirely and leave the field wide open for downballot Democrats to win a landslide victory. On the fourth hand, Hillary Clinton is none too popular, and a Trumpless GOP might very well re-attract a lot of moderate voters who have steadily defected thanks to Khan-Curiel-Machado-$916-Million-gate


OK, let's get back to the latest evidence that Donald Trump is a loutish jackass. In the Pussygate tape, Trump basically admits that he routinely gropes and harasses women because he's a big star and can do whatever he wants. Ever since the tape went public, Republicans have been fleeing en masse. Without exception, they've either issued statements unequivocally condemning him or else shut off their phones and gone into hiding. Hell, a couple of insider reports indicate that even Mike Pence is so disgusted and angry that he'd probably quit the ticket given half a chance.

In a way, this is weird. Surely no one ever doubted for a second that Trump talks like this in private? I mean, he comes damn close to talking like this in public. And yet everyone is acting shocked now that there's actual tape. Funny how life works, isn't it?

Anyway, here are two random points about this whole affair:

  • This sure goes to show the importance of vetting, doesn't it? Everyone keeps wondering if some big scandal will finally bring down Hillary Clinton, but the odds are way against it. She's probably been vetted more than any human being on earth over the past 25 years. There's just no chance that there are any big secrets left to discover. Trump, on the other hand, is an oppo researcher's dream.
  • The entire Republican Party has been balancing on a cusp lately, trying to decide if they should stick with Trump or dump him like a piece of rotting fish. If he has a chance of winning, they'll stick. Lately, though, that's looked pretty unlikely, and all the downticket Republicans are starting to wonder if they should jump ship and save their own jobs. This episode might start a stampede. It's almost sure to start one if Trump implodes again in the debate on Sunday. If that happens, Trump is toast.

I interrupt today's news about Donald Trump being a vulgar pig to bring you even bigger news: Hillary Clinton is doomed. "GAME OVER?" asks the shocked headline at Twitchy. "Did the WikiLeaks alleged hack of John Podesta’s emails just cost Hillary Clinton the election?"

Yawn. More email stuff. And this time it's not even Clinton's email. It's email from John Podesta, Hillary's campaign chairman and longtime Clinton/Obama major domo. Actually, wait: it's not email from John Podesta. It's from Tony Carrk, but got hacked from Podesta's account because Carrk sent it to a bunch of Clinton campaign folks. Here's what it says:

Attached are the flags from HRC’s paid speeches we have from HWA. I put some highlights below. There is a lot of policy positions that we should give an extra scrub with Policy.

An "extra scrub with Policy"? WTF does that mean? I guess it doesn't matter. The important thing is that apparently this poor Carrk fellow was tasked with reading through all of Hillary Clinton's paid speeches to see if she had said anything that might be embarrassing if it got out. Carrk found about a dozen things, and attached headlines representing the worst possible spin he could think of. Here's a typical entry:

....“I do think there is a growing sense of anxiety and even anger in the country over the feeling that the game is rigged. And I never had that feeling when I was growing up. Never....We had good public schools. We had accessible health care. We had our little, you know, one-family house that, you know, he saved up his money, didn’t believe in mortgages. So I lived that. And now, obviously, I’m kind of far removed because the life I’ve lived and the economic, you know, fortunes that my husband and I now enjoy, but I haven’t forgotten it.” [Hillary Clinton Remarks at Goldman-Black Rock, 2/4/14]

I'll give Carrk credit: he's pretty creative at coming up with negative spin. Needless to say, though, there's nothing here—or in any of the other excerpts—that would even remotely reflect badly on Clinton. Feel free to click the link and read the whole email. I promise this excerpt is pretty representative. In fact, if this is the worst they could come up with, I'm a little puzzled about why the campaign didn't just release the damn speeches and be done with it.

Was there anything else in this email dump? Here's Politico:

Beyond those excerpts, the emails affirm the campaign’s reputation for extreme caution, with an eagerness to proactively influence news coverage. Whether it’s plotting the candidates’ response to an early attack on influence peddling at the Clinton Foundation or writing jokes for an Iowa dinner speech, ad hoc committees — often incorporating advice from Bill Clinton — are shown agonizing over wording and tone. Under fire, they’re determined “not to look beleaguered,” as one aide put it.

Riveting, isn't it? Behind the scenes, it turns out, Hillary Clinton is running a—what's the word I'm looking for? Oh yes: boring. She's running a pretty boring campaign that basically does all the usual boring campaign stuff.

But of course, this email dump is only the first 2,000 emails, and WikiLeaks promises there are 48,000 more to come. I'm sure the smoking gun is in there somewhere. Probably right alongside the infamous whitey tape that no one ever seems to have tracked down.

The withdrawal of Aetna from many of its Obamacare markets has unleashed a torrent of commentary about how Obamacare is now well and truly doomed. From Republicans, this is the usual hot air. From Democrats, it's a little different. It's also way overblown, and I'm happy to see Jonathan Chait make the case for Obamacare's basic solvency here. Go read it.

For myself, I just want to focus on one of Chait's points: The reason Aetna withdrew is that they weren't making money. The reason they weren't making money is because their premiums were too low. The reason their premiums were too low is because they were competing with other insurers for business. In other words, competing on a level playing field, they couldn't succeed. That's life in a free market.

So what happened? For some reason, insurers underpriced their policies substantially when Obamacare was introduced. It's possible that their actuaries all badly miscalculated the makeup of the market. Or it's possible that they were underpricing deliberately as a way of building market share. Or maybe a combination of both.

My own guess is that the underpricing was mostly deliberate. After all, even the Congressional Budget Office had a pretty good idea of what average premiums ought to be, and it's hard to believe that a bunch of experienced insurance companies couldn't do the same math as the CBO. Either way, though, this is, once again, life in a free market. Some vendors make mistakes and fail. Some can't compete and fail. Some just decide to focus on other markets.

The flip side of this is that free markets usually stabilize eventually. In the case of Obamacare, this means premiums have to go up. Sorry. However, as that happens, new insurers are likely to enter. Eventually supply will more or less equal demand, and the market will find an equilibrium. This is why I'm much less panicked over Obamacare's immediate problems than most people.

Obamacare is an artificial market in many ways, but that's true of health care in general, which is highly regulated and has well-known eccentricities. Nonetheless, Obamacare is a market, and right now it's operating like one. Prices are looking for an equilibrium, consumers are deciding whether to participate, and vendors are jockeying for position. That's not painless, but then, nobody ever said capitalism was painless.

Of course, if you do want painless, we know how to do that too: true national health care funded through taxes. Dozens of countries do this, and it works fine.

Short of that, we could still reduce the pain considerably. Is Obamacare too expensive for many people? Yes. That could be fixed by increasing subsidies. Are insurers losing money in the early years? Yes. That could be largely fixed by funding the risk corridors. Are the poor still underserved? Yes. That could be addressed by adopting the Medicaid expansion in all states. Are there plenty of details here and there that ought to be cleaned up? Yes. That could be fixed via legislation.

If Republicans actually cared about providing health care to people, all of this would be trivial. But they don't. To the extent that Obamacare has problems, this is why. There's nothing inherent in the design that prevents it from operating successfully. In fact, as the chart on the right shows, even now, with all its problems, Obamacare is operating more successfully than anybody thought it would when it was first passed. 20 million newly insured people is nothing to sniff at.

I can't even go to lunch anymore without missing the latest loathsome excretion from Donald Trump's mouth. Here's the headline:

Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005

This is not a big surprise. Is there anyone on the planet who didn't already figure that Trump talked lewdly about women routinely? Probably not. In any case, here's the extremely lewd conversation, caught on a hot mic while Trump was chatting with Billy Bush for a 2005 appearance on Access Hollywood:

Trump discusses a failed attempt to seduce a woman, whose full name is not given in the video.

“I moved on her and I failed. I’ll admit it,” Trump is heard saying. It was unclear when the events he was describing took place....“I did try and fuck her. She was married,” Trump says....“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married,” Trump says.

At that point in the audio, Trump and Bush appear to notice Arianne Zucker, the actress who is waiting to escort them into the soap opera set.

Your girl’s hot as shit, in the purple,” says Bush, who’s now a co-host of NBC’s “Today” show....“I’ve gotta use some tic tacs, just in case I start kissing her,” Trump says....“And when you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump says....“Grab them by the pussy,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

Trump's excuse is that he's heard Bill Clinton say a lot worse. Or something.

The video of all this was "obtained" by the Washington Post, which raises the obvious question of just who found this and who decided to leak it. And is there more?

Hilbert has finally discovered that the patio bench is a great place for an afternoon snooze. It's high enough that he can keep an eye on things, and the lattices allow a nice breeze to cool his tummy. He is in cat heaven.1

1The bed, the pod, the sewing room, the teal chair, the dining room table, the printer, the guest room, a corner of the dresser, and a patch of favored dirt in the corner of the yard are also cat heaven. It's a pretty good deal for a cat around here.

Let's show both of my usual pollsters today. After declining in mid-September, Sam Wang's meta-margin is back up to a 3.3 percent lead for Hillary Clinton:

Wang's current prediction is that Clinton has a 93 percent chance of winning and will rack up 323 electoral votes. The Senate will be tied, 50-50. And here's Pollster:

Clinton is 6.5 percentage points ahead of Trump, exactly where she was when the primary race ended on June 7. In the generic House polling, Pollster has Democrats ahead by about 5 points. That's not enough to get giddy about Democrats taking back control, but it does suggest that Republicans will probably have a smaller majority next year than they do now.

Over at Foreign Policy, Max Boot writes one of my favorite evergreen columns:

In struggling for some explanation for the inexplicable events of this election season — in particular, the fact that someone as unqualified and ignorant as Donald Trump is as close as he is to the most powerful post in the world — I keep coming back to a conversation that a friend had with her trainer at a posh gym in Manhattan.

[SPOILER ALERT! It turns out the trainer didn't know much civics.]

For years, I’ve been more sanguine than most about the state of the American education system....I now realize that I was being Pollyannaish.... two thirds of high school seniors were unable to identify the 50-year period in which the Civil War was fought...World War I... three branches of government... Gettysburg address... One third of the respondents couldn’t name the vice president and half didn’t know that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. Only one third knew that the Constitution is considered the nation’s highest law.

Et cetera.

Are kids these days really so woefully ignorant? Maybe! Are they any more woefully ignorant than their elders were back when America was a world powerhouse standing up against global communism? Let's go to the tape:

  • The demographic most likely to support Trump is the elderly, who learned their civics 50 years ago. The demographic least likely to support Trump is recent grads.
  • The most detailed recent survey of civics knowledge, What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters, covering the postwar era through 1997, concluded that "citizens appear no more or less informed today than half a century ago."
  • A few years later, in a review of the same subject, political scientist William Galston came to the same conclusion: "There is no evidence that overall levels of civic knowledge have altered much over time." (In fairness, Galston also calls this "remarkable" since education levels have increased substantially over the past half century.)
  • The NAEP has conducted a national civics test since 1988. The results have been basically the same the entire time.

Put this all together, and it suggests that knowledge of civics and history has remained about the same from the end of World War II to the present day. Now, it may well be that this level of knowledge is inadequate. I'll leave that judgment to others. But all the evidence points in the same direction: the average American has always had a pretty meager understanding of civics and American history; nothing much has changed in recent years; and this has had no noticeable effect on the quality of presidents we elect.

This makes perfect sense, too. Does anyone truly think that Trump is doing well because his supporters don't understand how the filibuster works? Or the way that Marbury v. Madison originated the concept of judicial review? Of course not. They like him because he's going to build a wall, he's suspicious of Muslims, and he doesn't like political correctness. We could have an elected one-man dictatorship in America and none of that would change.

Bottom line: Stop griping about how ignorant the young 'uns are these days unless you've got some real evidence to back it up. The Greatest Generation may have been great,1 but they didn't know any more about civics than your average Bernie fan.

1I will, again, leave this judgment to others.