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Skidding Past Center, Again

November 3rd, 2010 . by economistmom

I’ve been trying to take in just some of the analyses of what happened in yesterday’s midterm elections and speculation about what this will mean for policy making going forward, and I see/hear a lot of these words:  anger, discontent, polarization, ideology, rhetoric, obstructionism, entrenchment, defection, desertion…insanity!  Not good words.

The same pundits claim that what Americans are saying they want is what Jon Stewart was trying to say we want:  some civility, cooperation, compromise, coming to the center, working together for the common good…some reasonable, sane behavior.

Yet running away from politicians and policies that seem too far off center is no guarantee that we’ll now move closer towards the center.  I don’t know exactly why I have this visual image, but I picture American voters as like a marble in a tube that has a very shallow indentation in the middle and solid caps at both ends.  Trying to roll that marble from one end to land and stay just perfectly in that center point is hard; we tend to skid past the center and roll to the opposite end instead.  And now that many Blue Dog Democrats have lost their reelection bids, that already hard-to-settle-in center point has just gotten shallower.

The AP’s Liz Sidoti offered her analysis last night, summed up in her article’s title “United but divided” (emphasis added):

WASHINGTON — America is united in its frustration over the economy, over Washington, over where the country is heading.

But it’s deeply split about how to fix some of the nation’s biggest woes - a ballooning federal debt, near 10 percent joblessness and a sluggish recovery.

And, now that a divided government is certain, President Barack Obama and ascendent Republicans face only two options: compromise or stalemate.

Can this new power structure - one with different ideological philosophies to fix increasingly complex problems - actually lead a sharply polarized country that can’t agree on where it wants to go? Will the politicians even try?…

An Associated Press analysis of preliminary exit poll results showed that most voters agreed that they were dissatisfied with Obama and the Congress. And they didn’t have a favorable view of either the Democratic or Republican parties. They also were intensely frustrated with the way the federal government is working. And most thought the country was seriously on the wrong track.

But three equal segments of voters picked different top priorities for the next Congress: tackling the budget deficit, spending money to create jobs and cutting taxes. They also differed on whether to extend broad tax cuts enacted under George W. Bush or change the health care overhaul enacted this year.

There was majority agreement that the economy was the top concern. Yet again, solutions differed dramatically: A third apiece thought the government’s $814 billion stimulus program helped the economy, hurt the economy or made no difference.

An ailing America took out its economic anger on the party in power

In other words, we voters were running away from what we didn’t like, rather than running toward anything we do like (or even know we dislike less).  That means we’re running pretty chaotically, without purpose (and screaming with arms flailing).

As the Washington Post’s Dan Balz contemplates, this is by no means any guarantee we will land in that sensible, but elusive, “center” (emphasis added):

Independents didn’t just defect from the Democrats. They deserted them in droves. If there is one number from all the exit polls that leaps out, it is from Ohio, where independents went for Rob Portman, who won the Senate race, by a staggering margin of 39 percentage points. In the governor’s race there, independents backed winner John Kasich by 16 points. Overall, independents voted Tuesday for Republicans by a margin of 18 points. Two years ago, Democrats won them by eight points.

Independents continue to swing back and forth. Obama may hope they will be back in his column by 2012, if the economy has recovered. Perhaps. But the message from independents was not only unhappiness with the results of Obama’s economic and domestic agenda, but also with the agenda itself. According to exit polls, 57 percent of independent voters said Obama’s policies would hurt the country in the long run. Just 38 percent said they would help…

House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and other GOP leaders have sought in the early hours after their victory to assure people that they do not regard the results as a genuine affirmation of the Republican brand. But if history is any guide, hubris could quickly set in, in which case they will have trouble avoiding the conclusion that this election was a sweeping endorsement of their agenda.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said as much when he suggested Democrats hadn’t gotten the message of Tuesday’s results. “We’re determined to stop the agenda Americans have rejected and to turn the ship around,” he said.

But voters still view Republicans with distrust. Independents who so soundly backed Republican candidates Tuesday are as disdainful of the GOP as they are of the Democrats. According to the exit polls, 58 percent of independents said they view the Democrats unfavorably and 57 percent said they view Republicans unfavorably.

Republicans have challenged Obama by arguing that he has governed from the left while the country is center right. But will Republicans interpret Tuesday’s results by lurching too far to the right? They may look at the exit polls and see that 41 percent of voters called themselves conservatives, a high watermark, and say the country has shifted dramatically.

The party’s center of gravity has certainly shifted, but has the entire country? Republicans now have a hard-right base in what is still a country that prefers its politics closer to the center. Pleasing the base and the newly elected conservatives, while staying focused on the middle, is the leadership’s first task…

That doesn’t diminish the historic nature of what Republicans accomplished Tuesday, but it is a reminder that this country remains in pain and unsettled politically - highly polarized but unsettled in the center. That’s why misreading Tuesday’s results is dangerous for both sides.

That ability to achieve political compromise and find the “sensible center” will be tested immediately with the issue of the expiring Bush tax cuts.  The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery suggests that the President and congressional Democrats will be more likely to cave on at least temporary extension of all of the Bush tax cuts, and that the newly emboldened Republicans will be even less likely to acknowledge the economic tradeoffs involved with deficit-financed tax cuts:

With so much at stake, lobbyists and other congressional analysts expect lawmakers to approve a quick-fix measure that would extend the most critical provisions - including all the Bush-administration tax breaks for individuals - at least through next year.

Republican leaders have signaled that they are open to such a move. On Wednesday, a chastened President Obama signaled that he, too, is open to such a compromise, despite his earlier pledge to let the portion of the Bush tax cuts that benefit the wealthy disappear from the tax code at midnight Dec. 31.

Obama said he would sit down “in the next few weeks” with the Republicans who have reclaimed the House and made big gains in the Senate and “see where we can move forward in a way that, first of all, does no harm.

“How that negotiation works is too early to say,” Obama said. But “we all have an interest in growing the economy. We’re not going to play brinksmanship.”

Congressional Democrats, however, are deeply divided over tax policy. Some liberals say that extending tax breaks for the rich for even one more year would amount to a betrayal of Obama’s promise, while many moderates say the weak economy argues against raising taxes for anyone.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he supports Obama’s plan to let taxes rise for the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers, but “I’m not bullheaded.” He added that he plans to meet with Senate Democrats before deciding how to move forward.

Republicans, for their part, say they have no incentive to compromise on the tax cuts, citing a mandate from voters to keep taxes low and to begin whacking at a federal budget bloated by spending on what the GOP views as Obama’s failed economic policies.

“We should not allow any tax increases, period, because it’s going to slow the economy down,” said Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who is in line to chair the House Budget Committee. “If you want to get this deficit down, you need two things: economic growth and spending cuts.”

My hunch is that passing a temporary extension of the full complement of the Bush tax cuts, even for just a year, is not really a compromise at all.  It just makes it more likely that the full complement of the Bush (now Obama) tax cuts will become permanent and permanently deficit-financed.  It is in this way that voting the Democrats out of Congress will not prove to be a way to move policies closer to center and reduce budget deficits.  We’ll just be skidding past the center, again.  In running away screaming from the status quo, we’ll ironically make it less likely to land in a different and better place.

64 Responses to “Skidding Past Center, Again”

  1. comment number 1 by: AMTbuff

    Staying at today’s center will guarantee a Treasury bond market crash and fiscal disaster, not to mention ultra-high tax rates plus the almost total loss of the safety net. We need to move policy decisions way off center to survive.

    Tax increases plus elimination of Medicare might do the job. It will take something that big to make a change the Chinese can believe in.

    Centrism in the face of a fiscal tsunami is a path to disaster. We need to start running for the fiscal hills now. Walking (tax increases without massive spending reduction) won’t do any good.

    This is rational extremism. Concord should recruit Tea Party people to join this battle for public opinion.

  2. comment number 2 by: Greg Ransom

    There is no reason at all to believe that the “center” gives us anything other than a shorter time horizon to secular default.

  3. comment number 3 by: Gipper


    Is Obama in the center? Passing a new entitlement for healthcare and sucking up trillions of dollars that could have gone toward deficit reduction? Didn’t hear a peep out of you complaining about that bit fiscal irresponsibility while that was taking place.

    Frankly, you’re not in the center. You’re on the left, and the wind got knocked out of you on Tuesday. Good to see you’re feeling so glum.

    Focusing on the Bush tax cuts only proves how out of touch you are with the center. Your failure to be specific about spending cuts only proves your leftward tilt.

    Here’s why I’m not so glum. The Republicans can use the vote to increase the debt ceiling as their opportunity to force the Democrats to be specific about spending cuts.

    This is the speech that Boehner should make: “The Republican Party will not enable future deficit spending until the President and his party demonstrate that they are serious about cutting government spending that will lead us to a balanced budget in 20 years. We will not support an increase in the debt ceiling until the President presents a Roadmap and legislation that achieves this goal, and makes serious cuts to government programs we can no longer afford.”

    OK, so no mention of tax increases. But Boehner is a wiley veteran. Behind the scenes, if Obama agrees to a repeal of Obamacare and serious reforms of social security, then the Republicans could take that and sell tax increases to their base.

    Both sides will be severely angering key constituencies, but it is the only way. However, because the Democrats control the Senate and the Presidency, they must lead with spending cuts before the Republicans can reciprocate.

    And what happens if the debt ceiling is not increased in a timely manner? Well, the President will have to use his discretion to figure out which bills get paid, and which ones don’t get paid. Cash is still coming in, and budget authorizations are in place so there is no shut down of the government.

    Hopefully, the military, FBI, justice department, and courts get priority. Bondholders should get paid. SS recipients should get their checks. Medicare should be funded as fully as possible. All those SEIU members and everyone else might have to get laid off until the Democrats get serious about spending cuts!!!!

    Advocating for spending is easy, and excoriating Republicans for wanting to cut spending is easy too. Yeah, they’re chicken for not being specific. But all those entitlement programs are Democrat ideas. It’s their responsibility to tell the American people that they are too chicken to raise enough tax revenue to pay for their dreams.

  4. comment number 4 by: Gipper


    Think of entitlement programs like a nasty heroin addiction. While you’re taking the drugs, you think you can go on forever without consequences. If someone comes along to take away your fix, then you get sick and angry.

    Well Democrats are pushers of entitlement drugs and recipients are the junkies. If Republicans come along to reduce or eliminate the entitlement use, then the recipients will get angry and the Democrats will call the Republicans mean-spirited.

    I’m just saying that since the Democrats are the pushers of these drugs, it’s their responsibility to stop the destruction of our fiscal community. They have to reduce drug sales or start selling something less addictive than fiscal heroin.

    Why is it the responsibility of Republicans to take the electoral hit for opposing the use of these fiscal drugs and telling people it can’t go on forever? Why should Republicans finance the Democrat’s fiscal drug trade?

  5. comment number 5 by: Dan Biemer

    Actually, it was Republicans under Bush who passed unfunded entitlements to health care (prescription drug benefit). The Health Care Reform law is actually a middle of the road deficit-neutral market based approach to expanding health insurance coverage and containing health insurance costs, not an entitlement or government takeover of health care (which I would actually like to see). We need to get past this over-the-top hateful partisan rhetoric.

  6. comment number 6 by: AMTbuff

    Why did Democrats appear to be willing to accept absolutely any version of Health Care Reform that could pass Congress? Why didn’t they care about the specific provisions? Hint: It wasn’t for bragging rights or for the pleasure of beating the Republicans.

    The real reason that the Democrats didn’t care about the specifics is simple: The only essential feature of Health Care Reform was destabilization of the existing system. Democrats knew that gradually breaking the current system would lead the public reluctantly to support national health care or its functional equivalent.

    The faster the current system breaks, the faster the Democrats get what they want. Every supposed defect in HCR is actually a benefit for the progressive agenda!

    There are only two stable endpoints for health care: private payment (out of pocket plus catastrophic insurance), or national health care. Obamacare pushes us in the direction of national health care. I believe that the coming fiscal crisis will push us all the way back to private payment, killing Medicare along with all middle class transfer payments.

    HCR was and is a progressive effort to greatly expand the scope of government. If it were sustainable, one could argue that it is reasonable and compassionate. Holding out a defective safety net and asking people to rely on it is not compassionate. It’s negligent homicide. It is to true compassion as Bernie Madoff is to Fidelity Investments.

    Progressives today face Sophie’s choice with their favorite programs, but they don’t yet realize it. They stand to lose the entire social safety net in a government meltdown as soon as investors lose faith in Treasury debt. Major benefit cuts now might prevent this from happening. Otherwise the day will come, well within our lifetimes, when progressives will wish they had ended Medicare in 2010 or earlier.

  7. comment number 7 by: Gipper

    Mr. Biemer:

    Social Security? Medicare? Medicaid? Are those fully funded programs? Were Republicans responsible for creating these programs?

    What I find most hilarious and deceitful are leftist telling me how reasonable and centrist they are when they order conservatives to pay for the left wing welfare state. Otherwise, they’ll brand conservatives as fiscally irresponsible. Well, hit me with a wet noodle.

    “Over the top hateful partisan rhetoric”? Do you have any specific examples.

    Let’s see the Left Wing version of Paul Ryan’s Roadmap (which I find woefully inadequate, but at least he tried). I’ve heard lots of criticism, but no alternatives.

  8. comment number 8 by: cv harquail

    Hi EconomistMom-

    Because I usually read your posts in my RSS reader, I seldom see the comments. Coming directly to you post today (so that I could Tweet it out), I looked at the comments and was both surprised and disappointed.

    Your posts are usually so moderate, that I’m surprised by the number of comments attacking you for being “Left”. I’m on the left, and you are far to the right of me. ;-) But seriously, your blog is one of the few voices of reality that consistently counterposes the ideas of the Dems & the Repubs to show how incommensurate they are.

    Also, I was disappointed by the ‘haters’ — okay so some of these commenters aren’t as nasty as I’ve seen on WaPo, but I’m sorry that there aren’t more serious efforts to engage your ideas. You pose questions that need to be addressed, not dismissed.

    All this to say, yours is my ‘go to’ blog for a realistic perspective on economic policy that honestly searches for a moderate path. Thanks for continuing to be a voice in the otherwise nearly empty ‘middle’.


  9. comment number 9 by: economistmom

    Thanks, cvh!

  10. comment number 10 by: AMTbuff

    Is “hater” going to replace “racist” as the new all-purpose baseless pejorative for people who express disagreement with progressive policies?

    I have no problem acknowledging that people who disagree with me on policy have the best of intentions. I wonder why some people feel the need to impute malevolence to their opponents. My advice: if you find such a person, don’t marry him or her, lest you become the opponent!

  11. comment number 11 by: Gipper


    Classic left-wing smear tactics. Make ad hominen attacks instead of addressing the substance of the arguments made by opponents. The Left won’t put out a counterpoint to Paul Ryan’s Roadmap because it’s easier for them to use smears and scare tactics.

    The Left won’t get specific about spending cuts because they actually believe that government isn’t spending enough. So the Republicans are fiscally irresponsible for not acceding to their welfare state vision and raising taxes. Some compromise, huh?

    This is going to be an ugly battle. The only people who think it’s going to be a nice campfire meeting are the left wingers who are delusional about what the rest of America thinks about fully paying for the left’s programmatic visions.

    God, if we become like those losers in France, then we’re toast.

  12. comment number 12 by: AMTbuff

    No, it’s not just a tactic. I personally know people who sincerely believe that leading politicians of the other party are evil*. Remember Bush = Hitler? That was sincerely felt, and you could reasonably call it hate.

    These people (on both sides) will not tell you “It’s unfortunate that such a talented person has such misguided beliefs and objectives”. They will tell you “He’s trying to destroy our country”, a belief that is inconsistent with Occam’s Razor.

    People who enter democratic (small D) politics like power, but they also want to improve the country. They just have different ideas of what constitutes improvement and different opinions of the long-term consequences of particular policies.

    To all readers: Watch yourself for signs that you are falling into the fever swamps of partisanship. Belief that political opponents are evil is a sure sign that you need a timeout.

    *Although progressives have great difficulty using the word “evil”, they will sometimes make an exception for a powerful political opponent. Conservatives with the personality I’m talking about have no problem using the word “evil” liberally.

  13. comment number 13 by: Elizabeth

    In my professional life as a School Social Worker, one of my primary goals was to create an environment for the special needs child to maximize their potential. I identified what were the child’s strengths and weaknesses and the obstacles in their path to success. I gathered the key players in the child’s life and developed a plan of action with all key players sitting at the same table at the same time. If one key person refused to move one inch in their views or strategy, it was hard to help the child; and yes sometimes that person was the student. When everyone worked together with open minds, it was magic. The majority of the time, it took one to two years of extreme patience for the parent to recognize that they needed to make some changes not just the teacher or the child.

    If I were President Obama, I would do the following things:

    1. I would send volunteers out on the road to community groups, political organizations, senior centers, community centers, etc. and show them the I.O.U.S.A. - The Movie that explains the national debt and gives reasonable ideas to fix it.

    And, I would ask the audience to civilly ask questions or concerns that will be brought back to the President, Congress and the Senate.

    2. I would invite the Congress and Senate to identify the one area of the budget that they most support i.e. Defense, Social Security, Medicare, Health Care, Education, etc. Once identified in writing and noted in the public record, I would tell them to find waste and/or ineffective programs that could be cut and/or eliminated. And, I would give them a minimal amount of money that needs to be cut. There would be no exceptions to this rule because they would have to own their cuts and explain to their base why the cuts are needed.

    3. I would give them a time line to do the above and that their report would be televised for the public record. And, no one is allowed to use derogatory and inflammatory rhetoric when making their public oral report.

    4. I would recommend President Bush’s tax cuts to expire for anyone with an income more then $1 Million dollars as of 12/31/2010. President Obama should go on television and attend town meetings to explain that maintaining the tax cut for the wealthy will paid by borrowing money for other countries. And, I would ask the public ‘Do you want to borrow X number of dollars over the next x number of years to give tax breaks to the wealthiest citizens of this country? And, I would explain to the public that this segment of taxpayers’ wealth has increased almost 300% over the last ten years and that they have benefitted greatly by their ten years of tax cuts.

    Lastly I would tell the public that the facts show decisively that ALL OF US need to sacrifice for the good of our country. And, for most of us the only sacrifice is to give up some of our money to help put our country back on course and to remember that 1% of our citizens have sacrificed through their service to the military so money is a small price for the remainder of us. (Heck, maybe President Obama should ask members of his administration to meet with the people in the top 0.01% of income to ask them to volunteer to donate money to reduce the national budget or create good paying jobs with their money. Wasn’t the tax cuts for the wealthy supposed to create jobs?

  14. comment number 14 by: Dan Biemer

    I’d like to see political discussion without ranting, distorting the other side’s positions, or attributing evil or conspiratorial motives to them. Both parties are guilty of running up deficits and unfunded mandates. My specific point here is that the Health Csre Law has been so distorted and misrepresented that the individual components are more popular in polling than the law as a whole.

  15. comment number 15 by: SteveinCH

    Actually Dan that’s just not correct. The individual mandate is devilishly unpopular as an individual component, more unpopular, last I looked than the whole of the bill.

    I hope you don’t find that to be ranting ; )

    As to the ACA being “middle of the road”, I suppose that depends on where you think the yellow lines are.

    Let’s stipulate that there are lots of people (tens of millions without coverage today). Let’s further stipulate that despite the existence of Medicaid, we deem some of those people too poor to be responsible for their own health insurance. Would it not be much simpler to expand Medicaid eligibility than to pass the ACA?

    But you may reply, “The point of the ACA was really to control cost, not to expand coverage.” I’d rather hope you don’t because no nonpartisan economist thinks the ACA controls costs. There are some who hope that it might someday but hope, as they say, is not a strategy.

    OK. So now you might say, “But the ACA extends coverage to 30 (or 33) million people, not all of whom are going to be covered by Medicaid.” To which I respond, well why not? Either they are poor enough that they should be covered by Medicaid or they are choosing to not have coverage despite having the means to pay for it (and to pay for their health care if uninsured). The ACA takes this choice away from them simply because those that passed the bill felt it was the “wrong” choice.

    If you find any of that ranting or distortion, let me know. If not, perhaps it will help you understand why people can oppose the ACA without distortion or ranting.

    Finally, as to Medicare Part D. Most fiscal conservatives opposed it and hated Bush for passing it. Of course, the alternative was a Dem sponsored bill that was also not paid for and was even more costly. Perhaps you think we should have passed that one instead. Or perhaps, if unfunded mandates are so bad, we should have done less with the ACA and used some of the offsets to fully fund Medicare Part D.

  16. comment number 16 by: Jim Glass

    “… It just makes it more likely that the full complement of the Bush (now Obama) tax cuts will become permanent and permanently deficit-financed.”

    The tax cuts expire automatically. Obama has veto power to block their re-enactment. That gives him serious power to negotiate only his preferred partial extension, or an extension for all that again expires automatically in two years.

    If instead he just folds completely and lets them all be re-enacted permanently, while the Dems still hold the Senate, they will well and truly become the Obama tax cuts — and it will put paid to the line he’s used so often, “I do the right thing instead of the popular thing, and that’s why…”

    He will be seen as a total wimp, especially by his own left wing, which I suspect is having apoplexy right now after seeing its entire agenda and their “permanent progressive majority” disappear “pfffft!” so quickly under him … maybe for another generation.

    If he caves and does a 180 to make the tax cuts on the rich permanent, I’d expect the long knives on the left to come out for him in public, and considering how he’s already lost the center, he’d really be on course to be a one-termer.

    So I think he’ll block full re-enactment of all the tax cuts if only because he has to as a matter of self-preservation.

  17. comment number 17 by: AMTbuff

    >Either they are poor enough that they should be covered by Medicaid or they are choosing to not have coverage despite having the means to pay for it (and to pay for their health care if uninsured)

    You forgot those with preexisting conditions that make insurance cost more than middle class people can afford. ObamaCare benefits those people while penalizing the healthy.

    Allowing people with preexisting conditions to buy insurance at healthy customer rates is the primary means of killing private insurance, leaving public payment as the only option. Although this feature is popular now, it won’t be popular after the damage is clear.

  18. comment number 18 by: Gipper

    It would be really nice if the President and the Democrats responded to Paul Ryan’s Roadmap. Not with ridicule and disdain, but with an actual alternative that balances the budget in, say 20 years, instead of 62 years.

    Instead of moaning about how we’ve just “skidded past the center, ” and made solutions more difficult to achieve, why don’t you folks just offer a solution? Put one on the table. Subject yourself to ridicule in the same way that Paul Ryan did.

    This country needs a vicious and mean argument about spending and taxes. They just had one in the UK, by the way, the everyone seems to be getting along just fine. Kumbaya and hand-holding is for dictatorships that stifle dissent, not democracies that thrive on it.

    The voters don’t need more pandering, meandering, and slandering. They need to hear the best minds from both sides making the case for their disparate political and fiscal visions for America.

    IOUSA is cute and nice, but ultimately irrelevant. We need concrete proposals that balance the budget in a reasonable time frame of 20 years or less. Economistmom, show us what you’ve got!

  19. comment number 19 by: brooks

    I’ll go out on a limb and make a prediction of sorts: Republicans send Obama extension of the tax cuts for everyone. Obama says not for income above $250,000 or whatever because we need to get contain deficits, and he vetoes. Republicans tell the middle class Obama is causing them a tax increase. Obama says “Not at all. The Republicans are holding your lower tax rates hostage so they can keep tax rates low on the wealthy even though it means much higher deficits.” Obama wins with the public. Republicans eventually give in.Of course, Obama could end up compromising on a one or two year extension. But I think smart politics would be to take the approach above.

  20. comment number 20 by: brooks

    Do you think most people realize that you can’t force health insurers to disregard pre-existing conditions without the indiv mandate?

    I doubt most people realize that, and I’d like to see a poll asking people if they support both, neither or one of the two. I’ll bet a lot of people would say they’re for both, not realizing it would destroy the insurance business model b/c people would wait until they needed/wanted healthcare to buy insurance (paric if waiting periods are short - and they’d have to be the same for everyone)

  21. comment number 21 by: brooks

    “paric” — meant particularly

  22. comment number 22 by: Jim Glass

    The fact that people voted against the Dems rather than for the Repubs, with the independent centrists swinging back and forth, to me doesn’t seem worth all the play it’s getting from the press pundits, as if this is something new. In power shifting-elections the average-person centrists always vote primarily against the incumbents rather than for the challengers.

    Hey, in 1932 nobody voted for FDR’s New Deal policies – he ran on a platform of balancing the budget by slashing govt waste, especially padded payrolls. The voters went overwhelmingly against Hoover and the Repubs because of the Depression, that is all. And that was the biggest power shift of all.

    In my own memory: LBJ had bigger majorities than Obama and looked like Political Superman – then after only two years of “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” and the Dems splitting themselves, the public voted against them and Nixon came in …. Nixon carried 49 states, then after a recession, the first oil crisis and Watergate he couldn’t even finish his term, and a flood of Dems came in … Carter had double-digit inflation, the Iranian hostage crisis, a bungled rescue, a recession, leadership by wearing a sweater and turning down the thermostat, so they voted him out and Reagan came in … after a tiring 12 years of Reaganism and a recession, Bush I got only 37% of the vote, the pundits asked “Can Rebups survive except as a minority regional party?” and Clinton came in … only two years later, after the Dems took Bill’s 43% of the vote as a mandate for a big energy bill, national health care, etc, they got wiped … then in 2006 and 2008 the public clearly voted anti-Bush II/Repubs.

    Every change was a vote primarily against the incumbents. So this week’s is just very normal US politics. Why are so many pundits acting like this is a special case? (Probably because they are Dems who didn’t believe it in 2008, but I digress).

    Then, whether the incoming party stays in power for a generation or only two years depends on whether it locks down the center — in fact the center-right.

    The base fundamental of US national politics – corresponding to Vince Lombardi’s, “Gentlemen, this is a football” – is that national elections are determined by the center independents, and the center is center-right. Independents outnumber both Democrats and Republicans. Voters self-describe as about 40% conservative, 40% centrist, 20% liberal, and on a L-R scale of 1-9 at an average of 6. The key 50%+1 vote is at 6 — that’s the vote the party has to get to hold power.

    But after the 2008 victory the Dems went loopy. Carville writes “40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation”, Democratic leaders and pollsters hail the new “permanent progressive majority” and on and on, believing it. This is not how one secures the center from being a 20% minority left! Talk about pride before a fall. Why this intoxication? I guess 28 years of frustration for the left wing (Reagan, Bush I, Clinton’s two years of failure and six of triangulation, then the dark and evil Bush II) really add up.

    Anyhow, they did nothing at all to secure the center.

    “Mr President, as we enter this election, in 10 seconds name three things you’ve done to appeal to the critical deciding voter at #6 on the L-R scale.”

    Reagan 1982: “Ending inflation. Tax cuts. Re-arming the arsenal of democracy to defeat communism”.

    Clinton 1996: “Welfare reform. Balanced budget. The Omnibus Crime Act that toughens penalties, and adds the death penalty, to drug dealing and other serious federal crimes. Y’all remember how I went to Arkansas for an execution? And how I slapped down Sister Souljah, and…” Bzzz, enough, thanks.

    Obama 2010: “Well … I know those voters at 6 and it looks like 5 and 4 are scared and not thinking clearly, and perhaps it’s our fault that our $100 million communication machine has not communicated to them better, but if they understood …” Bzzzz, sorry, time is up. “Hey, wasn’t my progressive majority supposed to be permanent?”

    But I digress again. The point is that since this election was just a stark example of normality, probably nothing will change from the past as to the big budget issues.

    The politicians will still buy votes in the next election by running up bills that will drop on us after they are gone – just like Dems and Repubs have both done since they turned SS paygo in 1940. It works for them so why wouldn’t they?

    But all is not lost! The Clinton/Repub Congress period 1994-2000 was the most fiscally responsible era in two generations, with each side blocking the other except for what they both could agree upon.

    IMHO, while any one party holds the entire government there is zero chance of dealing with the big budget problems. With split govt there is some chance. Any solution will need bipartisan centrist compromises (the center rules! voter 6!), and neither party, being governed by its outside wing, can do that. Two parties that are forced to deal with each other, whether they like it or not, can, maybe.

    Remember, there was a serious possibility of Clinton tackling Medicare reform with the bipartisan Breaux Commission until he got caught with his pants down and had to turn to the left for political help, and they said OK but forget that. Maybe we’ll be luckier next time.

    Look at it this way. Bipartisan action is necessary for a solution. We haven’t had a bipartisan government since 1999. Now, whether the parties like it or not, we do.

  23. comment number 23 by: brooks

    Despite all the analysis by pundits/analysts, I think this election — and the tea party movement too — really come down to an awful economy and scapegoating for it. Those in power are presumed to be at fault, those passionately advocating “change” will win support, and much of the public will readily latch onto some reason why this makes sense.

    In a way it reminds me of the story of the father who, immediately upon arriving home after work each evening, spanks his son. Someone asks the father why he does that, and he replies “I don’t know why I’m spanking my son, but my son knows”

  24. comment number 24 by: SteveinCH


    FWIW, in my opinion, it’s a three legged stool, you could get rid of pre-existing conditions if you also did away with community rating even if you did not have an individual mandate.

    In my view, regardless of the goal, forcing citizens to buy a product as a condition of existing is wrong. Find another way if you want to get it done. It would be easy…just tax but the Ds didn’t want to do that.

  25. comment number 25 by: SteveinCH


    I also think you are wrong about where we’ll end on taxes. I think a temporary extension is going to be the winning position but we’ll know soon enough.

  26. comment number 26 by: SteveinCH


    I think you are underestimating. Yes the scapegoating is true but more than that was going on. There is genuine anger about the policy reach of the Obama presidency. You can debate whether that’s sensible but it certainly is real.

  27. comment number 27 by: Brooks


    What I’m saying is that much of that “genuine anger” is a kind of “displaced aggression” — people are angry about the economy, start with the conclusion that the people in power are at fault, and then latch onto something that supports that conclusion.

    It’s like in that idiotic Oprah-style presidential debate in 1992 when a woman questioning H.W. Bush started by saying how the deficit is hurting a lot of people she knew when it was the recession that was hurting them. She had just heard a lot also about the deficit and she drew a connection.

    Probably not all of the “genuine anger” is based on the assumption that objectionable Obama policies are causing the recession, but that’s part of it, and another part is just a kind of amorphous, reverse “halo effect” — people are just plain angry and assume the guy(s) in power are to blame, so they are very inclined to get angry about other things those people in power are doing.

    Put differently, if the economy were just fine you wouldn’t see a big Tea Party movement or such big Republican gains even if spending and healthcare policy and deficits and debt were all the same as they are today.

    For the most part, I think the tail is wagging the dog. Anger leads directly to conclusions/assumptions of blame and generalized feeling that policies are bad, and then to reasons people can latch onto to support those conclusions and feelings.

    Just my take.

  28. comment number 28 by: Brooks


    Re: you could get rid of pre-existing conditions if you also did away with community rating even if you did not have an individual mandate.

    Not sure what you’re saying, but either you require community rating or you allow insurers to charge more if someone has a pre-existing condition. I don’t see how you’re addressing the incompatibility I’m talking about. If someone wants to prohibit insurers from considering pre-existing conditions (in pricing, coverage provisions, or who they accept), there must be an individual mandate, so people don’t wait to buy insurance until they expect to spend much more than the premium amounts (killing the insurance business model).

  29. comment number 29 by: Jim Glass

    “Despite all the analysis by pundits/analysts, I think this election — and the tea party movement too — really come down to an awful economy and scapegoating for it. ”

    Well, yes, but nobody ever got scapegoated like Hoover, and we got the whole New Deal out of it. No Dem ever apologized for that. That’s how it works.

    The 2006 and 2008 elections were anti-Repub, not pro- Dem. Remember that in 2008 McCain was even or slightly ahead in the polls until the financial crisis hit, then the Repubs went down the hopper, scapegoated if you will. Now the same thing has happened to the Dems. The net result is that Congress is back to where it was a decade ago, with the traditional blue states blue and red states red. Not much long-run change. Back to basics.

    For the record, the computer models the political scientists run to predict and anlayze elections say the bad economy and other standard factors should have caused the Dems to lose about 40 seats, the other 25 lost were “excess”.

    Today the Dems are the first to say the election results were a scapegoating of them, not a mandate for the Repubs. Which is true.

    If they’d acknowledged the same thing was true the other way around in the 2008 election — instead of dreaming they’d received a massive mandate from the new progressive majority that would reign for the next 40 years — they might have kept those 25 seats, or more, and still be in charge today.

  30. comment number 30 by: Brooks


    Not sure why you’re taking a Dem vs. Republican angle on my comment. I wasn’t making the point for partisan purposes.

    Yes, the same dynamics have occurred and I think generally occurs for whichever party is in power (president or president plus Congress).

    And the same stuff happens on the positive side — e.g., voters rewarding Clinton and Reagan for the good economy in 96 and 84. And a positive halo effect on other policies: e.g., I think many more people would have viewed Reagan’s foreign policy or other policies unfavorably if the economy had sucked in 84 (actually, would be interesting to see polls re: his foreign policy during the 82 recession vs. in 84). Also, feelings re: the economy can affect opinions of, level of importance attached to, and passion over other things — such as anger over the economy getting people all riled up about “overreach” of government even if they don’t make a causal connection to the recession. Probably if the economy was this bad at the time of the Lewinsky scandal and related Clinton perjury (or whatever one wishes to technically call it), I’ll bet a much larger portion of the public would have been clamoring for his resignation on the basis of that scandal/perjury.

    When the economy is this bad, it really is “the economy, stupid”. Scapegoat first, find reasons second. And view other policies from the same guy/people in power less favorably, too.

    Re: your last paragraph, I’ve seen some of Rachel Maddow recently basically talking about how bad the Republicans are for saying they won’t compromise. IIRC she was one of the voices on the left who, in 2009, kept saying the Obama Administration and the Dems shouldn’t compromise (on healthcare reform, etc.), saying essentially “Hey, there was an election and we won. The people voted. Elections have consequences.”

    Lastly, back to my point (sort of), I recall a cartoon in the mid or late 1990s that showed President Clinton and an aide looking out a White House window at the sunset. The aide says “That’s a beautiful sunset Mr. President.” Clinton replies “Thank you.”

  31. comment number 31 by: SteveinCH


    We’ll just have to agree to disagree. The TP movement is more than anger about the economy as far as I’m concerned but I guess we’ll see when/if the economy turns around.

  32. comment number 32 by: Brooks


    Sure, we can agree to disagree. It’s just my take on it. In any case, I’m talking about a matter of degree, albeit a very significant one.

    Even in a good economy there would be some expressing passionate opposition to TARP or HCR, particularly these days with the hyperpartisan media and politicians and organizations who leverage it.

    But a movement that really gets on the radar screen to the extent the Tea Party movement has…I don’t think that would happen in a good or even decent economy. Again, I think the driving force that makes the difference in scale and visibility is primarily anger over the economy (and to some extent resentment over those in power bailing out the bankers who are seen as partly culpable), leading to a combination of confused, mistaken attribution of blame for the recession, a negative “halo effect” that makes other Obama/Dem policies seem unattractive, and increased passion and sense of importance in opposing Obama/Dems in general.

    Why didn’t we see a Tea Party movement in reaction to Medicare Part D? Good chance we would have seen something like it if the economy had been as bad as it is today, particularly if Dems controlled everything. Not that the Medicare expansion (and impact on projected spending and deficits and debt) would really have caused such an awful state of the economy, but some would think it was the cause, and others would just get much more passionate over that increase in spending than they would in an economy that was not so bad.

    Again, just my take.

  33. comment number 33 by: SteveinCH


    I agree the economy was a necessary condition but I disagree that it was sufficient.

  34. comment number 34 by: Brooks


    Fair enough. You think the particular ideological/policy objections were also necessary, and I think they were just what happened to “fill in the blank” so to speak.

    I do think a good portion of Tea Partiers would have those objections anyway, but I’m talking about the movement as a whole in terms of scale (number of people involved or like-minded) and intensity.

    (not that I really have a good measure of it’s scale, but just judging from media coverage and Republican primaries and the general elections)

    Any comment on why we see TP now but not in response to Medicare Part D?

  35. comment number 35 by: SteveinCH

    I think two reasons Brooks. One, the economy wasn’t bad when Medicare Part D was passed. Two, Medicare Part D didn’t affect every single person in the country.

  36. comment number 36 by: Brooks

    Of course it did affect every single person, in the sense of projected deficit-financed spending and projected deficits and debt that would have to be repaid eventually.

    Are you referring to the individual mandate as “affecting every single person”? If so, are you suggesting that the bad economy would be insufficient to generate the TP movement, but that the bad economy plus Obama’s/Dems’ policies including the individual mandate would suffice, yet the same bad economy plus Medicare D (and other deficit-financed spending at the time) would not have sufficed ?

    Do you think the TP movement would have been generated amid passage of Medicare Part D if an individual mandate had also been enacted?

  37. comment number 37 by: Brooks

    What I’m trying to get at is that I don’t think the individual mandate is anything close to a deciding factor in the emergence of a TP movement today or at the time of Medicare Part D.

  38. comment number 38 by: SteveinCH


    I didn’t say the individual mandate, I said the ACA. The ACA affects everyone’s insurance. It gives HHS the power to decide what type of health care everyone should have.

    You are thinking only economics here. Going beyond Med Part D, the stimulus was nearly a trillion dollars over two years, much more than Med Part D and the TARP was a whole lot bigger than the cost of Med Part D in the short term.

    Finally, as all of that was being done, we weren’t looking at trillion dollar plus deficits for a very long period of time.

  39. comment number 39 by: Brooks


    First, you know comparing a couple of year’s worth of stimulus vs. Medicare part D or TARP vs. Medicare Part D are apples-to-oranges, since Medicare Part D is ongoing. So unless your point is one of public confusion regarding costs and impact on the future, not sure what your point is.

    As for ACA, yeah, it’s regulation of an industry, and yeah, it prohibits products in that industry that don’t meet standards that government sets.

    The same point and questions I presented above re: indiv mandate apply to ACA.

    Yes, the fiscal outlook is even worse now than it was in 2003, and that’s relevant (to everyone except Paul Krugman, the convenient, shameless flip-flopper on how alarmed we should be, but that’s another matter I think we’ve discussed).

    But the long-term outlook was already clear in 2003, and it was clear that Medicare Part D was…well, to paraphrase David Walker these days, the most fiscally irresponsible act in our history (or something like that). True, we didn’t have the immediate deficits of the current scale to wake people up, but that’s largely a function of many people misunderstanding issues surrounding short-term deficits amid recession and the longer-term structural problem (as well as uninformed opposition to TARP without considering what would likely have happened with out it).

    All in all, none of the particulars of today that we’re discussing changes my take on the scale and intensity of the TP movement and the scale of Republican success in the mid-terms. YMMV.

  40. comment number 40 by: SteveinCH


    Whatever may be reality, the world looked a lot worse to the average person in 2008 than in 2003. Context matters and long term versus short term budget forecasting is beyond many people.

    We’re explaining psychology here. Your perspective if far too rational.

    The impact of the regulations in the ACA is higher cost for everyone who doesn’t ultimately receive a subsidy. That affects everyone.

  41. comment number 41 by: Brooks

    Yes, exactly — we’re talking psychology. The bad economy (financial crisis part of it) makes people angry (and fearful), so they are inclined to scapegoat for the economy, and while they’re at it, their passions are raised over other policies of the same politicians they’re angry at re: the economy.

    As for ACA, again, I really don’t think that’s the difference between generating a TP movement or not.

  42. comment number 42 by: SteveinCH

    And I understand but disagree with you as it relates to the ACA, the stimulus and the TARP.

    The notion that what happened would have happened regardless of policy seems at odds with history.

  43. comment number 43 by: Brooks

    And on spending and deficits, people don’t have a grasp of the absolute magnitude and its impact, just a sense of if it’s growing much larger than it’s been and if they are hearing from the media that we’re digging ourselves deeper into a troublesome hole. Yes, spending is higher and the fiscal outlook is worse now than ever, but for most of the past 30 years that could be said, yet no TP movement.

    That much people have seen in the Reagan years, the H.W. years and the W. years. No TP movement. If growing spending and deficits were the stuff of TP movements, we’d have seen them emerge long ago.

    People don’t go nuts over spending and deficits in a good or even decent economy.

    So, re:
    The notion that what happened would have happened regardless of policy seems at odds with history.

    Not really. First, we haven’t had a recession this severe (we also have a more hyperpartisan mass media than in the past, as well as blogs, email, etc., drumming up passions and attributing blame).

    But moreover, my point isn’t that the bad economy was necessarily going to produce the TP movement with it’s claims and grievances in particular. In fact my point is the opposite — that if not those particulars, there would be others. There would be something(s) people would latch onto to (1) attribute blame for the economy to those in power, and (2) to passionately object to other policies of those same people.

  44. comment number 44 by: SteveinCH


    And the government didn’t spend or commit to spend an incremental 2.5 trillion in any of those periods either. But I’ll not convince you so I’ll not try.


  45. comment number 45 by: Gipper


    Why don’t you use your rhetorical skills to urge Democrats to produce a comprehensive budget proposal that balances the budget in 20 years? Be my guest and eliminate Medicare Part D if you’d like.

    Instead, we get the distractions about Tea Party analytics, their ulterior motives and other crap. Talk, talk, talk about anything except the immediate task at hand. So let me indulge your distraction.

    Maybe you’re too young to remember, but the Tea Party looks almost identical to Ross Perot’s, United We Stand movement. Back in 1992 there was a similar concern about deficit spending. 17 years later another movement arose tapping into a constituency with a similar demographic of older, white voters. So any left-wingers who claim that the Tea Partiers are using limited government ideology as a cover for their racist resentments toward a Black President are ignorant morons who haven’t studied history very much. That is history other than the crap you’d find in a Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn book.

  46. comment number 46 by: Jim Glass

    Jim, Not sure why you’re taking a Dem vs. Republican angle on my comment. I wasn’t making the point for partisan purposes.

    Neither was I, I’m one of the independents in the middle. It’s just that US elections are Dem-Repub, so there’s no other way to describe them. But the same is true elsewhere.

    I was in Britain when Margaret Thatcher came in. The common wisdom today is her election resulted from the rise of conservative principles (for good or ill) in the 80s. But that’s not what I remember.

    The Labour party was going mad. If you think there are loopy extremists in the USA on the left and right wings, you haven’t seen anything. On TV I watched Labour’s Militant Tendency at their party convention, OMG!, this was a ruling party! The average swing-vote Brit didn’t vote for Maggie’s conservative ideas but to keep those loons from controlling a government with a nuclear arsenal. (Like Americans watching the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention, then turning LBJ’s huge majorities over to Nixon, but much more so.)

    A little while later Thatcher gave a speech to her party and said: “It is the nature of democracy that the opposition will eventually regain power. Our duty is to retain power until they become sane.” And that’s just how it worked out.

    Since then the Brits have had two more “against the incumbents” power-turnover elections. The last one was so against the incumbents and not for the challenger that they didn’t even elect a challenger, the former opposition parties are power-sharing.

    The point is: It’s nice to imagine that a problem — say, the coming fiscal crunch — will be resolved politically by a party laying out a superior policy program to voters and the voters then voting it in. Sort of the model we’d like young children to believe intsill a faith in democracy. But in reality, it almost never happens like that.

    What happens is that the center of the voting public gets angry at the incumbents for some reason and votes them out, while the challengers opportunistically exploit the situation however best they can (honestly or not) to win as big as possible.

    One is tempted to say “except in a crisis”, when one would think the parties would be forced to propose serious credible solutions to it, and the public be forced to choose. But even in 1932 in the pit of the Great Depression — what greater crisis has there been? — the Democrats ran on an official platform of:

    We advocate an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagance to accomplish a saving of not less than twenty-five per cent in the cost of the Federal Government. And we call upon the Democratic Party in the states to make a zealous effort to achieve a proportionate result.

    We favor maintenance of the national credit by a federal budget annually balanced…

    How serious were they about that? And in the recent British election the public rejected the crisis solutions of all three parties, and elected none of them.

    I don’t see any of this changing for us between now and our fiscal crisis of the 2020s. *Not* because the US political system is particularly broken, but just because this is the nature of democratic politics everywhere. It’s the way it is.

    IMHO, in light of this we should prepare compromise tax-increase-*and*-spending-cut solutions on the pts-of-GDP scale needed to bring deficits down permanently to a sustainable level, that will be politically credible when the crisis hits (though surely not now). Put ‘em on the shelf and educate as many people as possible about them, so they are ready to be opportunistically used by the politicians of the day when the crisis hits — instead of having the politicians opportunistically use much worse ideas.

    Then wait for the crisis to hit, and enjoy life as much as possible until then!

  47. comment number 47 by: Brooks


    Re:And the government didn’t spend or commit to spend an incremental 2.5 trillion in any of those periods either

    Again, people have little understanding of how bad absolute numbers are as a threat to our future economic well-being. But they do get a sense when it seems things are getting or heading much worse than some current/recent baseline and if that seems troublesome. Surely prior growth in spending and deficits and debt in other periods over the past few years qualify. Are you saying the long-term projected cost of Medicare Part D doesn’t fit that bill? And for that matter that it’s not in the “trillions” category over 20 years and onward from there? I assume not.

  48. comment number 48 by: Brooks


    Not interested in wading into the hyperpartisan talking point food-fight with you.

    But as for 1992, that’s a case in point to some extent. If the economy hadn’t been somewhat bad at the time, I don’t think concern over deficits would have been as great. As I mentioned upthread, a good example was that woman questioning H.W. Bush as she pointed out how friends of hers were suffering from the deficit (in her confused view) when she was really talking about the recession. And in the end Perot didn’t win. Clinton did. And he campaigned talking about stimulus spending, albeit rhetorically hedging (or having it both ways) by saying he would be careful not to increase deficits, IIRC

    Again, if you have a good or even decent economy with growth, reasonably low unemployment, reasonably low inflation, etc., I don’t think you get a strong political movement (in the U.S.) on the basis of deficits or “overreach” of government etc.

  49. comment number 49 by: SteveinCH


    Med Part D is less expensive than the ACA and that’s before you throw anything on top of it. And you miss the context of the existing deficit in the discussion of the two.

  50. comment number 50 by: Brooks


    I was indeed acknowledging the higher deficits (and spending) today than in 2003. I don’t want to be too repetitive, but again, people don’t understand the adverse impact of absolute numbers (size of deficit); they get a sense of the degree of departure from recent or historical baselines, and they listen to voices they trust to get a sense of how concerned they should be about that degree of departure.

    And whether one program suddenly adds $1 trillion to the deficit and another $1.5 trillion or whatever doesn’t matter that much as far as the public psychology around it. And although as you know I scoff at the rhetoric of “offsets”, a piece of legislation with offsets is still much better than one without it like Medicare Part D.

    I just don’t see the differences between policies now vs. Medicare Part D as great enough to explain why there was no TP movement in 2003 but there is one now. The difference between then and now is the economy, and with a decent economy today we wouldn’t have the scale of the TP movement, just as we didn’t get one in 2003.

    Again, just one man’s take on it. YMMV.

  51. comment number 51 by: Jim Glass

    moreover, my point isn’t that the bad economy was necessarily going to produce the TP movement with it’s claims and grievances in particular. In fact my point is the opposite — that if not those particulars, there would be others. There would be *something(s)* people would latch onto to (1) attribute blame for the economy to those in power, and (2) to passionately object to other policies of those same people.

    I agree. I’d put it on an even a broader, more “macro” scale. The median voter theorem says the parties will divide around, well, the median voter — that one at 6 on the L-R scale. If something happens to kick the division line away from there, then something else will happen to kick it back.

    Take the bank crisis and bad economy. In 2008 voters clearly held them against Bush and the Repubs and it helped the Dems and Obama. In 2010 they reversed and held the same things against Obama and the Dems and it helped the Repubs. How to explain? Voters are schizo? Fickle? Short-memoried and blame whomever is in at the moment? All true. The pundits who are paid to punditize will add Obama-overreach, and special interests spending huge amounts of money, and the Tea Party rising, and all the rest. All true too, from their angle.

    But a Martian might say, “Regression to the mean is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. The median voter is the same today as ten years ago, so the MVT says the party division line should be the same. Some things happened in two elections to move it away, then some things happened to move it back. Had to happen. That’s how regression to the mean works”.

    With the median voter at 6, the Dems had no more chance to have a permanent progressive majority after 2008 than the Repubs had of meeting Karl Rove’s stated goal of setting up a permanent Repub majority after 2000. Even less, being that 6 is a bit to the right.

  52. comment number 52 by: Brooks


    I’m not sure if I’m understanding your theory correctly, but are you saying that that point of gravity is an ideological constant — general positions/philosophies on policies — or that it is a point some particular distance between “right” and “left”, but that the range from “right” to “left” (or from mainstream Dem to mainstream Republican) can float in a particular direction over time.

    On social issues, I’d say that latter over the last several decades (and longer). The range (and mid-point) has shifted more “liberal”.

  53. comment number 53 by: Arne

    “Paul Krugman, the convenient, shameless flip-flopper on how alarmed we should be”

    Did you read where Krugman said he was wrong about that?

  54. comment number 54 by: Jim Glass

    It’s true that the Tea Party is a lot like the Perot movement.

    It’s also true that both were motivated by bad times, and the Perot movement disappeared after the economy improved (and Perot acted a little bizzarely, and also pushed a protectionist agenda that lost to NAFTA).

    And it’s true that “people don’t understand the adverse impact of absolute numbers (size of deficit)”. In fact, they don’t even know what a trillion is, much less the impact of a trillion dollars added to the deficit.

    They get their political motivations largely through feelings, and feelings are going to be more alarmist in bad times.

    “spending is higher and the fiscal outlook is worse now than ever, but for most of the past 30 years that could be said, yet no TP movement. That much people have seen in the Reagan years, the H.W. years and the W. years. No TP movement. If growing spending and deficits were the stuff of TP movements, we’d have seen them emerge long ago.”

    Partly true. In the Reagan years the fiscal crisis date hadn’t been figured. In the H.W. years it was figured circa 2035, a long run from then, 40 years in the future, somebdy else’s problem for most. Today it is circa 2025, only 15 years away, with the risk it could be sooner. Our problem, if you are planning to live that long.

    The long run isn’t long any more and is getting shorter every year. This is a very good and sound reason for more people to get alarmed — and well they should.

    As 2025 get closer more people are listening to Concord, seeing things like I.O.U.S.A and feeling worried about things, even if they don’t understand the budget details involved. And well they should.

  55. comment number 55 by: Jim Glass

    I’m not sure if I’m understanding your theory correctly, but are you saying that that point of gravity is an ideological constant… ?

    Not at all. It could change at any time. But empirically it hasn’t, US voters have self-identified as a little right of center on average since such analysis started early in the last century. Even whenthe FDR congresses were overwhelmingly Democratic there was a *big* conservative wing to the party.

    In the 2008 exit polls during the Obama win and Democratic sweep voters self-identified themselves as 6 on average the 1-9, L-R scale, and as about 40% conservative, 40% centrist, and 20% liberal, just about the same as after Bush and the Repubs won eight years earlier. That’s just a fact. Obama won the center big-time in an anti-Bush, anti-Repub vote, but the center wasn’t voting for any liberal big-legislation agenda. Now Obama and the Dems just lost that center equally big-time, for reasons of your choice.

    Each party has its minority, radicalized, motivated wing, we well know, which raises the money and supplies the motivation and foot soldiers and all, and feels “owed” by the party leaders. But national elections are determined by the center. There’s natural conflict between the two. To be successful a President has to hold the voters from his wing through the 50%+1 voter at 6 in the center. That’s always a problem. If he is challenged from his wing he’ll be weakened (Carter/Kennedy, Ford/Reagan) but if loses the center he’ll lose outright (we just saw), and if he’s seen to be losing the center it will invite attacks from the wing. If he loses both center and wing he’s dead meat on a plate (LBJ, Nixon).

    To be sympathetic to Obama, it’s probably harder for a Democratic president because he has to hold a wider political range from wing-to-6, and the left wing is I think more challenging. The right wing focuses more on cultural mores (conservative Christian, Terry Schiavo, etc.) rather than big legislation (apart from tax cuts and the military). So a Republican can ride the right-wing circuit and pay homage proclaiming “I share your values” and be basically OK with them. But the left wing wants big social legislation, so a Democrat has to actually get controversial social legislation through Congress like the next FDR or be a failure to his wing. And even if he succeeds, Gibbs was right, it’s “I won you the national health care you’ve wanted for 50 years, and you’re complaining it’s not good enough!”

    Maybe that’s why since WWII four Republicans but only one Democrat have been elected twice. Clinton, that one, went after the 50%+1 center-right voter at 6 by signing death penalty legislation, going to Arkansas to witness an execution, dissing Sister Souljah, signing welfare reform, etc.

    Obama never did anything at all like any of that. I doubt that he had any desire to, and even if he did it might’ve been impossible while his wing was on its “permanent progressive majority” high, it might have revolted. It’s carped plenty that he hasn’t been liberal enough as it is. And Obama himself has derided Clinton’s small scale policies post-1994.

    But if Obama is going to turn fiasco into success like Clinton did post-1994, he’s going to have to find his inner Clinton, I do believe.

  56. comment number 56 by: Jim Glass

    “Paul Krugman, the convenient, shameless flip-flopper on how alarmed we should be”

    Did you read where Krugman said he was wrong about that?

    But he didn’t. He said that he was wrong about interest rates rising during the Bush years. But that wasn’t and isn’t the issue.

    What Krugman actually wrote — and what matters today — is that at the end of the mortgage he’d just refinanced, decades in the future, say in the 2020s, the fiscal calamity would hit.

    He was “terrified” about the “threat to the federal government’s solvency” that would arise then.

    my prediction is that politicians will eventually be tempted to resolve the crisis the way irresponsible governments usually do: by printing money, both to pay current bills and to inflate away debt.

    “Eventually”? Why?

    because of the future liabilities of Social Security and Medicare, the true budget picture is much worse than the conventional deficit numbers suggest.

    … the conclusion is inescapable. Without the Bush tax cuts, it would have been difficult to cope with the fiscal implications of an aging population. With those tax cuts, the task is simply impossible.

    But there was never any risk at all, none whatsoever, that “the future [not present!] liabilities of Social Security and Medicare” would pose any “threat to the federal government’s solvency”, that the federal government would have to print money to pay its bills and inflate away its debt, during the Bush years before 2008. That threat was always circa 2025, and remains so … just as Krugman wrote.

    Ah, but since Obama was elected, even with the renewal of 85% of the Bush tax cuts that Obama wants — the very cuts that Krugman wrote make it “simply impossible” to avoid that future calamity — Krugman now says, no problem, things will be no worse post-2020 than for Ozzie and Harriet in the 1950s, which worked out great!

    THAT’s Krugman’s “convenient, shameless flip-flop on how alarmed we should be”.

    Krugman’s today saying that, boy, one of his biggest mistakes was writing that interest rates would go up during Bush’s term is nothing but a misdirection to distract people from what he really wrote, and how it completely contradicts what he’s writing today.

  57. comment number 57 by: Brooks


    Re: your first 4 paragraphs in 3:09 comment: yes, exactly, and thanks for the video. And if that news anchor (Charlie Gibson) had said the budget was $100 billion and called that “a staggering number to comprehend” (and if that had been a large departure from some prior baseline), most people would react the same way as they would with $3.5 trillion.

    As for that long-term being not so long now — i.e., closer to the crisis point — I still think that, if we put aside the influence of the fear and anger of today’s particularly bad economy, and the way that fear and anger gets spread around to other issues like spending, deficits and debt (or put differently, if we were to hold the state of the economy as a constant theoretically), there’s not a huge difference between how alarmed most Americans would be today about the long-term fiscal imbalance vs. the level of concern/alarm in 1992. Put differently, if the economy today were the same as in 1992, most people would be just a little more concerned about the long-term fiscal imbalance than they are today, and if the economy were better than in 1992, perhaps they’d be even less concerned. If the economy is good or even decent, a projection of what happens fiscally in 15 years is not going to make the fiscal imbalance issue rise to the top or anywhere close to the top of issues people care about and consider when choosing for whom to vote. Heck, if that were the case we’d see politicians running and getting elected based on real straight-talk and real plans (even in general policy terms, but specific enough to be not just fluff rhetoric of “less spending”) to solve the problem or mitigate it significantly. Instead we have pretty much the same Congress, but shifted somewhat from the guys who want the unsustainable debt trajectory to be based on taxes at X level and spending at Y level to the guys who want more or less that same unsustainable debt trajectory to be the result of taxes at a little less than X and spending a little less than Y. And even that’s not so clear when you consider that the latter would protect more tax expenditure subsidies (no different than explicit “spending” subsidies, but misleadingly labeled as lower taxes) and spend more on Defense.

    I think some progress has been made re: raising awareness and concern, and probably much of the success of organizations like Concord in contributing to that progress has been due to synergy with the psychology of the terrible economy (the generalized anger and fear you and I are talking about). But definitely the bulk of the challenge is still there, and we won’t know that the battle is starting to be won until we see politicians having the guts to get real on this issue (get past the empty, vague rhetoric and support real changes in tax and spending policies on a large enough scale to be meaningful relative to the size of the long-term fiscal imbalance) and see those politicians get rewarded at the polls.

    Re: your 5:25, interesting analysis. Of course, there’s always the balancing act of gaining in the center vs. turning out the base (as well as getting their activism and money as you mention).

    Re: Krugman, that catch of yours a while back is one of my favorite exposures of hyperpartisan bad faith on the part of a columnist.

  58. comment number 58 by: AMTbuff

    I believe that the public senses that running completely unprecedented deficits risks drawing the long-term fiscal crisis right into our laps. If debt of 90% of GDP is the tipping point and we are at 60%, then adding 10% each year seems like a very, very bad policy.

    The people are afraid that we are stimulating a crisis more than we are stimulating growth. That fear is rational.

  59. comment number 59 by: Brooks


    I believe that the public senses that running completely unprecedented deficits risks drawing the long-term fiscal crisis right into our laps. If debt of 90% of GDP is the tipping point and we are at 60%, then adding 10% each year seems like a very, very bad policy.

    I disagree. We’ve had “unprecedented” increases in deficits and debt before, and most of the public have no clue what the “tipping point” debt % of GDP is, and those who do have some sense of a particular level are probably mostly getting it from rhetoric they heard somewhere, just as they would react to the same sources and warning messages if, say, debt were 10% of GDP and were projected to double — yikes, double! — over the next ten years to 20%. People just don’t have much sense of the economic meaning of the absolute numbers for spending, deficits and debt.

    And by the way, a lot of people are confusing current deficits (driven mostly by short-term conditions: recession and stimulus and TARP) with the much larger, structural problem of the long-term fiscal imbalance.

    And a lot of people have no clue what types of spending cuts would seriously help mitigate the problem of the long-term fiscal imbalance vs. what types would be just gnats on an elephant’s ass, despite all the rhetorical mileage politicians and talk show hosts get out of them.

    And overall, I’ll bet most of these Tea Partiers haven’t a clue how much of what types of spending we’d need to cut in order to both solve the problem of the long-term fiscal imbalance AND cut taxes, and if they did have a clue, they’d favor tax increases or at least not advocate tax cuts.

  60. comment number 60 by: SteveinCH


    Have we ever had a 10-year forecast that looks like the current one as a percent of GDP (leaving WWII aside)?

    If not, you are, in my opinion, simply obfuscating.

  61. comment number 61 by: Brooks


    Apparently you’re not listening to me, because you’re essentially asking me to repeat what I’ve said already repeatedly: In short, the absolute numbers are not really all that relevant, because people don’t know what they mean in terms of adverse economic impact or risk. It’s just if there’s some significant departure from some recent or historical baseline, and if there are voices they trust saying that it’s “a staggering number” (see Jim’s link to video) and that they should be worried. And again, even that doesn’t a TP make without a bad economy.

    Please read (or re-read) my comments above (and Jim’s) because I don’t want to keep repeating the same answer and explanation.

  62. comment number 62 by: Brooks

    And I was referring to Jim’s 3:09 comment

  63. comment number 63 by: Arne

    “Have we ever had a 10-year forecast that looks like the current one as a percent of GDP”

    Is this even a good question?

    The 2001 CBO projection (Table 1-1) was that Debt Held by the Public as a Percentage of GDP would drop from 34.7 percent to 5.5 percent. What actually happened was an increase to 61.6 percent. The current 10-year projection is an increase to 69.4 percent.

    They have gotten smart enough to add lots of caveats, but the change from reality to projection was larger than the current projected change.

  64. comment number 64 by: Arne

    “even with the renewal of 85% of the Bush tax cuts … Krugman now says, no problem”

    More garbage analysis from Jim Glass.

    Krugman said that the debt (NOT deficit) could be handled, but certainly did not say this in conjuction with renewing the tax cuts.