47 per cent true

by John Quiggin on September 20, 2012

As Chris says in comments here, Romney’s main hope of getting away with his claim that 47 per cent of the US population are non-taxpaying moochers is the expectation that very few people will actually regard themselves as part of that 47 per cent. The same calculation is made by those who have pushed this talking point for years such as well-known plagiarist Ben Domenech and general lowlife Erick Erickson. It’s unsurprising that they should think this. After all, they’ve been making this claim, in one form or another for years, going back to the WSJ’s attack on “lucky duckies” in 2002. The claim has been refuted time and again with the points that most of the 47 per cent are workers subject to payroll tax, or retired people, but this refutation hasn’t reached the Fox News audience, many of whom don’t realise they are the moochers being attacked here.

But I don’t think this will help Romney, and the reasons why reflect some important developments in relation to post-truth political discourse in the US.

The parallel universe constructed by the right is built primarily on talking points, of which “47 per cent of Americans pay no tax” is a great example. These talking points work well, within the rightwing universe, no matter how misleading they are, and how thoroughly refuted by left/liberal critics. These talking points are never subjected to sharp questioning by the centrist media, nor do they need to fit into a coherent analysis. The 47 per cent line got a good run in the Republican primary campaign, and didn’t cause any trouble for Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann (they caused enough for themselves).

Things change when a point like this escapes into a general election campaign, especially when it is attached to a definite number and a definite group of people. Mitt Romney won’t tell senior citizens or low-wage workers in North Carolina that they are part of the 47 per cent he’s written off, but the Obama campaign will certainly do it for him. Romney can either stay silent and hope it all blows over or try the kind of tortured “clarification” being offered by people like Erickson.

There’s an even bigger problem arising for Romney, mentioned but not fully spelt out in this NY Times article. The fact that many working families pay no income tax is largely due to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the child tax credit (doubled by George Bush). Romney has promised to fund his tax cuts for the rich by cutting exemptions and allowances. On the face of it, his remarks imply that the EITC and child tax credit are in the firing line. It’s hard to see that being sustainable, but ruling out these items is only going to intensify the problems arising from the fact that his promises don’t add up.

All of this is coming at a time when the centrist media is finally feeling the heat for its decades of “he said, she said” reporting, and when the Romney-Ryan team has been called out quite a few times for its factual inaccuracies, aka lies. The initial coverage of the 47 per cent claim seems mostly to state the facts prominently, and in the voice of the newspaper/media outlet rather than “Democrats say ….”/

Perhaps I’m being over-optimistic here, but I think Romney will find it hard to untangle this mess.

{ 86 comments }

1

Michael Harris 09.20.12 at 4:47 am

As I said in that thread, the dog whistles are becoming audible now, not least with the media emboldened to be a little more fact-focussed than they have hitherto been.

2

John Redican 09.20.12 at 4:47 am

What’s astounding is the reactions of media elites, some of whom are saying that Romney and Obama are still in a “tight” race. What?
Reading between the lines, I hear them saying that the American electorate is so hopelessly stupid they will elect a man who openly declares his contempt for half the population.

3

Michael Harris 09.20.12 at 4:53 am

I’ve observed, perhaps with very selective vision but I think it is consistent with John’s view, that as some in the media have finally decided it’s OK to call the Repubs out on some howlers, that others are coming to the conclusion that it might in fact be safe to do so.

As well as, y’know, being in their job description and such.

4

Patrick S. O'Donnell 09.20.12 at 6:26 am

5

shah8 09.20.12 at 6:59 am

Well, I don’t know. I think the media is doing its job, more than it really wants to, because it is dead apparent Romney is going to lose. Being all fakey fakey about how close the race is, when it’s not, would have raised questions that the people who benefit from the microphones would not wish asked.

Mitt is plucked, gutted, stuffed, and ready for the oven.

6

Tom 09.20.12 at 7:02 am

There was a fascinating contrast between the editorials of the NY Times and NY Post (con and pro Romney, respectively) yesterday – worth checking out as an example of a truly partisan, polarised media.

Politicians have a “multiple audience problem” these days which goes beyond the difference between the “true believers” and the mainstream.

We’ve seen a large number of GOP gaffes in recent weeks. But the real story isn’t Romney, Ryan, or Akin (or in Australia, Cory Bernardi).

The first story is the fact that the scrutiny of the electorate now penetrates most enclaves of political discussion, and that it’s easy to crowdsource criticism, signal boost, and subsequently, a scandal from a legion of emotionally invested Twitter users who are also political nerds.

In the past, no one would’ve heard Ryan claim he’d run a three hour marathon who knew that was unlikely, knew how and where to check, and knew how to get the word out.

The second story is that these problems afflict the Right somewhat more than the Left, which is possibly due to the ill-fitting Frankenstein that is the grafting of social conservatism onto free market ideology.

It’s hard to sustain a verisimilitude of integrity when the same people can hear what you’ve said to the chest-beaters of the religious right where they congregate, and what you’ve said to investment bankers at their bunga-bunga parties.

7

Tom 09.20.12 at 7:05 am

@1,3 I don’t think it’s the media driving this.

8

Purple Platypus 09.20.12 at 7:32 am

“these problems afflict the Right somewhat more than the Left, which is possibly due to the ill-fitting Frankenstein that is the grafting of social conservatism onto free market ideology.”

That, or the fact that the “Right” (in reality, you mean the extreme right) lie their asses off far more frequently, far more blatantly, and about far more important things than the “Left” (in reality, the center-right). I’m sure it’s one of the two.

Seriously, the way to tell if a Republican is saying something untrue, that they either know or are culpably ignorant for not knowing is untrue, is to check if his or her mouth is moving.

9

Tom 09.20.12 at 7:45 am

Sure. I think it’s clear that the (extreme) Right is ever more familiar with the fact that the principles espoused in one area are quite irreconcilable with those put forward in another.

In short, they lie knowingly all the time, as you point out.

They’re lying all the time, though – Romney was even lying when he spoke to this select audience, since he was merely reciting what he surely knows to be a dodgy talking point, and he himself is included in the “47 percent” against which he railed.

It’s a paradox that the truth of what, say, Dubya thought on any given issue isn’t really discoverable. Takes me back to my first reading of Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit. Who are these men?

10

Michael Harris 09.20.12 at 7:46 am

I don’t either. I think the media are scrambling to catch up.

“In the past, no one would’ve heard Ryan claim he’d run a three hour marathon who knew that was unlikely, knew how and where to check, and knew how to get the word out.”

Even though there’s something to this, it strikes me as overstatement. Jon Stewart’s been the most prominent bullshit detector on US TV for yeeeeeeeeears. The question is, who’s listening to the checked facts?

As long as the centrist media (JQ’s term) were playing the “Opinions on shape of earth differ” card each time the Repubs claimed the earth was flat, you didn’t have any serious questioning of standard talking-points in that part of the media universe that presented itself as prrfessional and non-partisan.

That’s changed. That’s significant. Just the simple fact that the media don’t have to bend over backwards being “polite”. They have stopped taking Paul Ryan seriously just because they want to be seen to be taking a Republican seriously and he fit the bill.

11

Michael Harris 09.20.12 at 7:47 am

Replying to Tom @7 by the way.

12

Kevin Donoghue 09.20.12 at 8:27 am

…centrist media is finally feeling the heat for its decades of “he said, she said” reporting….

That’s wishful thinking I fear. The media will return to the “he said, she said” line whenever we get situations where that’s the easiest way for a lazy reporter to present a story. What we’re seeing at the moment is a situation where the path of least resistance is: “Campaign in disarray, rats abandon ship.” That’s what’s really hurting Romney. He is seen to have lost control, which is not a good way for any job candidate to appear, never mind a runner for President.

13

Tom 09.20.12 at 8:33 am

I think we agree – it probably was a rhetorical overstatement.

Nevertheless I think it’s true that politicians find themselves pleading that they “misspoke” or failed to “elegantly state” their points of view more often because much more of what they say reaches the public domain – at which point there’s a growing group of enthusiasts who scrutinise what is said and seek to publicise discrepancies, gaffes, lies and contradictions.

These people do love the work of the likes of Jon Stewart (and avidly circulate his highlights, and those of other satirists and commentators) but they do their own legwork when an opportunity arises, as well – holding politicians to account in a way that gets noticed confers status within their own communities.

I’m not American, but in Ryan’s case, the narrative the GOP seem to have wanted is that he’s a serious thinker with consistent and pure intellectual credentials. Instead they’ve ended up with pieces like the one you’ve linked to, and this Wieseltier piece http://www.tnr.com/article/magazine/politics/106459/paul-ryan-nasty-philosophy-self-reliance-ayn-rand

The same sort of thing goes for Tony Abbott, our Opposition Leader here in Australia, as John I’m sure would agree. He’s a Rhodes Scholar, a fact which has played for him up to a point, and has presented himself as a champion of an “intellectual tradition” of conservatism going back generations here.

But his anti-intellectual positions on a range of topics – most notably climate change – have finally begun to be called out by a media seemingly bored with boosting him at the expense of a crippled government.

14

Tom 09.20.12 at 8:36 am

(That was a reply to Michael @10 of course …)

15

Vanya 09.20.12 at 8:58 am

It’s a dogwhistle. Every non-tax paying Republican voter knows who Romney really means by the “47%” – blacks, hispanics and leftist school teachers. The right wing voters all firmly believe Obama is just shoveling out favors at their expense to “his” people . None of your fancy “facts” will change that. This won’t hurt Romney as much as it should, it might even be good for him since the base had been having second thoughts, but this seems to prove Romney is a true believer. I suppose the good news is that a lot of the moderate Republican elite seem to be having second thoughts about this guy now, but I’m not sure how many “moderate Republicans” exist anymore.

16

Roger Gathman 09.20.12 at 10:43 am

I think the right has reason to be confident that a large part of that 47 percent will still vote for Romney. The National Review’s chief scientist, Kevin Williamson, has demonstrated that Romney will get 100 percent of the ladies vote cause ladies are – as we all know! – all about the money. And this can’t just be true in the alternative Limbauverse, can it?

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2012/08/22/kevin_d_williamson_national_review_evolutionary_speaking_romney_should_get_100_percent_of_the_female_vote_.html?wpisrc=obnetwork
“From an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote. All of it. He should get Michelle Obama’s vote. You can insert your own Mormon polygamy joke here, but the ladies do tend to flock to successful executives and entrepreneurs. Saleh al-Rajhi, billionaire banker, left behind 61 children when he cashed out last year. We don’t do harems here, of course, but Romney is exactly the kind of guy who in another time and place would have the option of maintaining one. He’s a boss. Given that we are no longer roaming the veldt for the most part, money is a reasonable stand-in for social status. Romney’s net worth is more than that of the last eight U.S. presidents combined. He set up a trust for his grandkids and kicked in about seven times Barack Obama’s net worth, which at $11.8 million is not inconsiderable but probably less than Romney’s tax bill in a good year. If he hadn’t given away so much money to his church, charities, and grandkids, Mitt Romney would have more money than Jay-Z.

And what about the president’s appeal? “Professor Obama? Two daughters,” Williamson writes. “May as well give the guy a cardigan. And fallopian tubes.”
So I suppose the election is over. Darn, if only those ladies weren’t wired for the bling! But you can’t fight Darwinio-Christian science, can ya?

17

Michael Harris 09.20.12 at 11:07 am

Tom, I come from a land downunder too.

The Libs here have flirted with Repub demagoguery here of the Tea Party variety here (cf. the ditch-the-witch anti-carbon-tax rallies), but various aspects of our system seem to constrain the degree to which our pollies can flirt with extreme positions for long periods. A combination of things seem to make us less prone to the same sort of hot-buttoning of particular issues (religion, gun ownership/control, abortion …).

In fact, the really compelling argument for American Exceptionalism is in the realm of hot-button issues. Most other industrialised countries with which I have a passing familiarity seem to be able to discuss things like gun control or health care (and hence pass laws about them) without the same kind of fundamentalist and highly emotive position-taking in large measure that occurs in the US.

Abbott’s hot-buttoning is fundamentally economic, by which I mean financial, by which I mean how bad the carbon tax or the mining tax is going to be for the economy and by that he means your wallet. Cory Bernardi is articulating an extreme position in the way Todd Akin is — but the difference is that Akin is saying something acceptable to many Republicans who might simply be able to be a bit more discreet about what they express in public. Bernardi’s position is not one widely held but rarely spoken in Coalition circles, AFAIK, and what’s more, Abbott knows that it’s extreme enough that it will do him far more harm than good to associate himself with it.

My point (and I do have one) is I think — and I admit it, I hope — that the Repub’s meta-strategy of not being part of the reality-based community is coming apart at the seams. I say that because I’ve long felt it was bound to unravel eventually, because it simply couldn’t be sustained forever.

Suspension of disbelief is something we have to agree to do. There’s only so long you can rely on Americans’ post-9/11 emotions to sustain a willingness to not pay attention to the facts and the details (and for the lamestream media to go along with the hoax). At some point things are simply not going to ring true. Maybe I am indulging in my own confirmation bias, but I think we’ve reached that particular tipping point. The media in the US are raising a finger and going “Waaaaaaiiiit a minute…”

Not before time.

18

Tim Worstall 09.20.12 at 11:21 am

“The parallel universe constructed by the right is built primarily on talking points, of which “47 per cent of Americans pay no tax” is a great example. “

Not to be too hugely partisan about this but it’s easy enough to build a similar list of left talking points which lead to a similarly parallel universe.

In this case, the original statement, 47% of Americans pay no federal income tax is true (and yes, I agree that this is a good idea for the EITC reason etc that JQ gives). When this slips out into the general conversation the qualifiers of “federal” and “income tax” get lost.

I’m currently watching with great interest an attempt to seed a similar trope by various on the left in the UK. The origin is a group associated with the TUC. They are pointing out that the labour share of national income has fallen in recent decades. Which it indeed has. They’re then going on to say that the profit share must have risen. Which it hasn’t. For labour share and profit share to not amount to 100% of GDP.

What has risen is mixed income and also taxes minus subsidies. The other two which make up the four which is 100% of national income. Mixed income is largely the earnings of the self-employed and as there are more of them than 30 years ago (the timescale being used) it’s not all that surprising that their share of the economy has risen. The rise in taxes minus subsidies is really a result of VAT rates increasing over those decades.

It is also true that the wages and salaries part of the labour share has been falling. That’s because the other component of the labour share, employer paid taxes on employment (employers’ national insurance to us) has been rising.

Whether you consider this to be part of creating a parallel universe is obviously a matter of opinion. But to be saying that the labour share has fallen because the profit share has risen, when in fact the labour share has fallen because self employment is up and taxes on employment and consumption are up, is at the very least telling a misleading story.

Yes, this can be viewed as a tu quoque…..not that it’s JQ who is the tu. But that’s not quite what I mean. The process of creating these parallel universes is also known as “politics”. And by definition all politicians are guilty of it.

19

Cranky Observer 09.20.12 at 11:43 am

= = = Tim Worstall @ 11:21 “Not to be too hugely partisan about this but it’s easy enough to build a similar list of left talking points which lead to a similarly parallel universe. = = =

Really? “Left” (whatever that means) talking points that are used consistently and relentlessly by senior figures in the Democratic Party and a major television news network? Some examples might be in order.

Cranky

20

Michael Harris 09.20.12 at 12:15 pm

It’s just False Equivalence 101 trolling. Hardly worth humouring.

21

Chris Bertram 09.20.12 at 12:25 pm

” to seed a similar trope”

Is that what one does with tropes? I’d always wondered.

22

chris 09.20.12 at 12:32 pm

In this case, the original statement, 47% of Americans pay no federal income tax is true

Well, it’s true with a footnote. 47% of Americans don’t pay the tax named “the federal income tax”. But many of them do pay federal taxes on their income. How is this contradiction possible? Because “the federal income tax” isn’t the only federal income tax. Yes, this is confusing, and Romney’s talking point deliberately exploits the confusion to deceive people.

I assume Worstall knows this, he’s a pretty well-informed guy, so the fact that he doesn’t bother to acknowledge it is fairly telling, IMO. You can either expose the deception, or you can cooperate with it…

23

PaulB 09.20.12 at 12:53 pm

Tim Worstall: the profit share has risen compared with 30 years ago, which is the comparison the TUC and its friends are pushing. Here‘s my chart.

24

Earwig 09.20.12 at 12:55 pm

The celebration of the press’ conversion to “reality” is premature.

25

faustusnotes 09.20.12 at 1:35 pm

I just want to say – out of patriotic pride – that in my opinion, if an opposition leader in Australia said an equivalent thing, they’d be out the door in the time it took their party to form a caucus. Similarly, I think, in the UK (though Cameron does skirt the line) and Japan. I’m guessing there are very few European countries where this kind of thing is acceptable. If he hasn’t been banned from Prof. Quiggin’s threads, maybe J. Otto Pohl could give an African perspective? In any case, if there are any Americans reading this (which I doubt, since it’s the internet), you might want to consider what that tells you about your political system.

I bet there isn’t even a significant figure in Chinese politics who can get away with this kind of gaffe.

26

Lee A. Arnold 09.20.12 at 3:00 pm

@ Michael Harris #10 — Another thing that has happened is that media has become democratized via internet and web video. The conversation is more rapid, the facts easier to check, and the entry of something like the Mitt video is quickly and cheaply possible. The mainstream media cannot keep up with any of this. After a brief spate of resentment at being questioned, at being fact-checked, they are now joining the crowd. It is the history of the thing. Television was the gold standard of “truth” from its inception, up to the 1980′s. The rise of cable channels allowed the widespread appearance of “infomercials” and propaganda like Fox News. But now, information cannot be controlled unless you squelch it at the source. Future politicians will require all supporters to check their cellphones at the door.

27

Lee A. Arnold 09.20.12 at 3:10 pm

@ Cranky #19 — That is a list I would like to read, too. In the United States at least, the rightwing party has a clearly phony and self-contradictory ideology. The other party has no ideology, no clear talking points. It is slightly to the left of the Republicans, but has no unified approach to anything really. The Democrats are the “kitchen sink” party. Whatever remains, whatever works. This may be the Dem’s saving grace. The rise of the internet has shown that the country is not center-right, it is center-left, although the mainstream media barely understands this yet. But we’ve entered an historical crossroads where big gov’t spending must be recognized as an enduring part of a necessary welfare state. Indeed the Republican intellectual intransigence is pushing the entire question slowly and surely into full view. It hasn’t happened yet, but the Dems are currently positioned to be the better stewards of it.

28

James 09.20.12 at 3:20 pm

OP: “The parallel universe constructed by the right is built primarily on talking points, of which “47 per cent of Americans pay no tax” is a great example.”

The non-income taxes paid by the 47 percent go to fund defined government programs. Excluding government borrowing; by definition the remaining 53 percent of tax payers pay for everything else. Every time a progressive calls for new spending or the raising of income taxes to pay for existing borrowing, that money comes exclusively from the 53 percent who pay income taxes. Let us not ignore the truth in the ’47 percent’ talking point otherwise we will be blind to the selling point of the statement.

29

MPAVictoria 09.20.12 at 3:24 pm

“The non-income taxes paid by the 47 percent go to fund defined government programs. Excluding government borrowing; by definition the remaining 53 percent of tax payers pay for everything else. Every time a progressive calls for new spending or the raising of income taxes to pay for existing borrowing, that money comes exclusively from the 53 percent who pay income taxes. Let us not ignore the truth in the ’47 percent’ talking point otherwise we will be blind to the selling point of the statement.”

Keep farking that chicken man.

30

PaulB 09.20.12 at 3:26 pm

This is a bit hard on Romney: he was talking to donors, in private (he thought), back in May, explaining his campaign strategy. Both the timing and nature of the meeting were similar to the context of Obama’s “they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion” explanation of some people’s attitudes. Romney surely doesn’t believe that every one of the 47%* of the population paying no federal income tax “will vote for the president no matter what”, because his pollsters will have told him it’s not so; he was just explaining to his donors what sort of voters his campaign was hoping to gain, and why.

Obama will be a much much better president than Romney, but we knew that before the video came out. Let’s not hold it against politicians that they are somewhat careless when speaking to their supporters.

*46% seems to be a better estimate now

31

kdog 09.20.12 at 3:28 pm

I think part of what is going on is that the emotional content of the Repub pitch to different constituencies is spilling out and causing trouble. While there has been a lot of scrutiny about the (in)accuracy of the 47% remark, it seems to me that Romney’s biggest problem is that he reveals himself to be an a-hole in the telling.

Of course, there’s a big portion of his constituency that like hearing the a-holish narrative about the makers-takers / producers-parasites, and another big group that wants to hear about minorities, these aren’t the same as the people who just vaguely feel like we need to rein in spending/entitlements/deficits. It seems to me that Repubs had developed a sense that they could sell to each of these groups separately. To the extent that they cannot do so, their words are going to seem harsh to enough people to matter. The real damaging things about the tape, in this telling, are the bits about people believing they are victims, and “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Add to that the bits about wishing he were Mexican and his insisting that he never had any advantages in life, and you’ve got a great plan to “lose friends and influenze people,” as my dad used to say. But all of these horrible statements are great rallying cries for significant parts of his constituency.

So, I think Tom’s astute in pointing out the role of technology here, and how it might especially affect parties that want to skew “facts” differently to different people. But maybe it’s also going to cause bigger problems for parties having a preponderance of a-holes in their bases.

32

Uncle Kvetch 09.20.12 at 3:29 pm

Trickle-down in action:

“47% of the people that are living off the public dole, living off their neighbors’ hard work”

33

John B 09.20.12 at 3:48 pm

Re 18 and 20-22, but not 19 and 23

One reason that I rarely participate in comment threads is the intensity with which even mildly dissenting views are attacked. Monstrous trolls can be a problem but disagreement does not make one monstrous. If — a big if — part of the purpose of reading and participating in such discussions is to learn how to convincingly refute points with which one disagrees, or even perhaps occasionally to adopt them, then having some points made with which one disagrees would seem a useful starting point.

I’ll just crawl back under my bridge now.

34

mpowell 09.20.12 at 4:01 pm

The media is still doing meta-reporting. They interpret this as a scandal and so they report on the Romney campaign responding to the scandal, how the campaign is in disarray, etc. But there is still no critical examination of what is actually being said by the candidate and partisans will just file this away according to their tribal identities.

But I think this is an opening for Obama in the debate. He just needs to repeat over and over again that Romney has identified 47% of the country as moochers. And talk about the percentage of seniors who fall into that category (I’m not sure what it is, but I imagine it is quite high; Obama just needs to paint the picture properly). And then ask those seniors if they still trust the Republicans to take care of them. Many tax payers will be confused about whether they are part of the 47% or not, but I think Obama has a shot at making it clear to seniors that having paid taxes in the past does not disqualify you from being a moocher according to Mitt Romney. The real problem with the 47% comment is that it’s not a dog whistle to his racist base, it’s the message the financial backers of the party wants to hear, and it represents the Paul Ryan agenda for SS and Medicare. This is the message that should scare the shit out of senior citizens.

To me this could be a crack in the dam. It’s only a start, but I think it’s the sort of thing that could really penetrate the Fox News bubble given just how blatant it is. It’s a real opportunity to point out to seniors that they can’t rely on Republicans. This is a large Republican voting block. The Democrats don’t have to peel away too many of those voters before Republicans move into permanent minority status at the national level.

35

Jonathan Mayhew 09.20.12 at 4:04 pm

Right. All those retired folks think of themselves in the 53%, since they payed taxes their whole working lives. Obama has to point out that Romney thinks of them as moochers.

36

Phil 09.20.12 at 4:10 pm

The comparison between this speech and Obama’s “guns and bibles” speech is quite interesting. As has been pointed out, Obama said (in effect) “those guys are ignorant (though it’s not their fault) and they hate us, but we want to help them anyway”, where Romney said “those guys are feckless parasites (and it is their fault) and they hate us, so screw them”. I don’t think this is just because Obama’s politics are progressive where Romney’s are reactionary, or just because Obama’s a nice and fair-minded guy while Romney… isn’t (although I tend to think both of those are true).

I think the key thing about both those speeches is that they were political appeals to the candidates’ respective bases – marketing messages, in effect. And what that says is that Romney thinks a message of selfishness, meanness and prejudice is a vote-winner. Unfortunately I’m not convinced he’s wrong – I think an awful lot of people will rally to that banner.

37

DrJim 09.20.12 at 4:16 pm

Based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence I’d be willing to bet that the percentage of Fox News viewers in Romney’s 47% (Americans who don’t pay income tax) is larger than the percentage of Democratic voters in R’s 47%. Somebody do a survey …

38

JW Mason 09.20.12 at 4:26 pm

The other bizarre thing about this is, since when did Republicans decide that *paying taxes* is the measure of your contribution to society? I thought that it was businesses that were the makers, the producers, etc. So why isn’t everyone who works for a private business part of the elect?

39

Seth 09.20.12 at 5:11 pm

@Tim W., #18:

“… it’s easy enough to build a similar list of left talking points …”

But apparently not easy enough that you actually attempt it.

40

kdog 09.20.12 at 5:19 pm

mpowell @31: Yes, but not in the debates. This issue is ready-made for commercials. The “trust-me-on-Medicare” message will be subtler in the debates.

Phil @36: I’m also interested in the comparison/contrast between this and the guns/religion fiasco of 2008. Was Obama really telling the base what they wanted to hear, or was he trying to pitch them some sort of idea? If it was the former, I don’t think it was as integral a part of the base’s worldview as in the present case. Also, were Obama’s comments followed up by big segments of his support encouraging him to rebuild his campaign around the theme, or did he more or less go into damage control mode? I thought it was the latter, but I don’t actually know.

41

Substance McGravitas 09.20.12 at 5:21 pm

The other bizarre thing about this is, since when did Republicans decide that *paying taxes* is the measure of your contribution to society?

Page 2 of a Rich Lowry piece:

The deeper problem with the “47 percent” argument is that it is right-wing Elizabeth Warrenism. It reflects the belief that federal income taxes are an expression of our togetherness. If you aren’t paying them — or aren’t paying enough — you are a subcitizen.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) says everyone should pay federal taxes, even if it’s “the price of two Happy Meals a year, $10.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said it’s an “injustice” that more people don’t pay income taxes. Warren wants to tax rich people as a statement of our patriotic commitment to one another; some conservatives apparently want to tax poor people and seniors for the same reason.

How does this look in the real world? If a couple earning $35,000 with two kids has no income tax liability thanks to various exemptions, deductions and credits (the child tax credit has been especially important in removing families from the rolls), how much should we tax them to get them to shape up and fly right? How much do they have to fork over to the Internal Revenue Service to learn a lesson in basic civics?

This line of argument represents a backdoor return to Country Club Republicanism, with the approval of part of the Republican base. Fear of the creation of a class of “takers” can slide into disdain for people who are too poor — or have too many kids or are too old — to pay their damn taxes. For a whiff of how politically unattractive this point of view can be, just look at the Romney fundraising video.

42

Substance McGravitas 09.20.12 at 5:22 pm

Hey, normal HTML blockquoting must work now!

43

Bruce Wilder 09.20.12 at 6:17 pm

A couple of points about the underlying political dynamics might be in order:

In contrast to Australia, the U.S. has very low voter turnout, and part of the political dynamics turns on strategies to “motivate the base” to get out and vote, and/or “suppress” or discourage turnout. Karl Rove’s successful strategy in 2004 turned on such subtleties as having state referenda on gay marriage to get out the evangelical vote, and manipulating the issuing of “terror alerts” a few days before the election, to get a predictable “scared” shift toward Bush of a few percent. The Republicans were able to stage a massive comeback in 2010, retaking the House, on the strength of Tea Party excitement combined with Democratic Party demoralization, reflected in turnout at the polls.

Obama’s overall political strategy has been to move to, and occupy the center-right of American politics. Implemented as policy, this has entailed embracing and extending a large part of the Bush policy regime, regarding the financial system, the economy and taxes, immigration, civil liberties, military spending and the wars, with predictably lackluster results. But, of course, poor results or no, it is a difficult record for a Republican to attack, without seeming ridiculous — these are the policy desiderata of the Right. As a political strategy, it takes the risk of discouraging and demoralizing the Democratic Party’s base voting blocks — at least the more ideological or policy-conscious ones — since the bulk of Democratic Party voters are situated to Obama’s left, sometimes far left, and Obama has to minimize his own use of the Democrats’ traditional populist rhetoric. Obama has been able to compensate, because he has solid support from black and latino voters, who have taken less notice of his right-wing policies and performance, and with the “war on women” charge against Republican policies.

One of the dividends of Obama’s center-right positioning is that he gets lukewarm support from what used to be moderate Republican factions, in the form of attacks and criticisms of Republican pundits representing these factions on Romney and Ryan. And, mainstream media will report out these criticisms. On the 47% gaffe, Romney has been attacked by such Republican stalwarts as David Brooks of the New York Times. Figures like David Frum, Bruce Bartlett and Richard Posner have emerged as pundit representatives of the moderate Republican center-right, who find Obama’s policies congenial; they speak as outsiders, with relation to the Republican Party, but provide an important point of leverage for mainstream reporting of the he-said, she-said variety.

Romney’s nomination is oddly discordant with the patterns of Republican Party presidential politics. The Republican Party has become a regional party, with its base concentrated in the old Confederacy of the South, and its support elsewhere, where the South finds resonance. Until very recently, the Presidential contest was in the South, as the relative growth in Republican support and decline in Democratic support called the outcome. The Democrats were most successful, when running Southerners, who would sound populist themes (Carter, Clinton, Gore) and hold more of the white Southern vote. Republicans would counter with authoritarian figures, who would manipulate symbols and sound dog-whistles. Gradually, the Republicans were becoming better and better at effectively sounding populist themes. George W. Bush, cutting brush at his “ranch” and looking to some like an affable companion for beer-drinking, with claims to being born-again, was a triumph of Republican populist fakery.

In some ways, Romney is the right guy for a regional Party: he has ties to Massachusetts, Michigan, Utah, California; everywhere, but the South. That kind of counter-programming is what a regional Party should do; the alternative is to risk a reaction, since the (symbolic) South (of racist backward ignorance) is held in contempt by most of the country. But, he’s been completely unsuccessful in putting on the populist flannel shirt or in sounding like the authoritarian “daddy party” figure, exemplified by the Republican governors of New Jersey, Florida, Wisconsin and some other states.

Populist appeals have become the un-played, and possibly unplayable card, in this election. Not because they get no reaction from the electorate, but because populist appeals threaten to get too much of a reaction, too much of a response, in a country in which vast numbers of people are feeling their own economic descent.

44

SN 09.20.12 at 6:21 pm

Social media has been a game changer but never so much as during this election.

Mother Jones has a big presence on Twitter. I think the story made a much bigger splash that way.

I wonder what the reaction would have been if Romney had just stood up and said that stuff openly. There’s something about it being a ‘secret’ tape that’s so much more nefarious. Or rather, the secret-tape nature of the speech highlights its nefariousness.

The media goes through shifts. It has most certainly had many blind partisan periods. The social media is a great way to crack that nut though.

45

Bruce Wilder 09.20.12 at 6:22 pm

Phil @ 36

It was a fund-raiser, not a voter rally. Romney thinks, correctly, that an appeal to selfishness and meanness wins campaign contributions.

46

Bruce Wilder 09.20.12 at 7:04 pm

I think Romney’s “47%” remark correctly reflects the views of a great many of the wealthy and privileged, who instinctively regard much of the world’s population as so much useless surplus, unneeded in an economy constrained by the limits of physical resources. The viciousness of the thought stands out, of course, but what ought to impress us more is the realism.

“Peak oil”, world population growth, climate-change and related trends mark out one of the most momentous changes since the modern world began to emerge in the 17th and 18th centuries. The entire energy basis of the world economy will have to change completely in the next 30-50 years, and the U.S. will certainly not be able to claim an out-sized share of energy in the global economy of 2050. That implies that energy consumption in the U.S. will have to decline, substantially (~60+%), over the next generation, which, in turn, implies that the suburbs and ex-urbs — as a pattern of life supporting a culture of dreams and ambition — is doomed. It also implies that globalization of the manufacturing and agricultural economies, though maybe not the information economy, is, also, doomed.

A lot of Republican “tea party” reactionary appeal in the 2010 elections was the expression of anger about the felt threat, especially in the ex-urbs and suburbs, to a pattern of life that went deeper than symbolic “guns” and “bibles”. That newly elected Republican governors rejected major transit projects in New Jersey, Florida and Wisconsin was the “symbolic” politics of that anger.

American politics is in a right-wing box, kept there by fear that all the alternatives to a crumbling status quo, are worse, combined with the demands of corrupt vested interests to preserve whatever still extracts value, whether it is iPhones or payday loans, fractured medical care or Wal-Mart or student loans that condemn a generation to debt peonage.

The preservationist instinct, brought out in periodic panic reactions to the crumbling status quo, is driven by stupid fear, and its consequences for both the choice of policy and the design and execution of policy, are terrible, and often senselessly corrupt. We are saddled with a massively oversized financial sector, much of it dependent on extractive frauds, because everyone fears the alternative of a crash or nationalization or even prosecutions. So many of the rich elite, like Romney, live off of disinvestment, and so much of the economy is extractive, that we lose track of what it would mean to invest in adding value, or to build a better future.

The Republicans can call for leveling — attacking the “privileges” of unionized teachers or other public employees, or calling for “sacrifice” in the form of cuts to Social Security, and they will be echoed by Democrats like Obama and his good friend, Rahm.

47

Dr. Hilarius 09.20.12 at 7:07 pm

The mainstream press is mostly lazy and conformist. (I say this on the basis of knowing many journalists and watching the shift in journalism schools over the past three decades.) A meme appears, “Paul Ryan is a policy wonk good with budget numbers” and it is eagerly incorporated into Ryan coverage. Only when someone actually challenges this is it discovered that he has nothing other than a slick presentation. The alternative media, Mother Jones, Huffington, Daily Kos, etc., have been gaining in influence with the growth of social media. This growth in turn has forced the mainstream media into covering stories they might have otherwise ignored; secret campaign tapes. Despite having enormously greater resources, the mainstream press is playing catchup. Direct reader input to the media seem to be having some impact as well. The New York Times public editor is getting justly thumped for his continued false equivalency coverage of the campaign. CNN has been getting email praising Soledad O’Brian for actually confronting politicians with facts.

Despite new pressures, mainstream media (I don’t like the phrase but can’t think of anything better right now) still largely cover politics in the same manner as sporting events. Who’s ahead? Who’s made an error? The substance is of secondary importance.

What is overlooked is that a large number of potential voters don’t read or hear any of the above. This mornings NYT’s piece on underemployed young adults touches on this. They have very little knowledge of politics and can’t differentiate between the parties. I work with a lot of lower-income to underclass individuals. They don’t read a newspaper (indeed many of them are barely literate), don’t watch TV news, and lack sufficient education to make sense of conflicting claims. They may know they are in the 47% but have little idea of what to do with this information. These are the people the Democratic Party has neglected in its competition with Republicans for Wall Street and corporate dollars. From their standpoint, an Obama $50K a plate fundraiser is no different from Romney’s. These are the people Obama needs. But can he reach them?

48

lupita 09.20.12 at 7:20 pm

@Bruce Wilder, #46

American politics is in a right-wing box, kept there by fear that all the alternatives to a crumbling status quo, are worse

So true. Westeners have accepted for centuries that their merchants and corporations are responsible for jobs, prosperity, development and growth in their own and in 3rd world societies. Are they to suddenly believe that profit-driven trade and growth of corporations is not beneficial?

Despite overwhelming evidence of acute global inequality, as in pictures of famished babies, Westerners have supported the values of their elites regarding self-reliance and the expendability of those not able to take care of themselves. Are they to suddenly change their value system to one in which solidarity and redistribution are central?

Westerners backed a system in which poor nations cut health and education systems and canceled infrastructure projects to be able to meets usurious interest payments to Western banks. Are they to believe now that this is no longer the mark of a modern, efficient, state?

Even if mal-administered, corrupt Greece experiences a 30% fall in GDP, it would end up with a GDP per capita of $17,000. Compare to $10,000 in Argentina and Mexico, $5,500 in China, and $3,000 in Egypt. Of course Western electorates believe in their elites! Even factoring in a depression, Western populations would be much better off than the non-western world where people talk of solidarity, social justice, and such. As long as Western elites deliver, as defined by the highest GDP per capita, control of the world’s financial system, and military supremacy, Western electorates will take the ideological contradictions.

49

Bruce Wilder 09.20.12 at 7:52 pm

Dr. Hilarius: “These are the people the Democratic Party has neglected in its competition with Republicans for Wall Street and corporate dollars. From their standpoint, an Obama $50K a plate fundraiser is no different from Romney’s. These are the people Obama needs.”

I think these are the people, who most need Obama, but, unfortunately, he was sold at $50K a plate fundraisers to folks very much like Romney.

At this point, voting is merely a legitimating ritual. Obama doesn’t need the votes of the poor, and isn’t much interested in getting them. The big risk to Obama, now, is that the Democrats might screw up, overshoot and re-gain control of the House of Representatives, making it that much harder to credibly stage some post-election “Grand Bargain” robbery of the middle classes, against the background supposed political gridlock.

Read this interview with Greg Palast, and consider what he’s saying both about voting and about the mainstream media.
http://truth-out.org/news/item/11500-greg-palast-on-how-the-gop-is-planning-to-steal-the-2012-election

In New Mexico, a solid Democratic state where Latinos are half the citizenry, Bush carried the state and the GOP has the governor’s mansion. Why?

Because the Hispanic Democratic elite of that state don’t want no poor folk voting – or jackasses like Bill Richardson would never win a primary. When I called the secretary of state, Becky Vigil-Giron, to ask why, in one poor Hispanic precinct, there was not a single vote for president recorded, she told me that, “Those people can’t make up their minds.”

50

Chris Johnson 09.20.12 at 8:51 pm

“In New Mexico, a solid Democratic state where Latinos are half the citizenry, Bush carried the state and the GOP has the governor’s mansion. Why?”

I live in Santa Fe. I know quite a few democratic operative-type people (it’s a small state) and I think a key reason Martinez won was that her opponent, Diane Denish, was linked in folks’ minds to Bill Richardson (she was his Lt. Governor). Nobody likes Richardson.

51

arkansasmediawatch 09.20.12 at 9:26 pm

The 47% meme, sometimes presented as a half-truth, often as an outright lie (“half Americans don’t pay any taxes”) but always deliberately misleading, has been around for a long time and has rarely been challenged. This is remarkable. When has it ever been a viable political strategy to insult half the population? (Compare “war on women”.) Let’s not forget that most journalists and certainly editors see themselves as part of the “53%” and are so far removed from “how the other half lives” that they don’t even stop to question such a statement. I am actually quite astonished at the sight of the MSM doing their job properly in this instance. Of course, Romney showed unusual malice (because thought he was speaking in private) but in substance, what he said has been said many times before without the media crying foul, and that is precisely why he felt so comfortable saying what he said.

I have documented both Arkansas Senators (one Dem, one Rep) lying about who pays taxes, and the response of the regional media (which of course is particularly right-wing) was to back the Senators.

http://arkansasmediawatch.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/senator-boozman-insults-half-his-constituents/
http://arkansasmediawatch.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/senator-pryor-insults-half-his-constituents/

52

James Wimberley 09.20.12 at 10:32 pm

JQ: “Mitt Romney won’t tell senior citizens or low-wage workers in North Carolina that they are part of the 47 per cent he’s written off, but the Obama campaign will certainly do it for him.”
Not to mention the SEALs and other special forces based in Fort Bragg. US military serving in combat areas like Afghanistan are exempted from federal income taxes, and of course most GIs and sailors won’t earn enough in cash to be net payers after EITC anyway.
Romney has just called the men who killed Bin Laden gormless parasites.

53

Lee A. Arnold 09.20.12 at 11:52 pm

Brief new political ad today. Pretty good stuff. Will be even better if there is a follow-up. Some sort of savvy milestone in correcting the discourse. Via Taegan Goddard:
http://politicalwire.com/archives/2012/09/20/taking_romney_out-of-context.html

54

Tom 09.21.12 at 2:53 am

With respect to the debate going on, I feel the main story is still being lost here.

It’s not that right wing talking points are nonsense (or left wing, to the extent that they exist – there are a few). It’s not that the media is suddenly willing to scrutinise politicians.

This is what’s happening.

Communicating divergent messages to different interest groups had become an essential part of the political institution – though it goes against any of the very consistency of principle implicitly demanded for the proper function of representative democracy.

It’s now becoming untenable due to the ability of ordinary people to record and critique politicians’ statements, and publicise them to channels which will elevate them to the public sphere if they’re deemed to be sufficiently sensational.

For example, thought the Australian PM Julia Gillard can still say she opposes same sex marriage, she can no longer comfortably address the Australian Christian Lobby

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/julia-gillard-cancels-speech-at-australian-christian-lobby-conference-over-smoking-healthier-than-gay-marriage-slur/story-fncynkc6-1226466356492

which says things like ‘smoking is healthier than gay marriage’. She can no longer easily address that group as a fellow traveller while sustaining a marginally more tolerant position in the mainstream media.

55

Ed 09.21.12 at 5:15 am

“Romney’s nomination is oddly discordant with the patterns of Republican Party presidential politics.”

I think Bruce Wilder has been making excellent points, and this is just a minor caveat to his comments. Romney is a really rich guy who is the son of a VIP in politics/ government, and who was the runner up in an earlier contest for the Republican presidential nomination. The Republicans have been nominating some variation of this for over thirty years. Romney is a pretty standard Republican candidate, except that he really sucks as a candidate (he is a corporate raider who served a single term as governor when the other party had a veto-proof majority in the legislature, who can’ t conceal his contempt for most the electorate, among other things). That he sucks may have been luck of the draw this time around, or it could be the practice of running really weak candidates against each others incumbents, which has been pretty standard in down-ballot races in U.S. politics, has now spread to the presidential level.

56

Michael Harris 09.21.12 at 6:30 am

For example, thought the Australian PM Julia Gillard can still say she opposes same sex marriage, she can no longer comfortably address the Australian Christian Lobby

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/julia-gillard-cancels-speech-at-australian-christian-lobby-conference-over-smoking-healthier-than-gay-marriage-slur/story-fncynkc6-1226466356492

which says things like ‘smoking is healthier than gay marriage’. She can no longer easily address that group as a fellow traveller while sustaining a marginally more tolerant position in the mainstream media.

In the context of Australia, you’re sayin this is a new thing?

Meaning, five years ago she (or someone similar) could have done that?

I’m not disagreeing with the point that social media has changed the landscape, to be clear.

57

Michael Harris 09.21.12 at 6:34 am

I got my italics wrong — my reply to Tom starts at “In the context of Australia…”

58

Tom 09.21.12 at 8:03 am

Michael – here in Oz, I think the landscape has been shifted by social media and the shift is making it harder for our representatives to retain contradictory positions.

For example, the division of the Parliamentary benches on marriage equality legislation is doing the rounds – it has been easy to see how local MPs and members of Cabinet have voted. This sort of thing is clearly making it harder for politicians (on this issue the ones copping the most flak are Turnbull and Gillard) to sustain a criticism of an outlier like Bernardi alongside their politically determined ‘no’ votes.

You are right that this has been going on for a while, though – you can definitely draw a parallel between Gillard’s cancellation of her ACL speech (after Jim Wallace’s homophobic spill) and the pressure that was brought to bear on Howard and Costello regarding their association with the Exclusive Brethren in 2007.

It’s not so much that exposés on social networks hold politicians to account, however, as that they provide easy material for an under-resourced, struggling traditional news media that latches on to the day’s most grating and sensational political contradiction and brings it to a wider audience.

That said, I happened to glance at the Australian newspaper’s coverage of Romney’s gaffe at lunch just now, and discovered a level of apologism and agreement with his views on the “47 percent” I wouldn’t have expected even from that publication.

59

ajay 09.21.12 at 9:08 am

. That implies that energy consumption in the U.S. will have to decline, substantially (~60+%), over the next generation

It’s fallen about 10% in per capita terms over the last ten years – ten years which, to put it mildly, didn’t see much in the way of pro-conservation policy – so that’s not entirely unfeasible.

60

basil 09.21.12 at 11:13 am

Am I the only who thinks it imprudent for the Dems to take it upon themselves to identify the 47% Romney’s talking about? Romney’s campaign team could refuse to make clear who exactly Romney was talking about, and if the Dems and their supporters then proceed to make guesses, attack the Dems for insulting good hardworking tax-paying Americans – like Tea Partiers and seniors for example.

Also, race. I’d always understood welfare queen to be a specific charge against blackness, not against dependence. But does this leak attract votes from say Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Latinos who have over time developed a resentment towards the poor, the weak, government, taxes and welfare and who see themselves as Randian heroes triumphing against all odds?

I don’t see how Romney loses here.

61

bianca steele 09.21.12 at 12:50 pm

There is a fairly widespread meme about people who expect to be taken care of by government. It was used, in a large proportion of the times I’ve heard it face-to-face, in about the way Romney did. And I never quite got who it was supposed to be aimed at.

62

bianca steele 09.21.12 at 12:51 pm

But I meant to add at least in the past 10 years: it may be the case that it’s changed since 1982 or so.

63

Niall McAuley 09.21.12 at 1:08 pm

It’s aimed at Cadillac-driving welfare queens and young bucks using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks.

64

bianca steele 09.21.12 at 1:17 pm

Yeah, I get that that’s what it meant in 1982. Oddly, though, the most recent time I heard it, that wasn’t a likely explanation. Based on other things I was hearing, from the same people. However, there’s no accounting for irrationality, I guess, and how can you know what a person means when he makes next to no sense anyway?

By those standards, that’s what Romney meant and there’s really no argument here, in that case.

65

Roger Gathman 09.21.12 at 2:00 pm

I personally think the Dems have a nice opportunity here – if they don’t blow it – to turn the tables on the Republicans via the tax issue. It is pretty obvious that the 47 percent figure (which is prettier for the GOP than, say, the figures representing the amount in state and sales taxes paid by the rich than the slackers, or the other regressive taxes) is a salvo that eventually leads to – changing those deductions on the income tax. The GOP is proposing, surreptitiously, to raise the effective tax rate not just of the 47 percent, but of the bottom 60 to 70 percent, while cutting tax rates for the rich. Yglesias, who is becoming unreadable, still spotted this: the middle class tax cut.
And this is what the dems should do. I’d double down on tax exemptions for kids, houses, and everything else, and then -that line drawn in the sand – challenge GOP candidates to pledge not to remove those exemptions. Call it the hidden tax hike. The 47 percent plus the at least ten percent that pay about a 5 to 6 percent tax rate gives you a big big margin. The GOP is giving this to the Dems, as on a silver plate. Will O’s centrist-thumbsucker Dems take it? Or will they be “responsible”, think fondly of the Catfood commission and their leader’s evident love for it, and offer grand “bargains”?

66

Uncle Kvetch 09.21.12 at 4:53 pm

Yeah, I get that that’s what it meant in 1982. Oddly, though, the most recent time I heard it, that wasn’t a likely explanation.

Bianca, there has definitely been a shift here. Read today’s Krugman today — we’re way beyond the 1982 framing where “those people” collected welfare and food stamps and sat around in their housing projects popping out babies. Today, it’s quite easy to work a full-time job, pay your taxes, and still be one of “those people.”

For that matter, just click the link I posted above at #32: having a job but not meeting the income threshold for the federal income tax is the new “living off the public dole.”

I’m glad Krugman brought some attention to this because it really does seem to constitute a rhetorical sea change…or at least a massive shift towards the Republicans acknowledging what they’ve stood for all along.

67

Bruce Wilder 09.21.12 at 7:58 pm

ajay: “[Energy consumption has] fallen about 10% in per capita terms over the last ten years – ten years which, to put it mildly, didn’t see much in the way of pro-conservation policy – so that’s not entirely unfeasible.”

Nothing branded as pro-conservation policy, of course, but the current macroeconomic policy of high unemployment, coupled with infrastructure disinvestment and the export of petroleum products, sure looks like a deliberate policy of constraining mass consumption, to enable a bit of cream skimming by Big Energy and the super-rich. No one is going to come right out and say that the macro-economy is being managed to avoid hitting the global ceiling on resource consumption — not even Krugman — but that’s what’s being done, however clumsily.

Politics is a society thinking aloud, and, right now, no one in American politics can speak the truth, and it is making the whole country, and its policy choices, phenomenally stupid.

The Republicans get a lot of angry support from the ex-urbs and suburbs, the economic foundation of which was undermined by globalization and is now being eroded further by the high-price of gas. They’ve worked themselves into a fury over efficiency regulations, which will eliminate the 100 watt incandescent light bulb. And, as I mentioned, prominent Republican governors torpedoed major transit construction projects, amidst high unemployment.

Meawhile, neo-liberal Democrats are all techno-magic, and ready to endorse poisoning the ground water as a “bridge” to nowhere.

So, yes, major energy consumption reductions are “feasible” in some politically meaningless sense. The problem is that few are willing to face the reality that such reductions are a necessary and inevitable part of coping with, and responding to, peak oil and global warming. Substitution and improving efficiency works in some areas; no matter what, though, transportation will be radically restructured, and that means radically restructuring living patterns and, to some extent, the scale and location of production. More people will be living in dense urban areas, dependent on rail and water transport systems. If we had the sense God gave us, we’d be in full-on panic mode right now, desperately investing in both a suitable transportation system and a suitable system of electricity generation and distribution, and planning an unwind from globalization.

Left to its own devices, the 1% will plan a future of neo-feudal domination, in which economies, efficiencies and adjustments will be accomplished largely as they have been so far, by jettisoning the dependent 47%, to keep such perks of being really rich, as jet air travel and perpetual war against far away brown people, in the mix.

68

piglet 09.21.12 at 9:42 pm

Tom, don’t know much about Oz but I think this kind of tactic is considerably more difficult to pull off in a Parliamentary system, where political parties don’t have the choice to send conflicting messages to the extent they routinely do in the US.

As an example of what I mean: Senator Lincoln voted supported the health care reform law at some point (which was crucial to overcome the filibuster) but voted against the final version of the law. As soon as the law had passed, she started taking credit for having contributed to the reform, while also maintaining that she voted against it. In that case it didn’t help (she lost her seat in 2010). But this is pretty routine stuff in the US. It is genuinely difficult to find out what a given member of Congress actually voted for or against. It is even more difficult to associate a party with a specific policy. That is what allows Republicans to some extent to confuse voters about their real program.

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Bruce Wilder 09.21.12 at 9:48 pm

I suspect the lobbyists manage to track the truth, which somehow escapes journalists.

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PaulB 09.21.12 at 10:13 pm

It is genuinely difficult to find out what a given member of Congress actually voted for or against.

It’s not as difficult as all that – against.http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/112/ and click on ‘Votes’. Or to see Blanche Lincoln’s voting record, http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/L000035

71

Michael Harris 09.21.12 at 11:24 pm

piglet, two things to note about Australia (really, recapping points already made).

1. Yes, a parliamentary system is “message constraining” in that party discipline requires more of “speaking with one voice” about party policy, whereas in the US, each congressperson is a loosely aligned freelancer. Just this last week, this party discipline has been strained in Australia, with the opposition conservative leader Tony Abbott having to deal with a few prominent members of his team speaking out of turn, as it were.

2. As mentioned above, compulsory voting has meant that in Australia, there’s little requirement to motivate the base. Australian politicians are particularly focused on the “margins” i.e. swing voters and marginal seats. The safe seats get rewarded by, if anything, having the party heavyweights occupy those seats. But the marginal seats get tangible stuff thrown at them from time to time. In the US, the parties have to both fire up the base to get them to the polls, and appeal to the “middle”. My simplistic reasoning is that the Repubs attempts to do both those things at once are now unraveling but I admit that this is a simplistic take.

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P O'Neill 09.22.12 at 2:40 am

There’s a Be Careful For What You Wish For aspect to the Mitt-47 backlash:

Virtually all Americans want a better life for themselves and for their families, and those that accept some financial support from the government are almost certainly doing so in the hopes that it’s temporary. I know this because I grew up in Pennsylvania steel country with families who had bought houses and went to college on the G.I. Bill, received health care and benefits from the Veteran’s Administration, relied on Social Security in their retirements, and from time to time may have needed other help to feed their families. These people were not moochers. They were war veterans, teachers, coaches, and factory workers; the kinds of everyday Americans who have worked hard and made this country great.

That would be the lead member on the Santorum-Cruz 2016 Republican Presidential ticket.

73

Bill Barnes 09.22.12 at 2:45 am

Bruce Wilder,

I’ve been trying to get in touch with you re your recent posts here, and finding it impossible.

Bill Barnes
barneswab@aol.com

74

Ed 09.22.12 at 2:48 am

Santorum at least doesn’t bother me. If he actually got elected there is some evidence that his administration would wind up on the left of the present one on economic issues. Which is why he will never be elected.

Paul B. in attempting to refute Piglet’s point winds up proving it. You have to go to specialized vote tracking sites to find out how your “representatives” voted, and then to have enough working knowledge of congressional procedure to know what the votes mean. Don’t expect newspapers and TV news shows to help with this. The equivalent of sports would be as if newspapers never published the box scores of the games, and all the stories were either human interest stories about the players or about how much money each sports team was making, but never about the games themselves, but of course fans of the teams were perfectly free to attend the games or listen or watch them via the media with a scorecard in hand and reconstruct what happened.

75

Substance McGravitas 09.22.12 at 3:33 am

If he actually got elected there is some evidence that his administration would wind up on the left of the present one on economic issues.

Nonsense. He’s a Norquist guy like the rest of them.

76

John Quiggin 09.22.12 at 3:53 am

Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Even forcing the Repubs to pick candidates who say positive things about the welfare state would be a plus.

77

William Timberman 09.22.12 at 4:42 am

With the kind of consensus that gave us the Arsenal of Democracy, the New Deal, or the Interstate Highway System, we in the U.S. could still dump the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, restore our democracy, and develop and implement an industrial policy that phased out the the personal automobile, centralized power generation and distribution, the single family dwelling, and the shopping mall. We could even, over a couple of generations, substantially reduce our footprint on the land without impoverishing most of our people, and get on with whatever human beings do when they aren’t plagued by fear, cupidity, and the need to anoint this or that passel of jerks to interpret the world for us.

What we’re more likely to wind up with is Bruce Wilder done in black — Mad Max in the countryside, and a Blade Runner-esque Demorepublican fortress in the cities, governed by morons like Mitt Romney and geniuses like Barack Obama, and protected by brain-damaged war veterans with badges, body armor, and data goggles plugged into whatever passes for Total Information Awareness after the technocracy certifies to itself that it’s ironed out all the glitches.

Whoopee!

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Michael Harris 09.22.12 at 5:31 am

In the US, the parties have to both fire up the base to get them to the polls, and appeal to the “middle”. My simplistic reasoning is that the Repubs attempts to do both those things at once are now unraveling but I admit that this is a simplistic take.

http://gawker.com/5939404/sen-lindsey-graham-not-enough-angry-white-guys-to-sustain-gop

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Dave 09.22.12 at 7:43 am

I second the importance of Huffington Post in this new landscape.

At one point they had over 150,00o comments to the 47% story.

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Mao Cheng Ji 09.22.12 at 9:03 am

“In the US, the parties have to both fire up the base to get them to the polls, and appeal to the “middle”.”

What is this “middle”? If someone wants to vote, but can’t decide if they want to vote for the Republicans or Democrats, they must be trying to ascertain which one, out of the two candidates, is the better person. IOW, they are not into politics. Intellectual arguments don’t work. They need some indication that the candidate is honest, sincere, smart, passionate, or whatever it is they think they want.

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Michael Harris 09.22.12 at 12:31 pm

What is this “middle”?

Whoever is responsible for poll numbers changing as the weeks go by, I would presume.

They need some indication that the candidate is honest, sincere, smart, passionate, or whatever it is they think they want.

That depends on whether “whatever it is they think they want” is a fixed and immutable thing.

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piglet 09.22.12 at 6:20 pm

PaulB 70, you are missing my point. Lincoln voted for one version of the law but then against the (slightly different) final version, explicitly so that she could have it both ways. “I support XXX in principle but I couldn’t vote for the final version of the law because of this or that detail.” “The fact that I voted against reauthorization of the sexual harassment statute doesn’t mean I am against punishing sexual harassment – I proposed an amendment but it was voted down” etc. etc.

The US legislative process is really, and I suspect deliberately, intransparent. Of course you can look through all that if you pay a bit of attention but the electorate is counted on not do do that. In a Parliamentary system, the majority party or coalition proposes policy and enacts it. Everybody knows who to blame or praise. That sets limits on the ability of political parties to spin their record. Either you supported it or you didn’t. In the US, you rarely have such a clean-cut situation. Who really determines what is and what isn’t in the Farm Bill? I don’t think anybody but professional lobbyists can answer that question.

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piglet 09.22.12 at 6:30 pm

There’s also the infamous (and elsewhere unconstitutional) practice of attaching materially unrelated pieces of legislation to big “must-pass” bills that members cannot afford to vote against.

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Ed 09.22.12 at 7:30 pm

“The US legislative process is really, and I suspect deliberately, intransparent. “

I agree. The process is unusually complex, gameable, and hard to understand compare to that of other countries. I suspect there are three principal reasons for this:

1. The process was set up the eighteenth century to allow popular input (via the House of Representatives, the eighteenth century framers had no intention of allowing election for the Senate or the other two branches), but to ensure that a populist, meaning a redistributionist or free soil majority in the House of Representatives would be stymied. Incidentally Madison was pretty open about this, and the justification is given in classes on the constitution in academic settings in the U.S., though not put quite as bluntly as I just worded it. This same system has effectively tied up the Tea Party congressmen but it was designed to and usually works to the benefit of the right.

2. The U.S. federal government is still designed to be the government of a federation, though the central federal government was beefed up constitutionally in the 1780s-90s, and to some extent in the 1860s-70s, and informally at other time to deal with emergencies both real and perceived. Plus gerrymandering/ gaming of the process of admitting states to the Union has made the federal component something of a joke. But at the heart of the constitutional system is that states and localities send sort of ambassadors to Washington -designed to be a neutral location- to hash out compromises in areas where some sort of coordinated response is needed. The result is a process designed to value deals and diplomacy over coherent policy-making and presentation.

3. Recently, and more cynically, the lack of transparency and efficiency in the machinery have been exaggerated for the reasons Piglet states, essentially to discourage popular participation.

Incidentally, these things don’t have to go in one direction. Republican majorities in the federal legislature (at least the House) in the late nineteenth century, and Democratic majorities in the 1960s did move the legislative process in a somewhat more centralized and accountable direction. In the late nineteenth century the Republicans were the more “progressive” of the two parties, to the extent the label can be applied to American politics at the time.

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Michael Harris 09.22.12 at 11:20 pm

Another argument for the notion that the Republican narrative is unraveling, with Fox News being held particularly responsible (for the public enforcement of a narrative that things like social media are now helping pull apart).

So Romney cannot have a coherent foreign policy because what his voters want to hear is that Barack Obama sympathizes with terrorists. Most Americans, meanwhile, think of Obama as the guy who took out bin Laden. Romney cannot have a sensible tax policy because conservatives insist that he promote large, self-funding tax cuts for the rich. Most of the nation, however, supports raising taxes on the rich, and reality insists that cutting taxes also reduces revenues. Also, Romney didn’t invent the 47 percent nonsense; whether he truly believes it or not, he was simply parroting back what his voters have been hearing for years from Rush Limbaugh and others like him.

http://www.salon.com/2012/09/22/blame_fox_not_mitt/

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mpowell 09.23.12 at 12:56 am


Am I the only who thinks it imprudent for the Dems to take it upon themselves to identify the 47% Romney’s talking about? Romney’s campaign team could refuse to make clear who exactly Romney was talking about, and if the Dems and their supporters then proceed to make guesses, attack the Dems for insulting good hardworking tax-paying Americans – like Tea Partiers and seniors for example.

What the heck are you talking about? The beauty of this one is that you aren’t guessing about anything. We can identify who the 47% are because, in a technical sense, it’s perfectly well defined. That Romney just identified a significant portion of his base (seniors) as moochers can’t possibly hurt the Democrats. Any attempt to deflect, to claim the Democrats are calling seniors moochers, is completely implausible. All you have to do is say: “look, these people technically don’t pay federal income taxes, but it’s the Republicans who are calling that mooching, we think seniors who have paid into SS and medicare for years have earned those benefits”.

That’s the fundamental problem with this Romney quote. This one isn’t a dog whistle to the racist base. It’s just a statement to his wealthiest supporters that he’s out to screw over anyone receiving benefits like SS or medicare.

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