Krugman Spells It Out

When Mitt Romney announced that he would not campaign for a second Senate term, the announcement did more than simply mark the political exit of one prominent Republican. It was yet another indicator of the metamorphosis of a once-rational political party.

As usual, Paul Krugman’s assessment of that metamorphosis was dead-on. In “The Road from Mitt Romney to MAGA,” Krugman described the decline of the GOP. As Krugman notes, Romney is clear-eyed about what has happened to his party and given his willingness to say what others are unwilling to admit, he is a comparative profile in courage. That said, according to Krugman, Romney–and Republicans like him–have also been part of the problem, enabling the party’s devolution.

It’s good to see Romney speaking up now, but the party he’s criticizing is in large part a monster that people like him helped create.

For the basic story of the Republican Party, going back to the 1970s, is this: Advocates of right-wing economic policies, which redistributed income from workers to the wealthy, sought to sell their agenda by exploiting social intolerance and animosity. They had considerable success with this strategy. But eventually the extremists they thought they were using ended up ruling the party.

When Romney ran for President, Democrats accused him of being a plutocrat whose policies would enrich the wealthy and hurt average Americans. Those Democrats were right. Krugman enumerates the policy positions Romney adopted during that campaign, and points out that they would indeed have hurt non-wealthy Americans.

In particular, Romney was a strenuous opponent of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which was enacted in 2010 but didn’t take full effect until 2014 — an especially cynical position since Obamacare was very similar to the health reform Romney himself had enacted as governor of Massachusetts. If he had won in 2012, he would almost surely have found a way to block the A.C.A.’s rollout, which in turn would have meant blocking the large reduction in the number of Americans without health insurance after 2014.

The GOP accepted the basic premises of the New Deal through the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. When Eisenhower was President, the top marginal tax rate was 91 percent and roughly a third of American workers were unionized. Krugman quotes from a letter sent by Eisenhower to his brother, in which he wrote:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again”; while there were a few conservatives who thought differently, “their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

Their number remains negligible, but thanks to two things: the systemic distortions that form much of the discussion on this blog, and the success of culture-war appeals to racism–they exercise disproportionate power.

Krugman writes that, in the 1970s, the Republican Party began to be dominated by people who did want to roll back the New Deal legacy. He reminds readers of efforts like George W. Bush’s proposed privatization of Social Security and Trump’s corporate tax cut and multiple promises to demolish the A.C.A.

Republicans offset the unpopularity of their economic policies by harnessing culture war policies —” hostility toward nonwhites, L.G.B.T.Q. Americans, immigrants and more.”

In 2004, for example, Bush made opposition to gay marriage a central theme of his campaign, only to declare after the election that he had a mandate for the aforementioned attempt to privatize Social Security…

But eventually the forces that economic conservatives were trying to use ended up using them. This wasn’t something that suddenly happened with the Trump nomination; people who think that the G.O.P. suddenly changed forget how prevalent crazy conspiracy theories and refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of Democratic electoral victories already were in the 1990s. The current dominance of MAGA represents a culmination of a process that has been going on for decades.

And for the most part, Republican politicians who probably weren’t extremists themselves went along.

Krugman says we should give Romney credit for finally reaching his limit. But he reminds us that it took until very late in the game for Romney to get there — and that the “game” was one that he and people like him had basically started.

So here we are.

Even plutocrats like Romney who have massively benefitted from their culture war misdirections have begun deserting the ship; even the most privileged beneficiaries of corporatism have begun to recognize the damage that’s been done.

The question that keeps me up at night is whether the forces of hate and resentment unleashed in the pursuit of economic advantage will prove too powerful to control.

I guess we’ll know the answer to that question next November…..


Those Big, Bad, Trial Lawyers

Richard Mourdock and Mike Pence have been having some problems the past couple of days trying to downplay their enthusiastic participation in the GOP’s War on Women–explaining that they really, truly love female incubators…er, women. (We just need to remember why their God put us on this earth…)

So it may be timely to remind ourselves that the War on Women (and its attendant dishonesty) isn’t limited to matters of reproduction.

For example, I see where the Romney/Ryan ticket is explaining its lack of support for the Lilly Ledbetter Act by claiming the legislation isn’t really about equal pay for equal work. No sireee. It’s just an effort to enrich those awful, terrible, liberal trial lawyers.

A couple of days ago, on ABC, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a leading Romney surrogate, argued, “[J]ust because they call a piece of legislation an equal pay bill doesn’t make it so. In fact, much of this legislation is, in many respects, nothing but an effort to help trial lawyers collect their fees and file lawsuits, which may not contribute at all whatsoever to increasing pay equity in the workplace.”

Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, said something very similar last week, criticizing the proposal as being little more than “opening up the lawsuits and statute of limitations.”

Romney allies have justified their opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Act on these grounds for months. Pete Hoekstra, who is running for U.S. Senate in Michigan, called the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay law “a nuisance.” Another Romney surrogate said the law is little more than “a handout to trial lawyers.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) agrees–of course, he approved and signed legislation repealing Wisconsin’s equal pay law, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

There’s just one little problem with this effort to pretend that their problem isn’t with women getting treated equally. As it happens, trial lawyers–no matter how clever–cannot collect a fee unless and until they win the case.

Let me put this in language even non-lawyers will understand. Trial lawyers generally take cases on contingency. That means that unless they win the case, neither they nor the client will see a penny. Contingent fee arrangements, whatever their defects, give people access to the justice system who could not otherwise afford a lawyer. Contingent fee arrangements also provide a powerful incentive to lawyers to take only “meritorious” cases–no lawyer in his right mind wants to spend months or years on a case that’s a likely loser and won’t pay a dime. (Even when the lawyer thinks a case is very solid, there is always a substantial risk of losing. As I used to tell my clients, going to trial is always a crap shoot, no matter how strong a case you think you have.)

So–if we follow the argument being made by the Romney camp, they oppose the Lilly Ledbetter Act because lawyers who win cases–by proving that their clients were denied equal pay for equal work–will make money.

But they aren’t against equal pay for women. No siree. If you want to give all your employees who are doing the same work the same pay, why that’s fine. But if you don’t, you shouldn’t have to worry that the big bad trial lawyer will come after you.

They aren’t against equal pay for us girls. They’re just against providing a remedy to those of us who get shafted.

Just like they aren’t for rape. They’re just against allowing a woman who gets pregnant as a result do anything about it.

They may not be humane (or even human), but you have to give them credit: in this, at least, they’re consistent!


Projecting the Vote

There’s so much fabrication floating around the internet, it’s hard to trust anything you read–especially as the election draws closer. So when a Facebook friend posted an article from a source I didn’t recognize, my first inclination was to categorize it with the various paranoid fantasies of “dirty deeds” and “voter fraud” that have grown thicker than ragweed this election cycle. The article claimed that Mitt Romney’s son Tagg, and other members of the Romney family, are part owners of Ohio’s voting machines–specifically, those supplied by Hart Intercivic.

A search of Snopes turned up nothing, pro or con. Google, however, was more accommodating, as were a few Facebook friends. The story was corroborated by several sources, among them Politifact and that noted left-wing publication, Forbes. Forbes reported that Hart Intercivic is largely owned by H.I.G. Capital, that H.I.G. Capital employees hold two of the five board seats–and both of them have made direct contributions to Romney’s campaign. Tony Tamer, the firm’s founder, is a major bundler for Romney, as are three other directors of H.I.G. In fact, H.I.G. is Romney’s 11th largest contributor. And to top it all off, H.I.G. has shared business interests with Solamere Capital, owned by…Tagg Romney.

Election experts have long warned that electronic voting machines are vulnerable to hacking; that’s one reason many jurisdictions have begun insisting on a paper trail. (I’m told some European countries have recently gone back to paper ballots in order to reassure voters of the legitimacy of election results.) There are all sorts of reasons why this latest bit of news is disquieting: the centrality of Ohio in our electoral vote system, the persistent accusations of irregularities in that state’s vote in 2004, and the increasingly brazen efforts by Republicans to suppress minority votes.

It began with so-called “Voter ID” laws, purportedly aimed at in-person voter fraud, a largely imaginary problem. As some unguarded comments by GOP operatives have confirmed, the real aim of such laws is to suppress the votes of elderly, poor and minority Americans–those most likely to lack the documentation, transportation and/or resources needed to obtain the necessary ID.

The Voter ID efforts have been accompanied by persistent measures to restrict voting–to limit early voting periods, and refuse to authorize satellite voting sites, and generally to make exercising ones franchise as inconvenient as possible, again on the theory that such measures would be most likely to discourage lower-income voters who tend to skew Democratic.

In the past week or so, there have been reports from swing states of other shenanigans: in Florida, Republican operatives were caught trashing registrations; in several other localities, robo-calls have been made to minority voters “reminding” them to vote–on November 8th. (The election, of course, will take place on November 6th.) Then there were the billboards in minority neighborhoods, featuring a judge’s gavel and the text “Voter Fraud is a felony—up to 3 1/2 years and a $10,000 fine.” Those appeared in Cleveland, Columbus and Milwaukee. (Clear Channel has now responded to community outrage and begun taking them down; however, much of the harm has been done.)

I’m sure there must be places where the Democrats are engaging in similar tactics, and they certainly have done so in the past, but reports of Democratic chicanery  haven’t surfaced in this election cycle. My sense is that these are the sort of tactics used by folks who smell defeat–who realize that winning will require a bit of “fudging” here and there, and for whom winning is more important than playing fair and square. This year, despite the close national polls, that best describes the Romney/Ryan team.

Their faux concerns about voter fraud are an example of what psychologists call “projection.”


The N Factor

One of the more prestigious political science journal just published an issue devoted to prognostications about the upcoming Presidential election. A variety of academics used their favored forecasting methodologies, and predicted the likely winner. The results ranged from “comfortably Obama” to “very, very close” to one “Romney by a nose.” (I’ve noted that “scientific” methods are a lot more accurate after the election has occurred.)

The problem with forecasting models is that they rarely take into account elements like likability; heretofore, they have not had to confront massive spending by SuperPacs, either. And even the scholars who employ them hedge their bets.

One element that was not measurable before 2008–and has now been measured–is the influence of race, as in the race of the candidates. Any sentient being knows that much of the anti-Obama animus is race-based (the “birthers” and people convinced that the President is a Muslim are so obviously substituting those charges for the N word). What has been unclear is the extent to which that racism motivates votes. In that journal’s issue on the election, one article analyzed data from the 2008 election, and concluded that his race had cost Obama five percent of the vote–that is, that Obama’s percentage of the popular vote would have been five percent higher had he been white. The author of that article forecast a slightly better result this time around; according to his calculations, racism will “only” cost Obama three percentage points this time around.

Of course, in a very close election, three percent is enough.

A lot of folks are in denial about the extent to which race influences attitudes about the President. They shrug off the more obvious indicators, like the guy in the photo taken at a Romney rally, whose tee shirt read “Put the white back in the White House.” I have friends whose unease with the President is pretty clearly based upon his “otherness,” but who don’t recognize or admit to themselves that such feelings are a part of their political calculus.

If we are inclined to dismiss the influence of racism, a look at Gallup’s polling may serve as a wake-up call. Gallup has been an “outlier” lately, showing Romney five or six points ahead in the popular vote. When you look at the internals, you see an interesting phenomenon: in Gallup’s numbers, Obama holds modest leads in the Northeast, Midwest and West. Romney leads in the South–by twenty-two points.

Maybe we shouldn’t have fought the civil war–and just let the South go.