Sunday, September 26, 2010

Health Debate: Asking the Right Questions Matters

Finally. Six months after the Health Care Bill passed a scientific survey actually asked people what they thought about the health care debate in a way that illuminates popular opinion on the issue. What it found out is that twice as many people feel the government should be doing more on health care, not less.

Yes, you read that right. You probably remember hearing that government sponsored health care assistance is unpopular and that most people oppose it. Surveys have indeed shown pluralities opposed rather than supported the Affordable Health Care Act that congress passed and President Obama signed in March. But what they didn't tell you was why. I kept asking that at the time.

I suspected that not all who were against the specific bill were against the nation helping out those without coverage or requiring insurance companies to stop denying or terminating coverage based on one criterion or another, but that many were for a more progressive approach, i.e. a single payer plan or one that would cover all those currently left out of the system. The new survey, undertaken by the Associated Press in conjunction with Stanford University, bears this out. You can see all the raw results here. In fact, it finds that twice as many feel the bill does not go far enough, rather than feeling government should do less or nothing on health care.

The survey found 30% said they favor the law, 40% oppose it and 30% are neutral. But more importantly, 40% agreed "it should have done more" while a hard core of of only 20% say, "The government should not be involved in health care at all." A solid 75% favor extensive changes in the U.S. health care system. Republicans who feel they can count on an enormous outpouring of support for their promise to repeal the measure may be in for a rude awakening. See the AP's own article on the survey here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thank a Liberal

I got a good email today from Tom, a reader of this blog. He sent me a fine piece called "Thank a Liberal." You can see it in its entirety on the following Daily Kos site. It includes 38 items that liberals have introduced, most of them over strenuous opposition from conservatives. The societal improvements range from civil rights to personal liberties, from national programs to consumer and workplace protections, or sometimes just reflect the more enlightened popular attitudes liberal thought has brought to the public forum. I'll share a few items as a sampler.

On civil rights: If you have never been lynched, or had your children firebombed in a church, thank a liberal. If you are not a land-owning white male, but have voted, thank a liberal. If you oppose political parties starting massive wars to destroy America because they lost an election, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans in the process; if you just don't have that much hatred for Lincoln's policy of restricting slavery to states where it already existed, thank a liberal.

On personal liberties: If you grew up in a family of less than 12 kids, like the idea of being able to choose if you have 12 kids or not...thank a liberal. If you ever drank a beer or a glass of wine without being thrown in jail, thank a liberal. If you have ever done anything that is a religious or superstitious taboo without being stoned to death or cast out as a heretic, thank a liberal. If no woman you know has died or been maimed in a back alley abortion, thank a liberal.

On national programs: If you're a Native American and have not been killed or died in a concentration camp, or if you live near Native Americans and are not at war with them, thank a liberal. If you have ever eaten food (agricultural subsidies), flicked on lights (rural electrification) or benefited from the Tennessee Valley Authority, thank a liberal. If you or your family have ever benefited from the GI Bill of Rights, FHA Mortgages, Medicare, Social Security and so forth, thank a liberal. If you've ever seen a national park and it hadn't been strip mined and clear cut into a desert wasteland, thank a liberal.

On consumer and workplace protections: If you do not have skin cancer, and have ever stood outside without having a peeling sunburn within moments, thank the ozone layer, thank the ban on CFCs, and thank a liberal. If your workplace is safe and you are paid a living wage, including overtime; if you enjoy a 40-hour week and you are allowed to join a union to protect your rights without being lynched, thank a liberal. If you have not died from tainted meat, been prescribed something useless or poisonous by a quack doctor, have not given your children cough syrup which turned out to have heroin as its secret ingredient, thank a liberal.

On popular attitudes: If your children go to school instead of working in coal mines, thank a liberal. If you have ever sat on a public seat, drank from a drinking fountain, stood on a bus, or done anything in public without worrying about being beaten up for being in the wrong section for your skin color, thank a liberal. If you have never been raped, and then had the rapist escape punishment on the grounds that he marry you, thank a liberal.

To see the rest of these pithy aphorisms click here. I'm sure you could think of many more to add to the list.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

History Provides Guide for Ending Recession

Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2008, has written a cogent and timely op-ed in the New York Times illuminating what is currently going on at the nexus of economics and politics. For Krugman's biography click here. What is especially fascinating is his analysis of how reminiscent the present situation is of the dynamics existing in 1938 during the New Deal. Then as now, the United States stood at the crossroads of deciding whether to continue or contract government stimulus of the economy.

Krugman's piece, "1938 in 2010," begins with a setting up of the parallel scenario: "Here's the situation: The U.S. economy has been crippled by a financial crisis. The President's policies have limited the damage, but they were too cautious, and unemployment remains disastrously high. More action is clearly needed. Yet the public has soured on government activism, and seems poised to deal Democrats a severe defeat in the midterm elections." Sound familiar? It ought to. The situations facing Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 and Barack Obama in 2010 are eerily alike.

Krugman goes into how FDR listened to the deficit hawks in 1937 and pulled back New Deal expenditures, only to see the economy begin to soften alarmingly. He was able to rush some emergency funding through, which stabilized the situation, but public opinion had begun to set against any more deficit spending-just like today. The Gallup poll in March 1938 found that 63% favored cutting taxes on business and only 15% favored additional spending to improve the economy. In the midterms the Democrats "lost 70 seats in the House and 7 in the Senate."

Fortunately for the economy, the situation was retrieved by the need to rearm as the clouds of war began to gather over Europe in 1939. You ought to take a look at Krugman's piece to see how massive this government stimulus on an epic scale really was. For in economic terms, that is what the war footing essentially was from 1939 to 1945, an immense government spending and jobs program that achieved full employment and actually reduced the debt as a percentage of GDP as the national economy exploded.

Today we are again faced with the same dynamics, though there appears to be little chance of an overwhelming set of circumstances arising (such as the need to prepare for and fight WWII) to fortuitously restore the consensus for government spending to prime demand and end the Recession. In that sense, Krugman is right to make the case that we seem too often not to learn from history, that too many politicians and economists have been "unlearning the lessons of the 1930s" and appear ready to commit "all the same mistakes."

Krugman is right on the mark in closing with, "But always remember: this slump can be cured. All it will take is a little bit of intellectual clarity, and a lot of political will. Here's hoping we find those virtues in the not too distant future."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Can Democrats Hang On to Congress?

All signs point to Republican pickups in Congress this November. The RealClearPolitics average of polls gives them a 5.3% edge over Democrats in a "generic" congressional race. If the Democrats are to minimize their losses, there is an avenue of opportunity. This is because the voters' current electoral preference for the GOP is not because people like the Republicans or what they have to offer. The Democratic Party has an overall 32% favorability rating while the Republicans' is only 24%.

Voters are frustrated that economic growth and job creation are sluggish, and the Democrats are in power. They, therefore, are set up to take the political hit. The numbers indicate no groundswell of support for Republicans or their solutions, just a level of exasperation with the status quo. Given an approval level of only 24% the lack of confidence is actually more pronounced against the GOP. Most people do not seem to be buying their customary message about cutting taxes and shrinking regulation and government help.

The strategy for Democrats to adopt in the coming weeks should therefore contain a heavy dose of raising skepticism about Republican ideas. Going negative, if you will. Certainly Democrats ought to defend their own policies, such as successfully saving GM and Chrysler, preventing financial implosion, passing health care improvements that will help the average family, wrapping things up in Iraq and taking credit for the up to 3 million jobs the non-partisan Government Accountability Office says the stimulus has produced.

But it will be, in the current environment, much more effective to call into question GOP positions which are essentially the same ones that many blame for precipitating the recession in the first place, or others that would have denied relief to those hard-pressed by economic turmoil. The Dems will have to bank on the idea that most voters will agree with them that doing nothing is not the way out of present difficulties.