A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Paul Ryan Volunteers For Exactly As Long As He Worked In The Private Sector!

by evanmcmurry

To the Romney campaign’s credit, no poor people died due to lack of insurance during their soup kitchen photo-op, so maybe they were right about that:

The head of a northeast Ohio charity says that the Romney campaign last week “ramrodded their way” into the group’s Youngstown soup kitchen so that GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan could get his picture taken washing dishes in the dining hall.

Brian J. Antal, president of the Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul Society, said that he was not contacted by the Romney campaign ahead of the Saturday morning visit by Ryan, who stopped by the soup kitchen after a town hall at Youngstown State University.

“We’re a faith-based organization; we are apolitical because the majority of our funding is from private donations,” Antal said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “It’s strictly in our bylaws not to do it. They showed up there, and they did not have permission. They got one of the volunteers to open up the doors.”

He added: “The photo-op they did wasn’t even accurate. He did nothing. He just came in here to get his picture taken at the dining hall.”

Ryan had stopped by the soup kitchen for about 15 minutes on his way to the airport after his Saturday morning town hall in Youngstown. By the time he arrived, the food had already been served, the patrons had left, and the hall had been cleaned.

Upon entering the soup kitchen, Ryan, his wife and three young children greeted and thanked several volunteers, then donned white aprons and offered to clean some dishes. Photographers snapped photos and TV cameras shot footage of Ryan and his family washing pots and pans that did not appear to be dirty.

Why Obama Isn’t Doing Better Despite All The Good Economic Numbers

by evanmcmurry

A question is making the rounds of the left side of the internet: why isn’t Obama doing better now that we have honest-to-God-no-fooling proof that the economy is on the uptick, a situation that crystalized in the unemployment rate’s recent descent to under eight percent? Here’s Howard Fineman, scratching his noggin:

The Obama campaign, and the Obama presidency, haven’t done a consistent or convincing job of touting whatever good news there is — and there are increasing amounts of it — about the economy. Yes, the unemployment rate remains high; yes, the “right direction/wrong track” poll numbers remain negative (though not as negative as they once were); yes, millions of Americans remain underwater on their mortgages while big banks horde cash and pile up huge profits.

But there is another side to the story, and the Obama campaign hasn’t sold it well, beyond talking, justifiably, about the success of the auto bailout. Consumer confidence is at its highest point in five years. The stock market has come back from the late Bush-era crash. Home starts and hiring are up. Venture capital groups are lending money again. If you don’t talk about the good stuff, no one else will.

This is merely the left’s version of the question Mitt Romney has been asking his campaign chairs and his mirror for the past five months: “Why am I not winning despite 8.3% unemployment?” As the GOP caviled that Romney was doing a poor job prosecuting Obama’s performance, Dems are now wondering why Obama won’t do a better job touting it.

Readers of this blog should already know the answer: Obama’s been benefiting from the improving economy this whole time. As Jamelle Bouie argued, quite convincingly, the heuristic that says that incumbent approval rates follow unemployment rates has never actually held: incumbent approval follows GDP growth (or lack thereof), which most of the time correlates to the unemployment rate. But not always: the economic recovery we’ve been experiencing in the past year has seen an increase in GDP that’s outpaced jobs added. In other words, the economy has been growing faster than the labor market, and sure enough, Obama’s approval rating slowly but steadily increased along with it. This was why job report after job report was released this summer showing desultory gains in employment without any of them having an effect on the race: the growth of the economy was palpable to voters (see also the increase in the consumer confidence index, whatever it is), no matter how many more-in-sorrow-than-anger post-jobs-report press conferences Mitt Romney could call to claim otherwise.

The flip side is that Obama’s already benefited from the good economic numbers we’re seeing now. He wasn’t being punished for bad jobs reports, because voters were rewarding him for the growing economy—but that also meant that there was no additional reward when evidence of the growing economy presented itself in the form of the unemployment rate dipping below an arbitrary threshold. The increase in Obama’s poll numbers that liberal bloggers are looking for now has already happened; it was, if anything, a lucky break that Obama was able to benefit from the economy without having to campaign on it explicitly, as many are now advising him to do, and thus run the risk of alienating swing voters who have yet to see their situation improve.

Obama’s sudden stagnation in the polls has many explanations—his poor debate performance, the dimming of the successful DNC’s afterglow, etc. But for now, we can at least speculate that there exists a ceiling to the amount voters were willing to reward him for the economy, which is not, after all, improving to the extent that it should be, whoever’s fault that is (hi, House Republicans). Which means Obama’s 49%-ish approval rating is the highest he could attain on the economy alone. Once he hit that, he had nowhere to go but down, and Romney was able to use a strong debate performance to begin chipping away. Obama could, by all means, still mount a successful defense of his economic policies (as opposed to continue to justifiably criticize Romney’s math-is-hard-just-trust-me proposal), but it’s more likely than not to produce significantly diminishing returns.

Krugman FTW

by evanmcmurry

Krugman is even sharper than usual today:

How many deaths are we talking about? That’s not an easy question to answer, and conservatives love to cite the handful of studies that fail to find clear evidence that insurance saves lives. The overwhelming evidence, however, is that insurance is indeed a lifesaver, and lack of insurance a killer. For example, states that expand their Medicaid coverage, and hence provide health insurance to more people, consistently show a significant drop in mortality compared with neighboring states that don’t expand coverage.

[…] So there’s no real question that lack of insurance is responsible for thousands, and probably tens of thousands, of excess deaths of Americans each year. But that’s not a fact Mr. Romney wants to admit, because he and his running mate want to repeal Obamacare and slash funding for Medicaid — actions that would take insurance away from some 45 million nonelderly Americans, causing thousands of people to suffer premature death. And their longer-term plans to convert Medicare into Vouchercare would deprive many seniors of adequate coverage, too, leading to still more unnecessary mortality.

[…] So let’s be brutally honest here. The Romney-Ryan position on health care is that many millions of Americans must be denied health insurance, and millions more deprived of the security Medicare now provides, in order to save money. At the same time, of course, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are proposing trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. So a literal description of their plan is that they want to expose many Americans to financial insecurity, and let some of them die, so that a handful of already wealthy people can have a higher after-tax income.

Whole post is worth reading.

Joe Biden Would Like To Interrupt This Post To Talk About Medicare

by evanmcmurry

This morning’s polling generally finds the “bleeding stemmed”—to use the agreed-upon MSM phrase—from Obama’s poor debate performance two weeks ago. In sum, Romney saw an overall lift in his positives, and he’s polling closer to Obama, but Obama has regained a couple point lead in the national polls.

As always, national polls are—not meaningless, exactly, but not revelatory either. Breakdowns in the polling, though, can tell us more: Greg Sargeant has a whole slew of areas in which Romney showed no gain since the debate, especially on the question of which candidate voters think better represents the middle class, providing an opening for Obama in tomorrow’s debate to do nothing but bring up Romney’s 47% remarks.

But in one area, Obama has actually increased his lead since the polls two weeks ago:

Obama’s advantage on who is more trusted to handle Medicare has actually gone up, from 47-43 to 53-38. This was a major topic at both debates, and recall that Joe Biden made a strong appeal to voters to trust their “instincts” on who is better for the program. [Emphasis Sargeant’s]

Recall that before the first presidential debate, Romney was losing serious ground in states like Ohio and Florida, somewhat due to Paul Ryan’s Medicare-killing inclusion on the ticket; since the debate, however, Romney’s rebounded in both states, especially in Florida. If there’s an issue that will remind Floridians why they were leaning against the Romney/Ryan ticket, it’s Medicare, and it looks like Joe Biden got that across loud and clear; in fact, it’s entirely possible that that was Biden’s primary job going into the debate last Thursday, and he smiled so much because he nailed it. It would be nice and poetic if Joe Biden interrupted Romney’s rise as figuratively as he literally interrupted Paul Ryan, and on the same issue, no less.