Archive

August 10th, 2016

Party defections really do affect voters

    It was treated as big news earlier this week when Meg Whitman, the chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, along with a handful of other Republican figures, announced they would vote for Hillary Clinton. Whitman, who was a GOP candidate for governor of Cifornia in 2010, is a billionaire and will be raising money for Clinton. The other Republicans decamping are Richard Hanna, a New York congressman who is retiring, and at least three campaign operatives.

    Some pundits were quick to ridicule the notion that such defections will affect any actual voters.

    It's true that few people will wonder why Sally Bradshaw, a former Jeb Bush adviser, is switching to the Democratic ticket, for example, let alone be swayed by her decision. Indeed, most voters would say they don't care about endorsements from even the most high-profile members of their party. Some people will claim they dislike these leaders anyway.

    Yet dismissing the importance of the endorsements is wrong.

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Optimism used to predict elections. I wouldn't bet on it anymore.

    Democrats finished their party convention in Philadelphia celebrating their monopoly on optimism. Under the headline "Hillary Clinton's Democratic Party Reclaims Morning in America," the Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky wrote: "Donald Trump, and the millions who voted for him, turned the Republican Party into a party of rage about America. They spoke . . . about a country that has stage-four cancer. The Democrats spoke about a country that surely faces problems and challenges, but a country that has to and will choose optimism and hope."

    I examined Clinton's and Trump's convention speeches using a technique I've applied to almost every major-party nominee's acceptance address going back to 1900, and I found that Clinton is indeed more optimistic than Trump by most measures. But Democrats may want to temper their optimism about that result.

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Obama's Warren Buffett foreign policy

    In his Aug. 1 column, "A U.S. retreat that feeds on itself," Fred Hiatt rehearsed many of the familiar critiques of President Obama's foreign policy, suggesting that if only the United States had kept substantial troops in Iraq, put forces into post- Gaddafi Libya, bombed Syria after it used chemical weapons and focused a little less on "nation-building at home," the United States - and the world - would be better off.

    The idea that the United States has retreated defies reality. Today the United States is more engaged, in more places and in more ways, than it was eight years ago. In fact, on the issues that matter most - how and where the country uses military force, how it approaches its enemies and works with its partners, and how it should conceive of its power and exert its leadership - Obama's mark will be enduring and largely positive. Instead of allowing the consensus for the United States' global leadership to fray, the president has worked to strengthen and sustain it.

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Jobs report brings much-needed good news

    The global economy desperately needed some good news. That's what it got in the latest U.S. jobs report.

    Ahead of Friday's release of the U.S. employment report for July, the mood was decidedly gloomy, with economic activity slowing in most other advanced countries, Britain facing a real and present danger of an economic recession and the risk of financial instability looming. Last week's disappointing report on U.S. gross domestic product, which showed a decline in business investment threatening to drag down still-buoyant consumer spending, added to the concerns.

    The U.S. job market's performance should help dispel some of those concerns. Nonfarm employers added an estimated 255,000 jobs in July, well above consensus expectations of about 180,000. Together with upward revisions of 18,000 jobs to prior months' estimates and June's strong initial reading, this makes the shockingly low May reading (initially 38,000, ultimately revised to 24,000) look like even more of an anomaly.

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Desperately Avoiding Donald

    Look, there’s a limit to how long we can talk about Donald Trump. Let’s talk about the big Senate races.

    Which are all about Donald Trump! There’s Ohio, where Republican Sen. Rob (Endorsed Donald Trump) Portman is in a fight for his political life. And New Hampshire, where Republican Sen. Kelly (Didn’t Say “Endorse”) Ayotte is in trouble.

    In Pennsylvania, embattled Republican Sen. Pat Toomey published an opinion piece last spring taking his own Trumpian temperature: “There could come a point at which the differences are so great as to be irreconcilable.” Still not quite at the tipping point. Nearly there last week, with that thing about the grieving parents of the Muslim war hero, but still teetering.

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Can the government raise wages? It's worth a try

    One of Hillary Clinton's economic policy ideas is that the government should try to push up wages. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also considered such a policy, and it has received enthusiastic support from economists such as Princeton's Alan Krueger and Alan Blinder. But John Cochrane, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a former University of Chicago finance professor, is bitterly opposed:

    "As economists, we are supposed to start with a problem. What is the market failure that stops companies form putting in productivity enhancing profit sharing programs? ... The idea that forcing companies to pay out greater wages is … brand-new, made-up-on-the spot economics, designed to buttress policies decided on for other reasons."

    Is Cochrane right? Certainly, 10 or 15 years ago, the idea that politicians could force up gross domestic product by pressing companies to raise wages or share profits would have been considered a fringe idea. Should society give this idea serious consideration?

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Brexit killed Britain's new and improved vibe

    Britain's enormous soft power, painstakingly built in the post-imperial era, looks weakened following Brexit. In fact, negotiating acceptable divorce terms or preventing an economic decline may prove much easier than restoring British influence.

    Some early indications of how Brexit has damaged Britain's international perception can be found in a recent Ipsos poll conducted in 16 countries. In all of them except Russia, India and the U.S., a plurality says Brexit will weaken Britain; 64 percent of Germans and, for example, 44 percent of Canadians think so -- while only 13 percent and 15 percent in these countries believe Britain will be strengthened.

    Europeans are especially unhappy about the Brexit decision. In Italy, 37 percent of people say they will be less likely to go to Britain on vacation and 43 percent are less willing to buy British.

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No Right Turn

    All the experts tell us not to pay too much attention to polls for another week or two. Still, it does look as if Hillary Clinton got a big bounce from her convention, swamping her opponent’s bounce a week earlier. Better still, from the Democrats’ point of view, the swing in the polls appears to be doing what some of us thought it might: sending Donald Trump into a derp spiral, in which his ugly nonsense gets even uglier and more nonsensical as his electoral prospects sink.

    As a result, we’re finally seeing some prominent Republicans not just refusing to endorse Trump, but actually declaring their support for Clinton. So how should she respond?

    The obvious answer, you might think, is that she should keep doing what she is doing — emphasizing how unfit her rival is for office, letting her allies point out her own qualifications and continuing to advocate a moderately center-left policy agenda that is largely a continuation of President Barack Obama’s.

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August 9th

Courtesy counts in transgender bathroom case

    You might be surprised that liberal Justice Stephen Breyer provided the fifth vote Wednesday to block a transgender student from using the men's room at his high school while his case is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court. The reason is an obscure but important Supreme Court custom known as the "courtesy fifth": When four justices want to stay a lower court order pending appeal, a justice who otherwise disagrees will provide the fifth vote. The practice is used mostly to delay executions of prisoners with plausible constitutional claims. Ever the pragmatist, Breyer was trading the boy's short-term interests for the lives of future death-row inmates.

    In this case, the school board in Gloucester County, Virginia, adopted a policy requiring students, include Gavin Grimm, to use the bathrooms associated with their biological sex, not their ascribed gender. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit struck down that rule as a violation of federal sex discrimination law. After that happened, a federal district court issued an order to the school telling it to let Grimm use the men's room when school starts.

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Republicans, don't go down with this ship

    To Republicans who hope to emerge from the Donald Trump fiasco with any shred of political viability or self-respect, I offer some unsolicited advice: Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.

    I'm speaking to you, House Speaker Paul Ryan. And you, Sen. John McCain. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- along with so many other elected Republicans and party stalwarts. You are not fools. You are well aware that the erstwhile Party of Lincoln has nominated for president a man wholly unfit to hold the office.

    I realize that puts you in a tough spot politically. Breaking with the party's standard-bearer, chosen by voters in primaries and caucuses, would surely mean short-term pain. For some of you it could be politically fatal. But sticking with Trump, as far as I can see, will almost surely be worse -- for you, for the party, and potentially, heaven forbid, for the country you have sworn to serve.

    You're taking a position that is indefensible on both philosophical and real-world grounds: Begging Trump to pretend to be sane and competent until Election Day.

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