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Liberals, and especially African-American liberals, should not encourage Senate confirmation of Garland to the Supreme Court

Repubs apparently now think they can have the last laugh.  Senate Repubs reportedly now are considering whether to confirm during the lame duck session after the election if Clinton wins.  But of course, then Garland would be expected to withdraw if Obama does not withdraw his name saying that Clinton and the new (Democratic-controlled) Senate should handle it.

— Me, here, yesterday

Today, Greg Sargent writes at length about that possibility:

[T]here is a scenario worth entertaining here in which Obama has the last laugh — and the GOP posture ends up leaving Republicans with only downsides, and zero upsides.

That scenario goes like this: If Republicans don’t give Garland any hearing, and a Democrat (most likely Hillary Clinton) wins the presidential election, Republicans could then move to consider him in the lame duck session, to prevent Clinton from picking a more liberal nominee. But at that point, Obama could withdraw his nominee, to allow his successor to pick the next justice, instead.

The Republican argument for refusing to consider Garland (or anyone Obama nominates) is that the selection of the next justice is so hugely consequential that only the next president should make that choice, so that the American people have a say in it, by choosing who that president will be. Lurking behind this rationale is the understandable fear that if the court is tilted in a more liberal direction, it could deal a serious blow to a number of conservative causes — so better to roll the dice by holding out and hoping a Republican is elected president.

But with Donald Trump tightening his grip on the nomination, and the more electable “establishment” GOP candidates falling like dominoes, the prospect of Clinton winning the presidency is looking very real, and may continue to look even more likely as the campaign progresses. Republicans themselves fear that a Trump nomination could cost them the Senate, too. If all of that happens, Republicans might see no choice but to try to confirm Garland in the lame duck, before Clinton takes office and picks a nominee, possibly with a Dem-controlled Senate behind her. Some Republicans are already floating this idea.

But Obama could decline to play along with that scenario.

His post is titled “How Obama could get last laugh in Supreme Court fight.”  He posted this update:

It occurs to me that I probably should have argued that in this scenario, Democrats and liberals would be getting the last laugh, as opposed to Obama getting it. After all, Obama by all indications does want Garland confirmed; he’d merely be deferring to Hillary after the election. And liberal Dems (some of whom are already disappointed by the Garland pick) would be getting their preferred outcome. I’m not predicting this will happen, just floating it as an interesting possibility. You may also see some liberal pressure on Obama to do this, if Democrats secure a big victory in November (though whether Obama would bow to it is anybody’s guess), which would also be an interesting scenario to see play out.

But liberals should not push this man’s confirmation, and certainly African-Americans should not.  To quote Politico’s Josh Gerstein, “A former prosecutor, Garland often split with his liberal colleagues on criminal justice issues.”

Garland would not bring the court leftward in the absolutely critical realm of criminal justice issues, including jurisdiction to challenge via federal habeas corpus petition anything state-court criminal convictions or sentences on grounds that some aspect that lead to the result was unconstitutional–including police or prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel, and including immunity of cops and prosecutors from civil liability in civil rights lawsuits.

That, in fact, reportedly was a big plus for him in Obama’s opinion in 2009 and 2010 when he was being considered to replace Souter and Stevens–even though the Dems controlled the Senate.

Thomas Friedman, of all people, had a terrific line about Obama in his NYT column a day or two ago, something like, “Let’s face it; you wouldn’t want President Obama to be the one selling your house for you.” The column, which really was quite good, was about the TPP, and what Clinton should say about it now. But that comment about Obama was hilarious, and absolutely spot-on.

I’ve thought for about seven years now that Obama’s primary concern is to be considered a moderate by The People Who Matter. I don’t think he cares all that much about anything else, really.

Or maybe he thought in 2009 and 2010 and today that what the Supreme Court needs is a former prosecutor who will join with Samuel Alito in anything related to criminal law and law enforcement.

Garland is being hailed in some quarters as a brilliant legal mind, but I have yet to see an iota of evidence of it.  On a par with Samuel Alito, maybe? Or maybe just in comparison to Samuel Alito. And best as I can tell, not by all that much.

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UPDATE: This article by Janell Ross on the Washington Post’s The Fix blog about both Obama and Garland is outstanding.  I disagree with her that the anger toward Obama among what she calls the far left (which as a Sanders supporter I guess I qualify as part of, right?) is misplaced, but I agree with her about pretty much everything else she says in the article.  It’s a terrific analysis of Obama’s presidency as well as of Garland’s career.

Added 3/17 at 4:40 p.m.

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SECOND UPDATE: Just saw this article on Politico via Yahoo News, titled “Black lawmakers irked by Obama’s Supreme Court choice“. Their concerns are that Garland is a moderate rather than a progressive, and that Obama didn’t consult them before finalizing and announcing the selection.  Some of them also are angry that a member of a racial minority wasn’t selected.

Good for them.  I myself don’t care one whit about the nominee’s race, gender, family background, religion, ethnicity.  I care only about the person’s professional experience, views on legal issues I care about, and intellect, because that is what will determine how this person will effect the law. I can’t think of a clearer in-your-face affront to African Americans, at this particular moment, than the nomination of a pro-police, pro-prosecutor, anti-habeas corpus judge to be the swing justice on the Supreme Court for, very likely, the next several years.

I also have to say how very retro it is that Obama thinks the public is 1980s-’90s-era pro-police, pro-prosecutor. Then again, for some people–i.e., politicians–it will forever be the 1980s or ’90s.

Added 3/17 at 7:15 p.m.

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Oh, but Janell Ross, you promised to cite EXAMPLES of racist comments by Bernie Sanders. If you can’t actually deliver on that promise, then maybe a retraction of the racism allegation against him is in order? Just sayin’.

Folks, you really just have to read this for yourselves.  Excerpting from it or summarizing it can’t possibly do it justice.

Which is what it deserves.

Suffice it to say that I’m not eager to engage in a debate of this sort, and I agree that some comments by Sanders supporters about the devotion to the Clintons that so many middle-aged and elderly African-Americans have is condescending and in some instances downright demeaning.  As for me, I’m pretty sure that everyone is entitled to vote for whichever candidate he or she prefers. As an obsessive Sanders supporter myself, I think everyone should vote for Sanders.  But that’s just my opinion; everyone else is entitled to hold another one.

And there really is no question that, as Ross says, if Clinton wins the nomination it will be African-Americans who are responsible for it.

But if Sanders has made racist comments, it appears that about half of younger African-American voters missed it, because they’re voting for Sanders. So if Ross knows of actual instances of direct or implicit racist comments by Sanders, she might want to apprise younger blacks of these.  She’s a blogger for the Washington Post, so she has a high-profile forum to do that.

So do that, Ms. Ross.  Do that. Unless of course you can’t.

 

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Hillary Clinton’s not very good at math.

The truth is, we aren’t a single-issue country.  We need more than a plan for the big banks. The middle class needs a raise.

— Hillary Clinton, last night in her Nevada-caucuses victory speech

We’re not a single-issue country?  Who knew?  That’s a peculiar message on which to hang her campaign—as she has been doing for the last two or three weeks, since the previous tack proved ineffective—given that that previous tack was that, for women, there actually is only a single issue: breaking the glass ceiling for women presidential candidates.

But every time Clinton makes this baldly false claim about Sanders’ campaign, Sanders should refer her to, perhaps, a mathematician.  Or to a Feb. 16 article by John Wagner, the Washington Post’s lead reporter on the Sanders campaign (and my favorite reporter covering that campaign; he’s just really straightforward in his reporting, very much like reporters of yore), titled Post Politics ‘Single-issue’ candidate Bernie Sanders touches on 20 issues during a Michigan campaign stop.

Wagner, unlike Clinton, can count.  All the way up to 20.

Not incidentally, the campaign stop that Wagner was reporting on was at Eastern Michigan University’s huge Convocation Hall in Ypsilanti, a largely African-American city that borders on Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan.  It also is near many metro-Detroit blue-collar suburbs.  The rally gained media attention for its huge crowd and very long waiting lines that began forming several hours before the event, in very cold weather.  And also for the crowd’s raucous enthusiasm—a crowd, it was clear from the videos and photos, that truly did look like America.  Or a large segment of Democratic and other non-Tea Party America.  Except that metro Detroit does not have a large Latino population.

But Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California do.  And in Nevada, which also does, Sanders won the Latino vote by eight points, according to entrance polls.

In other words, Sanders no longer has a racial-minorities problem.  He has an African-American problem, and possibly mainly one that does not extend to rustbelt states.  Latinos apparently have no longstanding emotional tie to the Clintons, and African Americans in the rust belt may not have an unbreakable emotional tie to this couple.

Colorado, whose primary is on Mar. 1, not only has a large Latino population and (like Nevada) a relatively small African American population; it also has, I read a few months ago, the youngest population in the country.  And it is home to one of the country’s most liberal college towns, one with a population of nearly 100,000 and a student body of about 30,000, and also another state university with a good-size student body (27,000) in a city of more than 150,000.

The state also has a very large information-tech industry and a relatively huge number of environmentalists.  While the state itself is split politically about evenly between Democrats and Republicans and their respective leaners, its Democrats skew much more progressive than Nevada’s.

But Clinton may very well be wrong that she has a winning campaign soundbite even in the rust belt with “The truth is, we aren’t a single-issue country.  We need more than a plan for the big banks. The middle class needs a raise.”  Partly, that’s because she doesn’t seem to have a plan for the big banks.  And partly, because Sanders’ policies would result in larger raises than hers for the middle class and for those who make minimum wage and therefore are not in the middle class.

And partly because it is likely, I would think, that the information contained in a February 19 Politico Magazine article by William D. Cohan, titled “Too-Big-to-Fail Comes Back to Haunt Hillary,” will begin to gain real attention.

The article details Clinton’s ongoing close personal ties with top players in the banking and investment banking industries, and the number of banks and investment firms in addition to Goldman Sachs that paid her more than $200,000 for anodyne speeches at which the guests included top executives at firms that are major clients of these banks and hedge funds.  That, according to Cohan, was the purpose of these events: introductions between Clinton and these clients.

I’m guessing that eventually someone will juxtapose this information with Clinton’s statement at a debate last month that, by definition, she can’t be a member of the establishment because she is running to the first woman president. (This, of course, was still during the height of her multi-issue “Elect me because I’m a woman” campaign phase, the multi issues being “I” and “am” and “a” and “woman”.)  It’s a safe bet that if the person who employs the juxtaposition isn’t Bernie Sanders it will be Donald Trump.  If Clinton and Trump win the nomination of their respective parties.  Or maybe before that.

I read that during the caucuses yesterday Clinton tweeted that “We can’t let a Republican win the election in November,” or something close to that.  I couldn’t agree more.

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UPDATE: Apparently the entrance polls regarding Latino voters yesterday are looking wrong.  In a Politico article by Bill Scher, who mentions this, Scher also says that Clinton won African-American voters by pushing a line last week in Nevada that economic issues of the sort Sanders’ campaign has focused on don’t address what matters most to Blacks: systemic racism, particularly its effect of Black wealth.  But apparently Clinton has not offered any clue to how she plans to erase it.  Mainly she just wants African-Americans to know she knows about this and cares about it.

Unlike Sanders, who has no clue about this, or does know but doesn’t care.

Added 2/21 at 2:21 p.m.

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Two additional points: One is this by Bruce Webb in the Comments thread:

Bruce Webb

February 21, 2016 3:32 pm

The Latino numbers may not be wrong. The ‘corrective’ was taken by measuring Latino neighborhoods without considering the possibility that these might skew older (and so more Hillary) even as younger Latinos are more dispersed.

Which is typical of ethnic neighborhoods everywhere once outright discrimination starts melting away.

The major exception being the African American community because some very explicit discrimination is likely NEVER to go away. But otherwise you can go to your standard Little Korea or Chinatown or Little Italy and all you find is old people and immigrants. Your third generation native English speakers are out and about in your hipster enclaves and suburbs alike.

So wait for the actual crosstabs before giving this one up.

The other is this: That a huge part of Clinton’s campaign modus operandi consists of misrepresentation of one or another thing about Sanders’ campaign, including the nature or specifics of his policy proposals—er, proposal.  (There’s only one, after all.)  That he is a single-issue candidate is just the latest.  I wish someone would ask her why she’s so reliant as a candidate on misrepresenting her opponent’s campaign—but this has been absolutely the case since she began to realize last fall that Sanders is an actual threat to her candidacy.

It’s hard to see how this helps a candidate who many voters, including many Democrats, believe is less-than-honest.  And yet that apparently doesn’t occur to her.

Added 2/21 at 5:35 p.m.

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The critical point that Paul Waldman highlights, perhaps unwittingly, about the healthcare debate between Clinton and Sanders

Back when I was in college, a professor in one of the science courses I took in order to fulfill the Liberal Arts Science requirement made the point—maybe specifically in refutation of Creationists, although I don’t remember—that it is scientists, not those who contest and try to interfere with scientific discoveries, who will ultimately prove or disprove scientific theory.

A blog post this morning by Paul Waldman in the Washington Post about the healthcare insurance debate between Clinton and Sanders, which I just read, reminded me of that professor’s observation.  Waldman says:

Clinton’s theory of change is practical, realistic and born of hard experience. But it’s also not particularly inspiring. It takes opposition from Republicans as a given and seeks to avoid direct confrontation with certain powerful interests. It’s essentially the same theory Obama operated on in 2009, when his administration set about to co-opt the insurance and pharmaceutical industries instead of fighting them. And it worked — after half a century of Democratic failure on health care, they passed sweeping reform.

Sanders’s theory of change starts from the unspoken presumption that the ACA was in its own way a failure, because it didn’t change the system enough — there are still people left out, and though costs have been reined in, we still spend far more than countries with single-payer systems, and always will as long as we have a system based in private insurance. The problem with Sanders’s theory, however, is that it’s vague on getting from where we are to where he wants to go. He talks about the need to “stand up” to special interests and create a “revolution,” but standing up isn’t a plan.

Lest any of my friends supporting Sanders call me a squish, I’d note that I’ve been touting the benefits of single payer for years. In various forms it has been tried and worked far better than our system in every other advanced country in the world. In places like France or Germany or Japan, everyone is covered, the quality of care is as good or better than what Americans get, and it costs dramatically less than our bloated, inefficient system. But — and it’s a big “but” — moving from our current system to a single-payer system would be an extremely complicated endeavor, both practically and politically. If you tried to do it all at once, the opposition from both Republicans and the affected industries would make the fights over Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s health-care plans look like nap time at the preschool.

But that doesn’t mean Sanders’s ideas about health care should just be dismissed. It’s no accident that he’s getting the support of millions of idealistic Democrats. He’s a radical, in the traditional sense of the word as one who gets to the root of things.

A real primary debate needs the elements that both Sanders and Clinton provide: on one hand, a fundamental examination of what drives the system and a vision that speaks to the party’s essential values, and on the other hand, a realistic assessment of what the next president can accomplish. That’s why even though they have a profound disagreement on health care, both of them are right.

Sanders, though, isn’t really vague that major restructuring of how political campaigns are financed in this country is a prerequisite to enactment of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system, and that a prerequisite to that in turn is massive involvement in our electoral system by people who want these.

But Waldman’s post illustrates exquisitely that the point my long-ago professor made about scientists is true also about Bernie Sanders’s candidacy.

I’m not a scientist, man. But I applaud and support them.  As I do, now, Bernie Sanders.  For similar reasons.

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What Worries Me Most About Clinton: That she may not have the intellectual capacity to discern even critically important distinctions. Including glaring ones.

Update appended, 6/13 at 12:42 p.m.

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“It should not take longer to start a business in America than it does in Canada or France. But that is the fact.”

— Hillary Clinton, during a small business discussion, Cedar Falls, Iowa, May 19, 2015 

Our antenna always goes up when a politician asserts a “fact.” Clinton made this remark in the midst of a discussion about the “perfect storm of crisis” that she said small businesses face in the United States.

She made a similar point in an article she posted on LinkedIn on May 21, but with an additional country added:  “It should not take longer to start a business in the U.S. than it does in Canada, Korea, or France.”

Clinton’s claim that it takes longer to start a business in the U.S. than in Canada or France, Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 22

My own antenna always goes up when I hear a politician assert as fact a generic statement that is intended to imply what I know is a falsity or that patently makes no sense.  In this instance, it was both, and, stunningly, was intended to imply a false fact that supports a key line in the Republican playbook: that federal regulation is keeping middle-class folks from starting or expanding a small business.

Marco Rubio claimed something similar in April—to which Martin O’Malley famously responded, when asked about it in an interview, “It is not true that regulation holds poor people down or regulation keeps the middle class from advancing. That’s kind of patently bulls—.”  And Jeb Bush hinted at it a couple of months earlier.

When I read about Clinton’s statements before I read Kessler’s post (I didn’t see the post until about a week after it was posted), I was absolutely dumbfounded.  As Kessler notes, Clinton complains about “red tape” in starting small businesses and says that the length of time in starting a business, caused by red tape, keeps people from starting businesses.  The claim startled me; most red tape in starting businesses is state and local red tape, not federal, and the amount and type of red tape depends almost entirely upon the type of business and factors such as whether it requires a trade license of some sort (e.g., beautician), or a liquor license, and whether a permit of some sort must be obtained.

Opening a restaurant, for example, requires local health department permits and adherence to health department rules.  It also requires procuring a physical space in which to have the restaurant, and usually also means obtaining a business loan.  Starting a home-based web-design business requires none of those things.  The incorporation process involves filing a short filled-out form with the state Secretary of State’s office and paying a fee.

Clinton doesn’t know these things?  Really?

So the generic breadth of her statement was stupefying.  She holds a law degree from Yale, was a partner in a corporate law firm, an active First Lady of a state and then of the country.  Did she really not know that most red tape in starting a business does not touch upon anything that the federal government regulates?  Or did she have something accurate and specific in mind, but rather than identifying it, indulged her penchant for talking in incoherencies apparently in order to avoid ever saying anything specific about, well, anything?

Kessler’s post answered that question.  She did indeed have something specific in question: average statistics for businesses that employ between 10 and 50 people within one month, having five owners, using start-up capital equivalent to 10 times income per capita and being engaged in industrial or commercial activities and owning no real estate.  In Los Angeles, where it takes an average of eight days to start such a business.  Whereas in Paris it takes only 4.5 days and in Toronto five days.  In New York City, though, it takes only four days.

Clinton lives near New York City and represented New York state as a senator.  She knows that New York City is in this country.

This information was taken from the World Bank website, which, Kessler says, provides statistics that “lets you compare the individual cities to countries, so New York ends up tied for 6th place — with Belgium, Iceland, South Korea, the Netherlands and Sao Tome.”  Los Angeles, he says,  is in 15th place, tied with Cyprus, Egypt, Madagascar and the Kyrgyz Republic, among others. Oh, dear. But he points to another World Bank report that notes that “the differences are so large because, in the United States, ‘company law is under state jurisdiction and there are measurable differences between the California and New York company law.’”

I knew that!  I should run for president in the Democratic primary. Every small-business owner and aspiring small-business owner knows that, so I’d have a natural constituency.  And I have the advantage of actually recognizing problems that do affect many small businesses and that the federal government can address, by regulation.  Including ones that recent Democratic congresses, together with a Democratic president, actually enacted.

Kessler comments, “So what does data about starting a business in the largest city have to do with small businesses in Iowa? Beats us.”  It surely also beats small-business owners and people who are seriously considering becoming one.  Including those who are fairly recent immigrants to this country and who don’t hold a law degree from Yale.

Kessler notes that even if Clinton were accurate in her claim that it takes longer, on average, throughout this country than in the other countries she mentioned to start small businesses generally, the difference would be a matter of a day or two.  He writes:

The World Bank’s database lists 189 countries in terms of the time required to start a business. For 2014, in first place is New Zealand, with one day. In France and Canada, along with eight other countries, it takes five days. (South Korea, along with six other countries, is listed as four days.) The United States, with 12 other countries, is listed as six days.

First of all, one extra day does not seem like much of a hindrance — so much so that, as Clinton asserted in the LinkedIn article, the fact signified the “red tape that holds back small businesses and entrepreneurs.”

This is crazy.  What, pray tell, is her point?  To show that she’s too dumb to recognize distinctions between state and federal regulation, and between one type of small business and another?  If you’ve seen one small business, you’ve seen ‘em all?  And if you’ve seen state or local regulation, you’ve seen federal regulation?

Elsewhere in her LinkedIn letter she says that it takes longer to complete small-business federal tax forms than it is to complete multi-national corporations’ federal tax forms. Maybe so, but is that because the multi-nationals keep PricewaterhouseCoopers or Deloitte on retainer and the owners of the Thai food restaurant down the road probably don’t?  She doesn’t say. She thinks the ultimate in clever political rhetoric is to make some dramatic comparison; the accuracy and even the coherence of the comparison doesn’t matter to her.

Clinton does this conflation/sweeping-two-or-more-things-together-that-need-to-be-recognizated-as-separate-things thing regularly. In her brief comment in Iowa in April in which she said she would support a constitutional amendment, if necessary, to reverse Citizens United and get “unaccountable” money out of politics, she misrepresented that Citizens United bars election laws that would require super PACs to identify their donors, and corporations to report the recipients of their political largesse.  It doesn’t.  No constitutional amendment is needed to permit such statutes and SEC, IRS and FEC regulations.

I had planned to post on all this earlier but didn’t get around to it.  But two articles published in recent days, one in the Washington Post last weekend about the 2008 Clinton campaign’s gift of snow shovels to supporters in Iowa before the caucuses, the other a Washington Post column yesterday by Katrina vanden Heuvel, prompted this post.  The snow shovels article, by David Fahrenthold, begins:

AMES, Iowa — In Phyllis Peters’s garage, there is a snow shovel. A nice one: green, shiny, with an ergonomic steel handle. It came from Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And it plays a part in a modern-day political legend, about some of the strangest money a candidate has ever spent.

Eight years ago, Peters was a volunteer for Clinton’s first presidential run. She had been an admirer of Clinton since her time as first lady. But just before Clinton lost the Iowa caucuses, her staffers did something odd: They bought shovels for Peters and the hundreds of other volunteers.

“If you’re in Iowa, you [already] have a snow shovel,” the article quotes Peters as saying.  But she accepted the gift so as not to be rude.  “For both those who gave out the shovels and those who received them,” the article says, “they came to symbolize a candidate who never quite got their home state.”

Clinton grew up in a suburb of Chicago, then spent four winters in Wellesley, MA.  That was decades ago.  But, geeez.  She didn’t get cold-climate folks?

Vanden Heuvel’s column, titled “A new definition of freedom in America,” argues that the term “freedom” has had different meanings in different political eras, and that it’s imperative now that the Democratic presidential nominee, presumably Clinton, move aggressively away from the Conservative Movement definition of freedom as economic laisse faire, and reinstitute and expand upon FDR’s famous Four Freedoms. She writes:

This is Hillary Clinton’s historic opportunity. The greatest threat to freedom now is posed by the entrenched few that use their resources and influence to rig the rules to protect their privileges. She would do a great service for the country — and for her own political prospects — by offering a far more expansive American view of what freedom requires, and what threatens it.

Clinton should make it clear to Americans that in a modern, globalized world, we are in the midst of a fierce struggle between economic royalists and a democratic citizenry. If we are to protect our freedoms, citizens must mobilize to take back government from the few, to clean out the corruption and to curb the oppressive power of the modern day economic royalists.

But this requires a candidate who is both mentally quick enough and willing to respond, accurately and in specifics, to the Republican anti-regulation, supply-side-economics nonsense.  Clinton doesn’t seem like she has either of these attributes.

Clinton appears to think that all that matters is the generic ideas people have about what she stands for, and a few specific policy proposals all in good time.  She’s wrong.  She needs to respond, in full oral statements, using clear fact-based arguments, to the anti-government policy cant of the Republican sheep herd, from which her opponent eventually will come.  But I don’t think she can.

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ADDENDUM: I posted a comment in response to a comment by Mark Jamison that says in part:

One thing that comes through loud and clear from her attempt to Sister Souljah small-business owners and aspirants, Mark, is that she thinks Democrats NEED a Sister Souljah moment for small-business owners and aspirants. Dick Durbin could educate her on that, simply by referring her to what’s known as the Durbin Amendment.

Another thing that comes across is that, just as she didn’t realize in 2008 that Iowans all have snow shovels, she apparently doesn’t recognize that small-business owners and aspirants want solutions to problems that they actually have, and that that requires knowing the specifics of the problem, including the cause.

I want to make clear that I think the concerns of small-business owners are very much appropriate issues for progressive Democratic politicians to address. And that progressive Democratic elected officials do address them–the Durbin amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act being an example.  What Democratic candidates and officeholders should not do is create straw men for them to swat down.

Added. 6/10 at 5:41 p.m.

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UPDATE: Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith yesterday linked to this post (thanks, Yves!), and the link spawned a surprisingly long exchange of comments there, started by reader Carolinian, who noted and linked to a Harpers piece from last year that makes similar or complementary arguments.

Carolinian notes in one of her comments in that thread that Clinton’s campaign is hellbent on getting across the claim that Clinton is a wonk–something that I’d planned to post on here at AB.  A day or two after I read the articles about Clinton’s federal-red-tape-is-discouraging-people-from-starting-small-businesses tack, I read two articles, one by Peter Beinart on The Atlantic website (I can’t remember where I read the other, or who wrote it), assuring readers that Clinton is a wonk. I remember thinking, “OK, got it. Clinton is a wonk.  It’s just that she’s a wonk who thinks most small businesses need permits or licenses from the federal government in order to open.  And just this morning I read two more along that line, one of them (in Politico, I think), which says that her staff is pushing the “wonk” moniker because it’s accurate: that’s what she is.

The gist of these articles is that she really cares about policy–the nitty-gritty of policy, especially how best to achieve a policy goal.  One problem with that, though, is that she keeps making sing-songy soundbite statements that are either inaccurate or misleading or irrelevant or downright incoherent.

Clinton and her staff seem to be misconstruing the meaning of “wonk,” which does including within it the ability to understand the meaning and implications of the statistics and other facts–and recognize the actual sources of those facts, as distinguished from the cliches that the Republicans are selling.  The problems that people have in trying to start a business almost never involve federal red tape.  By saying otherwise, Clinton’s now made clear that she’s no wonk.

Updated 6/13 at 12:42 p.m.

 

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When Did Chris Cillizza Stop Beating His Wife?

I titled this post of mine yesterday, “I’m so, so tired of political journalists (including some who I think are generally excellent) misconstruing certain types of poll results.  And of pollsters not asking the obvious direct question they need to ask.”  The post dealt specifically with a blog entry by Greg Sargent yesterday morning in which he interpreted the answer to poll question asking what the issue the respondent considered most important (for next year’s national elections) as proof positive that the public doesn’t care about the effect of huge amounts of money by very wealthy donors in determining the policy proposals of the candidates and the actual policies instituted or supported by elected officeholders.

Almost no respondent listed huge amounts of money by tiny numbers of people funding campaigns as the issue that they were most concerned about, but as Sargent’s post itself indicated, answers to several other questions—questions that addressed that issue specifically—made very clear that a huge portion of the public considers it a critically important issue, because they do recognize the clear, direct impact of it on candidates’ stated policy views and on actual government policy.

I opened my post yesterday with a two-paragraph excerpt from Sargent’s post:

If ever there were a cycle that seemed poised for a serious argument over what to do — if anything — about the torrents of money sloshing through our politics, you’d think it would be this one. We’re seeing a parade of billionaire sugar daddies looking to sponsor individual GOP candidates. A profusion of clever tactics such as turning over campaign operations to a friendly Super PAC, and running a full-blown presidential campaign while pretending you haven’t declared. Outside groups on both sides pledging enormous expenditures. Relentless media attention to foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation. And so on.

Yet despite all this, the chances of turning campaign finance into a major or compelling issue appear remote: A new poll today finds that fewer than one percent of Americans see it as the most important issue facing the country.

I then asked whether this might be because most poll respondents think they’re being asked directly about the issues that they want politicians and officeholders to address, rather than, y’know, the reasons why politicians and officeholders aren’t dealing effectively—or at all—with those problems and often make policy that worsens those problems.  Although the question was rhetorical (okay, sarcastic), I answered it, saying that it turns out that the answer is yes, and referencing the answers to the poll questions that specifically addressed the issue.

In the comments thread this morning, reader Dale Coberly commented that “polls tell the p.r. firms how well they are doing” and that “you can’t win by ‘taking the money out of politics’ or rewriting the poll questions.”   I responded:

Dale, the very last thing I’m trying to suggest is that candidates or parties should try to win by rewriting poll questions.  The polls at issue were the general news media polls, taken by polling organizations not affiliated with a candidate or party.

What I’m suggesting—strongly and clearly, I thought—is that journalists should really, really stop conflating answers to one question with answers to question that wasn’t even asked. They’re playing a distorting semantics game, in this instance by treating the word “issue” as having a much broader meaning than, I’m sure, most people interpret that word to mean in a generic poll question about what they think is the most important issue.

If the poll asked a question specifically about how important the respondent thinks it is to try to significantly curb the ability of the very wealthy, whether individuals or corporations, to fund particular campaigns, or even if q question asked the respondent to list in order of importance several categories of issues, and provide the categories, and include among the categories the influence large donors in controlling what positions politicians take as candidates and as elected officials, then great!   But it’s ridiculous to read the question at issue in Sargent’s post and interpret the answers to it as anything but stated preferences about the things mist people actually thing the question is asking about.

After I posted that comment, I clicked on the Washington Post website and it’s The Fix blog and, skimming the post titles saw one from yesterday by Chris Cillizza titled “Can we please stop acting like campaign finance is a major voting issue?

I don’t know when Cillizza stopped beating his wife, but his post is ridiculous.  He begins:

There are two seemingly contradictory data points in a new New York Times-CBS national poll.

1. 84 percent of people — 80 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats — believe money has too much influence in American politics.

2. Less than 1 percent of people said money in politics or campaign fundraising was the most important issue facing the country.

Seemingly contradictory?  I dunno.  I mean … maybe.  If you think the public thinks of the profound perversion of this country’s democracy as just another issue.  Cillizza continues:

How can the public hold both notions in their heads simultaneously? It’s actually not that complicated — and helps to explain why we need to stop acting like campaign finance reform is a major issue in actual campaigns.

Okay, well, he’s right that it’s not that complicated, but that’s because, as I’ve said,  the two notions are not contradictory at all.  Unless, that is, you believe that the respondents thought the first question included consideration of the second rather than just being a question directly about such issues as the economy, immigration, college affordability, foreign policy, healthcare insurance.  Rather than also indirectly about, well, all of those issued scrambled together.

But he doesn’t, of course, and makes that really clear, writing:

What point No. 2 shows, however, is that the public’s broad dislike for the amount of money flowing through the political system is more a theoretical distaste than a practical one. As in, when prompted to offer judgment on how much money is in politics, people agree it’s too much.  But, left unprompted, they make quite clear that campaign finance reform is not even close to a top-of-the-mind issue.

Think of it like this: If someone asked you whether you should eat better, almost all of us would say yes.  Too many hamburgers, too much pizza, too many frappuccinos. (Or maybe that’s just me.) But, when you go out to lunch or find yourself at the grocery story, how many of us actually make good on our stated intent to eat better? If you’re anything like me, the answer is a whole heck of a lot fewer people than say that they should be eating better.

There’s a huge difference between prompted intent and unprompted action.

There is indeed a huge difference between prompted intent and unprompted action. There’s also a huge difference between journalists who don’t actually understand what that difference is, and what it actually means. Mainly, apparently, because these journalists don’t understand the semantics of being asked generically by a pollster about “issues.”

This is serious stuff, folks.  And I suggest that the Washington Post poll people about what they think pollsters are referring to when then ask generically about issues that concern them.  And then ask specifically a set of questions about this issue, which most people recognize as a blanket issue encompassing a slew of specific policy issues and problems.  Most people.  But not most political journalists, apparently, at least not the ones whose comments I’ve read.  Think of it like this.

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UPDATE: Reader Carol and I just had the following exchange in the comments thread to this post:

Carol

June 3, 2015 2:36 pm

There is more to it than that. The public correctly perceives the role of money in politics as a huge problem. The public also correctly perceives this as not the most important issue facing the public today. There is no cognitive dissonance here. The most important issue for most people is having a job, or enough money to not be frightened of the future. In the general psychology courses I took, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would suggest survival trumps all other issues. Once you are fed and secure, you have the time and energy to break out the tumbrils.

 

Beverly Mann

June 3, 2015 3:17 pm

Wow, Carol. You really think that fewer than 1% of the respondents see the connections between issues directly related to having a job, or enough money to not be frightened of the future? Most of the respondents said they understood perfectly this connection.

Wage issues (including the minimum wage, and including the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively); banking regulations (including the ones could have prevented the collapse of the economy in 2009-10, had they been in force—the collapse of the economy that cost millions of people their jobs, their life savings, their homes); healthcare insurance; interest on college loans; etc., etc. etc, etc.? Only fewer than 1% of that poll’s respondents think those issues have no tie-in to, say, who’s funding whose election campaign and may or may not fund that elected official’s next one?

Really? Really???

You’re right, Carol, that there’s no cognitive dissonance regarding the respondents’ responses. Which is the point of this post–or is supposed to be. The problem is one of semantics and these political journalists’ failure to realize that most people would understand that poll question about the most important issue to be using the word “issue” in a specific, narrow sense that doesn’t include the relationship between public policy and who’s buying the policy.

I had thought this isn’t rocket science, but maybe I was wrong.  Apologies for the snideness, but ….

Updated 6/3 at 3:40 p.m. 

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Jeb Bush Declares His Support For Raising the Capital Gains Tax, Ending the ‘Carried Interest’ Tax Break, and Taxing Most Inherited Wealth. Seriously.

To be sure, after distancing himself from Romney’s formulation, Bush launched into a speech that was loaded up with the usual anti-government boilerplate. Bush did say that “only a small portion” of Americans are “riding the economy’s up escalator,” in keeping with his apparent goal — which is shared by other GOP presidential candidates — to focus his candidacy on inequality, stalled mobility, wage stagnation, and the failure of the recovery’s gains to achieve widespread distribution. But he then went on and on about the folly of expecting “government to deliver prosperity,” trafficked in the usual rhetoric about government picking winners and losers and impeding the magic of competition and economic freedom, and tossed off a few cracks about Washington being a “company town” that “recklessly degrades the value of work.”*

Jeb Bush will liberate the 47 percent, Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, yesterday

Sargent’s report is about a speech Bush gave yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club, which was last in the national political headlines in January 2012, shortly before the Michigan primary, when Romney gave what quickly became my very, very most favoritest of Romney’s public speeches (y’know; the ones that were intended to become public).

Bush recognizes that Washington is a “company town” that “recklessly degrades the value of work.” Cool!!  It is indeed reckless that capital gains, “carried interest,” and the like are taxed at a much lower rate than income from work, and that most inherited wealth is taxed not at all.  But it’s surprising that Jeb Bush recognizes this.

Bush also said that he can’t just run as George Bush’s brother; he has to be his own person with his own political identity.  But who expected such a dramatic break from brother George’s seminal domestic policy?  And so soon into the campaign season!

Jeb Bush, you are indeed not just your brother’s brother.  Are you even your brother’s brother at all?

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*Presumably, the company Bush references is Koch Industries. (Added 2/5 at 5:55 p.m.)

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Cynthia Lummis’s (Stunningly) Glib Fraud

The big news story of the last 24 hours, of course, is the Senate Intelligence Committee’s sickening torture report.  But you might also have heard about Wyo. Rep. Cynthia Lummis’s dramatic statement yesterday as a member of Darrell Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Jonathan Gruber/Marilyn Tavenner Obamacare hearing.

The purpose of the hearing was, naturally … well, you know.  But something surprising did happen at the hearing.  In short, Lummis, the chairwoman of the Republican Study Committee’s Obamacare-repeal subcommittee, claimed that her 65-year-old Medicare-eligible husband failed to get a physician-recommended medical test to diagnose the cause of his chest pains because he was told incorrectly that he and his wife “were not covered by Obamacare”.

Even if you did hear about this, you might have missed Washington Post political blogger Nia-Malika Henderson’s precious take on it as “the most moving moment of the Gruber hearing.”:

Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist who said that the stupidity of the American public played a major role in the passage of the  Affordable Care Act, came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to be verbally flogged by members of Congress. Amid the predictable litany of “stupid” references, Wyoming Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) provided a poignant moment. Here’s what she said:

“On October 24, the week before election, my husband went to sleep and never woke up. He had a massive heart attack in his sleep at age 65.  A perfectly, by all accounts, healthy man. Come to find out, in a conversation with his physician after he died, he chose not to have one of the tests, the last tests, his doctor told him to have. This happened to coincide with the time that we were told that we were not covered by Obamacare. I’m not telling you that my husband died because of Obamacare.  He died because he had a massive heart attack in his sleep.

Lummis’s husband was Alvin Wiederspahn, a former Democratic state legislator and a lawyer and rancher. They married in 1983. When he died, Lummis released this statement, which mentions the couple’s only child: ‘Last night, my husband, Al, passed away peacefully in his sleep in our home in Cheyenne. Annaliese and I know that God has taken Al home to heaven, but right now our hearts are broken.’

“Her statement about her husband in the Gruber hearing wasn’t so much a question as much as it was a raw accusation about the Affordable Care Act, a statement she ended by asking for some compassion. ‘I want to suggest that regardless of what happened to me personally, that there have been so many glitches in the passage and implementation of Obamacare that have real-life consequences on peoples’ lives,’ she said, almost choking up. ‘The so-called glibness that has been referenced today has direct consequences for real American people. So get over your damn glibness.’”

“Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner tried to offer Lummis some sympathy, but was cut off by outgoing chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)”

Hearings like this are always political.  But they don’t usually offer such deeply-felt personal stories from lawmakers.

Apparently, it didn’t occur to Henderson, nor for that matter to Tavenner, to mention that Lummis’ husband surely was covered by Medicare.  For the record, Mr. Wiederspahn, according to his own Wikipedia page, was born on January 18, 1949, so he turned 65 a full 10 months before his death.

Also for the record, Lummis and her husband had a net worth of between $20 million and $75 million, including three Wyoming ranches.  Although Mr. Wiederspahn himself came from a prominent Cheyenne family and was a successful lawyer, the couple, who met when they were young across-the-political-aisle colleagues in the state legislature, inherited most of their extensive wealth from Lummis’s family.

Lummis said at that hearing that her husband had had several routine heart-health tests, presumably months or at least weeks before he died, and had submitted payment claims to “Obamacare,” but was told, erroneously, by “Obamacare” that the two of them were not were not covered, even though they had purchased a plan through the DC exchange website.  She said he resubmitted the bills and was told again that he and his wife weren’t covered.  But he was covered primarily by Medicare. And of course he knew that. Lummis didn’t mention that, but she did say that he had been having chest pains yet declined to have that final diagnostic test.

Lummis ran unsuccessfully in September to chair the Republican Study Committee, and she heads its legislative-repeal subcommittee. Her story was not a deeply-felt personal one but instead a deeply-felt ideological one.  The chance is nil that her husband delayed getting that final diagnostic test for fear that he might have to pay out-of-pocket some relatively small portion of the cost for the test–the portion that Medicare would not pay. Or that he thought the insurance error would not be corrected.

Her claim is a fraud.  Call her the “‘Jackie’, the-University-of-Virginia-fraternity-gang-rape-victim” of the Obamacare-horror-story crowd.  By which I mean that, theoretically at least, her fabrication in order to try to serve her cause may prove to have the opposite effect.  But only if the news media reports the credibility issues.  And because this is not about sex but instead about Obamacare, the news media probably won’t.

And, no, I’m not being glib.  Lives indeed are at stake.

And while it may be unfair to analogize Henderson to Rolling Stone journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the infamous UVa-fraternity-gang-rape article—Henderson, after all, was just extemporaneously reacting to what she had just seen on CSPAN, not writing an ostensibly extensively-investigated in-depth news article—I’ll draw the analogy anyway, albeit while noting that important distinction.

But Henderson certainly is correct on her last point: Congressional hearings don’t usually offer such deeply-felt personal stories—real ones or fake ones—from lawmakers. Nor, of course, was this lawmaker actually testifying.  Not under oath, anyway.

But to Henderson’s observation, I’ll add one of my own: There has, at least to my knowledge, never been a House or Senate hearing at which, say, a surviving spouse of someone who died because of lack of access to diagnostic tests or to treatment because of the family could not afford healthcare insurance on the private market on the pair’s minimum-wage jobs, or because the spouse had a pre-existing condition detailed this.  Nor, to my knowledge, has there been testimony by a witness who alone or along with a spouse filed for bankruptcy, or completed lifelong savings and retirement accounts, because of huge and possibly ongoing medical bills that far exceeded the pre-Obamacare annual benefit cap on the family’s Blue Cross plan.

For that matter, there has been no Congressional-hearing testimony by people who will lose access to healthcare insurance if Antonin Scalia brings along with him next spring the votes of four other justices to interpret the ACA as containing an antidisestablishmentarian clause that bars insurance-premium subsidies under that statute in states that have allowed the federal government to set up and run their state’s insurance exchange website, as per the ACA, rather than set one up and run it itself.  During a little-publicized private speech to the Appellate Judges Education Institute Summit last month, Scalia decided to tamp down public speculation that in the ACA cases, King v. Burwell and Halbig v. Burwell, he might adhere to the rule of statutory construction that he announced for the Court last June in a ruling favoring a who’s-who cadre of anti-environmental-regulations Republican campaign finance benefactors, and against the EPA.  Scalia reportedly told his audience that judges don’t have the power to interpret “garbage” statutes enacted by Congress to avoid an undesired outcome. (Scalia and four of his colleagues do believe, however, as they demonstrate regularly these days, that they have the power to interpret non-garbage statutes and statutory procedural rules as garbage statutes, but apparently he didn’t mention that in his speech.)

And there has been no Congressional testimony by anyone who, notwithstanding a very moderate annual income ($11,670 to $29,175 a year for an individual), this year has enjoyed excellent healthcare insurance through an ACA provision that has remained almost secret because it requires a separate budget appropriation that the Republicans have blocked. HHS has used funds appropriated for the tax subsidies to fund the program this year, but the professional-anti-Obamacare-litigation industrial complex is challenging the legality of this in the courts.  New York Times healthcare reporter Robert Pear explained on November 29:

In mounting the latest court challenge to the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans are focusing on a little­-noticed provision of the law that offers financial assistance to low­ and moderate­ income people.

Under this part of the law, insurance companies must reduce copayments, deductibles and other out-­of­pocket costs for some people in health plans purchased through the new public insurance exchanges. The federal government reimburses insurers for the “cost-­sharing reductions.”

Nor has there been Congressional testimony by anyone who is deeply grateful for the dramatic slowing of the decades-long virulently-rising annual increase in healthcare insurance costs for private-employer-based insurance, although surely there are many, many millions who are.

I want to suggest that regardless of what happened to Lummis personally, that although there have been so many glitches in the passage and implementation of Obamacare, the actual real-life consequences of Obamacare on peoples’ lives are that it mitigates to some extent but by no means fully the profoundly harsh and quite-often deadly American healthcare-access/healthcare-coverage system, and that Lummis is fraudulently invoking her husband’s untimely death in the service of trying to strip millions of spouses, parents, and children of their newfound, very-long-in-coming access to diagnostic tests, treatments, and preventative medical care.  That—unlike her false indictment of the ACA in her husband’s death—is a fact.

Lummis’s husband, whether or not he remained a Democrat throughout his life, did remain someone whose heart was in the right place.  He reportedly played a large role in obtaining financial support for Cheyenne’s largest homeless shelter.  His widow should have let him rest in peace, rather than glibly invoking his death in a cause whose purpose is to deny access to healthcare insurance to massive numbers of people.  His widow’s glibness was intended to have direct consequences for real American people, of exactly the sort that her husband (who surely knew that at the least he was covered by Medicare) did not face.  It is not Gruber, but Lummis, whose glibness will kill, as is its intention.

Yes, Henderson really did title her blog post “This was the most moving moment of the Gruber hearing.”  Once Obamacare has been repealed root-and branch, as Mitch McConnell has vowed, or just branch-but-not root, by the Supreme Court, as Scalia is hinting, there will be many possible moving moments, superficially similar but substantively different than Lummis’s, although of course not by lawmakers.  There still is a difference between staged theater and real life; at least I think so.  So I suppose we’ve seen the last of the moving moments, at Congressional hearings, concerning spousal deaths due to lack of health insurance coverage.

Lummis surely mourns her husband.  Deeply.  But she also made him her unwitting stage prop yesterday.

 

 

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Why Tom Harkin Caved

Sen. Tom Harkin said Monday that he shouldn’t have compared Joni Ernst to singer Taylor Swift and added that “in no way did I intend to offend” the Republican Senate hopeful.

“I shouldn’t have said those things, I know that. I regret anytime someone feels offended by what I have said,” the retiring Democrat said in a statement. “But I am only human and I can make mistakes sometimes in how I say something. I can assure Senator Ernst that in no way did I intend to offend her. In fact, I have complimented her on running a very good campaign.” …

“In this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads,” Harkin said. “And there’s sort of this sense that, ‘Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She is really attractive, and she sounds nice.’

“…Well, I got to thinking about that,” he continued. “I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like [Minnesota Rep.] Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”

Ernst, who is facing off against Democrat candidate Bruce Braley for the Iowa Senate seat, invoked the lyrics to Swift’s hit song “Shake It Off” in her response to Harkin on Monday.

“He compared me to Taylor Swift, that’s okay, we’re gonna shake this off, we’re gonna drive on, we’re gonna do the right thing, we’re gonna push this next 24 hours” Ernst said in an interview.

Tom Harkin: I shouldn’t have said it, Lucy McCalmont, Politico, today

That’s right, Ms. Ernst.  You shake it off.  You drive on.  Sheep and lemmings aren’t usually used as working animals in the way that mules, donkeys and horses are.  But the political news media is changing that. They’re the winger Republican Senate candidates’ workhorses this year, and Nia-Malika Henderson and (I assume) others are serving this week as your chauffer. Driving you on to Washington.  Or hoping to.

Harkin, of course, remembers quite clearly exactly what he said.  He no more said Ernst looks like Taylor Swift than he said that Ernst is as nice as Mr. Rogers.  Which is why initially after Ernst’s Fox News statement yesterday morning, he refused to apologize.

But here’s the thing: Once some members of the press picked up Ernst’s outlandish interpretation as fact, Harkin had to choose between reiterating his point that apparently some voters stupidly are fixated on Ernst’s physical appearance and seemingly nice personality, or instead going along with the false narrative that he said Ernst looks like Taylor Swift.  Harkin undoubtedly was pressured by the Braley campaign or by DSCC head Guy Cecil to choose the latter.

That was a mistake, in my opinion.  And I’m damn sure that most voters who actually read Harkin’s comments will know exactly what Harkin was saying.  Some of them will be offended by Ernst’s manipulation and demeaning view of Iowans’ intelligence.

But what most Iowans won’t know is that yesterday, while the political media was all excited about Harkin’s statement—or, more accurately, about Ernst’s (and therefore the media’s) translation of it—Ernst indicated to a reporter that she believes that statements of fact actually are opinions; she doesn’t know the difference between a statement of fact and a statement of opinion.  She also told the reporter that any statement, oral or in print, by a news reporter is a statement of that reporter’s opinion.  Here’s what occurred, as reported yesterday by the Washington Post’s Ben Terris and summarized by Paul Waldman on the Post’s Plum Line blog last evening:

Some reporters actually got within talking distance of Joni Ernst today, and the results were pretty much what you’d expect:

“[Obama] is just standing back and letting things happen, he is reactive rather than proactive,” she said. “With Ebola, he’s been very hands off.”

“What should he have done about Ebola?” Esquire blogger Charlie Pierce asked her. “One person in America has Ebola.”

“OK, you’re the press, you’re giving me your opinion,” Ernst said.

“It’s not an opinion, only one person in America has it,” he said.

“But he is the leader, he is the leader of our nation,” she said. “So what he can do is make sure that all of these agencies are coordinating together, to make sure he is sharing with the American people he cares about them, he cares about their safety.”

It goes on, Waldman says.  Ernst’s comments and the press’s choices about which ones they’ll focus on or even report on.

This year’s election campaign has been a perfect storm of silence of the lambs and silence of the press.

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