Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Why does Krugman hold Clinton and her campaign harmless for . . .

the public’s cluelessness about Trump’s policy agenda vs. her own?

PHILADELPHIA — On Wednesday night, the Harvard Institute of Politics pulled together a focus group of eight millennial voters from the Philadelphia area, and a small group of journalists watched. One of the millennials supported the Green Party presidential candidacy of Jill Stein. The rest professed to be totally undecided — despondent about the election, offended that they were being asked to choose between major party candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Most of the participants asked for anonymity. A few, including the Green-voting 27-year-old Amanda, offered up their first names and allowed a few follow-up questions. The small sample of voters, in one swing state, was illustrative just as the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs and Researchpoll had been — and with the same tantalizing power for Democrats. Unlike some of the white working-class men who are breaking for Trump, the millennials were onboard with the Democrats’ 2016 agenda. But they were struggling to cast a vote. Among the lessons:

1. They agree with the Democrats on the issues. For the better part of an hour, the members of the group listed their most pressing policy concerns, from climate change to taxes to education to agriculture. When all the terms were written on a whiteboard, they were ask to list their top three, and for each, say which candidate they agreed with. Seven of the eight millennials ended up preferring Clinton on the issues; the eighth, as mentioned above, preferred Stein.

4. They’re counting on something — an assassin, impeachment — to prevent Trump from doing too much damage. Alex paralyzed the room with laughter when he floated a strange and “dark” idea. “If Trump wins,” he said, “he’s probably going to be assassinated, and Mike Pence will become president.”

Alex, a Democrat who had voted for Barack Obama in 2008, had stayed home in 2012 and cooled on most politicians. He had come to like Pence for his demeanor, as seen at Tuesday night’s debate. But the more important point was that a Trump presidency did not seem like a four- or eight-year proposition.

“He’s going to be in court most of the time as president,” said one focus group member who preferred to be anonymous. “He’s going to get impeached.”

5. They’re not necessarily thinking about all the powers a president would have. One of the questions that halted the group’s discussion was simple: How was the Supreme Court affecting their vote? Several members of the group admitted that they had not considered this; when they did, as in the issue round, they preferred that Clinton appoint members of the court.

— Five lessons about millennial voters from a Philadelphia focus group, David Weigel, Washington Post, yesterday

Meanwhile, today, Paul Krugman, Clinton’s penultimate cheerleader pundit, continues to pin on the political news media the entire blame for this epidemic of cluelessness about Trump’s and the Republican Establishment’s actual policy agenda. And for such things as the unawareness that Trump will be appointing Supreme Court justices, lower-federal-court judges, and federal-agency heads, and will be signing Paul Ryan’s fiscal and regulatory bills.

And that if Trump resigns, is impeached, or is assassinated, Mike Pence (the rightwing talk-show host cum Tea Party pol) will.

Krugman often beats the drum with praise for Clinton by reminding the public of such things as how poised and how much stamina she showed last fall during that 11-hour Benghazi House Committee hearing.  He can’t understand why that doesn’t suffice as reason to be fond of her, or at least to vote for her against Donald Trump.

He even more often rages in anger at the appalling, diametrically opposite manner in which the mainstream political media has covered both Clinton and Trump—and its god-awful-absurd, unremitting obsession with Clinton’s email for a full one-and-a-half years until finally it stopped late last month.

But never, ever, does he acknowledge that the profound lack of knowledge, particularly among millennials, about the differences between these two candidates’ agendas, and between their respective parties’ agendas, may be as much because Clinton herself has failed to apprise the public of this.  Some of it at all, some of it with actual specifics, the rest of it with anything resembling consistency.

To wit, Krugman’s column today, titled “What About the Planet?”  It begins:

Our two major political parties are at odds on many issues, but nowhere is the gap bigger or more consequential than on climate.

If Hillary Clinton wins, she will move forward with the Obama administration’s combination of domestic clean-­energy policies and international negotiation — a one­-two punch that offers some hope of reining in greenhouse gas emissions before climate change turns into climate catastrophe.

If Donald Trump wins, the paranoid style in climate politics — the belief that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a vast international conspiracy of scientists — will become official doctrine, and catastrophe will become all but inevitable.

So why does the media seem so determined to ignore this issue? Why, in particular, does it almost seem as if there’s a rule against bringing it up in debates?

He goes on to castigate Kaine/Pence debate moderator Elaine Quijano for her general awfulness and, specifically, for this:

[I]t’s really stunning that in the three nationally televised forums we’ve had so far — the “commander in chief” forum involving Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, the first presidential debate and the vice­-presidential debate — the moderators have asked not a single question about climate.

This was especially striking in Tuesday’s debate.

Somehow Elaine Quijano, the moderator, found time for not one but two questions inspired by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — an organization concerned that despite relatively low budget deficits now and extremely low borrowing costs, the federal government may face fiscal problems a couple of decades down the line. There may be something to this, although not as much as deficit scolds claim (and Ms. Quijano managed to suggest that Mrs. Clinton’s proposals, which are fully paid for, are no better than Mr. Trump’s multitrillion-dollar debt blowout).

But if we’re worried about the longer­-term implications of current policies, the buildup of greenhouse gases is a much bigger deal than the accumulation of low-interest debt. It’s bizarre to talk about the latter but not the former.

And this blind spot matters a lot. Polling suggests that millennial voters, in particular, care a lot about environmental protection and renewable energy. But it also suggests that more than 40 percent of young voters believe that there is no difference between the candidates on these issues.

I watched that debate from beginning to end (although I’m sure I broke a record for times checking the clock during a 90-minute period).  And I couldn’t believe this moderator’s focus on the national debt.  Or, to be accurate, I couldn’t believe her loaded, circa-2011 questions about it and deep urgency in the tone of her voice.  Might a question specifically about what Trump’s massive tax cuts and massive military board-patrol buildup relative to the debt not have been, y’know, a good thing for her to ask?

But it also might have been a good thing for Kaine to ask.  And it might have been helpful if he’d responded to Pence’s false statement that the debt has increased massively since Obama assumed office with a truthful statement that in fact it has been significantly reduced, but he didn’t.  But Kaine had one, and only one, assignment in that debate, and it wasn’t to make either of those two points.  It was instead to force Pence to accept, reject, or deny the fact of Trump’s racist, xenophobic, misogynist, vulgar, etc., etc., pronouncements.

Mission accomplished.  Unless, of course, the mission was to educate the public about the Trump agenda that huge swaths of the public—including, apparently, most millennials—doesn’t know about.

Including all those court and agency-head appointments. And what that would mean.

I don’t expect that Clinton and her campaign strategists can be disabused of their foundational presumption that moderate suburbanites just love extreme tax cuts for the wealthy, further deregulation of the finance industry, global warming, and complete control of government at every level by a handful of billionaires and some mega-corporations.  Which is why she doesn’t campaign on these, and campaigns almost entirely on the racist, xenophobic, misogynist, etc., etc. stuff, in the belief that only that will sway or hold moderate suburbanites.

So I suppose it would make no difference if someone other than me—someone like, say, Krugman—pointed out that Clinton’s been an extreme enabler of the political news media’s de facto blackout on these dramatic policy-and-appointments agenda differences.  But it would be worth a try.

Although first the people I’m urging to do this would themselves have to be persuaded that Clinton’s poise and stamina during the Benghazi hearing did nothing to educate the public about those policy-and-appointments agenda differences.

I guess I won’t hold my breath.  Even though time is now so short that I probably wouldn’t even turn blue.

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ANTITRUSSSSST! (Dear Hillary: In a well-received economics-themed speech in Toledo on Monday, you mentioned ANTITRUST LAW and ARBITRATION CLAUSES. Please, please do so also at Sunday’s debate.)

Clinton also said she would push for new steps to crack down on “forced arbitration” fine print that prevents workers and consumers from suing companies, proposals aimed at reducing market concentration and increasing competition, and curbing tax rules that gave corporations and the super-wealthy, like Trump, tax breaks not available to ordinary taxpayers.

After Trump’s tax-return leak, Clinton accuses him of protecting a ‘rigged system’, Abby Phillip and David Weigel, Washington Post, Oct. 3

Yes, Monday was economic-policy day for the Clinton campaign.  Tuesday was, well, not.  And while Tim Kaine is taking the brunt of the criticism for that, he is not the one who made that decision.  Clinton and her campaign gurus are.

Abby Phillip reported last night in a blog post titled “Clinton debate prep is focused on what happens once the debate is done”:

Sen. Tim Kaine may have awakened Wednesday to poor reviews after the first and only vice-presidential debate, but his acerbic performance in Farmville, Va., revealed that the Clinton campaign’s strategy for these debates extends far beyond the stage.

Armed with pre-planned Web videos, television ads and tweets, the campaign has used key debate moments this week and last as a cudgel against the Republican ticket, showing a level of discipline and organization largely absent from Donald Trump and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s campaign.

“Kaine had a very clear and simple plan for the debate: remind a national televised audience of all of the offensive things Trump has said and done in this campaign,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Obama. “The Clinton campaign was smart enough to know that who ‘wins’ or ‘loses’ the VP debate doesn’t move votes. Instead it’s an opportunity to communicate a message to a very large audience.”

“I don’t see a single thing that Pence did that moved the needle for Trump in any way,” he added.

Both Hillary Clinton and her running mate showed up on their respective debate nights well rehearsed. At moments, they seemed over-rehearsed. At one point Tuesday, Pence shot back at Kaine: “Did you work on that one a long time? Because that had a lot of really creative lines in it.”

But Clinton and Kaine had a larger goal in mind than winning the debates themselves: to create a series of compelling sound bites that they planned to weaponize for the reminder of the campaign. They logged scores of hours of preparation. They recited laundry lists of Trump’s faults. Their clear objective: to record him and his running mate embracing, denying or evading controversial positions that Trump has taken in recorded speeches.

That pattern is likely to continue Sunday at the next presidential debate, Democrats said.

“[Pence] claimed over and over and over again — he claimed, ‘He never said those things!’ ” exclaimed conservative radio host Glenn Beck on Wednesday. “We’re not living in the 1800s. We can go back to the clips on YouTube.”

And that’s exactly what the Clinton campaign did. Shortly after the debate Tuesday, the Clinton campaign tweeted out a glossy new site at hillaryclinton.com/literallytrump. The site highlighted dozens of moments “mentioned at the debate,” most of them by Kaine, with citations to back them up and the “share” button never too far away.

By Wednesday morning, a new video was blasted: a 90-second super-cut of Pence’s denials.

Here’s the problem with that strategy: It’s only half of what the Clinton strategy should be.

The other half?  Illustrating that on his fiscal, economic, and regulatory policy agenda—all of it intricately related—Trump and Pence are exactly the same.  It’s a Mercers/Kochs/Tea Party agenda.  Yet Kaine at the debate—at the orchestration of the Clinton campaign’s strategists—allowed Pence to get away with the more important of the Trump campaign’s two new lines.

The less-important line was the one that everyone knows is preposterous: that it is Clinton rather than Trump who is running a campaign based on insults.  Greg Sargent, linking to a Washington Post video clip of Trump’s rally in Nevada yesterday, writes this morning:

A new, self-effacing version of Donald Trump appeared on the campaign trail late yesterday. In Nevada, Trump said this:

“A vote for me is a vote for change, and common sense, and a strong military, and great veterans’ care, and Second Amendment rights, and good health care….But it’s also a vote directly for you. Because I am a reflection of you.

“You’re voting as people who believe in yourselves. You are voting to believe in your future. You are voting to believe in your great country. All together, we are going to make our country wealthy again….And we are going to make America great again.”

“This isn’t about me, it’s about you” is standard political boilerplate, of course. But in Trump’s case, it may signal a closing strategy.

The Post titled that video clip “Trump to supporters: ‘I am a reflection of you.”  And this time he wasn’t talking only about those who are in the basket of deplorables.

He also wasn’t talking about those who wouldn’t be assisted by the tax policy drafted for him at the Mercer-funded Heritage Foundation, nor to those who would be forced to make up some of the lost income and estate tax revenue in order to pay for the massive buildup in military defense and border security (among other things).  Although he, like Pence on Tuesday night, was claiming that is the “you” who he is talking about, and talking to.

I’ve written two or three posts here at AB in the last few months in which I’ve pleaded with Clinton to discuss antitrust law and also forced-arbitration clauses.  Antitrust law is the more important of the two, and truly implicates the very workings of the larger economy.  In a post several months ago, I recalled that it was a regular part of Bernie’s stump speech, and mentioned an article from back in the summer of 2015 in which the reporter sat not in the press section but instead amongst the crowd at a yugely enthusiastic rally in Iowa and reported that the young woman with long blond hair sitting next to him would rise from her seat and, cheerleader-like, punch the air to shout one or another subject line that Sanders was mentioning—and that one of those things was: ANTITRUSSSSST!!

But forced-arbitration clauses in consumer, employment, securities, mortgage and other loan, and various other types of contracts—as the Supreme Court, in a series of 5-4 opinions, has rewritten (er, “interpreted”) the Federal Arbitration Act to permit in breathtakingly sweeping form, also is important.

The two subjects, along with labor-law issues and campaign-finance law, get at the very heart of what so much of the public means when they say they want change: they want a major recalibration between the profoundly powerful and everyone else.  They want to regain some real power over the private and public institutions that have such a stranglehold on life in this country.

That’s what Bernie understood, and his policy proposals reflected that, and to the extent that they are incorporated into the Democratic Party platform, they still do. Trump understands this, too, and that’s why there has been that other basket—the one without the deplorables.

Trump began his campaign as both a racist and xenophobe and an economic populist.  But last October, in an attempt to fend off a threatened torrent of Koch spending to try to kill his campaign, he quietly switched to Paul-Ryan-on-steroids on fiscal and financial-industry-regulatory matters.  And when not long after that, after the Kochs made clear their continued hostility toward Trump’s candidacy, the hedge-fund-billionaire father-daughter duo Robert and Rebekah Mercer took up the slack.

And then some.

I had expected, naively, before Tuesday that Kaine would get this across at the debate, especially in the wake of the Trump 1995 tax return publication and its (momentarily, I guess) resulting attention to Trump’s tax plan.  And also because Pence is Paul Ryan with gray hair.

I had thought, although it was only wishful thinking, that Clinton and her campaign actually finally recognized that millennials, Rust Belt blue collar voters, and middle-class suburbanites all would be as repelled by Trump’s Heritage Foundation fiscal-and-regulatory-policy agenda.  And that, contrary to what Clinton clearly had believed throughout her campaign from its inception, middle class suburbanites, in large numbers—including many independents and moderate Republicans, like most of the genuinely progressive fiscal and regulatory agenda that Sanders had forced into the party platform.

But I was wrong. Clinton believes, apparently inalterably,  that moderate suburbanites, millennials and racial minorities care only about Trump’s racism, xenophobia, misogyny, vulgarity and such—and his obvious mental instability, which is why reportedly internal polling by both Trump’s and Clinton’s campaigns are showing an en masse movement toward Clinton among independents and moderate Republicans, and third-party-candidate-fan millennials in the last week—more so than the public polls are showing.

But Clinton could wrap this up and tie a bow on it—and significantly help Dem Senate and maybe even House candidates—if she talks about what she talked about on Monday in Toledo.

I also want to say this: For me, what mattered a lot about that speech was that she ventured away from the usual and discussed—mentioned and explained—two tremendously important aspects of the economic-power status quo in the current age: massive consolidation of, and massive control over the legal system by, large corporations, hugely increasing the power of mega-corporations over small and midsize businesses and individuals.

And a big part of what mattered to me is that Clinton trusted that her audience would understand what she was talking about, even though these things required some explanation.

Finally, I want to note that the Phillip and Weigel piece I quoted from above was the only report among the (I believe) three I read about Clinton’s Toledo rally that noted her mention of antitrust and forced-arbitration-clause law.  Neither the NYT report nor Politico did.

I’ve said a couple of times recently that in my opinion the Washington Post’s campaign coverage throughout the primaries and general election campaign has been far superior to any other that I’ve read.  I’ve mentioned John Wagner, who covered Bernie’s campaign and now helps cover Clinton’s, for its straight and thorough reporting on campaign events.  Jenna Johnson’s reporting and David Weigel’s as well have been terrific.  And then there is David Fahrentold’s Pulitzer-caliber investigative reports on the Trump Foundation.

As of right now I expect Clinton to win reasonably comfortably.  But she can win with a fairly clear mandate for the types of change that the Dem platform proposes, if she campaigns on them and—relatedly—on the specifics of Trump’s, and Ryan/Pence’s, actual fiscal and regulatory agenda.

As for Tim Kaine, my heart sort of goes out to him.  And the way that Clinton can make it up to him is not by claiming that he did great at the debate, but instead by pointing out this: Mike Pence built his name as a far-right but studiedly-smooth talk-radio host.  Tim Kaine built his career as a civil rights lawyer.

This matters.  And it favors Kaine, not Pence.

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Jim Lehrer Wins the Debate?? Heaven Help Us.

And a debate is a perfect place to spit out numbers and plan names without a moderator fact-checking you.

—  Paul Ryan’s Word Salad, David Weigel, Slate, today

Indeed.

I was absolutely dumbfounded to read yesterday that the MSM is now buying Lehrer’s idea of what a debate should be. Do they not understand that these are not actually debates—that they are instead simply statements by each of the candidates? Yes, both candidates are on the stage. But they don’t get to talk to each other. They don’t get to question—to cross-examine—each other
How, then, is it a good idea to have a format in which the moderator just says, “Your turn to talk about your plan on taxes, Mr. Romney,” and lets him spout off nonsense, unabated by questions from anyone about specifics and about how what he says could possibly add up? 
Do tell, MSM pundits. Also tell, MSM pundits, why you are so stupefyingly gullible.  
I mean … good grace. 
In fact, Jim Lehrer did win the debate.  The one last Wednesday.  That doesn’t seem to me like a recommendation for his method, though.

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