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Forget ‘Women and Children’. Women ARE Children. Right?

Okay, y’all know about the controversy: At Sunday night’s debate in Flint, Clinton interrupted Sanders, repeatedly, and tried to talk over him.  And at one point Sanders said to her, “Excuse me. I’m talking,” and, then, when Clinton again interrupted him, said “Wait a minute. Wait. Could I finish? You’ll have your turn, all right?”

Oh, the horror. At least according to an army of political journalists.  Most of whom work for the Washington Post.

Clinton is A WOMAN CANDIDATE.  And she’s running to become the first WOMAN NOMINEE OF A MAJOR POLITCAL PARTY FOR PRESIDENT.  Ergo, commentaries titled “What Bernie Sanders still doesn’t get about arguing with Hillary Clinton,” in which Janell Ross mentioned that Clinton’s campaign was equating Sanders’ comments to the infamous conduct by Rep. Rick Lazio, Clinton’s 2000 Republican senate-campaign opponent, and who seems to agree with that.  And ‘Excuse me, I’m talking’: Bernie Sanders shuts down Hillary Clinton, repeatedly,” the title of a blog post by Peter W. Stevenson, also a Fix-er.  And this from The Fix blog leader writer Chris Cillizza in his post-debate Winners and Losers take on Sunday night:

Losers

Bernie Sanders: The senator from Vermont had effectively walked a fine line in the previous six debates when it came to attacking Clinton without coming across as bullying or condescending. He tripped and fell while trying to execute that delicate dance on Sunday night. Sanders’s “excuse me, I’m talking” rebuttal to Clinton hinted at the fact that he was losing his temper with her. His “Can I finish, please?” retort ensured that his tone and his approach to someone trying to become the first female presidential nominee in either party would be THE story of the night.

Well, it was THE story, I guess, among journalists and others who never forget that Clinton is running as a WOMAN but who don’t consider in these writings that she’s campaigning on a platform of equal treatment for women.  Equal pay for equal work.  Break down glass ceilings and other barriers.

Well, at least the glass ceiling that supposedly still exists that would be trying to keep, say, Elizabeth Warren from the White House, had she sought it.  And who, I’m betting, does not consider herself such a delicate flower that she shouldn’t be treated, on the campaign trail or elsewhere, that same a man would be treated in the same circumstances.

And who can actually distinguish between a male campaign opponent who repeatedly physically approaches his female opponent on a debate stage and shoves a document in her face and demands that she sign it, and a male campaign opponent who finally draws the line on a debate stage that his female opponent has repeatedly crossed.

I do not believe that Sanders would not have said exactly the same things to a male opponent.  And I do believe that the criticism is the very height of hypocrisy by a candidate whose primary shtick has been that her election is necessary in the service of equality for women.  And, for that matter, by political commentators or anyone else who professes concern about double standards for women and men

But I also think Clinton came into that debate Sunday night with the very intent to be in-your-face-obnoxious.  And some pundits caught this:

Sanders shot back that if people truly had a problem with the comment that Sanders made, they should look at the speaking time Clinton was given and at the number of times she interrupted the Senator.

“Well, I think that given the fact that during that debate she ended up going on many occasions [over the time allotment] – and when I was speaking she interrupted me. I didn’t interrupt her, despite the fact that she spoke longer.”

Bernie Sanders Responds To Debate Interruptions: Says Clinton Is the Rude One, trofire.com

The actual link is http://trofire.com/2016/03/08/bernie-sanders-responds-to-ridiculous-debate-tone-policing/, so I’m assuming that the original title of the article was “Bernie Sanders responds to ridiculous debate-tone policing”. They shouldn’t have changed the title.

Clinton thinks this type of stuff and her habitual sleight-of-hand misrepresentations of Sanders’ record–a special feature of her debate performance on Sunday–are the path to wrapping up the nomination.  We’ll see about that.

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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.

—-

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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Nia-Malika Henderson has the same trouble Ernst does with understanding clear, sequential sentences

For those who don’t know, Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for the Washington Post’s politics blog The Fix.  I am neither of fan generally of that blog (with the exception of one of its regulars, Sean Sullivan, and one or two of the several others) nor a fan specifically of Henderson—who, best as I can tell, never met a comment related to women, or to a woman, that she didn’t reflexively view as sexist if some woman or women said the comment is sexist or if the comment could be twisted as sexist.

And this morning Joni Ernst said a comment by Tom Harkin about her was sexist; ergo, Henderson thinks the comment by Harkin is sexist.

Or, more specifically, Henderson thinks that Harkin said Ernst is as attractive as Taylor Swift, so even though Harkin said nothing of kind—seriously; he said nothing of the kind—Henderson thinks Harkin said Ernst is as attractive as Taylor Swift.  Specifically, here in full is what Henderson wrote, in a post titled “Tom Harkin compares Joni Ernst to Taylor Swift, because sexism. Then he apologizes.”, which I momentarily thought, naïvely, was sarcastic:

Here’s a Fix rule for politicians. Never, ever, ever comment on someone else’s personal appearance. Nothing good can ever come of it.

Retiring Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin just broke this rule into a million pieces. Here’s what he said about state Senator Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee running to replace him, courtesy of Buzzfeed:

“In this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads. 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. I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”

If you watch the video, what Harkin said isn’t just him riffing and going off script. Nope, he has clearly given some forethought to what he said and doesn’t think it’s sexist or problematic. He likes the line. He thinks it’s cute and clever and the audience seems at least slightly amused.

Ernst, a National Guard lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq, was not. In an interview with Fox News she said she was “very offended that Sen. Harkin would say that.” “I think it’s unfortunate that he and many of their party believe that you can’t be a real woman if you’re conservative and you’re female,” Ernst said, adding that there is a double standard in terms of coverage. “I believe if my name had been John Ernst attached to my resume, Sen. Harkin would not have said those things.”

She is exactly right. The relative attractiveness of “John Ernst” would not likely be a focus for Harkin.

Give Ernst credit. She came up with this zinger of a retort to Harkin.

“He compared me to Taylor Swift, so I’m gonna shake it off.” ‐ @joniernst responds to Harkin

comments at kick off of 24‐hour campaign swing

8:51 AM ‐ 3 Nov 2014

Nick Corasaniti

@NYTnickc

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82 RETWEETS 24 FAVORITES

Update #1: Harkin has, so far, declined to apologize.

Update #2: Harkin has now apologized.

EXCLUSIVE ‐ Just talked w/ @SenatorHarkin ‐ says he

“was wrong” to make Taylor Swift remarks re:

@joniernst ‐ “Didn’t mean to hurt anyone”

2:33 PM ‐ 3 Nov 2014

No, indeed, the relative attractiveness of “John Ernst” would not likely be a focus for Harkin.  Nor, of course, was the relative attractiveness of Joni Ernst a focus for Harkin. Harkin’s comment was that he kept hearing that Ernst’s attractiveness is a focus of some voters, as is her reputed niceness—and that neither is an appropriate focus, in Harkin’s opinion, because neither will impact how her votes in the Senate would affect her constituents’ lives.  Only her ideologically-based votes—which will be most of her votes—will affect her constituents’ lives.

If she does become a senator.

Not really a tough concept to understand.  And I don’t actually know whether Ernst herself did not understand the comment or instead just pretended not to understand it.  Harkin’s comment involved a more-than-one-step analysis—two steps, by my count—and Ernst doesn’t present herself as the most intelligent of folks, so maybe she didn’t understand the comment rather than taking a clear-but-compound statement and twisting it for attempted political gain.  But there’s no question at all that Henderson did not understand it.

Here’s a rule for political journalists. Never, ever, ever mindlessly adopt some politician’s or political operative’s take on an opponent’s statement.  Nothing good can ever come of it.

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Wow. Seriously, Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan? Seriously??

Am I misunderstanding (certainly a possibility), or do the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan write an entire article based on a really obviously ridiculous conflation of two separate concepts: what tax law is, and what tax law should be?

The article, titled “Mitt Romney was right (on taxes),” chastises the public for hypocrisy in believing, on the one hand, by wide poll margins, that people should do whatever they can to legally reduce their taxes as much as possible, yet on the other hand disapproving of politicians (especially wealthy ones) doing exactly that. These writers use two examples: the respective cases of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, the latter who just released his newly-filed tax returns for last year showing that he and his wife paid federal income taxes at a rate of 18.4%.

About Romney, they write:

The two-time presidential candidate, whose considerable wealth made the release of his tax returns a focal point of the 2012 campaign, insisted that he paid what was required but no more.

“I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more,” Romney said at a debate in January 2012 just prior to releasing his 2010 and 2011 returns. “I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.”

Eighty-five percent of the American public should have agreed with Romney. But, of course, they didn’t. Romney was cast as trying to game the system for the benefit of he and his wealthy friends. In a February 2012 Washington Post-ABC News poll, two in three Americans said Romney did not pay his fair share of taxes (the public was split over the question in the fall). And a majority of voters in the 2012 exit poll said that Romney’s policies would generally favor the rich and he lost that portion of the vote overwhelmingly.

About Obama, they say, “The Drudge Report, a popular conservative-leaning aggregation site, quickly went with a banner expressing incredulity at the 18 percent rate. Conservatives on twitter were similarly disgruntled.”  As if it’s the general public rather than the far-right starve-the-beast crowd that’s shocked.  And as if it’s even clear that the Drudge Report writer’s incredulity is about Obama’s paying only the legally required amount rather than the lowness of the legally required amount.  The headline, which is not attached to a story, best as I can tell, but instead simply links to the Wall Street Journal news report about Obama’s tax return, reads, “Obama only pays tax rate of 18%?”

Well, yes.  That’s what Obama is actively trying to change: the lowness of the federal income taxes paid by the wealthy.

That much is obvious.  Obama campaigned on a promise to raise federal tax revenues obtained from the wealthy.  Romney campaigned on a promise to lower the tax revenues obtained from the wealthy, who are, y’know, jobs creators who took risks.  Risks!  Including, for many of them, such as Mitt and Ann Romney themselves and, especially, their sons, being born into a wealthy family.  Warren Buffett is not a politician, but it’s a safe bet that he paid no more income taxes than he owed under current tax law, even though he has been in the vanguard of high-profile people who openly plead with politicians to raise tax rates for the wealthy and also remove the outrageous loopholes available to them.

It’s also a safe bet–even safer than, say, betting on Berkshire Hathaway stock–that Warren Buffett has never had a retirement-savings account in a Cayman Islands bank that has between $20 million and $120 million (or the deflationary equivalent) in it, achieved almost certainly by stated initial gross devaluation of equities placed into the account.  And that he did not avail himself of the IRS’s 2009 tax amnesty program for people who were shielding income from the IRS in Swiss banks because he did shield income from the IRS in Swiss banks.  Romney likely did both, which probably is why he refused to release to the public tax documents that would dispel those inferences.  The only other reasonably possible motive for his failure to release those documents is that they would have highlighted the outrageousness of legal tax loopholes that Romney did not want to draw attention to–also a possibility, although, I suspect, not the actual, or at least not the predominant, one), but in any event not one that supports these journalists’ characterization of the public’s poll responses as hypocritical.

What’s really remarkable, in my opinion, is that at least one of these two Washington Post political writers, one of them very high-profile–and as a regular reader of their blog, The Fix, I suspect it is Cillizza, the high-profile one, rather than Sullivan–thinks that a poll question using the phrase “pay their fair share of taxes” references not preferred tax policy but instead actual, current tax policy. The poll question almost certainly was intended to reach, and was understood by the poll respondents to be asking, about the voter’s preferred tax law, not about how the voter thinks people should act, by choice, under current, existing tax law.  With the caveat, of course, that most people don’t think wealthy people such as the Romneys should violate tax law, as many, many people who followed the specifics of the Romney-tax-returns controversy last year did conclude.

There is, in other words, nothing even slightly hypocritical in believing that people are morally entitled to avail themselves of legal tax breaks but that tax law should be amended to remove some of those tax breaks, to raise tax rates on the wealthy, to tax investment income at the same or near-same rate as investment income, and to tax large estates.  Or to do at least some of these things.

The belief that the law in its current form does not exact payment of a fair share of tax revenues from the wealthy, and the belief that it’s fine for people to employ current tax law to lower their own taxes, irrespective of their views on what tax policy should be, are not contradictory. Unless, like one or both of these journalists, you think the phrase “fair share of taxes” means two distinct and contrary things at once.  But most people, I’m pretty sure, understand quite well what that phrase addresses.  And it’s only one of those two things, not both.

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