Monday, July 26, 2010

The Shrinking Obama Presidency, Extending Tax Cuts -- Really???

What a Bad Trend Line Looks Like
What do tanking poll numbers look like? Check out the averages below. For the first time in his Presidency, Barack Obama faces some sustained negative numbers...his disapproval rating is now clearly higher than his approval rating. The trend in the past month is unmistakable, a 6 point deterioration in his numbers over the course of the past month, the worst fall of his Presidency since his first couple of months (where a big drop-off is normal.) Shirley Sharrod, continued unemployment woes and lingering concerns over the administrations handling of the deficit and the BP oil spill are all dragging on his numbers.

The monthly numbers show a similar, but less dramatic trend. After one good month in May, the President had a sharp decline in June and now has a negative average for July.

So can he turn it around?

Of course. Lots of Presidents who have been unpopular two years into office have gone on to resounding re-election victories, most notably in recent history, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. In fact, popularity two years in has very little predictive power in terms of ultimate re-election chances.

But these numbers definitely show that the President is struggling. And it will hurt his party in November, undoubtedly. It puts races that shouldn't be competitive, like California, Wisconsin and Washington into place. It makes made-to-order toss-ups like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Missouri lean Republican. It makes a Rand Paul or a Sharron Angle candidacy even possible (they'd be jokes in most years, and may still be this year.)

The Democrats are going to have to hope for some quick turnaround in poll numbers or for a few of the Pauls and Angles to crazy it up enough to keep them in power. But it's going to be a tough road to hoe in November for the Dems.

More Tax Cuts for the Rich?
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) have come out in support of extending all of the Bush tax cuts for at least 18 to 24 more months. Conrad is not up for re-election this year and Bayh is retiring. All of which causes me to go say: huh?

Democrats have spent the better part of the last decade explaining why we a. couldn't afford the Bush tax cuts, b. they were bad anyway since they disproportionately favored the well-to-do and c. that they would repeal them at their first chance. Now, in the critical hour when the cuts are set to expire, two Democrats who aren't even at risk of losing anything are suddenly in favor of tax cuts that they never voted for? I just don't get it. Do they really think that having a top marginal rate of 39.6% versus 35.0% will sink the nascent recovery? Did they sleep through the 90s? Did they stop worrying about the deficit?

I don't favor extending ANY of the Bush tax cuts, but I accept that the President has committed to extending them for the middle class (a nice giveaway that we certainly can't afford at the moment.) I certainly hope that he has the courage to veto any bill that goes further and that he makes those intentions clear.

Incidentally, does anybody understand the GOP position that we can't afford unemployment benefits but we CAN afford to extend tax cuts for those making over $250K? My next post will address myths about supply side economics and the famous Laffer Curve, including some wisdom from Laffer himself.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Eric Holder Was Right....And The Obama Administration Are The #1 Cowards

It's a shameful, awful tale. Shirley Sherrod is the type of public official that we need in this world. Frankly, on things racial, she is the kind of PERSON we need in the world. Not one who pretends that we are all colorblind or denies her own prejudices. The type of person who recognizes her prejudices, thinks through them, fights against them and talks openly about her struggle to try to provoke the same kind of dialogue with others.

She must have been what Eric Holder was wishing for when he famously said that we "in many ways continue to be a nation of cowards" about race. She is not a coward. But we are a nation of cowards sometimes.

And coward number one in this sordid saga is President Barack Obama. He's a coward for firing Shirley Sherrod without ever speaking to her. He's a coward for cowering to half-witted criticism from the right-wing blogosphere about reverse racism. He's a coward for failing to speak publicly about what truly could have been a teaching moment. And he's a coward for hiding behind Tom Vilsek. Spineless. Shameless. I'm too incensed for words to describe. This is not the man I voted for.

Let's get a few things straight. Shirley Sherrod is a Presidential appointee. She serves at the pleasure of the President and no one else. Only he can appoint her and only he can fire her. And he fired her (aka demanded her resignation) based on a snippet of a speech posted to a blog. He didn't speak to her. He didn't investigate her record. He didn't even consider that there was no substantive evidence of her having ever failed to perform her duty in public office. He didn't speak to the supposed victim. He did it all wrong. And for what? To prove to Fox News that he likes white people? To shame.

Does Obama get credit for reconsidering? Hardly. Everybody from every end of the political spectrum had declared him wrong before he did and he spent 24 hours "fully supporting" the decision of his Secretary of Agriculture...aka his decision that he was still being too cowardly to own.

Does he get credit for personally calling Ms. Sherrod? That's like a thief that has been caught apologizing in court for a lighter sentence. Sorry doesn't begin to cover it.

I've had my differences with the President on a number of things. I was critical when he didn't fight harder for a health care bill that would truly control costs. I've been upset at the lack of any real cohesive plan to deal with the deficit. I've not been happy with his chief of staff. But these are policy differences. Good, honest people can debate policy. I liked the President, I voted for the President.

But, Mr. President, this week, you are official a coward on the issue of race. We deserve better.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

2010 Updates -- Is It Slipping Away from the DEMs?

The question all year has been the same -- not if the Democrats were going to lose seats in the House or Senate but how severe those losses would be. Looking at the trends, at the start of the year, the losses looked to be substantial, but not control-threatening in either House. Then came the special election of Scott Brown, the continued decline in the popularity of President Obama and increasing public outrage at continued tough economic conditions and huge budget deficits. For most of the spring and summer, the Democrats have been teetering on the edge of losing both houses of Congress, with, for the most part, it looking like a narrow escape in the Senate (49 or 50 Democrats eats plus 2 Democratic-caucusing Independents in most scenarios) with a less decisive view of the Senate (every look I've had in the past several months has been very close, with projected control flipping back and forth between the GOP and the DEMs.)

Now, in the summer, we have suffered through the BP disaster, the stock market pullback, and a slow, uneven economic recovery. So, it begs the question: are the Democrats on an irreversible downward trend that will cost them control of both houses of Congress?

My view is actually fairly unchanged...the landscape in the Senate makes it difficult, but not impossible for the GOP to regain control. The fact that races like California, Washington and Wisconsin are competitive gives the GOP a real, if outside shot. Those are the races to watch if you want to see who is going to control the Senate. There is no way the GOP can retake the Senate without winning some of those races and conversely, if the Republicans take all 3, I see no way for the Democrats to retain control.

The House vote is much more complex, given the myriad of districts involved. But, I think the GOP still has a far stronger shot at retaking the House on the basis of simple math -- they get to compete for 100% of the seats versus 36% for the Senate. The results of the House races in 2010 will actually not be long-lasting...all the seats will be redistricted in 2012 (except for the at-large seats in the small states) and this actually plays to the GOP's favor as they stand to control the vast majority of the Governor's Mansions when those changes are made.

So, let's assess where we stand.

First, the Senate:
As always, I'll start with the rating changes:

Colorado -- moves back from Toss-Up to Lean GOP Pick-Up as Buck has a 3 point lead in a new Survey USA poll, confirming an earlier Rasmussen poll that showed him leading. This will undoubtedly be a close race in November.

Pennsylvania -- moves back from Toss-Up to Lean GOP Pick-Up as the initial bump from the Democratic primary seems to have faded and Toomey has led in the last 3 polls, most recently a Rasmussen poll that had him at +6.

Wisconsin -- moves down from Likely DEM Hold to Lean DEM Hold with Russ Feingold potentially in real trouble in spite of Tommy Thompson not running, leading by only +1 and +2 in 2 new polls.

Arkansas -- moves from Likely GOP Pick-Up to Safe GOP Pick-Up as Blanche Lincoln trails horribly in new polling. Boozman is +29 points in the latest Rasmussen poll, which is the second straight poll with a 20+ point gap.

Hawaii -- moves from Likely DEM Hold to Safe DEM Hold as no credible GOP challenger has emerged in the state and Daniel Inoyue leads by 48 points in a Survey USA poll.

Illinois -- moves back from Lean GOP Pick-Up to Toss-Up as a new Rasmussen poll shows Democrat Giannoulis up by 1 in what will be a very closely watched race for President Obama's old Senate seat.

Kansas -- moves from Likely GOP HOld to Safe GOP Hold as Republicans lead by 30+ points in all 6 plausible match-ups for retiring Sen. Sam Brownback's seat.

West Virginia -- initiated as a Likely DEM Hold as it appears there will be a special election in November to backfill the late Robert Byrd and incumbent Gov. Manchin (D) leads by 14+ points in plausible match-ups.

Other polling in races that confirm earlier ratings:
Nevada -- a new Ramussen poll has Sharron Angle at +7 over majority leader Reid. Remains a Lean GOP Pick-Up.

California -- Barbara Boxer is +3 and +4 in 2 new polls. Remains a Lean DEM Hold.

Washington -- embattled Patty Murray is up +7 and even in 2 new polls. Remains a Lean DEM Hold.

Oregon -- a new Rasmussen poll has incumbent Ron Wyden at +10. Remains a Likely DEM Hold.

Missouri -- Roy Blunt is at +5 in a new Rasmussen poll. Remains a Lean GOP Pick-Up.

Kentucky -- Rand Paul is at +7 and even in 2 new polls. Remains a Lean GOP Hold.

Florida -- Crist is at +11 and -2 (to Rubio) in 2 new polls. Remains a Lean Independent Pick-Up, but will obviously continue to be closely watched.

Arizona -- McCain leads by 11 and 23 in 2 new polls. Remains a Likely GOP Hold.

North Carolina -- Burr leads by 10 and 15 in 2 new polls. Remains a Likely GOP Hold.

This leaves us with the following races:
Projected DEM Holds (11)
Safe Holds (4)
Hawaii, Maryland, New York (Schumer), Vermont

Likely Holds (4)
Oregon, Connecticut, New York (Gillebrand), West Virginia

Lean Holds (3)
California, Washington, Wisconsin

Potential DEM Pick-Ups (1)
Toss-Up - GOP Controlled (1)

Potential GOP Pick-Ups (8)
Toss-Up - DEM Controlled (1)

Lean GOP Pick-Up (3)
Nevada, Colorado, Pennsylvania

Likely GOP Pick-Up (2)
Delaware, Indiana

Safe GOP Pick-Up (2)
Arkansas, North Dakota

Projected GOP Holds (16)
Safe Holds (9)
Kansas, Louisiana, Iowa, South Dakota, Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah

Likely Holds (5)
New Hampshire, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Alaska

Lean Holds (2)
Missouri, Kentucky

Potential Independent Pick-Ups (1)
Lean IND Pick-Up (1)

Current Senate: 56 Democrats, 41 Republicans, 2 Independents, 1 Vacant (Caucus: 58 Democrats, 41 Republicans)
Projected Senate: 49-52 Democrats, 45-48 Republicans, 3 Independents (Caucus: 51-54 Democrats, 46-49 Republicans)

As you can see, the GOP would need to take all the Toss-Ups and 2 out of 3 in the Lean DEM Hold category to retake the Senate. As I said, it all comes down to California, Washington and Wisconsin.

In the House,
The current generic polling average of averages is at +1.6%. Given this, my projection is:

Current House: 256 Democrats, 178 Republicans, 1 Vacancy
Projected House: 222 Democrats, 213 Republicans

Realclearpolitics Projection (Splitting the Toss-Ups): 218 Democrats, 217 Republicans
Cook Political Report (Splitting the Toss-Ups): 239 Democrats, 196 Republicans
ElectionProjection: 230 Democrats, 205 Republicans

So, at this stage of things, Democrats are projected to retain the House by all the major sites, although realclearpolitics has the race for the House far closer than any of the others.

So, despite the perceived Democratic fall-off discussed above, the numbers appear very much in line with what we've been seeing all summer. But don't kid yourself, these campaigns will really get going around Labor Day and we could see big movement in one direction or the other. But it's definitely shaping up to be an exciting fall.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

RIP Robert Byrd, Michael Steele Said What?, Obama the Divider, Will the Economy Recover?

Remembering a Complex, Brilliant and Not Always So Good Man
The passing of a significant political figure affords those of us who have observed his public life to reflect on its meaning, to reflect on his accomplishments and to draw lessons from his life.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia was a complicated man. In a Senate career that spanned over five decades, he saw wars, the civil rights movements and Presidents as diverse as John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Barack Obama.

First, the things that I will always remember favorably about Robert Byrd. Byrd had an incredible understanding of history, probably the best of any politician in the last hundred years. He schooled others on the rules and traditions of the Senate, both the arcane and the constitutionally important. He understood the importance of the balance of power between the legislative and the executive branches and fought unapologetically against politicians of both parties who would sway power away from the legislature. He was a brilliant orator, delivering the kind of verbally rich speeches from the floor of the Senate that were powerful, colorful and never, ever, spoke down to the listener. Byrd loved his home state of West Virginia and fought as hard as any man alive to ensure that the poor people in the rural mountains were taken care of by the federal government.

But Byrd was not all good. He was a former KKK member. He was one of the strongest opponents in the Senate of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He later repented, but continued to appear completely insensitive to race, supporting such organizations as the United Daughters of the Confederacy for special treatment by the government. Simply put, on probably the most important issue of his lifetime, Byrd got it completely wrong when it mattered the most. And for that, I struggle to forgive him.

The "help" that Byrd sought for the state of West Virginia also unapologetically seemed to involve government spending so lavish that near-empty West Virginia highways now often have more lanes than clogged city interstates. West Virginia's gain was too often America's loss.

I respect the intellect of Robert Byrd. I commend his service. But I struggle to respect the sum of his record.

Michael Steele Is Crazy
Okay, I'm late to the party, but let me join the now very-large bandwagon....Michael Steele needs to be fired as the head of the Republican Party. I defended him when he took on Rush Limbaugh (and still contend he was right.) I supported him when he took on Harry Reid for Reid's fundamentally racist remarks (he is still right about the double-standard.) I rolled my eyes when he talked about making the GOP more hip-hop, but it didn't seem like a fatal offense. I started to worry when it became clear that the RNC had misappropriated donor funds on a field trip to a lesbian bondage club and Steele was AWOL on accountability. But his latest scandal reveals a fundamental lack of basic knowledge about such a well-known issue that he cannot effectively serve the Republican party.

His quote, for anyone who has not been paying attention the past week is as follows:
“The [General] McChrystal incident, to me, was very comical. I think it’s a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders has with this Administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. It was one of those areas of the total board of foreign policy that was at least that we would be in the background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops. But it was the President who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should in Afghanistan. Well, if he is such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Alright, because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed, and there are reasons for that."

Wow. Where to start.

A. This was a war of Obama's choosing?
Does Michael Steele honestly think that it was Barack Obama that put us into Afghanistan? Was he asleep for the almost 7 years prior to Obama even taking office that we were engaged in this war? Obama was early in his State Senate career (yes, State Senate, not US Senate) when this war started.

Is he not aware that the US Congress approved the war with a near unanimous vote (1 Democrat voted "no") in 2001?

B. Stanley McChrystal mocked Obama because we are in Afghanistan? And this is funny to you?
Yeah, it's always humorous when a military commander becomes insubordinate to civilian command. And I'm sure that whole incident had a lot to do with Obama's "choosing" to "go into" Afghanistan while he was in the Illinois State Senate.

C. We should be engaged in a land war in Afghanistan?
This sounds like a Bernie Sanders talking point, not something that should come from a member of the GOP. Are there ANY Republicans besides Steele and Ron Paul that really don't think we should have gone to Afghanistan at all after 9/11? Was Steele out there trying to impeach Bush...oh wait, he wouldn't have done that because apparently we didn't go in until Obama took office.

To their credit, key Republican foreign policy leaders, including Senators Lindsay Graham (SC) and John McCain (AZ) have, for the second time in the past few weeks, gotten it right and condemned Steele's remarks.

Is Michael Steele ignorant, stupid, crazy or just not really a Republican?

Your guess is as good as mine. But he needs to go. He is a cancer on the GOP.

Obama the Divider
When you can't even get an unemployment benefits extension through Congress and you are resorting to fiery anti-GOP rhetoric on the campaign trail to sell your policies, it's a sure sign that you have failed miserably at your pledge to work in a bipartisan fashion and change the way Washington works.

Reagan worked with a Democratic congress for 8 years (well, 8 in the House, 6 in the Senate.) George H-W. Bush had all sorts of bipartisan deals. Clinton famously struck a deal on welfare reform. Heck, even George W. Bush worked with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy on No Child Left Behind.

Obama has not a single piece of major legislation in his first two years that could truly be called bipartisan. Sure, the GOP shares the blame. But Obama was the one that gave the famous Red State / Blue State speech. That speech, which catapulted him to the national scene in 2004, is increasingly looking like a fraud.

Jobs Down, Doom and Gloom, But Don't Despair
If you have read this blog for the past two years, you are probably starting to think I am either uninformed about the economy or just an overly optimistic person who can't see the storm clouds moving in.

Sure, the jobs numbers looked bad last month. But losing 125,000 jobs when 200,000 temporary census jobs go away is a heck of a lot better than when we were bleeding 600,000 jobs a year.

The economy is still recovering. As I've analyzed before, the recovery will be agonizingly slow for those still unemployed (you can refer to some of my earlier posts to see projects that it may be until 2012 or 2013 that we see a "normal" rate of unemployment again.) But productivity has boomed in this recession, innovation is still strong in the United States and big companies are making money and on solid financial footing again (AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being obvious exceptions.)

The U.S. economy is not headed down the drain, it is headed for a decade of growth. It's just tough to see that forrest through the trees of an unemployment line.

Happy belated 4th of July, everyone. The United States of America, 234 years young and now, as much as or more than ever, the greatest nation on the planet.

Next time...back to my favorite subject...the latest political polls.

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