Is there a "right way" and a "wrong way" to win elections? Is it "too easy" for presidential candidates to simply win more electoral votes than their opponents? Or are they responsible, for the sake of our democracy, to try to win big?
That odd debate was sparked this week by the New York Times in a widely, widely ridiculed article that seemed to chastise Hillary Clinton's campaign for not trying to win over swing voters and voters in deeply red, Republican states. Despite the ridicule, the "narrow path" critique was quickly embraced by columnists David Brooks at the Times and Ron Fournier at National Journal, who attached ethical implications to the campaign strategy.
Fournier complained that simply winning more votes than your opponent in 2016 is definitely the "wrong way" to get elected. "It's not the right path." Brooks agreed, insisting that by not spending an inordinate amount of time, money and resources chasing swing voters, Clinton would be making a "mistake." Worse, it's "bad" for "the country."
Sure, she might be elected. Sure she might be able to lead the country in a direction she wants and beat back Republican initiatives she thinks are bad for the country. But it would all still be a terrible "mistake," according to Brooks.
Why? The optics wouldn't be right. It's too "easy." Because entire presidencies are now determined by how elections are won. If races are won the "wrong" way, the four-year term is a waste. Because national elections in a deeply divided nation are supposed to be unifying events. Or something. (Did I mention this "narrow path" critique has been widely, widely ridiculed?)
But here's the thing: The campaign tactic of getting out the core supporters to vote in big numbers not only proved hugely successful for President Barack Obama, which means the Clinton team would be foolish to not try to replicate it, but that strategy was first championed by Karl Rove during President George Bush's 2004 re-election run. And guess what? The Beltway press toasted Rove as a political genius for the so-called "base" blueprint.
Promoting his latest column deriding Hillary Clinton for being chronically unethical and a lot like Richard Nixon, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni took to Twitter to suggest the Democrat's campaign constituted "psychological torture," which definitely sounds bad. Unsubtly headlined "Hillary the Tormentor" (because she inflicts so much pain on Democrats, apparently), Bruni's effort was unusually overwrought even by his dramatic standards.
In his column, the essayist outlined concerns from two nameless "Democrats," who viewed Clinton as "tainted" and guilty of creating "ugly, obvious messes." One source was so "disgusted" he wants "never to lay eyes on [Hillary] and Bill again."
Turns out that same day, fellow Times columnist Ross Douthat also made Clinton the focus of his column and he also dinged the candidate. Far less excited than Bruni's effort, Douthat nonetheless made it clear that Democrats supporting Clinton should consider themselves "warned" for when things go terribly wrong if she's elected president.
So on the same day, two different Times columnists attacking the Democratic frontrunner; a candidate who enjoys historic and unprecedented support among the party's faithful. It was just a case of bad timing for Clinton's on the Times opinion pages, right? Just a coincidence where not one but two columnists for the supposedly-liberal newspaper of record unloaded on her?
In truth, the Bruni-Douthat tag team was a rather common occurrence among Times columnists, some of whom have banded together this year to publish a steady stream of attacks on Clinton. (Yesterday, columnist David Brooks announced Clinton's electoral strategy is all wrong, and that it's bad for America.) What's unusual is that the conveyor belt of attacks hasn't been balanced out by clear signs of Clinton support among Times columnists. More importantly, the Times' odd brand of Clinton wrath has not been duplicated when columnists assess Republicans.
Searching essays written by Times columnists this year, I can't find a one that unequivocally supports the Democratic frontrunner. (There have been passing sentences and paragraphs of support, but nothing focused or thematic by columnists.) By contrast, I can count more than two dozen that have focused on attacking her.
Is the New York Times under any obligation to employ a columnist who supports Clinton? Of course not. But it's worth noting that Clinton enters this campaign season with more Democratic support than perhaps any non-incumbent frontrunner in recent party history, yet the New York Times hasn't published an opinion column in support of her possibly historic run. (The Times has published editorials backing parts of her agenda.)
Increasingly, the Times is facing criticism about its off-kilter Clinton coverage and its, at-times, odd obsession with the Democratic candidate. Is that attack-dog mentality also playing out on the opinion pages?
New York Times columnist David Brooks ignored his paper's reporting to defend Indiana's controversial new "religious freedom" law, misleadingly equating it with its federal version and misrepresenting the reason it has sparked such widespread opposition.
Indiana has been embroiled in controversy since it passed its version of a "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (RFRA), a law that has been used to provide a legal defense for individuals and businesses who cite their religious beliefs as a justification for discriminating against gay people, even in lawsuits that don't involve the government.
In his March 31 column, Brooks joined a number of conservative defenders of the law in falsely suggesting that Indiana's measure is no different than the federal RFRA signed into law in 1993. Brooks also erroneously stated that opponents of Indiana's dangerous expansion of the federal RFRA (and previous state versions) are not respecting the "valid tension" between religious belief and permissible discrimination, when in fact the main objection to the law is that Indiana has upset the previous balance to further undercut antidiscrimination protections:
The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was supported by Senator Ted Kennedy and a wide posse of progressives, sidestepped the abstract and polarizing theological argument. It focused on the concrete facts of specific cases. The act basically holds that government sometimes has to infringe on religious freedom in order to pursue equality and other goods, but, when it does, it should have a compelling reason and should infringe in the least intrusive way possible.
This moderate, grounded, incremental strategy has produced amazing results. Fewer people have to face the horror of bigotry, isolation, marginalization and prejudice.
Yet I wonder if this phenomenal achievement is going off the rails. Indiana has passed a state law like the 1993 federal act, and sparked an incredible firestorm.
If the opponents of that law were arguing that the Indiana statute tightens the federal standards a notch too far, that would be compelling. But that's not the argument the opponents are making.
Instead, the argument seems to be that the federal act's concrete case-by-case approach is wrong. The opponents seem to be saying there is no valid tension between religious pluralism and equality. Claims of religious liberty are covers for anti-gay bigotry. [emphasis added]
Rep. Paul Ryan's poverty proposal, which would in part punish impoverished Americans for not getting themselves out of poverty on a specific timeline, is based on the conservative myth pushed by right-wing media that blames poverty on individuals' "spirit" and personal life choices. Experts say poverty is the result of systemic inequality and lack of opportunity.
Conservative media figures have sharply criticized the recent push by Democratic politicians to alleviate poverty and reduce economic inequality. However, most of this criticism is grounded in a number of myths about the causes, effects, and importance of growing economic inequality in the United States.
David Brooks has a problem with single mothers.
The New York Times opinion columnist scapegoated unmarried moms for their poverty in his January 16 column, joining a chorus of media figures who have ignored basic economics to suggest that marriage is a magic-bullet solution to poverty.
Brooks claimed that "someone being rich doesn't make someone poor," arguing that discussions of income inequality have been too focused on disparities in wealth and not focused enough on the "fraying of social fabric" and the "morally fraught social and cultural roots of the problem," which he pinned in part on single motherhood (emphasis added):
There is a very strong correlation between single motherhood and low social mobility. There is a very strong correlation between high school dropout rates and low mobility. There is a strong correlation between the fraying of social fabric and low economic mobility. There is a strong correlation between de-industrialization and low social mobility. It is also true that many men, especially young men, are engaging in behaviors that damage their long-term earning prospects; much more than comparable women.
Low income is the outcome of these interrelated problems, but it is not the problem. To say it is the problem is to confuse cause and effect. To say it is the problem is to give yourself a pass from exploring the complex and morally fraught social and cultural roots of the problem. It is to give yourself permission to ignore the parts that are uncomfortable to talk about but that are really the inescapable core of the thing.
First, Brooks is wrong on the basic arithmetic of income inequality. As economist Elise Gould at the Economic Policy Institute has explained, "if it had not been for growing economic inequality, the poverty rate would be at or near zero today." This is because without inequality, economic growth would be shared equitably among all income levels; instead, since the 1970s, growing inequality has increased poverty, as the rich benefit more from economic growth.
Second, the "problem" of single motherhood is not that mothers aren't married; it's that significant numbers of unmarried mothers don't have access to basic support systems like childcare, paid family and medical leave, and family planning -- necessary social supports that Brooks dismisses in favor of fearmongering about "fraying of social fabric."
The recently released Shriver Report on women's economic realities in America found that economic policies and programs that improve access to education and child care can do more to help decrease economic hardship for women than marriage ever could. Karen Kornbluh, former ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, also noted that childcare, after-school programs, and health care reform would provide single mothers the needed flexibility to work more secure and economically beneficial jobs.
If poverty were simply an effect of unmarried parenthood, it would seem logical that both single mothers and fathers would face similar experiences. But the Shriver Report also found that single mothers spend more on housing than single fathers, and most likely work minimum-wage jobs. Poverty, and income inequality, are the results of structural economic problems, which disproportionally affect women -- not the other way around.
(Image: Shriver Report, via Feministing)
Media figures who insist that single mothers are to blame for their own poverty ignore these economic realities, and distract from the conversation we should be having: that all families, regardless of structure, need access to basic social goods like equal pay, family planning, and childcare; benefits which economists have shown would improve the economy and reduce poverty for everyone.
Just days after the government shutdown came to an end, and with public opinion polls continuing to show that the Republican Party paid a grave price for its radical and shortsighted maneuver, Meet The Press host David Gregory wanted to discuss President Obama's failure to lead.
Pointing to a mocking National Journal piece by Ron Fournier, that was headlined "Obama Wins! Big Whoop. Can He Lead?" Gregory pressed his guests about when Obama would finally "demonstrate he can bring along converts to his side and actually get something meaningful accomplished." Gregory was convinced the president had to shoulder "a big part of the responsibility" for the shutdown crisis, due to the president's failed leadership. New York Times columnist David Brooks agreed Obama is at fault, stressing "The question he's never answered in all these years is, 'How do I build a governing majority in this circumstance?'"
Gregory, Brooks and Fournier were hardly alone in suggesting that Obama's a failed leader. Why a failure? Because a Democratic president beset by Republicans who just implemented a crazy shutdown strategy hasn't been able to win them to his side.
In her post-shutdown New York Times column, Maureen Down ridiculed Obama, claiming he "always manages to convey tedium at the idea that he actually has to persuade people to come along with him, given the fact that he feels he's doing what's right." (i.e. Obama's too arrogant to lead.)
And in a lengthy Boston Globe piece last week addressing Obama's failure to achieve unity inside the Beltway, Matt Viser wrote that Obama "bears considerable responsibility" for the Beltway's fractured, dysfunctional status today (it's "his biggest failure") because "his leadership style" has "angered countless conservatives, who have coalesced into a fiercely uncompromising opposition." That's right, it's Obama's fault his critics hate him so much.
Talk about blaming the political victim.
As an example of Obama's allegedly vexing "leadership style," Viser pointed to the fact Democrats passed a health care reform bill without the support of a single Republican. That "helped spur the creation of the Tea Party and a "de-fund Obamacare" movement," according to the Globe. But that's false. The ferocious anti-Obama Tea Party movement exploded into plain view on Fox News 12 months before the party-line health care vote took place in early 2010. Obama's "leadership style" had nothing to do with the fevered right-wing eruption that greeted his inauguration.
The GOP just suffered a humiliating shutdown loss that has its own members pointing fingers of blame at each other. So of course pundits have turned their attention to Obama and pretended the shutdown was a loss for him, too. Why? Because the Beltway media rules stipulate if both sides were to blame for the shutdown that means both sides suffered losses. So pundits pretend the crisis highlighted Obama's glaring lack of leadership.
But did it? Does that premise even make sense? Isn't there a strong argument to be made that by staring down the radicals inside the Republican Party who closed the government down in search of political ransom that Obama unequivocally led? And that he led on behalf of the majority of Americans who disapproved of the shutdown, who deeply disapprove of the Republican Party, and who likely did not want Obama to give in to the party's outlandish demands?
Doesn't leadership count as standing up for what you believe in and not getting run over; not getting trucked by hard-charging foes?
Radio host Mark Levin attacked 21st Century Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch and Fox News Channel for "bias" in pro-immigration reform reporting, continuing to grow the divide between conservative talk radio hosts and the network.
On the July 15 edition of his radio show, Levin -- who has previously called the immigration reform bill a "disgusting disgrace" and a "crap sandwich" -- discussed a recent tweet by Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox, that declared Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was correct about the immigration reform effort and expressed support for the immigration reform bill. Levin then accused Fox News of biased reporting on immigration reform and accused "a number of hosts" who support immigration reform of not reading the bill:
This isn't the first time Levin has taken issue with what he referred to as "our favorite cable channel." On the July 12 edition of his show, Levin attacked Fox News contributor Karl Rove over his support for immigration reform saying, "you know what number Karl Rove never puts on that whiteboard? His win-loss percentage."
Earlier this month, both Levin and fellow conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh appeared on Fox, but neither was asked about immigration reform, despite their well-known outspokenness on the immigration reform effort. After Limbaugh's interview, he went on his radio show to criticize the network and claim that Fox wouldn't allow him to discuss the immigration reform effort. Yet, after walking back his comments, Limbaugh was allowed to speak on the topic during Fox News' The Five for almost ten minutes.
In addition to a conservative radio schism, conservatives in print media have also pitted themselves against one another over immigration, most recently between New York Times columnist David Brooks -- an immigration reform supporter -- and National Review's Rich Lowry and The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, who wrote an op-ed calling on House Republicans to "[put] a stake through" comprehensive immigration reform.
Conservative media are attacking President Obama for supposedly criticizing scheduled across-the-board cuts, known as the sequester, while not proposing alternatives to avoid them. In reality, Obama has proposed a plan to replace the sequester that includes over $930 billion in spending cuts and $580 billion in new tax revenue.
Nate Silver has a computer model. Each day he plugs the data from the various national and swing state polls into that model, numbers are crunched, simulations are run, and he posts the results on his New York Times blog indicating who is more likely to win the presidential election: Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. (As of this posting, Silver's analysis has Obama winning in 74.6 percent of scenarios.) And for this, Silver is coming under attack from pundits who insist that their gut feeling tells them the race is a true toss-up.
"Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they're jokes," complained Joe Scarborough on the October 29 Morning Joe.
Complaints like Scarborough's are helped along by publications that have an interest in maintaining the view of a race that is essentially a flip of the coin, and in preserving the importance of their own roles as gatekeepers with access to critical insider information. Politico's Dylan Byers cited Scarborough's criticism along with that of New York Times columnist David Brooks in positing that Silver may be a "one-term celebrity."
"If you tell me you think you can quantify an event that is about to happen that you don't expect, like the 47 percent comment or a debate performance, I think you think you are a wizard. That's not possible," Times columnist David Brooks, a moderate conservative, said on PBS earlier this month. "The pollsters tell us what's happening now. When they start projecting, they're getting into silly land."
It makes sense that pundits like Scarborough and Brooks would have it out for a numbers guy like Silver. Their oeuvre is the intangible. They analyze based on gut feelings and nonspecifics. Their great trick is to transform the utterly unquantifiable into something approaching concrete certainty.
New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed on Meet the Press that President Obama's recent comments to the Des Moines Register differed from his comments on the campaign trail. In fact, as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne pointed out to Brooks, Obama has committed to comprehensive immigration reform, corporate tax reform, and a mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy just as he did in his remarks to the Register.
Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks argued today that the Obama administration's clean energy investments have been "a wasteful disappointment," citing a figure that his own paper called "outrageous" to downplay the number of jobs created in the clean energy sector.
Obama's stimulus package set aside $90 billion for renewable energy loans and grants, but the number of actual jobs created has been small. Articles began to appear in the press of green technology grants that were costing $2 million per job created. The program began to look like a wasteful disappointment.
But the $90 billion figure -- which Mitt Romney cited in the first presidential debate -- has been repeatedly debunked, including by Brooks' own New York Times. As the Times' Matthew Wald explained after the first debate, not all the money went to renewable energy, not all of it has been spent, and much of it was authorized under the Bush administration:
The $90 billion is a real number drawn from the 2009 stimulus package, but it wasn't all spent, as Mr. Romney said, and a lot of the green energy spending that went out the door on Mr. Obama's watch was authorized during the Bush administration.
The biggest component of the $90 billion was $29 billion for energy efficiency, of which $5 billion involved improvements in the homes and apartments of low-income households. There was also $18 billion for fast trains and $21 billion for wind farms, solar panels and other renewable energy. Supporters point out that much of the energy spending drew in private capital.
Another New York Times fact-check called the number "outrageous" and "a piece of masterful spin."
The paper was ridiculed earlier this year when then-public editor Arthur Brisbane questioned whether reporters should be "truth vigilantes." The resounding answer was "of course," yet the Times and other leading newspapers continue to leave misleading claims unquestioned, even when their own fact-checkers have debunked them.
Which is why we can't trust Brooks' unnamed media reports that stimulus grants for clean energy cost "$2 million per job created."
These calculations are problematic because they often count loans as if they are grants, and assume that all the money has been spent, development is complete and no new workers will be hired. A more accurate accounting of the jobs impact of clean energy investments might note that a Brookings Institution study found clean energy jobs grew at an average annual rate of 11.1 percent between 2003 and 2010, "more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy."
Brooks went on to argue that unlike private investments gone bad, high-profile failures like Solyndra "tarnish" the government's record on clean energy:
The federal agencies invested in many winners, but they also invested in some spectacular losers, from Solyndra to the battery maker A123 Systems, which just filed for bankruptcy protection. Private investors can shake off bad investments. But when a political entity like the federal government makes a bad investment, the nasty publicity tarnishes the whole program.
But as Clean Technica pointed out after Solyndra declared bankruptcy, "the Obama administration is batting a much better average in "picking winners and losers" than the private Venture Capital (VC) market itself." Clean energy consultant Richard Stuebi expects just 3 out of 10 private investments to succeed -- a 70 percent failure rate. By contrast, only three of the 26 companies that received Department of Energy 1705 loan guarantees have filed for bankruptcy, amounting to about 6 percent of the loan guarantee funds.
New York Times columnist David Brooks made the unconvincing case that President Obama has faced so much partisan gridlock because he "offered a conventional Democratic agenda." In reality, Obama has often offered compromise proposals, but his would-be negotiating partners vowed on the day the president took office to ruthlessly oppose Obama's agenda.
Brooks wrote that a truly effective president must be a "craftsman" who gets legislation passed through compromise:
[T]he craftsman has to understand that stylistic pragmatism has to be accompanied by substance pragmatism. Barack Obama really wanted to move beyond stale battle lines. But he offered a conventional Democratic agenda. If you want to break the partisan stagnation, you have to come up with an unexpected policy agenda that will scramble the categories. You have to mix proposals from columns A and B.
In fact, Obama has repeatedly offered compromise proposals. For instance:
But Republicans have engaged in what congressional experts say are historic levels of obstruction. And Republicans' own statements show that this obstruction is no accident.
As reporter Robert Draper has detailed, on the very day of Obama's inauguration, Republican leaders held a secret meeting to work out how best to block Obama's agenda. Part of the plan involved showing "united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies." Also in 2009, Republican Senator Jim DeMint (SC) encouraged supporters to oppose efforts to reform health care in order to make health care reform Obama's "Waterloo."
Furthermore, in 2010, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that the "single most important thing" Republicans want to achieve "is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
It is only by ignoring all of this evidence that Brooks could conclude that Obama would have been more effective if only he had compromised a little more.
New York Times columnist David Brooks ignored the actual proposals that Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan have for Medicare to claim that their plan "would not shift costs to seniors."
Brooks wrote: "Whenever you hear a Democrat say that Romney and Ryan would end Medicare or cost seniors $6,000, that is a misleading reference to the original Ryan plan, not anything on offer today. Today's Romney plan would not shift costs to seniors." Brooks later added "The Romney-Ryan approach might work. If it doesn't, the federal budget would suffer but seniors wouldn't."
The Affordable Care Act provides money to help seniors pay for their prescription drugs. The Medicare prescription drug benefit passed under President George W. Bush created a "donut hole" that required seniors with high prescription drug costs to pay thousands of dollars. The Affordable Care Act closed that donut hole.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this provision of the Affordable Care Act has saved seniors $3.2 billion already. If the Romney-Ryan plan is enacted and the ACA is repealed, seniors would have to pay that money again.
Numerous independent experts have also said that Ryan's plan to transform Medicare into a voucher system will force seniors to spend millions more for health care because the vouchers would not keep pace with rising health care costs. Indeed, Yale public policy professor Ted Marmor has said that under the Ryan plan, some seniors would be forced to "choose between paying for better coverage and having more money for food and other items."
New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed that the "economy in 2012 is worse than the economy in 2011." In fact, measures of economic health indicate the economy is better off now than it was one year ago.