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The Good Old Days

There's a bit of a blogospheric debate going on ( see here ) about whether conservative nostalgia for the 1950s is, shall we say, a little insensitive. After all the 1950s were a time when, among other things, Jim Crow was in full force, and rapists could go free if the woman was wearing a short skirt. But we don't have to look in too much detail to see what people are really nostalgic for. The Daily Show's John Oliver figured this out last year (I posted the clip here ). When all those commentators and politicians pine for a "simpler time," the time they're pining for was simpler because they were children . Children's lives are usually pretty simple, particularly compared with the life you lead as an adult. It's true that most of the social changes that have occurred in the last few decades – increasing racial diversity, more equality for women, increased acceptance of gay people – have moved society in a more liberal direction. For some conservatives, particularly older ones, that'...

Our Semi-Fictional Candidates

Jon Huntsman , languishing in the low single-digits in primary polls, has recently proclaimed his acceptance of both evolution and the contribution of human activity to global warming, which in today's GOP puts him somewhere to the left of Wavy Gravy. The Atlantic's James Fallows calls this the "what the hell, I might as well keep my dignity" approach to campaigning. Slate's Dave Weigel wonders if Huntsman is channeling Jack Tanner, the fictional presidential candidate from the HBO mockumentary "Tanner '88," in which a candidate gains improbable success by throwing aside the talking points and canned speeches, and being real and authentic. Although you probably haven't seen "Tanner '88," if the plot sounds familiar, it's because almost every fictional portrayal of a candidate you see on the screen proceeds this way. There's usually a scene in which the candidate begins giving a speech, stops in the middle and says, "This is ridiculous," to the horror of his handlers and the confusion...

Obama is Now Tied with His GOP Opponents

As recently as last month, President Obama stood strong in polls against his potential Republican challengers: With the exception of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney – who lagged by several points – Obama was far ahead of each of his competitors. Now, according to the latest Gallup survey , 48 percent of registered voters say they would vote for Romney if the presidential election were held now, compared to 46 percent for Obama. Likewise, at 47 percent support, Obama is tied in a head-to-head matchup with Texas governor Rick Perry. Even Ron Paul fares well against Obama, earning 46 percent of the vote to Obama’s 48 percent. Among the Republican presidential candidates chosen by Gallup, Obama fares best against Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, who trails the president by four points with 44 percent of the vote. This isn’t great news for the White House, but it’s not the end of the world either. At this time in 1982, for example, Ronald Reagan’s approval ratings...

Please Step Up to the Retinal Scanner

You may remember the scenes in Minority Report where Tom Cruise walks past shops, which scan his eyes and deliver a personalized advertisement ("Stressed out, John Anderton? Need a vacation? Come to Aruba!") Well, according to the Los Angeles Times , we're almost there: Picture this: You stop in front of a digital advertising display at a mall and suddenly an ad pops up touting makeup, followed by one for shoes and then one for butter pecan ice cream. It seems to know you're a woman in your late 20s and, in fact, it does. When you looked at the display, it scanned your facial features and tailored its messages to you. Once the stuff of science fiction and high-tech crime fighting, facial recognition technology has become one of the newest tools in marketing, even though privacy concerns abound. The Venetian resort, hotel and casino in Las Vegas has started using it on digital displays to tailor suggestions for restaurants, clubs and entertainment to passersby. Kraft Foods Inc. and...

The Data-Driven Campaign

Most of the decisions campaign strategists make are based on folk theories, by which I mean theories that have been developed over time by practitioners about what works and what doesn't, without much empirical evidence to demonstrate whether they're true or not. At the end of a campaign, you have a sense about what worked and what didn't, but the evidence is largely circumstantial, and the strategist's inclination toward self-justification -- even though we lost, my decisions were good ones, and we would have lost anyway, or alternatively, we won because everything I did was right -- makes clear-eyed assessment difficult. But in the last few years, campaigns have had more quantitative tools available to them to make precise evaluations of the efficacy of various moves. Did canvassing that neighborhood with a lot of independents win over voters? Was it worth our time to send the candidate to that far-flung corner of the district? Did that radio ad buy move any votes? At the same time...

Candidates and Consumption

In a column tearing his party a new one for ever defending Sarah Palin , David Frum says that we should "Quit treating consumption patterns as substitutes for character": It's very important that politicians understand the everyday lives of Americans. It's important that politicians champion the ordinary person and not pay undue heed to the wishes of the rich and powerful. It's important that politicians be people of integrity, not hirelings of industry lobbies. These are issues of character, and character counts. But the choice of cowboy boots over loafers, enjoyment of hunting rather than bicycling, a preference for ketchup over mustard — these tell us precisely nothing about a candidate's character. Yet it was precisely these kinds of irrelevant lifestyle choices that persuaded so many conservatives that Sarah Palin would be a fitting leader. She drops her "g"s! Her husband owns a fishing boat! She shoots moose! (Not really on that last point, but that's the story we were told at...

The Not-So-Winding Road from the House to the Presidency

On Tuesday reports came out that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is considering jumping into the GOP presidential race. Just two days earlier, sitting members of the House of Representatives – Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul -- finished in first and second place in the Iowa Straw Poll. Though none of these candidates (and potential candidates) are favored to win the nomination, it is clear that members of the House, and Michele Bachmann especially, are playing a much larger role in the primaries than House members traditionally have. In fact, only one member of the House of Representatives has ever gone straight to the White House: James Garfield. This is because it’s difficult for Representatives -- who are members of a 435 person body -- to distinguish themselves and attract the stable of donors that are necessary for winning a national campaign. The Republican primary is no aberration, however, and we should expect Representatives to play larger roles in future presidential campaigns because...

Rick Perry Talks About Sex

We sure are talking about Rick Perry a lot. But why stop now -- he's not only new, but interesting in ways that some of his opponents aren't. Jonathan Chait brings us this video of Perry seemingly flummoxed when confronted with the fact that his preferred policy of abstinence education doesn't work to stop teen pregnancy: Jonathan comments: "Liberals frequently believe that Republican leaders -- George W. Bush, Sarah Palin -- lack analytical intelligence. Conservatives reply that this is merely liberal snobbery against plain-spoken folks from the heartland. I'd reply that conservatives seem to gravitate toward anti-intellectual figures." That's true, but there's something else going on here that is particularly vivid when it comes to sex education, but applies to many other policy realms as well. When liberals and conservatives argue about the issue, they're giving very different weight to moral and practical considerations. Liberals may think that conservatives support abstinence...

Republicans Can't Seem to Go a Day Without Insulting Black People

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn went on something of a speaking tour yesterday, warning of impending economic disaster and predicting the demise of Medicare. It has been an exercise in sensationalism – at one point, while voicing his frustrations with the Senate, Coburn said that “It’s just a good thing I can’t pack a gun on the Senate floor.” The thing that stands out, however, is his take on President Obama’s intentions: Responding to a man in Langley who asked if Obama “wants to destroy America,” Coburn said the president is “very bright” and loves his country but has a political philosophy that is “goofy and wrong.” Obama’s “intent is not to destroy, his intent is to create dependency because it worked so well for him,” he said. “As an African-American male,” Coburn said, Obama received “tremendous advantage from a lot of these programs.” There really isn’t any way to read this that doesn’t come down to “African Americans benefit most from government programs, and live in dependency...

Rick Perry's Higher Education Woes

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s has had a tough go with higher education. Costs to attend the state's college have shot past the support the state provides to students. State community colleges, for example, are 90 percent more expensive since 2000 while, over the same period, government spending increased only 23 percent. The disparity is even more pronounced for the major flagship universities. On top of that, in the most recent budget, no appropriations were made for enrollment increases, and state financial aid was cut 15 percent. So what is Governor Perry’s tonic for this sour mixture? Forcing local governments to choose to raise taxes and making Texas’s nationally-renowned research universities more like for-profit colleges. Governor Perry’s big idea to fix the cost problem in higher education is to try to make a college degree cost $10,000 by implementing what he calls the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions.” Right now, a Texas public school can cost as much as $70,000. So, no surprise...

Bad Medicine

David Leonhardt discusses an interesting study on medical malpractice, showing that most malpractice claims don't result in any payment to a patient. This doesn't stop "defensive medicine" though, because the money is not really an issue for doctors, who are covered by malpractice insurance. What they do fear is the process of getting sued, which is stressful and unpleasant, even if the insurance company is going to be the one paying if you lose. Leonhardt posts an interesting chart showing the rate of lawsuits and payments for different specialties, and the differences are dramatic. The top is neurosurgeons, almost 20 percent of whom may get sued in a given year, down to psychiatrists, who get sued around one-tenth as often. Why? I have a good friend who's a neurologist, and he explains the brutal answer for his specialty: By the time you come to him, you've probably suffered a catastrophic event in your most important and tender organ, and there's a good chance you'll either be dead...

HHS Apparently Incapable of Producing Non-Crappy Information Form

Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed some new rules that will allow people to easily compare plans when shopping for health insurance. Good news! The Obama administration has been fairly proactive in working to make information more accessible and easier for people to understand, often through thoughtful design. So I went over to the HHS web site to get some details about the new form, and have a look at it. After all, I'm sure they'd want to aggressively promote this, right? Not so much. When you go to the web site, you have to root around for a while to find a link to anything about this new initiative. And that link takes you to... a press release . Now let's compare that to a very similar initiative by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has proposed new mortgage disclosure forms to allow people to understand what they're getting when they apply for a mortgage. First is the page at HHS about the Department's effort, and then we'll see the...

Obama Takes to the Bully Pulpit to Push Job Creation

For the last several months, President Obama has used his considerable rhetoric talents to turn the public’s attention to deficits, arguing that the government needs to tighten its belt in response to mounting debt. This has driven liberals insane, especially since the president has yet to present any major ideas for job creation, despite 9.1 percent unemployment and a looming double-dip recession. However, if this report from the Associated Press is any indication, liberals won’t have to wait long for presidential rhetoric on jobs. According to the AP, a “senior administration official” says President Obama will use a major speech in early September to “lay out new ideas for speeding up job growth and helping the struggling poor and middle class.” If his recent statements on his bus tour are any indication, the president’s plan will contain new payroll tax cuts, renewed unemployment benefits, infrastructure spending, and – in a new twist – proposals to specifically help the long-term...

Bob Moser talks Rick Perry with Democracy Now!

Our new executive editor, Bob Moser, went on Democracy Now! this morning to talk about Rick Perry's record in Texas. Moser is the former editor of The Texas Observer , where he spent three years covering Perry's governorship. Watch the video below or go here for a full transcript.

Where are the Young Liberal Judges?

Because of both Senate obstructionism and the relatively low priority placed on them by the Obama administration, the pace of appointments to the federal judiciary has been regrettably low . But quantity isn't the only issue. Under current norms, Supreme Court justices tend to come from the federal appellate courts. Particularly since the Reagan administration, Republican presidents have been very conscious of trying to put young conservatives on the federal appellate bench. This is how you get John Roberts and Sam Alito appointed to the Court at a young age. Obama, however, has yet to get a single appellate court judge under 45 appointed to the appellate courts. Since the inauguration of Reagan , "Republicans have appointed 41 federal appellate judges under age 45 to the Democrats’ 10." Appointments to the federal courts are one of the increasing number of areas in which there is increasing asymmetry between the parties. For 30 years, Republicans have placed a high priority on...

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