Monday, August 08, 2011


I'm pleased to see this post critical of Standard & Poor's, from a New York finance lawyer posting under the pseudonym Economics of Contempt; the post is getting a fair amount of attention. Yes, I believe that, as EofC says, the folks at S&P may not be the brightest bulbs on the tree, and yes, I know the initial downgrade announcement included a massive math error -- however, I'm not sure EofC is correct to critique S&P for one particular assumption:

S&P’s assessment is only remotely serious if you assume that this particular Congress, with its huge contingent of crazy Tea Partiers, is going to serve in perpetuity. But this Congress isn’t going to serve in perpetuity -- there are elections next year, and many of the Tea Party freshmen are likely to lose. They won in 2010 because it was a "wave election" in the middle of a very severe economic slump. But 2012 is a presidential election cycle with an incumbent Democratic president. A lot of these Tea Partiers who won in traditionally Democratic districts (and swing districts) are going to lose. In fact, it’s probably even odds that the Dems take back the House.

It is? I don't think so. Let's look back at congressional elections since 1980. Voters deprived the sitting president's party of control of one or both houses of Congress five times -- in 1980, 1986, 1994, 2006, and 2010. Only once in that time did the party that didn't control the White House lose control of a house of Congress -- in 1982. That happened when Democrats barely controlled the Senate (as a result of a party switch by Jim Jeffords of Vermont); the president's party gained back the Senate in large part because the president was very popular (67% approval just before Election Day 2002, according to the ABC/Washington Post poll). And, of course, this was a little more than a year after 9/11. George W. Bush had wrapped himself in the mantle of anti-terrorism, and he and Karl Rove had engineered votes on Iraq designed to portray war-skeptic Democrats, and thus, by extension, the entire party, as terrorist sympathizers.

I don't think Barack Obama has any advantages that compare to these. He's not going to have a good economy to run on. (Unemployment just before those '02 midterms was 5.7%.) You'll say he's running against people who've been proved to be demonstrably crazy and extreme, but (a) the polls show that voters blame congressional Democrats almost as much as they blame congressional Republicans and (b) voters had three shots at depriving demonstrably crazy, extreme Republicans of control of part or all of Congress during the Bill Clinton years -- in 1996, 1998, and 2000 -- and they never did it. (The closest they came was getting the Senate to 50-50 in the 2000 elections, but it was still under GOP control until the Jeffords switch.)

Low-information voters identify the government with the president; in addition, Republicans are usually very good at convincing voters that they're the outsider party, even when they actually run much of the government. (Reagan was a master at this; the boilerplate message is that Democrats control the media and the universities and "the culture" in general.) So I'm telling you that the vast majority of the congressional teabaggers are safe, and I'd predict that their tribe will actually increase.


I'm not sure about this, either, from EofC's post:

And no, the debt ceiling debate doesn’t reflect some sort of secular change in US policymaking -- the next time there’s a Republican president, House Republicans will be all about raising the debt ceiling, and Democrats won’t engage in the same kind of political brinksmanship. You'd have to be stunningly naive not to believe this.

Well, call me stunningly naive, because, while I've always thought that was true, now I'm not so sure. I'm not saying that a GOP-majority Congress (or House) is going to fight President Romney or Perry or Bachmann on this -- I'm saying that the Republicans, working in concert, may decide not to allow a debt ceiling vote because they're practicing shock-doctrine politics in response to the ongoing economic downturn. I'm saying they may decide we're going to have balanced budgets from now on, dammit, and, sorry, grandma, but there is no alternative to massive entitlement cuts, as well as huge cuts in other government programs, especially in regulation. (And don't even think about tax increases on the wealthy.) I don't see why this is any more unthinkable in the nation as a whole than in Wisconsin or Florida or Ohio or Michigan. Modern-day Republicans (well, maybe not Romney) seem to believe quite sincerely that neo-Randianism will produce prosperity, so they do this stuff thinking voters will eventually thank them; and if the voters balk, well, just pass a national voter ID law, shut down ID centers and DMNV offices in Democratic districts, and wait for salvation from Citizens United money in 2014 and 2016. Really, why shouldn't we think this will happen?

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