Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top Five Stupid Beliefs in 2010

As always, this debate began when I posted a political status update on my Facebook account.

Top five stupid beliefs that were prevalent in 2010:
5) The finale of "Lost" will explain everything.
4) Jay Leno stole "The Tonight Show" from Conan O'Brien.
3) Obama's health care reform plan is a bad idea.
2) The Tea Party isn't motivated by racism.
1) America's economic problems were caused by liberal policies.

This is the conversation that followed, complete and unabridged.

Ryan Neel
But I like lost ;)

Dan Reagan

Sean Davis
Oh yes Dan, your link to a conservative blog changed my evil liberal ways, why could I not see the light before? The obviously partisan authors of your fallacious link prove absolutely nothing, especially because the article you posted compares job growth and finances before and after the financial crisis began. OF COURSE things were better BEFORE the crisis, that doesn't mean that it was democratic policies that caused a lack of job growth. I could post the demographics before Reagan won in 1980 and during the first two years of his presidency and the numbers were be nearly identical to Obama's, but since that doesn't suit your purposes (or the purposes of the conservatives who wrote that blog you linked to) you ignore it.

Dan Reagan my late father use to say..figures don't lie but liars figure. The numbers are what they are. The unemployment numbers are what they are. The deficit is what it is pre-Obama and now with Obama. We HAD to pass the stimulus to keep the unemployment rate from going above said Obama & Co. Well.'s at 9.8 and holding! Real unemployment is at somewhere between 17 and 18% in most states. I know the truth hurts but there it is in black and white and you libs as Jack Nicholson said in "A Few Good Men''.." Can't handle the truth!"

Sean Davis
Your arguments are so asinine that they do not warrant a serious response, I'll let Matt tell you why you're wrong while I laugh at your ignorance and sip on some hot chocolate.

Dan Reagan
Don't burn your tongue! Signed...Joe Friday (Just the facts, which by the way is all I posted) I rest my case

Sean Davis
Yes, the "facts" as reported by an obvious conservative blog and deliberately spun to paint democrats in a bad light, yeah real integrity there Dan. If you want people to take you seriously at least TRY to appear like you're attempting bipartisanship.

Dan Reagan
Sean, the "FACTS" are..when Obama took office unemployment was 5.2..maybe 5.6..As Casey Stengel used to say "You can look it up." It's really not that hard. What is it today? How many times did he (Obama) use the term "shovel ready jobs" ? At least 5 or 6! Again it's not hard to GO and look it up! He REALLY did use that term. So did the walking gaffe machine Joe Biden. Many times..."shovel ready jobs." Only about a month ago, Obama came out and admitted that he was wrong...he said, "There are no shovel ready jobs." Again, go look it up. He REALLY did say it!

Go and look and READ what economists say the REAL unemployment figures are in a lot of states...17, 18% Go look it up! You think I'm being partisan, I don't care. These things have really been said by the President and VP and these numbers are ACCURATE! They are what they are.
They Dems have been in control of the House and Senate since '06! They've controlled the purse strings since '06! So say what you want..think what you Washington, the Dems idea of bipartisanship is the GOP goes along with what the Dems want! That's what you want me to do?? Agree with you? Is that your idea of bipartisanship? As I said earlier..figures don't lie but liars can spin it any way you it a conservative blog..go ahead..but the numbers are the numbers...Pelosi, Reid et,al have been driving the bus for the last 4 years along with Obama for the last 2! That's why we're in the mess we're in with a 13 TRILLION dollar debt and climbing!!

Sean Davis
I know the numbers Dan, the point is that the numbers do not tell the story you claim. First of all, the demos WON in 06, but didn't take office till 07, then in 07 and 08 all they did was fight against Bush and the Republicans policies, so NO they DID NOT hold the "purse strings" then. Also, when Obama took office in 09 none of his policies went into effect until about 6 months in, and that is the period in which most jobs were lost. To claim that all of this is due to democratic leadership is not only foolish, it's downright INCORRECT. Also, the Republicans neutered the stimulus, which in fact DID freeze the unemployment rate and would have lowered it if REPUBLICANS didn't insist on making it an inadequate bill.

Your claim about Dems idea of bipartisanship is ridiculous, the Dems are the ONLY ones even ATTEMPTING bipartisan efforts. The stimulus, health-care, job creation bills, everything dems passed was watered down and compromised by republicans, THE VERY DEFINITION OF BIPARTISAN. If you don't see that you are willfully blind and ignorant. Now that republicans gained back some power they all scream about how they won't "back down on anything," they are giant hypocrites, just like you.

Sean Davis
I'd love to sit here and argue more with you, but unfortunately I have to leave now. Matt will probably be on soon to prove your inconsistencies and ignorance, so nice talking to you, have fun!

Matthew Rozsa
Dan, there are several fatal flaws to the position you are trying to assert:

1) It commits the classic "post hoc" logical fallacy, i.e., one in which the arguer assumes that establishing correlation automatically proves causation. For example, if I point out that breast cancer mortality has significantly decreased since 1997 and that Bill Clinton was president in 1997, does that mean that Bill Clinton is responsible for that decline? If I observe that obesity rates spiked in 1976 and that that was the year in which Jimmy Carter was elected president, does this prove that Carter's impending ascent to the White House caused Americans to gorge on the contents of their cupboards? If I realize that Michael Jackson's greatest hits hit airwaves in the 1980s and that Ronald Reagan was president during that time, does this prove that Jackson's musical career was somehow facilitated by Reagan's policies?

The reason "of course not" is the obvious answer to all three of these questions is that demonstrating that two events occurred at the same time, or are in some other way connected, does not automatically prove that one was somehow related to or caused the other. Establishing correlation is merely the first step to making a sound argument; once you have done so, the evidentiary burden falls on you to demonstrate a causal as well as correlative relationship. An unwillingness and/or inability to do so reveals that your argument is without merit.

This brings me back to the article you posted. Although it attempts to argue that Democrats and/or liberals (not the same thing) are responsible for our current economic plight, the only way it backs that up is by providing (extremely selective) statistics that show how various negative occurrences seemingly corresponded with Democratic control of Congress and/or the White House. This argument is inherently incomplete unless it also proves that those events were caused by Democratic policies. Not only does Yossi Gestetner (the article's author) fail to meet that requirement, but in fact he doesn't even try to do so, making his position logically unsupportable and anyone who parrots him as intellectually lazy as they are irrational.

This is the main problem with your argument, but there are plenty of others:

2) You claim that unemployment was at 5.2% (or "maybe 5.6%") when Obama took office, and that those who don't like what you're saying can "look it up." My suspicion is that you tell people to look things up in the hope that they won't actually follow through on your challenge, since if they did, they'd find that unemployment was actually at 7.7% when Barack Obama took office. Considering how much of your argument rests on conditions declining as a result of Obama's policies, this is a pretty massive mistake for you to make. Please justify it.

3) Incidentally, while unemployment growth had nothing to do with Obama's presidency, it had a great deal to do with the advent of the Great Recession in December 2007, as suggested by the fact that unemployment climbed from 5.0% in January 2008 to 6.6% in November 2008 (when Obama was elected) all the way to 7.7% in January 2009 (when Obama at last took office). That last period of time is especially noteworthy, since it shows that unemployment was growing at a rate of more than 0.5% per month during the period between Obama's election and his inauguration. Those were the conditions with which his predecessor left him... and who was that again?

4) Incidentally, although you have not proven that Democratic policies had anything to do with the Great Recession, I can very easily demonstrate that it was caused by conservative ideas. After all, the two indisputable causes of our current conditions are (a) the decline in consumer spending that, due to loss of aggregate demand, caused a stagnation in job growth that eventually deteriorated into an outright unemployment explosion and (b) the Wall Street crisis of September 2008. Both of these factors were put into place by the right-wing policies which began under Ronald Reagan and were continued by his three successors (including, much to the anger of liberals, Bill Clinton); the first occurred as a result of the growth in income inequality resulting from Reagan's tax cuts for the wealthy and decimation of labor unions (both of which were furthered by George W. Bush), while the second took place thanks to the deregulation of Wall Street that Reagan began and his successors either maintained (Clinton) or exacerbated (the two Bushes).

Matthew Rozsa
‎5) To further argue that Obama's stimulus package didn't work, you claim (a) that Obama and his administration asserted the stimulus would keep unemployment below 8% and were wrong, (b) that unemployment has actually risen by multiple percentage points since the stimulus was passed, and (c) that this proves that liberal economic policies are ineffective. Let's analyze each leg of this argument individually:

(a) There is some truth to the first point- i.e., Obama DID claim that his stimulus package would keep unemployment at the same rate that it had been at when he first took office (which, as I just mentioned, was 7.7%), mainly because he and his advisers shot their mouths off before others pointed out that no stimulus package could start taking effect until at least a few months after it was passed. That said, once the stimulus measures began to be implemented in May 2009...

(b) ... unemployment has steadily remained between 9% and 10%. In short, Obama would have been correct about the stimulus keeping unemployment between 7% and 8% had it been implemented immediately after he took office. Instead, because it wasn't passed until four weeks into his presidency and didn't start to take effect until roughly three months after that, it wasn't able to stabilize our unemployment rate until it had climbed to the 9-10% mark that it has reached today.

(c) Obama did not fully implement liberal economic theory in his initiatives. The bad news is that I don't feel like explaining to you why this is the case; the good news is that I don't have to, since I already explained this all of this in a previous debate between the two of us more than six weeks ago.

From '':

"What's more, although Obama did fall short when it came to economic policy, this failure came about NOT because of radicalism but rather because he prematurely capitulated to Republicans.

Allow me to explain:

The fundamental premise behind Keynesian "pump priming" theory is that, when a recession or depression takes place, you use the government to bring about the recovery that the private market is no longer capable of providing by injecting a stimulus into the economy equivalent with what has been lost in GDP.

In the case of the recession with which Obama was confronted when he took office in January 2009, that amounted to approximately $2 trillion, which was what liberal economists like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, and Robert Reich were all saying he should include in his bill (I also said that at the time, although I hardly have the prestige and credibility of these other three great minds). Instead he never proposed higher than $500 billion in stimulus, one-fourth that amount, and even wasted $287 billion more on tax cuts that were virtually useless when it came to addressing this problem.

Why did he do this? As aids from Rahm Emanuel to David Axelrod made clear, he wanted to show good faith to Republicans concerned about increased spending by making his stimulus bill as small as possible.

What was his reward for this show of good faith?

Republicans refused to vote for the bill anyway, continue to accuse him of being a runaway spender despite all of his centrist efforts, and because the economy has failed to recover under his watch, his party suffered serious losses in the 2010 midterm elections.

Note, however, that I said we lost because the economy failed to recover. It WASN'T, as Republicans like to believe, because America took a hard turn to the right, just as it wasn't (as many Democrats like to believe) because Obama wasn't liberal enough. In the words of James Carville, what matters in times like this is "the economy, stupid." If Obama had passed a $2 trillion stimulus package (applied over a two-year period), arithmetic suggests unemployment would have fallen to between 6% and 7% right now; had that been the case, we would have triumphed in 2010. Instead the package was only large enough to keep unemployment at a plateau after it began to take effect in May 2009, hovering between 9% and 10% now just as it did back then (it would have been between 16% and 17% had there been no stimulus at all, but American voters tend not to notice counterfactuals)."

In short, Obama passed a stimulus package that was just large enough to prevent unemployment from increasing but nowhere near up to the task of actually reducing it. This is the main criticism that liberals have of him - and, indeed, they were making it all the way back in January and February 2009, before his stimulus had passed but when it was still clear to experts like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich that it was going to be too small. Obama not only isn't the wild liberal that Republicans disingenuously depict him as being, but is in fact so timid that he will deliberately move liberal policies to the right just to win conservative support (which, invariably, he never gets).

My remaining points will be brief:

6) Obama's so-called concession about "shovel ready jobs" was taken out of context. His exact quote - i.e., "There's no such thing as shovel-ready projects" - referred to the false premise that stimulus, if effective, would show results overnight, which as I've just explained (see 5a and 5b) is not the case.

7) Although our national debt is crushing, this state of affairs began when Ronald Reagan cut taxes for the wealthy while simultaneously increasing spending on the war on drugs and the military-industrial complex (a formula that his future vice president, George H. W. Bush, famously referred to as "voodoo economics"). Even though fiscal conservatives love to imply that the only way to reduce that debt is to cut social programs that help the working poor, unemployed, and middle class (a logical fallacy known as "a false dichotomy"), the reality is that we could just as easily begin reducing the debt by raising taxes on the wealthy back to pre-Reagan rates, ending the war on drugs, and scaling back military spending to the bare essentials. Indeed, even if we just did one of those things - e.g., raising taxes on top earnings for the wealthy back to what they had been under John Kennedy - we could pay off our entire national debt in thirty years (

8) Although you claim that your argument consists of "just the facts," my close analysis reveals that it actually has a three-part composition including (a) flawed logic, (b) false or grossly distorted information, and (c) personal insults.

I have made a point of addressing (a) and (b) as thoroughly as possible in these posts, going out of my way to leave no stone unturned so that you would be unable to say that I hadn't been comprehensive in addressing every point you raised (if, by chance, I accidentally overlooked anything, I sincerely hope you will bring the oversight to my attention). As for (c), I will briefly point out that Sean has shown greater civility and respectfulness toward you then you have toward him. It would be nice if you began to reciprocate that.

Oh, and it goes without saying that I expect you to respond to every single point that I made here. If you fail to do so, I will hold you accountable for it.

Christina Cruz
Hahaha, Matt, he is either not going to respond at all (probably from the sheer mass of info you just dropped on him), or ignore everything you say and chalk it up to liberal lies, then proceed to repeat the same things he's said over and over. Although it is fun to watch someone being smashed into the ground in a debate. K bye!

Sean Davis
Hey Dan, I looked it up:

So you are wrong, too bad so sad. Next time you post statistics you better damn well make sure they're correct.

Matthew Rozsa
Minor point, but the source that I found put it at 7.7% ( Either way, Sean and I clearly did look this up, whereas you either (a) didn't look it up or (b) chose a source that was so steeped in partisan bias that you should seriously reconsider ever using it again.

Valerie Gurak Hollingsworth
Well, I kinda did think the finale of Lost explained everything it needed to....

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Normally when the United States Senate defies expectations, it winds up being in a way that disappoints progressives, such as with the jettisoning of the health care public option or the refusal to fund aid to 9/11 First Responders.

This time, though, the surprise was a wonderful one. Despite earlier signs that right-wing obstructionism would triumph and continue to prevent homosexuals from openly serving the in the military, human decency wound up trumping base bigotry; as of yesterday, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" became a thing of the past.

Adding to liberals' pleasant surprise was the fact that, by all accounts, the Senator most responsible for making this humanitarian dream a reality was none other than the Connecticut statesman who has so often been a thorn in our side, Joseph I. Lieberman. Indeed, much like the legislative body in which he serves, Lieberman has a long history of dropping unwanted bombshells on the left, from his attacks on President Clinton during the impeachment trials and his intransigent support of President Bush's Iraq war strategy to his endorsement of John McCain's presidential campaign and his watering down of President Obama's health care reform bill.

Nevertheless, Lieberman found himself on the right side of history this time. In fact, the statement he recently issued expressing his feelings on this weekend's achievement perfectly sums up my own.

Repealing ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’ is the right thing to do whether you're liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, or independent. It is the right thing to do for our military and the right thing to do for our country. The sixty-five Senators who voted to correct this injustice showed that we’re still able to come together in a bipartisan way to fight for America’s best interests.

I can think of no better way to end this article than by reflecting on what another Senator of often frustrating independent-mindedness also said about this issue:

Government governs best when it governs least – and stays out of the impossible task of legislating morality. But legislating someone’s version of morality is exactly what we do by perpetuating discrimination against gays.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Challenge to Huckabee Supporters

The Republican presidential candidate in 2012 will be either Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee.

As a liberal, I don’t care which one is chosen. Since Barack Obama’s views are closer to my own than those of the Republican Party, I already know that I’ll support his reelection.

As an American, however, I care very deeply about who wins the GOP’s most coveted prize. This is because, while Romney is merely a man with whom I disagree, Huckabee is something much worse – a man who poses a serious threat to this country.

First, though, let me explain why the nominee will be either Romney or Huckabee:

1) When Republican primary voters are polled as to their presidential preferences, the top four choices are always Romney, Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich. Not only does this quartet have a significant lead over all of the other hopefuls, but the financial requirements necessary to run a successful primary campaign are such that neither party has nominated someone who wasn’t in the top four by now since 1976. In short, the GOP’s pick will definitely be one of these individuals.

2) While Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin are both loved by the party’s base of grassroots conservatives, neither of them is capable of winning in a general election – and Republican primary voters are savvy enough to realize this. They may wish for a candidate who reflects their beliefs, but they also want to win, and that latter desire will be the downfall of Gingrich and Palin, thus leaving only Romney and Huckabee.

Romney will have a lot of advantages going into that contest, including an excellent business record that translates into strength on economic issues; a center-right image that will appeal to moderate Republicans in the primaries and independent voters in the general election; and a powerful fundraising apparatus. That said, his Mormonism and shakiness as a social conservative may hurt him with the Christian Right, while his responsibility for a health care reform bill in Massachusetts similar to the one passed by Obama could cost him among the Tea Party. If these things happen in such a way so as to deny Romney the nomination, Huckabee will be their beneficiary.

That is a thought that terrifies me, for the simple reason that America can’t afford the risk that Mike Huckabee will ever become president.


We can start with Wayne DuMond, an Arkansas man who was sentenced to thirty-nine years in prison (reduced from an initial life plus twenty years) after he brutally raped a seventeen-year-old girl. Because the evidence that he had committed this crime was irrefutable, normally his case wouldn’t have attracted any special attention.

However, there was a catch – unbeknownst to DuMond, the girl he’d raped was the third cousin of Bill Clinton.

This shouldn’t have made any difference. However, several right-wing extremists decided to spread rumors that DuMond was innocent, a claim that – despite its absolute and obvious falsehood – was embraced by overzealous Clinton-haters. Foremost among them was Mike Huckabee, who not only commuted DuMond’s sentence less than ten weeks after becoming governor, but even skirted federal law by tampering with the parole board (which had twice denied DuMond’s applications) so that it would decide in his favor.

Less than a year after DuMond was released, he raped another woman. This time, he also murdered her.

This may be the most abhorrent thing Huckabee has done, but it certainly isn’t the only one. He also has a history of sexism (1998 - he signs a full-page advertisement in USA Today saying that women should “submit graciously” to their husbands), racism (1993 - he speaks before a white supremacist group known as the Council of Conservative Citizens), and prejudice against Mormons (2008 - he claims that Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers). The group for which he has reserved his worst bile are homosexuals, whose sexual orientation he has compared with incest, who he has claimed are committing moral sins comparable with lying and stealing, and whose ability to marry he argues would threaten the survival of civilization itself.

Finally, there is the danger that Huckabee poses to one of America’s most basic and important liberties – religious freedom, as protected by the separation of church and state.

From a speech delivered in his 2008 presidential campaign:

I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards…

My response to Huckabee’s support of theocracy:

Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights.

I didn't write that line, by the way. It was penned by Thomas Jefferson.

Now that we’re aware of what the Sage of Monticello would think of Mike Huckabee, only one question remains – what do you think of him? To anyone who has considered supporting him for president, have these facts changed your opinion?

This isn’t my challenge to you. This is America’s challenge to you.

Bob & Me

Did you know that one of my best friends is Robert Reich, the brilliant economist who served as Secretary of Labor during Bill Clinton's first term?

Actually that's not true. I've never met the man in my life, alt
hough I do read his blog regularly.

However, when I decided to send him an e-mail with a hypothetical economic question to pass the time as I waged my nightly battle with insomnia, he and I managed to strike up a voluminous correspondence that continues to this day.

Okay, that's also a whopper. I sent him one letter and he responded with a single sentence.

But WHAT a sentence!

First, my letter:

Dear Mr. Reich,

This set of questions may seem silly, but I'm asking mainly out of academic curiosity.

Let us pretend that the top marginal tax rate in this country was restored to the levels
imposed by John Kennedy (i.e., 70%, who actually reduce them by more than 20% from what
they had been under his predecessor, Republican Dwight Eisenhower):

1) How much revenue would that bring to the federal government annually?

2) Assuming that every cent obtained by the government this way was used for the sole
purpose of paying off our debt, how long would it take for the entire amount to be
wiped out?

Please bear in mind that I am not advocating this as a feasible policy proposal; I'm
merely curious as to how the math would work out if, in a hypothetical universe, this

Matthew Rozsa

Now his reply:

I estimate (1) $100 billion a year, (2) 30 years.

I don't blame him for not writing more, by the way. He's a thoughtful liberal trying to
light a candle of reason in an age of fatuous conservatism. That's not a task which
comes with easy work hours.

Besides, before you party poopers decide to minimize the significance of what he wrote
to me, let me ask you this:

When was the last time a former presidential cabinet member sent you an e-mail?

Yeah. I thought so.

Jocularity aside, though, there are some serious things that need to be said about what
Reich wrote:

1) Thirty years, though it may seem like a considerable amount of time, is not a
particularly lengthy duration in the larger scheme of history. It is well within the
lifetimes of most of the people who actually read this blog (all twenty of you), it is
roughly the same chronological span separating where we are today from the beginning of
Ronald Reagan's first term, and it is considerably less time than it took for America
to win the Cold War, pass meaningful civil rights legislation, or give Billy Joel
enough material to write the lyrics of "We Didn't Start the Fire."

It is, most importantly, definitely a short enough time period for deficit hawks (if
they were sincere in their avowed objectives, which incidentally they're not) to finally
take comfort in knowing that our government was paying off its debt at a pace reasonably
rapid enough to avoid fiscal calamity.

2) Taxing the wealthy at a rate of 70% is not socialistic. I know, I know, the howls of
protest which would erupt from plutocrats and their defenders in both parties (to say
nothing of the voters who have fallen prey to the chicest political notion in America
today - i.e., that their cause is really that of the rich and not those selfish
unemployed people) would be deafening. Nevertheless, the facts simply would not
substantiate their assertion - unless, of course, one argues that presidents like John
Kennedy and Richard Nixon presided over a socialist dominion, since the rate was 70%
under both of their presidencies. And if THEY led us through a socialist hellhole, then
the America governed by Ike "91%" Eisenhower must have been positively Soviet!

3) Taxing the wealthy at a rate of 70% will not automatically doom us to a stagnant
economy. Once again, I cite the prosperity of the 1950s (when Eisenhower was president)
and 1960s (when Kennedy and Johnson were in office) as examples. Indeed, if anything, a
cursory look at economic data shows that policies which do not place adequately high
taxes on the wealthy tend to correspond with bad times. Of course, Reagan's decimation
of our labor laws and the inevitable decline in middle-class purchasing power that
occurred as a result might have also played a role in that trend. Or it could have been
the passage of trade agreements that made it more profitable for companies to ship jobs
overseas than to keep them in the hands of Americans. Or perhaps it was the slashing of
important social welfare programs from the New Deal era that deprived millions of
Americans of the safety nets they needed... Oh what the hell. It's just easier to blame
it all on Obama, isn't it? And that totally has nothing to do with the fact that he's
our first black president.

4) We wouldn't even need to wait thirty years to pay off the debt. After all, there are
plenty of programs in Washington that could be reduced in size or even cut without
having dire consequences on the American middle class. What if we stopped wasting
trillions of dollars on military projects that seem to complicate our geopolitical
standing far more than they protect our national security interests(the Iraq war comes
to mind)? What if we decided that the hundreds of billions which are spent by federal
agencies to prosecute victimless crimes should be used for paying down our debt (I'm
looking at the drug wars now)?

Of course, cutting military spending and allowing people to legally smoke pot has never
happened in America. Well, except when Senator Harry Truman (later President Harry
Truman) identified and slashed hundreds of millions of dollars of fiscal waste in the
military during the early 1940s (you may recall that we were fighting a pretty big war
at that time too). And there was the entire period of American history that took place
before the early twentieth century, during which time marijuana was entirely legal.

But those points are way too "facty" and "logicy" in this era of Glenn Beck and Sarah
Palin. My apologies for being such a snob. Here, I'll make it up to you with a picture
of a dancing baby.

I'm probably not laughing as much as you, though. In part it's because that baby is just
creepy, but the bigger reason is that the consequences of our current predicament are
actually pretty dire. You see, our national debt actually IS dangerously high; our
unemployment rate is stuck at just under 10% (and that doesn't even account for people
who have stopped seeking work); health care is prohibitively expensive for all but the
most affluent among us; our education system, which alone can provide our children with
the tools they'll need to be economically competitive, continues to decline due to a
surplus of hackneyed ideas and a deficit of actual funding; and those Americans who are
lucky enough to actually have a job find themselves working longer hours in worsening
conditions for lower pay and with fewer means than ever for actually changing their
plight (such as joining a union without worrying about being fired, or being able to
quit their current job because a booming economy guarantees that they will eventually
find another one).

That's why I'd love it if the rich, who currently own the vast bulk of our nation's
wealth (the top 20% own 85%; the top 1% earn a staggering 34.6%) started being forced
to pay their fair share. As things stand right now, though, it looks like that's never
going to happen. Hell, the people with the loudest and proudest voices today are the
ones who refer to the working poor as "piglets" (Rush Limbaugh), suggest that hungry
children dumpster dive (Limbaugh again) or proudly claim that unemployment benefit
extensions are a "tragedy" on the same level as Pearl Harbor or dying of bone marrow
cancer (Christine O'Donnell produced that gem).

But hey, at least Robert Reich responded to my letter.

Sincerely... thanks Mr. Reich.

Delusional Liars

Conservatives are delusional liars.

No, I'm not saying that just to be inflammatory. As you will soon see, I can back it up.

Delusion: definition - a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary)

Good Example: an ideology which holds that it is (a) moral to have contempt for and/or (b) just to oppose policies which will help: the working poor, the unemployed, homosexuals, transsexuals, intellectuals, labor unions, schoolteachers, and members of persecuted groups who do not insist on denying that they are still oppressed, viz., blacks, Latinos, women.

Lie: definition - to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary)

Good Example: the argument that rich people, white people, men and/or Christians are victims in America today.

Rebut: definition - to contradict or oppose by formal argument, plea, or countervailing proof (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary)

Good Example: saying that I'm wrong for referring to conservatives as "delusional liars" by demonstrating:

(a) that it is indeed moral to oppose the poor, the unemployed, homosexuals, transsexuals, intellectuals, labor unions, schoolteachers, and members of persecuted groups who do not insist on denying that they are still oppressed, viz., blacks, Latinos, women;

(b) that people who are rich, white, male, and/or Christian actually are victims in modern America.

Bad Example: responding to this post by lobbing insults at the (admittedly smug) author and/or at liberals in general, both of which would (a) constitute a logical fallacy known as an "ad hominem attack" and (b) would fail to meet the criteria of contradicting or opposing by formal argument, plea, or countervailing proof.

I rest my case.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Debate on "Steal Those Bones!"

This article discussed creationism (not going to beat around the bush).
Kevin Reagan
How do you reconcile your Jewish faith with evolution? I don't ascribe to the idea that the earth and all of the living beings on it were created ten thousand years ago or what have you, but I don't rule out the possibility that God had a hand in guiding evolution.

Matthew Rozsa
I don't rule out the possibility that God had a guiding hand in evolution either... and, incidentally, neither do a great number of leading biologists, paleontologists, and other experts on evolution. That said, science deals only with empirically proven facts, not with the philosophical or moral interpretations that one chooses to take away from them. If churches or theology professors want to teach a creationist view of evolution, I have no objections; that said, all forms of creationism (or atheism, for that matter) do not belong in venues that ostensibly deal solely in science.

Kevin Reagan
I'd love to hear the opinions of those scientists that believe God's involvement in evolution to be a possibility. It seems like you never hear their side. So science gets the label of being "anti-God" and that's really what these creation museums are a reaction against.

Matthew Rozsa
‎1) There are many prominent scientists today who openly express a belief in God, most noteworthy among them Francis Collins, the decoder of the human genome and President Obama's appointee as Director of the Institute of Health and Sciences. Indeed, a Pew Research Center survey found that 33% of professional scientists openly think there is a God while an additional 18% believe in some form of a "higher power."

On an unrelated note, you may also notice that 52% of scientists identify as liberal compared to only 9% who tend to be conservative... but I'm not going to delve into that. ;-)

2) While you may think that "it seems like you never hear" the side of religious scientists, the reality is that neither atheists nor religious individual inject their theological and/or philosophical opinions into the teaching of scientific fact. This isn't to say that some of them don't express their personal views during their off-hours, be they atheists (like Richard Dawkins), agnostics (like Stephen Jay Gould), or pious believers (like Francis Collins). That said, prejudicial assumptions from the right-wing notwithstanding, the truth is that virtually all scientists keep their personal religious views out of the classroom. The reason for that is very simple - because science only deals with empirical observations and proven facts, it would be just as unprofessional for a scientist to start preaching his or her religious views as it would be for the scientist to start spouting off about art, sports, or politics. As such, the notion that it is "anti-God" for the scientific community to not infuse religion into their discipline makes about as much sense as saying that they're "anti-art" or "anti-politics" for not doing the same thing with those subjects.

Christina Cruz
Lol, If science can account for the majority of the variance in existence, then God can explain the rest. Of course, one would have to control for the Devil. Now if I could only run an ANCOVA on existence...

Kevin Reagan
I'm not talking about the classroom setting. I'm talking about in society in general. I would argue that the percentage of the scientific community who does not believe in God (and uses scientific "evidence" to support that belief) is much more vocal than the religious percentage. THAT is what I meant when I said that you never hear the religious scientists' views.

Christina Cruz
How do you back up this assertion?

Matthew Rozsa
‎1) Since you implicitly acknowledged that we are "not talking about the classroom setting," can I get you to go one step further and agree that creationism has no place in the scientific curriculum taught either in public schools or federally accredited universities?

2) While there are plenty of outspoken atheists within the scientific community (Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris being the most obvious examples), there are just as many individuals there who openly discuss a more religious or spiritual view of their discipline (Francis Collins and Stephen Jay Gould come to mind). My suspicion is that you and other right-wingers are so focused on being angry at the former that you downplay (sometimes deliberately and other times because you're only human) the latter.

3) There are two major problems with arguing that creationist museums are an acceptable scientific counterpoint to the arguments made by scientific atheists:
i. It assumes that scientists who believe in mainstream evolutionary theory are automatically anti-religion, which is clearly not the case.
ii. It assumes that creationism is a form of science, which is flat-out wrong.
That last point is crucial. While you may disagree with the way in which Dawkins and Harris use scientific fact to back up their atheistic assertions - just as they no doubt disagree with how Collins and Gould used scientific fact to argue their points-of-view - ALL of these individuals have the right to refer to their perspectives as "scientific" because the foundation upon which they base their specific cases is solely that of science. Creationists, on the other hand, are basing their arguments primarily on religious beliefs, which they then use as a springboard for distorting and downright denying important scientific material so as to make their case. As such, these creationist museums are committing a blatant fraud when they claim that what they teach is science.

Matthew Rozsa
The main problem with creationists is that they are so passionate about their beliefs that they throw epistemology out the window.

Kevin Reagan
‎@ Christina- I don't have the time to conduct enough research to really demonstrate the point (though I'm sure I could); I'm just proposing it because, as I said before, that's my perception. A quick one for you to think about would be the relative fame of Collins vs. Dawkins. My guess is that if you conducted a generic poll, Dawkins would lead in terms of both name recognition and ideological recognition.

@Matt- 1) In terms of scientific curriculum, no, creationism is not science and therefore shouldn't be taught in science classrooms. Religion classrooms is another matter entirely, as I'm sure you will agree. That being said, evolution should be presented neutrally as what it is: a THEORY. Scientific theories can never be definitively proven, so the minute evolution becomes an absolute truth in the classroom, then I have a problem.

2) I love your characterization of "right-wingers" as being "angry..." They're entitled to their beliefs, and we on the right are entitled to passionately disagree with them. That doesn't make us "angry." And it may be true that we're more focused on people like Dawkins, but see my proposed experiment to Christina above.

3) I never made that argument, so I assume you're just adding to your original point about creationism not being science.

Kevin Reagan
I'm afraid that's it for me on this discussion. Have to finish an exegetical paper on Revelation for my New Testament class.

Christina Cruz
Dont make an assertion when you clearly have no data. Saying "my guess" supports nothing. You shouldnt present your perceptions as some kind of valid argument with no evidence to back it up. If your going to make an assertion about my field at least back it up. Cuz I could just as easily say that if I polled my colleagues, those who believe in God would probably be much more vocal in the field (by the way, how are you operationally defining vocal?) than those who dont. You cant just blurt shit out. Back it up.

Matthew Rozsa
‎1) While I can certainly sympathize with not having a great deal of time to conduct exhaustive research (I'm in a similar position), you should be wary of making assertions in casual debate that you are unable to substantiate within a reasonable time period.

2) I agree that it is acceptable for creationism to be taught in religious classrooms, although this still means that it shouldn't appear in public schools (since, after all, teaching religion there would be a blatant violation of the separation between church and state). Even so, I'm glad that you share my belief that those who want to teach creationism as a science are in error.

3) I have never heard of a situation in which the basis for evolution is presented as axiomatic rather than theoretical. That said, although you are correct in asserting that it should be presented as a theory, many creationists forget that much else of what is agreed to be scientific fact technically exists in the form of theory. For example, the idea that all of the continents once existed as a single supercontinent known as Pangaea is a theory; the Big Bang is a theory; the concept of relativity in physics is a theory. However, even though all of these things are "merely" theories, each one has been substantiated by observable phenomena to such an extent that they can warrant being taught as dependable tenets of scientific thought. The same is true of evolution.

4) My claim that creationists are "angry" is based on my own observations.

5) Regarding your proposed experiment to Christina... has it occurred to you that, even if Dawkins is more recognizable among passionate atheists than Collins is among the passionately religious, that may speak less to the question of which voice is more prominent among scientists and more to the fact that atheists are more likely to consult science when backing up their views than are the religious?

6) It is true that you never claimed creationist museums were a scientific counterpoint to those that teach evolution. That said, you did express sympathy with creationist museums ("science gets the label of being 'anti-God' and that's really what these creation museums are a reaction against"), and my position is that - because they depict themselves as being scientific when they aren't - they deserve neither sympathy nor support.

Jen Hay
Isn't creationism just a theory as well?

Matthew Rozsa
The term "theory" is defined (at least when used in a scientific context) as "a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena." In short, no.

Jen Hay
Ok, then what category does creationism fall into?

Matthew Rozsa
Bullshit. lol

Jen Hay
Ok then! I just wanted to be politically correct ;)

Steal Those Bones!

The following comic quip comes from one of Jay Leno’s recent monologues:

"Kentucky's new state creationism museum will have a theme park with an ark encounter with dinosaurs. They have Noah's Ark and the dinosaurs all existing at the same time. This is part of Kentucky's plan to knock Mississippi out of last place in education."

Surely the part about a creationist museum can’t be true, some of you are probably thinking. That lantern-jawed swivel-headed jokemeister must be exaggerating. Right?

Wrong. In fact, there is quite a bit that Leno left out.

For one thing, Kentucky is not alone among states that use the remains of the natural world to blatantly lie about nature's origins. Similar institutions can be found in California, Florida, Montana, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, bearing names ranging from the dull (Grand River Museum in Lemmon, SD) and the blunt (Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, TX) to the mildly humorous (Dinosaur Adventure Land in Pensacola, FL, which recently closed) and the downright misleading (Discovery Center in Abilene, TX).

Also important is the fact that these museums, as a rule, tout themselves as legitimate purveyors of scientific truth, albeit of a kind that violates the secular outlook without which all scientific thought becomes farcical. Epitomizing this trend is the advertisement found on the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum’s website, which claims that its mission is to “glorify God as Creator and Sustainer, emphasize man’s accountability to Him, and challenge the hearer/visitor to think through the humanistic concept of evolution.”

While the rational empiricist in me always does a dry heave when reading that statement, it is the following sentence that transforms mere contempt and nausea into something far more unsettling:

“Currently this is achieved through the Fossil Digs at Glendive where fossil excavation of dinosaur bones is done in the context of the flood of Noah’s day.”

In other words, the men and women who peddle creationist imbecility in these museums aren’t just doing so with signs, plastic models, videos and the occasional animatronic display. In some cases, real fragments of our precious prehistoric past – from fossilized trilobites to actual dinosaur bones – are being exploited in the name of their agenda.

That is why what we may need right now is a badass superburglar – one with a passion for science and a devil-may-care attitude – to break into those museums and STEAL THOSE BONES.

You can't be serious, I can hear you saying. After all, isn't theft a crime?

Yes, theft is a crime... but then again, desecrating the remains of magnificent animals that lived millions of years ago is also a crime. Defiling the treasures of human knowledge in the name of an ideology is a crime (and that applies to any ideology, for that matter, although this one is unusual in its obnoxious stolidity). Foisting willful stupidity upon an entire generation of American children is a crime. Even though these offenses may not appear in statute books or exist as areas of specialty among lawyers, they are crimes nonetheless.

This point is not as trivial as it may at first seem. Objects connecting human beings today with the story of the world they inhabit are extraordinarily few and far between; as such, doesn’t it behoove those who consider knowledge to be one of our greatest treasures to do everything in their power to protect the integrity – symbolic and actual – of those objects from which we acquire and understand it? What would an artist feel if a loony curator got a hold of Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy and exhibited in his gallery as a 16th Century Italian paperweight? How would an archaeologist react if a nut obtained an Egyptian mummy and presented it to the world as a five-and-a-half foot piece of beef jerky? Who among historians would show restraint if a crank came into possession of the Rosetta Stone and displayed it in his museum as a slab of old rock covered in meaningless scribbles?

While it may seem absurd to think that anyone would actually believe those things, it is also absurd to think that the earth was created in several thousand years and dinosaurs lived alongside human beings. As we know, however, there are people who not only believe that, but have built museums that rape the natural world in order to promote that conviction.

As such, the fundamental question here is not whether a crime should be committed – no matter what happens, a crime will take place, be it the active theft of precious paleontological objects or the passive allowance of intellectual fraud. The only question is which of those crimes – theft or fraud – is worse. If nothing else, you know where I stand.

PS: Of course, I must note that I don’t really believe that someone should break into those creationist museums and steal those bones. Not at all. That would be wrong and I know it. And I’m totally not just saying this so that I won’t get into any legal trouble.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why Obama Is Right - Part Two

The following debate began after I posted this comment on Facebook regarding the Bernie Sanders filibuster.

Bernie Sanders is absolutely right in denouncing all efforts to lower taxes on the rich as being based solely on greed (see video in the comment section). That said, Barack Obama got an economic stimulus package in return for his handout to the wealthy that will ultimately vindicate his decision.

The debate...

Matthew Rozsa

Kevin Reagan

Matthew Rozsa
The first article pulls off the impressive feat of fatally undermining its own assertions within its opening three paragraphs. Because its definition of the central tenets of liberal economic philosophy is woefully inaccurate, it's logically impossible for any critique it subsequently makes of that ideology to be valid.

1) I resent Rush Limbaugh's argument on the grounds of the class warfare in which he is engaged. After all, isn't it interesting that it's socially acceptable today to attack people who fall in the lower 50% of wage earners (as he does with his smug assumption that they're in that situation because they "don't want to continue improving their lives") but considered "class warfare" to speak even the slightest ill word of rich people who want to cut taxes on themselves?

2) Moral objections aside, his article makes a point of scrupulously avoiding the one point which blows its assertions to smithereens - i.e., the fact that the wealthy can afford to pay a higher percentage in taxes on their top earnings then can the poor. Indeed, back when Eisenhower was president, the wealthy paid a whopping 91% on top earnings; even during that dyed-in-the-wool pinko Richard Nixon, they still paid 70% on top earnings; it wasn't until Bill Clinton that the amount dipped below 40% (39.6% to be exact) until George W. Bush pushed it down to its current level of 35%.

All of this matters because, the incessant whining of plutocrats notwithstanding, it is possible to have tax rates imposed on them that are nearly TRIPLE what they are today and still (a) have a large class of wealthy Americans who are more than fairly compensated for their innovation and hard work (an assertion you can only disprove if you try to argue that the rich suffered immensely during the 1950s) and (b) adequately fund the government's needs, a fact proven by the manner in which the budget deficit exploded once tax rates on the people who could most afford to provide it with the revenue it needed (i.e., the people with the most money) began to be dropped under Ronald Reagan.

In short, liberals do not want to end a society in which people can reap the rewards of their hard work and innovation. All we want is... well, you can read what we want right here, in Franklin Roosevelt's Economic Bill of Rights ( Oh, and we also want the rich to pay their fair share of taxes, something that many of them are unwilling to do.

Kevin Reagan
The first article is not defining the central tenets of liberal economic philosophy. It's describing the class warfare attacks against American taxpayers in which Liberals engage routinely.

I don't see anywhere in the Limbaugh article where he says that the bottom half "don't want to continue improving their lives." Regardless, of course the wealthy can afford to pay a higher percentage on their earnings than the poor. And they do. By a LOT. So no, liberals do not want to end a society in which people can reap the rewards of their hard work and innovation. They just want to make doing so as hard and as painful as possible by taking away an increasingly ridiculous percentage of what people earn and indirectly and directly giving it to people who are less productive economically.

Matthew Rozsa
‎1) First, it's clearly intending to describe liberal economic philosophy, since the tenets it outlines involve policy goals, not political tactics.

2) "The top 50% were those individuals or couples filing jointly who earned $29,019 and up in 2003. (The top 1% earned $295,495-plus.) Americans who want to are continuing to improve their lives, and those who don't want to, aren't."

Forgive me for paraphrasing him.

3) Was it "as hard and as painful as possible" to reap the rewards of innovation and hard work in the 1950s? Do we recall the halcyon days of the 1960s economic boom as being one in which the rich were being ripped off on a regular basis?

4) How are people who aren't in the top 1% of wage earner "less productive" economically? Do you really think that millionaires could grow their own food, sew their own clothes, move their own garbage to dumps, pave their own roads, and in short provide all of the goods and services which they consume without the working class?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why Obama Is Right

Like most people, the part of me that likes to perceive myself as being infallible doesn't like being humbled by the part that suddenly pick up on a major error. That is why I'm ashamed to admit that I posted this quote on my Facebook status a day-and-a-half ago:

"Looks like the Bush Era tax cuts for the wealthy will continue thanks to the courage of a strong Republican leader... Barack Obama."
- Jay Leno

No, my embarrassment doesn't come from an implicit admission to watching Jay Leno's Tonight Show (I think he's funny regardless of what 95% of my generation believes); rather it comes from the fact that I, like Leno and a growing number of other liberals, endorsed the notion that Barack Obama made a terrible mistake when he gave Republicans the tax handout to the wealthy for which they've been barking and salivating since he first took office.

In my anger, I assumed he was wrong. Now that I've calmed down and had an opportunity to more closely inspect the deal he struck, I realize that he was absolutely right.

Let me explain:

Like most liberals, I am disgusted that tax rates on the top earnings of the wealthy keep being lowered, thus lining their pockets while shifting the tax burden to working class Americans. Although conservatives like to claim that fattening the rich fosters job creation, statistics have not only decisively disproved this assertion, but even demonstrated that a whole host of ills can be connected to it, from the inordinate concentration of wealth in the hands of an upper class (today the top 20% of Americans own 85% of our nation's wealth, with the top 1% owning more than one-third of it) to the explosion in our budget deficit. Nevertheless, tax cuts for the rich have become a staple of right-wing economic policy, explaining why the 39.6% rate that existed during the presidency of Bill Clinton was lowered to 35% by George W. Bush... and at the not inconsequential cost of $1.3 trillion (Obama's economic recovery package, by comparison, only cost $787 billion, or slightly more than half that amount).

In short, liberals were absolutely right in arguing that those tax cuts should have been allowed to expire, just as conservatives were blatantly pandering to the wealthy by insisting that they be rendered permanent. So how could Obama have been right for conceding to them?

1) He didn't render the tax cuts permanent, despite demands from most Republicans that he do so. Instead he only extended them by two years, which - though costing working class taxpayers a whopping $120 billion - nevertheless provides us with an opportunity to repeal them by the end of 2012.

2) In order to win the pro-rich tax cuts, Republicans had been holding the poor and jobless hostage, threatening to cut off unemployment benefits, college tuition aid, and humanitarian relief for the victims of the Great Recession unless Obama capitulated. Now that they've received what they wanted, all of those programs have been extended, something that was morally as well as practically critical in a time of economic hardship like this one.

3) Obama also included $360 billion in tax cuts for working class Americans, thus guaranteeing that at least some of the benefits normally given to the wealthy would also go to those who genuinely needed them.

While each of these reasons is important, none of them can alone, or even collectively, vindicate Obama's actions. That said, there is one oft-overlooked factor that not only trumps every single one of them, but is undoubtedly the single most salient legacy of this agreement:

4) It will end the Great Recession and thus greatly improve Obama's prospects for victory in 2012.

To explain this, it is first necessary to understand how an incumbent's reelection chances are impacted by the state of the economy, a subject I dissected in a blog article last October:

The last three presidents who failed to win second terms - Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H. W. Bush in 1992 - all lost when unemployment was between 7.1% and 7.5%.

Three of the last four presidents who succeeded in winning second terms - Richard Nixon in 1972, Bill Clinton in 1996, and George W. Bush in 2004 - won when unemployment was between 5.2% and 5.6%.

As of September 2010, President Barack Obama is confronted with an unemployment rate of 9.6%.

In light of the aforementioned data, this is predictably causing liberals to mourn and conservatives to crow over what both perceive as his impending political demise.

Both of them are doing this prematurely, however, since they're forgetting the one recent president I haven't yet mentioned: Ronald Reagan, who was reelected in 1984 even though unemployment was at a "loser" rate of 7.4%.
Indeed, the parallels between the economic circumstances of Reagan's first term and those currently facing Obama are strong enough that they deserve further exploration.

(1a) In 1980, the year in which Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, unemployment rose from 6.3% in January to 7.5% by Election Day, a rise of 1.2%. This undoubtedly contributed to Reagan's election.

(1b) In 2008, the year in which Barack Obama defeated John McCain (serving, politically speaking, as a stand-in for George W. Bush), unemployment rose from 5.0% in January to 6.6% by Election Day, a rise of 1.6%. This undoubtedly contributed to Obama's election.

(2a) When Reagan was inaugurated in January 1981, unemployment was at 7.5%.

(2b) When Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, unemployment was at 7.7%.

(3a) Twenty months into Ronald Reagan's presidency (September 1982), unemployment had risen to 10.1%, an increase of 2.6%. Reagan's approval rating was at 42%.

(3b) Twenty months into Barack Obama's presidency (September 2010), unemployment has risen to 9.6%, an increase of 1.9%. Obama's approval rating is at 46%.

(4a) When Reagan was reelected in November 1984, unemployment was at 7.4% - roughly the same rate at which it had been both when he defeated Jimmy Carter in November 1980 and when he had been inaugurated in January 1981.


Starting in the summer of 1983, unemployment began to steadily decline during Reagan's presidency, starting with a sudden drop from 10.1% in June '83 to 9.4% in July '83 and continuing at a rate of 0.2% - 0.4% per month for ten of the next twelve months until, by July 1984, it had reached 7.2%. At that point it steadied out, neither rising nor falling at any meaningful rate for the rest of the year.

That said, the period of economic growth from July 1983 to July 1984 was such that the American public, rather than focusing on how things had not actually improved from what they had been before Reagan took office, instead simply gave Reagan credit for the sudden perceived progress. By the summer of 1984 his approval rating was in the 50s and, capitalizing on this in such a way as to give the impression that things had changed for the better since Carter's tenure, Reagan was reelected by a landslide.

What does this tell us about Barack Obama's situation?

(4b) It is by no means too late for him to salvage his political fortunes. When Ronald Reagan was at a comparable chronological point in his presidency, unemployment was higher than it is for Obama today, his approval ratings were lower than Obama's are at present, and defeat in his campaign for reelection seemed all but certain. Yet even though no one knew it at the time, events would begin ten months later that, within a year after that, had transformed Reagan from an unpopular leader into a surefire winner.

Of course, the next question to be asked is why the economy began to improve halfway through Reagan's first term. As I wrote:

What ended the recession in 1983 was the ability of a Democratic Congress to push through spending programs that stimulated the economy while the Federal Reserve (led at that time by Paul Volcker) kept interest rates at an artificial low. Although the Democratic stimulus measures did cause an explosion in the budget deficit (due mostly to Ronald Reagan's insistence on cutting taxes for the wealthy and increasing spending on the military-industrial complex in conjunction with them), that deficit failed to cause rapid inflation due to the Federal Reserve's actions, while the stimulus succeeded in triggering a period of massive job creation sufficient to constitute what many perceived as a "recovery." In short, even though Ronald Reagan's specific policies (tax cuts for the wealthy and increased military spending) were at best unsuccessful and at worse exacerbated the problem, he lucked out by having other people in power - namely Paul Volcker of the Federal Reserve and Democrats in Congress - pursue policies that would cause a recovery just in time for him to be reelected.

The good news for Barack Obama here is that the Federal Reserve (led now by Ben Bernanke) is currently keeping interest rates at the lowest possible level; in that respect luck is on his side, just as it was with Ronald Reagan. The bad news, though, is that the stimulus package Obama passed was inadequately small compared to the needs of the recession he is facing...

Hence the important point being overlooked by liberals is that, while Obama's initial stimulus package was only partially effective due to its inadequate size...


In case you think I am succumbing to undue optimism, bear in mind that this assessment is shared not only by prominent liberal economic thinkers (including Robert Greenstein, Lawrence Mishel, and John Podesta), but also by conservative intellectual Charles Krauthammer, who pointed out that over the next two years "the package will add as much as 1 percent to GDP and lower the unemployment rate by about 1.5 percentage points."

It's worth noting, by the way, that Krauthammer the Republican does not view this alleviation of American suffering as good news. Why?

That could easily be the difference between victory and defeat in 2012.

As the earlier exploration of history shows, Krauthammer is absolutely right - when the stimulus starts to take effect it will aid Obama's reelection prospects much as the comparable turnaround gave Ronald Reagan a win nearly three decades ago. To top it all off, the fact that Obama only agreed to a two-year extension of the tax cuts means that, assuming he is reelected, they will be ready to expire again not only while he is still in office, but right at the time when a recent electoral victory will give him the political capital to force Republicans and conservative Democrats to accept their death.

That is why liberals like Jay Leno are wrong for feeling that Obama has given the Republicans a great victory. In fact, historians may look back on this decision as the moment when he began to defeat them.

The History of Reelections

Considering how much time has been spent regarding Barack Obama's reelection prospects, I thought it would be germane to quickly review the success of history's past reelection campaigns.

A quick note on the criteria I've used:

1) Because I am defining "reelection campaign" as an effort made by an incumbent to seek additional time in office, former presidents who sought new terms while not in power (i.e., Martin Van Buren in 1848, Millard Fillmore in 1856, Grover Cleveland in 1892, and Theodore Roosevelt in 1912) are not included.

2) Similarly, even though the term "reelection campaign" technically refers to someone who is seeking a political office after having already won it once before, this definition ignores those presidents who did not ascend to that position by having been elected (and thus were never "elected" to it in the first place) but who nevertheless were asking the voting public to extend their tenures when they sought election for the very first time (i.e., Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, Calvin Coolidge in 1924, Harry Truman in 1948, Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and Gerald Ford in 1976). Since these campaigns were, for all intents and purposes, actual reelection bids, they are being classified as such here.

3) Even though forty-three men have served as president, only twenty-four appear on this list because five ran for president at a time when popular vote wasn't counted (George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe), five died during their first term (William Harrison, Zachary Taylor, James Garfield, Warren Harding, and John Kennedy), five were unable to be nominated by a major party for a new term (John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, and Chester Arthur), three decided not to seek reelection (James Polk, James Buchanan, and Rutherford Hayes), and one hasn't had the opportunity yet (Barack Obama).

Now for the list of presidential reelection campaigns. They are presented in descending order of success, with the losing candidates placed in italics:
1. Lyndon Johnson (Democrat-1964) - 61.1%
2. Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1936) - 60.8%
3. Richard Nixon (Republican-1972) - 60.7%
4. Ronald Reagan (Republican-1984) - 58.8%
5. Dwight Eisenhower (Republican-1956) - 57.4%
6. Theodore Roosevelt (Republican-1904) - 56.4%
7. Ulysses Grant (Republican-1872) - 55.6%
8. Abraham Lincoln (Republican-1864) - 55.0%
9. Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1940) - 54.7%
10. Andrew Jackson (Democrat-1832) - 54.2%
11. Calvin Coolidge (Republican-1924) - 54.0%
12. Franklin Roosevelt (Democrat-1944) - 53.4%
13. William McKinley (Republican-1900) - 51.7%
14. George W. Bush (Republican-2004) - 50.7%
15. Harry Truman (Democrat-1948) - 49.6%
16. Woodrow Wilson (Democrat-1916) - 49.2%
17. William Clinton (Democrat-1996) - 49.2%
18. Grover Cleveland (Democrat-1888) - 48.6%
19. Gerald Ford (Republican-1976) - 48.0%
20. Martin Van Buren (Democrat-1840) - 46.8%
21. John Q. Adams (National Republican-1828) - 43.6%
22. Benjamin Harrison (Republican-1892) - 43.0%
23. Jimmy Carter (Democrat-1980) - 41.0%
24. Herbert Hoover (Republican-1932) - 39.7%
25. George H. W. Bush (Republican-1992) - 37.4%
26. William Taft (Republican-1912) - 23.2%

Some interesting observations become apparent when this list is more closely analyzed:

1) On seventeen of the twenty-six times a president has sought reelection, he was successful, a figure that can be reduced to a ratio of roughly two-out-of-three.

2) Of the nine presidents who failed to get reelected, six (exactly two-out-of-three) were defeated due to a popular perception that the economy had deteriorated under their stewardship (Martin Van Buren, Benjamin Harrison, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush). That said, their losses can't be solely attributed to this factor, since four presidents who presided over significant economic declines were able to get reelected in spite of them (Ulysses Grant, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush). What separated Grant, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush II from their less fortunate counterparts was that they knew how to draw the electorate's attention away from the economy (Grant and Nixon by stoking public fears that their opponent was an ideological radical, Reagan by benefiting from a temporary economic upsurge which concealed how conditions had still worsened since he took office, and Bush by capitalizing on the September 11th terrorist attacks).

3) Of the remaining three presidents, two (John Quincy Adams and William Taft) were defeated because their inherently unlikeable public personas made them vulnerable to attacks from more charismatic opponents (Adams lost to Andrew Jackson and Taft, though technically losing to the equally dull Woodrow Wilson, had much of his base siphoned off by the third party candidacy of the wildly popular Theodore Roosevelt).

4) The last defeated president, Grover Cleveland, has the dubious distinction of actually having won the popular vote in his reelection bid; his loss occurred because his opponent, Benjamin Harrison, happened to win the electoral votes of several key large states by extremely small margins.

What can our current president learn from this list?

The good news is that, unlike Adams and Taft, charisma is not an issue for Barack Obama. Unfortunately, dealing with a fledgling economy is very much a problem for him, which means that his best hope for winning in 2012 is to (a) have the Republicans nominate an alienating radical like Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee, (b) engage in blatant fearmongering, or (c) have the economy experience a turnaround. Since the first possibility is beyond his control (although I personally think Huckabee is likely to be the candidate) and the second is extraordinarily unethical, Obama's best bet would be to aim for having (c) occur, and as such fight strenuously to cause an improvement in economic conditions.

One can only hope that he realizes this.