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Archive for Monday, July 25, 2011

When the middle wakes up, look out

July 25, 2011

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— It was Ed Miliband, the British Labor Party leader, who posed the haunting question in Wednesday’s parliamentary debate about the phone-hacking scandal: “Why didn’t more of us speak out about this earlier?”

Miliband blamed political intimidation by Rupert Murdoch’s press empire: “The answer is, of course, what we all know and used to be afraid to say: News International was too powerful.” But that doesn’t explain the sudden discontinuity — how a story went from inaction to outrage.

The basic facts of the phone-hacking scandal were hardly a secret. A parliamentary inquiry last year showed the extent of the snooping and suggested that there had been a cover-up by the police and News International. Yet British politicians didn’t take action until a sickening new fact was added to the mix: The hacking victims had included a 13-year-old murder victim named Milly Dowler.

This was the tipping point. It was like the collapse of a bridge that had stood solid as millions of vehicles rumbled across, but ruptured with the addition of one more car. Just so, the tale of Milly Dowler produced a turn in public opinion, a galvanizing jolt to the politicians and a catastrophic event for Murdoch.

Maybe it’s stretching things, but I see a similar inflection point in the American public’s attitude about the debt-limit extension. For months, President Obama has been warning that GOP brinksmanship was dangerous. Along with every responsible economist and business leader, the president said it was reckless to hold hostage the nation’s creditworthiness. Republicans kept barreling through this flashing yellow light.

But all of a sudden, the light turned red. Polling by The Washington Post and other organizations showed a sharp increase in public worry about the potential cost of the debt-limit shenanigans.

What is happening in these opinion swings that move an issue from the usual “ho-hum” to a level of concern that forces political action? I asked pollster Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, who has been sampling opinion in America and abroad for decades.

Kohut calls it the “we’ve-had-enough factor.” He explains: “All of a sudden, people realize, Holy Moly, this is really bad! Prior to that, they had looked the other way.” The key change agents are the “independents” in the middle. Partisans on either side already know what they think — whether it’s a question in Britain about phone hacking or one in America about the debt limit. But folks in the middle take awhile to form their opinion; when they finally do, the balance tips decisively.

Big political changes reflect breaks in the smooth contour of opinion, especially among these independents. Kohut cites the public’s slowly rising support since the mid-1990s for the federal government’s role in solving problems. But that support broke after Obama pushed so hard for health care legislation in 2009, without a national consensus. By the fall of 2010, among independents, there was an 11 percentage point increase in mistrust for Washington compared to 2006, and a 26-point increase in support for the GOP’s ability to reduce the budget deficit. This shift among independents was the sea change behind the 2010 congressional elections.

Sometimes there is a galvanizing fact that drives the shift in opinion — a riveting new detail such as the phone hacking of a 13-year-old girl that breaks through the fog and makes the general public pay attention. Most people don’t usually follow politics all that closely. But in such moments, says Jon Cohen, The Washington Post’s director of polling, “the reality becomes clear, and people react to facts on the ground.”

This is what finally happened on the debt-limit debate, which initially was abstract and confusing but became more concrete. Cohen notes that as the Aug. 2 deadline approached, Americans began to focus on the potential costs of a default. A Post poll last week found that 80 percent of Republicans believed a default would cause “serious harm” to the economy. Public opinion data like these changed the Washington debate.

The lesson is that the great slumbering middle still makes the decisive difference in politics, when it pays attention. Partisan voices may seem to dominate the debate. But the changes that matter — as when the British public decides it’s fed up with Rupert Murdoch’s brand of journalism, or when the American public demands that politicians stop playing games with the budget — happen because people in the center get angry and demand action.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

Comments

cato_the_elder 3 years, 4 months ago

From a speech delivered by a U.S. Senator on the floor of the Senate:

"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government's reckless fiscal policies.

"Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. That is "trillion" with a "T." That is money that we have borrowed from the Social Security trust fund, borrowed from China and Japan, borrowed from American taxpayers. And over the next 5 years, the President's budget will increase the debt by almost another $3.5 trillion.

"Numbers that large are sometimes hard to understand. Some people may wonder why they matter. Here is why:

"This year, the Federal Government will spend $220 billion on interest. That is more money to pay interest on our national debt than we'll spend on Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. That is more money to pay interest on our debt this year than we will spend on education, homeland security, transportation, and veterans benefits combined.

"And the cost of our debt is one of the fastest growing expenses in the Federal budget. This rising debt is a hidden domestic enemy, robbing our cities and States of critical investments in infrastructure like bridges, ports, and levees; robbing our families and our children of critical investments in education and health care reform; robbing our seniors of the retirement and health security they have counted on.

"Every dollar we pay in interest is a dollar that is not going to investment in America's priorities. Instead, interest payments are a significant tax on all Americans a debt tax that Washington doesn't want to talk about. If Washington were serious about honest tax relief in this country, we would see an effort to reduce our national debt by returning to responsible fiscal policies.

"Our debt also matters internationally. Now, there is nothing wrong with borrowing from foreign countries. But we must remember that the more we depend on foreign nations to lend us money, the more our economic security is tied to the whims of foreign leaders whose interests might not be aligned with ours.

"Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘‘the buck stops here.'' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.

"I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America's debt limit."

Who delivered this speech? Senator Barack Obama, on March 16, 2006. The transcript is in the Congressional Record: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2006-03-16/pdf/CREC-2006-03-16-pt1-PgS2236.pdf#page=2.

Blessed4x 3 years, 4 months ago

So bringing the topic back around from why can't we borrow more money to why should we have to borrow more is not helpful? When you get in financial trouble at home do you call Chase and have them up your credit limit? How long does that fix things? Group up.

tomatogrower 3 years, 4 months ago

That's what so hypocritical about this whole mess. Republicans had no concern for the debt when Bush started an expensive war and cut taxes. How irresponsible is that? His rich buddies are making big bucks on their military investments, but don't ask them to help pay for the war. They were taking jobs out of the country, but don't ask them to help out the poor they leave behind. There is no patriotism in corporations, but when 9/11 happened, they were all wrapping their ads in the US flag; all while they were stabbing the American people in the back.

TopJayhawk 3 years, 4 months ago

Most GOP folks were sitting on their hands not saying much because it was their guy. They were wrong.

But two wrongs do not make a right. So let's just keep arguing over who is the bigger hypocrite, while Rome continues to burn.

Stupid and unbelivable.

cato_the_elder 3 years, 4 months ago

Whine all you want, moonbats. The fact is that Obama is a rank hypocrite.

jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

As are all the Republicans who voted without any concern to raise the limit numerous times under Republican presidents, and ran huge budget deficits each year without any complaints, but are now making it a huge issue.

weeslicket 3 years, 4 months ago

moonbats again? how very grown up of you.

jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

From what I read this morning, neither Reed's plan nor Boehner's appears to be good enough.

I completely agree with your first sentence, and I hope we can do it.

notanota 3 years, 4 months ago

Increasing spending in order to stimulate job growth and repealing the tax cuts to the wealthy that effectively make them pay less in taxes than their secretaries? Yes you're right, he's fighting the very measures necessary to get us back on track in the name of a "grand bargain" that would throw granny under the bus. Unfortunately, the teahadists are fighting against what needs to be done even harder.

imastinker 3 years, 4 months ago

Who is the fool? Obama wanted to save 2 trillion and raise taxes 2 trillion over the next decade. That is about 20% of the way there, assuming no further drop in taxable revenue from the new taxes.

jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

From what I read, the savings would be more in the neighborhood of $4 trillion.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 4 months ago

" But that support broke after Obama pushed so hard for health care legislation in 2009, without a national consensus."

Not true. There was actually strong support for a public option, even single payer, but the powers that be on Wall Street and elsewhere would have no part of it, and Obama and the Democrats obliged by adopting long-standing Republican proposals, while Republicans demagogued from the sidelines (well, from Fox News.)

weeslicket 3 years, 4 months ago

correct on history.

if certain posters would like to remember their history: the democrats compromised. that's right.
a useful, though not perfect, act of legislation was accomplished because people were willing (able?) to compromise.

compromise. it's such a dirty word.

verity 3 years, 4 months ago

You're right, Bozo. As I recall, there was very strong support for single payer and we, the people, were betrayed by corporate money and those who are on the take (pretty much all politicians it seems).

But the "fact" that keeps being repeated over and over again is making an analogy between one's personal finances and large scale economics. They are not the same. What is good for your personal finances is not necessarily the same as what is good for finances on a large scale. Economics is a complex issue and, of course, outcomes are not entirely predictable. We can, however, make some predictions on what has happened in the past---yet we continue on the path that would seem to be leading us to economic collapse.

It ain't gona be pretty, folks.

jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

The analogy may not be perfect, but it seems quite good on a basic level.

Just as it would be bad for an individual/family to shoulder an increasingly large debt each year, it is bad for a nation to do it.

Just as it is good for a family to have more income than expenses, it would be good for a nation to do that.

Just as families have to prioritize and make decisions about their spending in order to maintain financial stability, so do nations.

Etc.

verity 3 years, 4 months ago

If the government continues to only cut spending without raising taxes to levels that seemed to work in the past, the middle class will continue their descent to poverty and then who will be left to pay taxes?

I don't think, and there seems to be some agreement on this issue, that only cutting spending will get us out of the mess that we're in.

I spoke at some length with a realtor yesterday (not in Lawrence)---she told me that housing foreclosures have gone way up since last November and she is having trouble selling a house for $140,000 when someone can buy a foreclosed house that is just as nice for $60-70,000. Yes, people bought houses they should have known they couldn't afford, but now it's gone way beyond only the foolish losing their homes. This is certainly an instance where trickle down is working, but in a negative way.

In my opinion, the first thing President Obama should have done is (1) start a works/jobs program the way FDR did (2) do something about the housing/foreclosure situation. If people don't have homes and jobs, the economy is going to keep going downhill no matter how much spending is cut.

jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

I never said we should only cut spending.

gudpoynt 3 years, 4 months ago

the main difference, jafs, is that if an individual simply cannot pay their bills, then they can declare bankruptcy without jeopardizing the livelihoods of tens of millions of people.

Another big difference is that individuals share the same currency, whereas USD is the reserve currency for the world. When credit agencies lose faith in an individual, the ripple is not felt throughout every national economy on the planet. But it is with the US.

jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

I said it wasn't a perfect analogy, but a good one nevertheless.

Do you disagree with any of my specific ways in which they are similar?

gudpoynt 3 years, 4 months ago

I agree with all you said.

But the factors I point have significant effects on course of action. When the stakes are raised to the level of "national world power", and "basis of global economy", then what's good for an individual may not necessarily be a wise, or responsible course of action for the US.

jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

Maybe not.

Although declaring bankruptcy is something that has negative consequences for individuals as well, as does having one's credit rating lowered.

gudpoynt 3 years, 4 months ago

exactly.

There is one thing that is similar in effect between an individual and a nation.

The main difference there, of course, is scale. Dealing with billions and trillions is a bit hard to get your mind around when you're used to dealing with your own, individual budget.

One thing that I have yet to hear from anyone arguing against raising the debt ceiling is how much more debt is going to be owed with even a modest increase in the interest rates on US securities.

jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

It looks as if our credit rating will almost certainly be downgraded, even if we don't default on the debt.

But, there's clearly a problem if we have to keep raising the ceiling, and keep getting further and further in debt, don't you think?

gudpoynt 3 years, 4 months ago

Yes, of course.

Another question that hasn't been brought up very much is what is so magical about the current level of debt?

Is $14 Trillion unmanageable while $12 Trillion was ok for the time being?

I heard an economist talking the other day about how Europeans are confused as to why we are bringing it to a head right now, when without all of our internal political bickering, the rest of the world still held plenty of faith in our creditworthiness.

The European countries in true dire straights are looking at the U.S. and a saying "what the hell are you guys arguing so vehemently about? Don't you realize you're still top economic dog?"

The debt ceiling crisis we're seeing today is largely politically driven. Not totally, but largely.

How would it have played out differently If it weren't "debt ceiling time" again, and if there weren't such an intense jockying for position for the upcoming elections?

What makes this "debt ceiling time" more crucial than the last "debt ceiling time"?

Answer: Tea Partiers and 2012 Presidential/Congressional campaigns.

Our current level of spending is unsustainable compared to our revenues. That much is clear to everyone at this point. Thank you Tea Party for bringing this to everybody's attention and keeping it there for quite some time now.

But the budget crisis is one of decades, to be solved in coming years.

The debt ceiling crisis is one of days, to be solved now.

cato_the_elder 3 years, 4 months ago

"But the "fact" that keeps being repeated over and over again is making an analogy between one's personal finances and large scale economics. They are not the same. What is good for your personal finances is not necessarily the same as what is good for finances on a large scale."

Another brainwashed Samuelson victim.

chootspa 3 years, 4 months ago

A nobel prize winning economist, but one needn't have read anything he wrote to recognize that government, business, and personal spending are completely different things using different scales and rules.

cato_the_elder 3 years, 4 months ago

Yeah, right. It's called the "Fallacy of Composition," and is taught to naive college students everywhere to brainwash them into thinking that even though you have to live within your means in managing your own household, the government doesn't. That's why our national debt is skyrocketing to the tune of $4.1 billion PER DAY.

When they tried to brainwash me, I didn't fall for it. It's a shame that you apparently did.

weeslicket 3 years, 4 months ago

cato: "When they tried to brainwash me, I didn't fall for it." and stated with certainty.

chootspa 3 years, 4 months ago

Oh the irony that you give us an example of fallacy of composition in your effort to point out something that isn't.

Your logic: households have budgets and must live within their means (that's already begging the question, but we'll ignore that for now) Governments are made up of many households and also have budgets. Therefore, governments must live within their means.

See, the problem is that if you just read a Wikipedia article and scan it to see that somewhere it mentions the fallacy of composition in reference to the paradox of thrift without actually understanding the principle... Oh never mind. You're immune to that whole brainwashing with things like "logic" and "evidence." You have a nice day now.

cato_the_elder 3 years, 4 months ago

If you're the kind of person who chooses to consult "Wikipedia" to attempt to learn about something that's previously been unknown to you, that's all I need to know about your lack of scholarly acumen.

It would also get you an "F" in any well-taught high school class.

notanota 3 years, 4 months ago

Oh silly rabbit, you're the one that's been accused of using Wiki for your crib notes.

You've still failed to correct your logical fallacies and have compounded begging the question with the fallacy of composition and piled on a brand new ad hominem.

verity 3 years, 4 months ago

You mean I came up with the same idea as a Nobel prize-winning economist? Wow, I must be much smarter than I thought!

weeslicket 3 years, 4 months ago

microeconomics do not behave the same as macroeconomics.

even if they did: you still do not follow the rules of microeconomics. namely: you pay off your bills when things are good. when you have more "revenue". but some people call that "taxation". and so, are pledged against it.

tell me: when do you pay down your bills most agressively? when you have more revenue? (remember how things were in 2000?) or when you have less? (where were we by 2008?)

Richard Heckler 3 years, 4 months ago

Congress should be fighting for:

  1. eliminating the $4,000 automatic raise going to congress annually

  2. allowing members of congress to pay for all of their medical insurance @ 20K per year

  3. no more special interest funding of any elections

  4. term limits = no more than 4 years

  5. Providing all disabled veterans with 100% coverage by way of Medicare no matter what = the best care on earth for veterans

  6. Hands Off Medicare AND Social Security

Hands Off Medicare! Healthcare-NOW! is fighting back! The deficit commission is meeting behind closed doors regularly to balance the nation's budget on the backs of working people looking to the programs that keep us from financial devastation – social security and Medicare.

We say cuts to these important programs are "OFF THE TABLE." http://www.healthcare-now.org/campaigns/single-payer-rally/

More about Social security

tomatogrower 3 years, 4 months ago

He's right. The middle is waking up in Kansas, and Brownback and his cronies are going to be run out of the state. I'll bet his Florida buddies still have their homes there. Maybe they will buy Brownback a house and make sure he gets a high paying job. I think I'll start a count down clock for Brownback's administration.

scott3460 3 years, 4 months ago

"In addition to balancing the budget and growing the economy, I think we have to accept that the coming decades are likely to see U.S. standards of living decline relative to the rest of the world," Marks writes in a letter to investors.

Let us all remember that we were told by these same wise business people all through the 1990s that "free trade" would result in great opportunities for us to sell our goods around the world. Not so much.

scott3460 3 years, 4 months ago

It's not his problem to solve. The Congress passes legislation and the President executes. John Boner, while apparently sober tonight, has yet to accomplish passage of legislation which will pass the Senate and reach the President's desk. No amount of his lying will change that inconvenient truth.

gudpoynt 3 years, 4 months ago

"he has offered no plan other than raise taxes and raise the debt ceiling"

... and to cut spending by over $2 trillion dollars.

Miss that one? It was a few weeks ago. Teapublicans walked out on it. Remember that? It was all over the news for a few days.

Remember when he and Boehner were close to reaching a deal? Twice? Remember when Boehner, after realizing that he has no control over the Tea Partiers within his own caucus, left those negotionations? Remember that? It was all over the news over the last few weeks.

You DO watch/listen/read the news don't you?

gudpoynt 3 years, 4 months ago

the old "drink the Kool-Aide" comeback, huh?

won't address any of those points, will you?

Why did Boehner walk away from two, count 'em TWO, potential compromises with Obama? Why was that BAA? Do you know why?

What were those spending cuts in Obama's plan BAA? Do you know what they were?

Why don't you ever actually answer a question asked of you BAA? Do you not how to respond?

beatrice 3 years, 4 months ago

I wouldn't even say I strongly approve. He didn't push for a single-payer health plan, he folded on allowing the tax cuts to continue, and he didn't do more when had a majority in Congress. However, until the Republicans have a viable and worthwhile candidate, Obama will likely remain the prefered choice.

Since you appear to be taking great joy in Americans not being happy with a President, did you see the polls about Republicans in Congress? Lets just say, they wish they had Obama-like numbers. http://www.gallup.com/poll/148568/Amid-Debt-Clash-Approval-Parties-Congress-Low-Steady.aspx

Oh, and to your question -- no. Americans hold their presidential elections every four years, and our next election won't be until November 2012. The people vote, and then a president is elected. We don't change the dates on a whim, and we don't anoint someone to the position. We elect them every four years. I'm not catching that this whole presidential election concept is clear to you. You may want to read up on it before posting again.

tomatogrower 3 years, 4 months ago

Oh please, they keep giving Palin air time. How is that running down Republicans? Oh, maybe you're right.

gudpoynt 3 years, 4 months ago

So Gallup is part of the liberal Main Stream Media now?

So where does the the #1 "news" network, Fox News, part of News Corp, mother of countless tabloids and recent star of illegal phone hacking scandal, play into your ridiculous conspiracy about the liberal main stream media?

Is NPR involved somehow?

You crack me up.

gudpoynt 3 years, 4 months ago

Bea said: Hey look at this Gallup Poll that shows that Republicans in congress have a lower approval rating than Obama.

You said: The Blame Stream Media will do anything to run them down.

Sorry if that was a logical leap to think that you were including Bea's reference in your accusation.

Who said anything about Fox or NPR? I did. That was me.

You see, your ridiculous accusations that "Main Stream Media" is somehow left leaning holds no water when the number one effing "news" source is the most blatantly right leaning piece of yellow journalism to play the 24-hour news cycle game.

Let me repeat that in simpler words:

The #1 place where people get their news is Fox News.

You are claiming that "Main Stream Media" has a left slant.

Are you sure you understand what "Main Stream" means? It a synonym for popular.

Do you know what #1 means? It means it is the most popular.

So is there any more appropriate representative of "Main Stream Media" than Fox News? No.

Does Fox News have a liberal bias? No.

Ergo, how can main stream media have a liberal bias when the most main stream news network of all is Fox? It can't.

So how can you repeat this ridiculous conspiracy theory over and over and over again while ignoring reality? I'm not sure, but it's impressive.

verity 3 years, 4 months ago

Doesn't matter how low President Obama's approval ratings go. If the Republicans can't come up with somebody people think will be better, he will win re-election.

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