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August 02, 2007

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So, Stevens is threatening to block ethics reform? That doesn't surprise me, but he voted for this bill. Possibly he decided it would be more politic to kill it in a less public fashion.

It's also interesting to note who did oppose it in the Senate, as well as in the House. Actually, the House vote is a little astonishing in that both John Murtha and Jeff Flake (who lambasted Murtha over Murtha's apparent home district empire-building) opposed.

It'd be interesting to hear what motivated each of the eight House nay votes. Just as interesting would be why guys like Stevens, William Jefferson, Mollohan, etc voted for it, but I don't expect to get any answers.

I actually don't buy it, the notion that if only we could convince people that the Democrats' policies would improve their day-to-day lives we'd see a sea change. Frank popularized the notion that red-staters are rubes who routinely vote against their own economic interests--and my family tree's pretty rube-heavy, so I'm inclined to agree--but it seems to me that one of the American public's few respectable impulses is, we vote based on our beliefs, not what's in it for us.

Our beliefs are retrograde and inane, so that de-mists my eyes a bit, but in theory it's laudable.

just at the level of style, i'd propose a change.

your last quip about Pincus stories on Iraq--it's a little too inside baseball, isn't it?

I mean: I'm thinking that you're referring to the series of articles in which Pincus was printing solid reasons to doubt the administrations lies about WMD and the other rationales for rushing the U.S. into war.

Pincus was one of the least gullible, and was doing more or less what real reporters would do at a real newspaper, if we had any.

And the stories got exiled to A10, which was part of the WaPo's manifest culpability for assisting a criminal administration in plunging us into the worst foreign policy debacle of our nation's history.

So I'm thinking that the adjective "silly" and the adverb "rightly" in your last line are ironic, and that everyone who remembers that little bit of ancient history from 2002 will get the jokes.

But I'm also thinking that may be fewer of us than you're thinking it is, and that you may be misleading the rest of us. Esp. w/ the adverb "rightly", which doesn't bear its ironic tone on its face to the degree that "silly" does.

So I'd delete it. If I'm following you.

Any thoughts on this column?

Robb makes the argument that this all has little to do with children, the program has already expanded to include adults (more than half in the Arizona program are actually adults), that this new expansion reaches well into the middle class, and tobacco taxes are not the way to go:

Tobacco taxes are highly regressive. So, basically, Democrats are proposing to tax the poor to pay for the health care of the middle class.

"Tobacco taxes are highly regressive. So, basically, Democrats are proposing to tax the poor to pay for the health care of the middle class"

Paying for this by rolling back a tiny fraction of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to those earning over $200,000, or even a small portion of the reduction in the estate tax, works for me. Do you think the President will sign on? If not, where do you think the revenue should come from?

OCSteave: The fact that tobacco taxes is regressive isn't a concern. Tobacco gets taxed because everyone knows its bad for you. Therefore you get a double positive out of the tax. First you get guilt free tax revenue. The government is charging you for harming yourself and possibly others. Secondly if the increase in cost on a pack of smokes gets someone to kick the habit then all the better.

I tend to dislike it more because it is an underhanded attempt for the government to create morality, but that is off topic.

Funding through tobacco taxes also creates an incentive for the government to make sure tobacco sales don't go down. As efforts to get people to quit smoking are successful, funding for the health insurance for children starts to dry up. That doesn't make much sense to me.

As efforts to get people to quit smoking are successful, funding for the health insurance for children starts to dry up.

back on the positive side: having quit smoking, some parents will be saving $10/day. that could pay for all the primary care visits an average child is likely to need.

As efforts to get people to quit smoking are successful, the country needs a bit less health care than it otherwise would. Which is an imperfect answer, but I still think cigarette taxes are good for one simple reason: By making cigarettes more expensive, they make people want to quit. (This has been true of a couple of friends of mine, and I think there are statistics on this.)

Also, @ publius: I had the same thought as thag about the use of "rightly" at the end.

And aren't you significantly understating Democrats' recent level of political power by leaving out the fact that a Democrat was president until 2001? Surely he could have done more to highlight the differences between the parties, had he been so inclined. His failure to do so led to the rise of Nader.

incumbency and political power, once earned (and however and whenever earned), create antitrust-like barriers to entry that make political change extremely difficult.

This is the key insight. As pub's 'monopoly' metaphor suggests, there's more to it than just default voting: the power of entrenched incumbency allows the in-power group to shape everything - not just the terms of the policy debate, but the emotional climate as well. The modern GOP has been able to actually foster cynicism - about government and therefore other intitutions. Remember, they like to keep voter turnout low if they can, except for their highly-motivated 'troops'. Reagan may have smiled a lot, but his message was essentially dark, and not different from W Bush's: 'Government [the collective will of the People] is the problem'. Fear, cynicism, apathy - all arrows in the current incumbent's quivver. Poorer voters are among the most cynical of voters and tend not to vote at all.

Over here there is the paradox that smoking (even with discounting the tax revenue) is a net pro (for the state) because the money saved on pensions (smokers dying earlier)is a good deal above the loss through treatment of smoke induced health issues. With alcohol it is the other way around (treatment expensive, death not accelerated sufficiently to cover for it). Logic would therefore make smoking mandatory while outlawing alcohol.

To take the money for the children from the smokers has (as mentioned) the advantage of being not that controversial while even the least repeal of tax breaks would start the old Norquist war chant again but if that source dries up (unlikely), another will be found. Though not a libertarian, I think this is indeed a case of "We want the program now, let's talk about financing later"

I would prefer to repeal most of the Bush-cuts on principle but it is very unlikely to happen anytime soon.
And the "philosophy" of the shrub will kill the bill anyway (and I hope it will really blow up in his face).

they like to keep voter turnout low if they can

Yet, somehow President Bush did better in 2004 with higher turnout than he did in 2000. Doesn't that undermine this theory just a touch, even if we concede that some number of R voters were computer-generated (which, I'll note, I'm conceding for the sake of this argument and not in general)?

Cleek: back on the positive side: having quit smoking, some parents will be saving $10/day. that could pay for all the primary care visits an average child is likely to need.

That’s a good point, but I wonder who many people actually quit due to the increase? I think it’s possible that the money just comes from somewhere else for many people. As cigarettes are often bought with the groceries, I suspect that many people keep buying the cigarettes and simply buy fewer or cheaper groceries.

Cigarettes just went up 60 cents a pack ($48/month for a family where both parents smoke) Aug 1 in DE. It would be interesting if a year from now there were a study to pinpoint how many people actually quit because of it.

I find the question of cigarette taxes somewhat troubling. They are clearly regressive, and while increasing them no doubt causes some people to quit we need to remember that smoking is pretty addictive, so the response is small. The tradeoff is far from clear to me.

Maybe the best thing that happens is that teen-agers are discouraged from starting to smoke by high prices. I supect that any big health benefit from higher cigarette taxes comes from that.

Hartmut, because the tax cuts were set up with a sunset for the purpose of giving fake economic forecasts, it's not necessary to repeal them. They'll expire on their own. The only thing necessary is to avoid passing new ones.

Hartmut, because the tax cuts were set up with a sunset for the purpose of giving fake economic forecasts, it's not necessary to repeal them. They'll expire on their own.

This is correct. I would note that I think I saw a post on Bizarro World the other day blaming this on the current Democratic congress of all things.

OT - speaking of BW, this is just ridiculous (currently up on the front page).

somehow President Bush did better in 2004 with higher turnout than he did in 2000.

Turn out went up for both sides. Point still stands, though. I didn't say that the GOP prefers every low voter turnout, just that they prefer low turnout of people who won't be voting for them. Do you think long-time GOP opposition to motor-voter laws, the advent of the new Georgia quasi 'poll tax', the machinations of the Schlottsmans of the world, etc. etc. etc. are all rooted in some sort of deep principle? The answer is yes only if said deep principle is 'keeping a firm grip on power'.

In fact, this incumbency is all the harder to break because it is incumbency itself which is the primary objective - policy goals are only a close second.

Frank doesn't argue that voters are irrational. In fact, he makes the same argument you make here, that the Democrats failed electorally because they abandoned economic populism. While his tone towards culture-war voters is occasionally snide, he never accuses them of poor judgment.

The answer is yes only if said deep principle is 'keeping a firm grip on power'.

I am dubious that any other principle drives either of the parties, since that is largely the rationale of political parties. (Which, I note to preempt complaints about 'a pox on both your houses,' does not mean I think that both parties are identical nor that one may be better than the other on the merits.)

I never really bought the part of Frank's argument that people are generally stupid and "duped" by the culture wars, but it wasn't that troubling to me because I didn't see it as his main argument. What I saw as his main argument is that Democrats weren't trying to organize in Kansas (and other Red-State bastions). Organizing is all about finding what people care about and agitating on those issues; people in Kansas care about making abortion illegal, which in my opinion makes them wrong -- not stupid.

I think what Frank was trying to say is that we need something like Dean's 50-state strategy. That not engaging with people who, on the face, don't agree with us is a mistake. I think that is why he spends so long talking about the meat-packers union in Kansas -- when people were being agitated around other issues that they care about (fairness, disability, safe working conditions, etc.) they were extremely radical in their position.

Saying that the only way that things get done is by having power is like cutting off the head of the body; if it takes leadership in the Presidency in Congress (and, I would argue and agree with Frank, more importantly the governorships and state houses), then it takes organizing on the ground in these states to gain that leadership.

This is an old, old argument of mine that has been in my head for years. Rational, basely intelligent, informed, basely reasoned American voters taking the time to weigh and sift economic variables?

No. This populace elected Bush twice. Sorry, not population ever gets labelled rational after that.

I'll flip back to the other side in a few months or years, I'm sure. I can never make up my mind on this.

I do heartily agree that a payoff, and continuing marketing of that payoff, is critical to attracting voters. We need to do a lot more of it.

lots of good points -- one quick response to the "clinton was prez" argument. the president at the end of the day can't push legislation without willing congressional allies. clinton did what he could through vetoing. but stopping cuts (or playing defense more generally) is a lot different than what he tried to do pre-94 when he had the majority (in that he could push legislation)

The answer is yes only if said deep principle is 'keeping a firm grip on power'.

I am dubious that any other principle drives either of the parties, since that is largely the rationale of political parties.

I don't see what your point is here. One party feels that it's to their advantage to have much higher overall voter turnout and one party feels the converse is true. This being a republican democracy, I'd say that the former is on firmer legitimacy-ground, wouldn't you?

BTW, I have heard plenty about the principle behind limiting voter participation. I know there is a principled argument, of sorts. I mostly don't agree with it, but I don't doubt its exsistence. I would say that that principle is more rationalization than true ballast in terms of the modern GOP, however. I'm not sure what actual conservatism has to do with the modern GOP.

BTW 2: the correct answer to your Bush-won-with-higher-turnout point is that, although turnout did go up in '04, it went up only marginally. The Democratic party would like nothing better than a very big jump - a 70% or 80% voter turnout - because they would then win a ton of elections for a while - probably for a long while. Low and targeted voter tunout is part of the very foundation of the modern GOP.

Hilzoy had a post on the sunsetting tax cuts a few months back.

G'Kar,

Not to rain on your parade, but does 11 Sept 2001 fall between the two dates mentioned below? Do you think it might have had an effect on the population?

President Bush did better in 2004 with higher turnout than he did in 2000. Doesn't that undermine this theory just a touch - Posted by:

I don't see what your point is here.

My apologies. I shifted gears to the immediate question of parties wishing to retain power. My answer was at best tangentially related to the larger issue we were discussing.

To return to that, I have no particular belief that democracy, in and of itself, legitimizes anything. Were America a nation where voters were well-informed and judicious in the casting of their votes, I would consider the party that wished to increase voter participation far more legitimate. Since that is not the case, however, and since a large fraction of American voters have little to no knowledge about the issues on and about which they vote, the fact the Democrats want higher turnout does not grant them any particular legitimacy as far as I am concerned.

S Brennan,

An interesting point, although wasn't Bush already rather controversial by 2004? I'm not sure that the intercession of the September 11 attacks is necessarily germane to the question of who voter turnout helps.

To deal with this tangent, Bush has the most people vote for him in any presidential election in 2004.

He also had the most people vote against him in any presidential electrion in 2004.

I'm on several large educational/interest group, with members in the several hundred to thousand. Generally, when everything is running well; turnout is low. Only when there's a scandal or a large issue of controversy is turn-out.

publius, what do you find problematic in the democrat's position on intellectual property rights? Not knowing much on the issue I am a little curious.

"Were America a nation where voters were well-informed and judicious in the casting of their votes, I would consider the party that wished to increase voter participation far more legitimate. Since that is not the case, however, and since a large fraction of American voters have little to no knowledge about the issues on and about which they vote, the fact the Democrats want higher turnout does not grant them any particular legitimacy as far as I am concerned."

Please correct any misunderstanding of mine here, because this seems to suggest to me that you don't regard democracy, per se, separate from wisdom, as a value or good in itself.

That is, the argument which says that people engaging in and with the system, and choosing to vote, invests them with a connection to our system of government, and that is in itself a good, regardless of how wise or unwise their vote or thinking is, is an argument for democracy as a good itself. Your statement above seems to indicate that you disagree -- but it's entirely possible I'm misunderstanding you. If you have time, and feel inclined, do please feel free to correct me and/or clarify, if you like, please.

"That is, the argument which says that people engaging in and with the system, and choosing to vote, invests them with a connection to our system of government, and that is in itself a good, regardless of how wise or unwise their vote or thinking is, is an argument for democracy as a good itself."

I think you are misunderstanding. You are adding all sorts of things to 'voting'. You added "engaging in and with the system". Generally having to hound people to vote doesn't demonstrate their engagement in and with the system.

The point is that democracy has a sort of legitimacy that other forms of government lack. That's independent of the question of whether democracies make better decisions.

If each and every citizen participates in making a particular decision, even if they do so in complete ignorance of the relevant issues, it might or might not be the right decision but it's unquestionably legitimate, in the sense that everyone's voice was heard and everyone had an equal chance to affect the outcome.

The question is whether giving everyone the opportunity to participate in the political process is equally as conducive to legitimacy as a scenario where each and every person actually does participate. I can see arguments both ways.

"If each and every citizen participates in making a particular decision, even if they do so in complete ignorance of the relevant issues, it might or might not be the right decision but it's unquestionably legitimate"

I don't agree that such a decision is more legitimate than a case where every citizen could participate, but only those who bother to take some very small amount of time at minimum to relieve themselves of complete ignorance actually do participate.

If we forced everyone to vote, but 60% of the voters just rolled a die, that wouldn't be more legitimate than a case where only 40% of people voted but they all bothered to try to become informed.

Frank assumes that it’s just obvious that voting for the Democrats would benefit working class people.

No, he doesn't. One of his major points is fierce criticism of all the ways in which Democrats of the last twenty-five years have given working class people reason to doubt that voting for Democrats would benefit them.

Digression alert - skip if focused on point of post

thag: And the [Pincus] stories got exiled to A10

Actually A18 or deeper, as even Downie acknowledged in his eventual sorta mea culpa.

I see now that Tom Strong made the same point. Publius, have you been reading about Frank rather than reading him directly?

"You added 'engaging in and with the system'."

I believe you're misunderstanding me, due apparently to my phrasing having been unclear.

Pray allow me to rephrase: That is, the argument which says that people engaging in and with the system by choosing to vote invests them with a connection to our system of government, and that is in itself a good, regardless of how wise or unwise their vote or thinking is, is an argument for democracy as a good itself."

No hounding involved anywhere by anyone (I have no idea how you read me as suggesting any, but regardless).

Steve: "The point is that democracy has a sort of legitimacy that other forms of government lack. That's independent of the question of whether democracies make better decisions."

Just so.

As regards the latter, I have some doubts, myself, at least as regards specific matters -- not so much on the overall method. But I fail to see how that question controls the former.

Democracies making dreadful decisions are still more legitimately representing the desired policies and views of their people -- if they are indeed acting in a democratic fashion, which needs to be stipulated here -- than autocracies or oligarchies do, no matter that autocracies and oligarchies may sometimes enact the same policy at times.

Democracies making dreadful decisions are still more legitimately representing the desired policies and views of their people -- if they are indeed acting in a democratic fashion, which needs to be stipulated here -- than autocracies or oligarchies do

Thank you. Been off line. My point exactly. I'd also insist that if you are a republican democracy, political legitimacy ipso facto comes from the people, whether you think they're wise or foolish, and however refracted that influence is. Therefore, it doesn't make sense for elites to decide who is worthy of the honor of voting (aside from age restrictions). No matter how you ratiionalize it, such deciding is going to be arbitrary (eg, no landless; no women; no black people, no post-felons; etc.).

If, OTOH, you're a monarchy, the monarch's legitimacy comes from god humself. Why pussyfoot? Be what you are.

By the way, it's irrational to assume that a given decision the Majority comes to must be stupid or unwise simply because it's the product of a lot of people, or even a lot of relatively ignorant people (that's where the 'republican' part comes in). Also, oligarchies/monarchies make horrible, tragic, terrible decisions all the time.

Just to finish the argument above. The sunset clause on the tax cuts has been, is and will be painted as a tax hike. The Dem refusal to kill the clause was heavily attacked by the Norquisteros as irresponsible and economy-killing.

For a different, not necessarily uplifing, view on why Middle America doesn't vote in their own best interests, see Mark Ames at www.nypress.com/print.cfm?content_id=10369
'Spite - It Wins Elections!'

Of course, Harmut, but that doesn't change the reality. The tax cuts will expire unless action is taken to renew them, and it's hard to point to and criticize a "vote for a tax increase" that didn't occur -- not as hard as it should be, since the media will no doubt be helping with the bamboozlement, but hard nonetheless. And I'm not sure the Norquisteros have the power they used to.

The Dem refusal to kill the clause was heavily attacked by the Norquisteros as . . . economy-killing.

All true, I remember when everyone refused to work during the 1990s after Clinton's tax hikes. All the investment bankers on Wall Street threw up their hands and said, "Gosh, if you're going to tax my marginal income at 39.6 percent rather than 35 percent, making all these millions just isn't worth it any more."

G'Kar: Doesn't that undermine this theory just a touch, even if we concede...

Or maybe turnout was [comparatively] high despite GOP efforts at lowering it. War and crappy economy and whatnot.

Gary: Democracies making dreadful decisions are still more legitimately representing the desired policies and views of their people...

Perhaps. If I were making G'Kar's point I would reply that there are plenty of circumstances where mere consent does not confer legitimacy.

Ponzi schemes, sex with minors, sex with subordinates, assisted suicide, incapacity, collective bargaining... There are any number of circumstances in which nominal consent is disregarded, presumably without objection from you.

So why is it controversial to suggest that electoral "incapacity" invalidates the notion of democratic consent? How exactly does mere consent acquire the qualitative magic of turning into democracy, such that it can be exempted from invalidation?

"So why is it controversial to suggest that electoral "incapacity" invalidates the notion of democratic consent? How exactly does mere consent acquire the qualitative magic of turning into democracy, such that it can be exempted from invalidation?"

Furthering this point, posit a case where only government propaganda is allowed on the public communication channels. The mere fact of a high turnout doesn't create some sort of huge validation in these circumstances. (This is in fact the root of the argument for worries about media consolidation and the like).

The point is that turnout alone isn't that exciting of a goal--increasing it from 46% to 48% shouldn't be thought of as a particularly laudable thing if a majority of that 2% are people who didn't think about voting for 3.99 years, didn't pay much attention to politics during that time, and then get a push from the local "get out the vote" crew.

There was once the saying that the longevity of bridges was inversely proportional to the scholarliness of the engineer designing it.
Admittedly that was at a time when engineering in the modern sense just began and design by experience was at its highpoint.
A lot of bridge engineering today is concerned with doing it at the lowest costs and with minimum consumption of materials (and, if possible, in the shortest amount of time). Built-in safety margins take a second place to that. Why are so many 19th century bridges still standing, while modern ones fail? They were built to last and the designers played a better safe than sorry game.

sorry, wrong thread.

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