Demographics

October 16, 2008

The debates and campaigns for the presidency certainly give us an opportunity to learn about the candidates and their parties. Many. many people become political junkies during this period. Each election brings new insight and hopefully understanding. What is just as interesting to me is what we learn about ourselves.

I was frankly astonished at the results of the last presidential election. A significant number of the people who now hold Bush in low regard voted for him four years ago. Yet to my knowledge nothing happened in the second term that was not at least very clearly telegraphed in the first term. Concern about the economy was clearly expressed four years ago. Nobel Prize winning Paul Krugman (among others) has been prominently and clearly talking about the failures of Bush’s economic policies for years.

Actually as early as the late stages of the Clinton administration people were beginning to express concern about credit default swaps and the health of the financial industry. Four years ago we knew pretty much as much about our foreign policy and its flaws as we know now.

So I have to confess, not only was I surprised at the 2004 election results, but I have been surprised by the strength of the present aversion to Bush and his policies. It seems like Bush is being scapegoated a bit. No one can say that Bush did anything unexpected in his second term. His second term, like his first term, is defined by ideological inflexibility. We voted ourselves into this situation. I just don’t buy blaming Bush for our problems when we chose him with our eyes open.

In the current election, Gallup just came out with interesting polls that show demographic results. The economy seems to be driving voters to Obama. As I see it the well publicized miscalculations of the McCain campaign are not the reason for his decline in popularity. Rather they have merely impeded his ability to overcome the devastating effect of the economy on his campaign.

One thing the Republicans have been absolutely lock-step about is the deregulation of the financial industry and the deregulation of corporate activity in general. It is hard to imagine any proud advocate of this policy (such as McCain) being embraced by the population at the time of the catastrophic exposure of the consequences of this policy.

The Gallup survey shows that Obama for the first time now has a lead among male voters and for the first time among elderly voters. In September he gained a lead among college graduates and has always had a substantial lead among people who extended their education beyond college. This is all consistent with the broader polls.

One of the features of this campaign that is interesting of course is the fact that an African American is running for the first time. In that light it is interesting that McCain still has an edge among white voters. It is a steadily declining edge and no longer a clearly significant preference, but white voters as a group are showing more reluctance to vote for Obama than other demographic groups. This, I guess, is not surprising but it is a little startling to see.

I would not attribute this to racism, as that term is commonly used, but perhaps to unexplored precognitive associations. A good exercise I think for undecided whites or whites not strongly disinclined to vote for Obama is to imagine that things were reversed.

Imagine that McCain, instead of being at the bottom of his class had been at the top and had been Editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Now imagine that Obama barely graduated from college. Imagine that 15 years ago was deeply involved in a savings and loan scandal that cost tax payers hundreds of billions of dollars. Imagine that he was an ardent champion of deregulating the financial industry, and that all of the unpleasant aspects of Senator McCain’s personal life were a part of Obama’s life instead. Imagine that he had an unwed pregnant teenage daughter and had been found to have committed serious ethics violations while in the legislature.

If you can do this kind of switch and say that it really would not matter to you, or that your attitude about these things would the same for both candidates then I think you can say that you are not laboring with the precognitive associations of the sort I’m talking about.

I by no means am suggesting that a white’s disagreement with Obama is racially influenced. It is just that the polls suggest that in about one out of ten cases that could be an unexamined influence.

Another interesting poll result is that Obama lags among the group of people that attend church at least once a week. This is the group in which McCain is strongest. His is up 16 points there. I do not have the polls that predate the Republican convention but by all accounts Palin has firmed up McCain’s standing in this group. My guess here is that people who attend church the most tend to be more zealous and that among the zealous, McCain’s opposition to Roe v. Wade wins him the support of most people in the group. I’m presuming that this group is mostly a single issue group. If I’m wrong then the poll results would become even more interesting.


Bernie Sanders on the Middle Class

September 20, 2008

There is a connection between the current financial crisis and the already declining circumstances of the middle class.   Until recently the middle class has always been described as the ballast of o stable society.  The measures undertaken by Bush and he predecessors accomplished a dramatic redistribution of wealth but subjected the society to an instability for lack of regulation.  A society with wealth heavily concentrated in a few is not stable.

Bernie Sanders on the middle class:

The middle class has really been under assault. Since President Bush has been in office, nearly 6 million Americans have slipped into poverty, median family income for working Americans has declined by more than $2,000, more than 7 million Americans have lost their health insurance, over 4 million have lost their pensions, foreclosures are at an all time high, total consumer debt has more than doubled, and we have a national debt of over $9.7 trillion dollars.

While the middle class collapses, the richest people in this country have made out like bandits and have not had it so good since the 1920s. The top 0.1 percent now earn more money than the bottom 50 percent of Americans, and the top 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The wealthiest 400 people in our country saw their wealth increase by $670 billion while Bush has been president. In the midst of all of this, Bush lowered taxes on the very rich so that they are paying lower income tax rates than teachers, police officers or nurses.


Deregulation: A Short History

September 20, 2008

It is generally acknowledged that the lack of effective regulation of our financial intuitions, and the blind eye that the Bush administration turned to the excesses and wanton profiteering of that economic sector, were primary causes of the recent near meltdown.  We are suffering the greatest financial crisis since 1929 when we were last dramatically reminded of the need for regulating this area.

The Great Depression marked the end of a Republican epoch in which the party had dominated the office of the presidency since before the turn of the century.  In the 1920’s Republican presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover had famously kept the the government out of the way of business and enjoyed the benefits of an economic boom based on speculation in financial markets.  The Great Depression called for the need for reforms and the institution of regulations to curb the profligacy that inevitably attends opportunity.

The Democratic Party was voted in to rein in the excesses of Wall Street and to protect the everyday person who suffered the consequences of its reckless profiteering.  A system of safeguards and oversight was created to assure that such catastrophe would not happen again.

In the 50 year period that followed the two Republican presidents that were elected safeguarded and contributed to the post depression-era safeguards.  Eisenhower did battle to check the Pentagon’s insatiable need for money and Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency among other things.

In 1980 the pendulum began to swing back, as it has throughout our history.  (Arthur M. Schlesinger wrote a great book about this called “The Cycles of American History.”  These cycles usually last about 30 or 40 years, or so.)

The current frenzy to deregulate dates back to the Nixon years, where talk began, although on a limited scale.  Carter was a proponent of deregulating or loosening the regulation of a few industries, but Reagan made it an ideological theme.    In order to do this he needed plausible support from the people whom the regulation was ultimately intended to protect.  He used a variety of bumper sticker type slogans like “getting the government off our backs.”  He created theatrical hypothetical villains and was celebrated for titling his lance at these windmills.  He mixed this in with cutting taxes to create enough populist appeal to undertake the removal of many restrictions imposed by government.   Thomas Frank explored this phenomenon in more recent years in a book called “What’s the Matter with Kansas.”

Bill Clinton carried the lust for deregulation where Reagan dared not tread.  Reagan did not think that he had the political currency to attack the whole welfare system.  Clinton, as a Democrat, was able to do this.  Banks and investment firms had been separated since the Great Depression but Clinton oversaw the revocation of this section of the Glass Steagall Act in 1999 with his signing of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act.  (That is the same Gramm who is McCain’s chief economic adviser.)

Reagan began the wholesale changes in the media. After several other tinkerings in 1987 Reagan abolished the Fairness Doctrine which had been a cornerstone of media regulation.  It required media to air both sides of an issue if they presented one view.  It was this that legalized, if you will, the Rush Limbaugh phenomenon.  The Democrats were caught by surprise while right wing people raced to fill the media with their views.

It was Clinton’s signing of the Telecommunications Act on 1996 that really fueled this radicalization of the air waves by opening the doors to the monopolization of media outlets by a very few corporations.   Clear Chanel began gobbling up radio stations and broadening Rush Limbaugh’s reach.   Published or transmitted opinion became servant to the interests of fewer and fewer companies.

Historians will devote much attention to the similarities between the Bush administration and those of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover in the 1920’s.  There was the same disregard for the oversight function of government and the same obeisance to business interests.  For this crisis to occur all we needed was a captain asleep at the wheel during the late stages of the deregulation frenzy.


Government Fight Against Post 9/11 Safety Standards.

September 11, 2008

I recently wrote about building code revision being presently considered. Perhaps the most important issues relate to an extensive study done by the National Institute of Standards and Technology following 9/11. This led to specific recommendations about how sky scrapers could be made safer in the event of catastrophes, which in turn led to a battle between public health officials and real estate executives.

The issues are discussed in this New York Times article but suffice it to say that the conclusions of the several year long study make sense. The General Services Administration oversees the operation of federal government buildings. It is in effect a landlord.

On this anniversary of 9/11 it is odd to think that the government is actively fighting against public health officials and the results of the study that it funded. It is trying to get safety standards rejected that would save lives in the event of another nature or man-made catastrophe. For me this makes the lofty sounding speeches of government officials seem a little hollow.


A Little Like a Bee in a Jar

July 15, 2008

The Bush administration fancies itself a bold initiator of action. Here’s a bold move that was swept under the rug. After getting into office and terminating the anti-terror chair as a cabinet position, the Bush administration defied the nay sayers and gave $43 million to the Taliban. Here’s an old article about that, from the Nation. This indeed was a bold policy move, part of the administration’s marginalization of Clinton’s priorities. Sometimes the administration seemed to be motivated more by anti-Clinton sentiment than forethought.


Bush on Iraq civil war: what?

July 8, 2008

When Bush was asked whether we are in the middle of a civil war instead of fighting terror, his response I found baffling. He seems to say that terrorists are behind the civil war but what does that mean in terms of foreign policy? We will intercede in civil wars instigated by terrorists? I believe I’ve read quite a bit about how this civil war could have been averted with any sort of coherent post-Sadam strategy. In any case doesn’t this policy more or less deprive us of initiative and leave us reacting to terrorists?