THE WORLDS DUMBEST IDEA! Plainly, its the worlds dumbest idea. How has it prevailed? // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 20, 2010
Which part of fifty percent doesnt the Times understand: Sometimes, you just have to throw up your hands and laugh, pledging your faith in the gods.
Last week, the Washington Post and ABC News released their latest national poll. (To survey all results, click this.) They didnt keep us in suspensethis was the very first question:
Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president?
Repeat: That was the polls first question! For that reason, if you click on that link, you can quickly spot the result: 50 percent of respondents said they approved of the job Obama is doing; 47 percent disapproved. As you can see if you click on the link, this represents a two-point drop from the poll in early June, in which 52 percent voiced approval.
Fifty percent of respondents said they approved of Obamas performanceuntil Sundays New York Times began appearing on doorsteps.
Alas! In the papers op-ed section, fifteen of the usual suspects were asked to say what Obama should do to stop the drop in his public approval ratings. (To ponder the views of all fifteen, . Be sure to bring your Sominex.) But good God! As you can see if you click on this link, this is the way some unnamed editor or editors introduced this sprawling feature:
Which part of fifty percent doesnt the New York Times understand? (Second problem: As noted, the drop Obama cant seem to stop was measured at two points in this poll.)
At Media Matters, Eric Boehlert went the extra mile, imagining one possible explanation for the editors pitiful bungle. Well suggest you just shake your head at the world in which you live. (All our analysts stood around, cheering their Uncle Eric.)
Presumably, nothing will turn on this puzzling bungle, offered right at the top of a sprawling feature in Sundays Times. And yes, we all make mistakes on occasion. But as of today, the editors still havent corrected their bungle, as Boehlert suggested. Although, in fairness, the Times has moved to renounce this unfortunate error:
Speaking of quadruple bogeys, how about naming the editor or editors who published that Sunday piece?
A philosophical question looms: If Obamas rating is 50 percent, is it hovering just above 40 percent? Two days later, the nations most important editors still cant seem to decide.
Then too, we marveled at this: Then again, we marveled several times watching last nights Countdown. Lawrence ODonnell was in the chair, giving KO a much-deserved break. Eventually, he played this sound-bite from Obama, seeming to think that it represented a death-shot at the GOP:
Here at THE HOWLER, we would extend those unemployment benefits, paid for or notand we wouldnt be inclined to extend the Bush tax cuts for high-end earners. But as we watched this videotape, we were struck by how poorly Obamas statement had been crafted. If youre an average citizen who doesnt follow these issues in great detail, tell us why you didnt hear this as you watched the president:
ODonnell heard Obamas statement as a brilliantly-crafted death shot at the GOP. We heard the statement quite differently. We thought it was crafted quite poorly. (This morning, the Morning Joe gang took LOs side. We rest our case.)
From there, LO fell to trashing an ad which a conservative group is running against Harry Reid in Nevada. ODonnell and his guest, Chris Hayes, marveled at the ads inconsistency:
Presumably, Reid will end up beating Angle. But theres nothing inconsistent in this ad, though the boys didnt seem to realize. But then, our side duznt allwaze reeson reel gud, a point well explore in one part of the series which commences below.
ODonnells writers seemed to be working from this post by Sam Stein, which they of course didnt credit. Stein says the ad is wrong in its central factual claim; that may well be the case, since the recent data to which the ad refers are drawn from this detailed news reporta news report published in February 2009, just six days after the stimulus passed! (Stein didnt report the comical time-lag in this ads recent data.) But rather than focus on this laughable factual problem, our side is back to claiming that, if you opposed the stimulus bill in the first place, you are being inconsistent if you think your state should get its fair share of the stimulus money once the bill becomes law. Sorrythats just massively silly. But its good enough for us.
Often, our side duznt reesun reel gudd. Remember when we used to argue that conservative governors were being crackpots if they didnt take all their stimulus money? But then, Countdown is largely tribal entertainment. Last night, the entertainment was good.
PART 1THE WORLDS DUMBEST IDEA (permalink): For decades now, the American discourse has been ruled, in substantial part, by the worlds dumbest idea.
Last week, the Republican leader in the senate voiced this stunningly stupid idea. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, was bringing aid to Senator Jon Kyl, a flailing and floundering colleague (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/14/10). Helping Kyl escape a bad jam, McConnell boldly stepped to the plate and expressed the worlds dumbest idea:
Senator Kyl had expressed the view that theres no need to pay for tax cutsno need to fashion spending cuts to offset the revenue that is lost in a major tax cut. Now, McConnell went one step beyond. Quick example: If a nation cuts its tax rates in half, will it be left with (something resembling) half as much future revenue? Not at all, McConnell now said! After all, Bushs tax cuts increased federal revenue! McConnell thus recited the dumbest ideaan inane idea which has ruled our world for roughly the past thirty years.
If you cut tax rates, you increase federal revenues! This monumentally stupid idea has been at the heart of American discourse for several decades. But then again, so have these other familiar ideasideas which are almost as dumb:
Social Security will go bankrupt in [insert year here]!
European-style health care has failed everywhere its ever been tried!
The top one percent of earners pay [insert number here] percent of federal taxesa vastly disproportionate share!
The flat tax IS progressive!
For decades, variants of these stupid ideas have played central roles in our discourse. But the mother of all such dumb ideas is the one McConnell just spoke.
If we lower the tax rates, we get increased revenue! Lets marvel at the sheer stupidity involved in this well-pimped notion. For starters, lets conduct a thought experiment involving President Bushs tax cuts in the past decade:
In Bushs initial tax cut package (2001), the marginal tax rate was cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. But if lowering the tax rate produces more revenue, why would President Bush have stopped there? Surely, he would have cut the tax rate to 34 percent, thereby producing even more revenue! Nohe would have cut it to 33 percent! To 32! Noto 31!
Simple story: Quite plainly, no one believes, as a general matter, that cutting tax rates produces more revenue. More precisely, no Republican president has ever behaved as if he believed such a thing. In 1986, President Reagan cut the marginal rate to 28 percent. But why in the world did he leave it there? Why didnt he cut it to 27 percent? Why not 26?
Do Republican politicians really believe the worlds dumbest idea? Actually, nothey dont. In a recent post, Steve Benen said this: The Bush/Cheney Office of Management and Budget and the Bush/Cheney Council of Economic Advisers rejected the notion that tax cuts can pay for themselves out of hand. Steve didnt provide any links or quotes. Luckily, the Washington Post once did, in this 2007 editorial which we cited in real time.
Alas! Parading about on the stump, Candidate Giuliani had begun expressing the worlds dumbest idea. When he did, the editors correctly swung into action, recalling a string of contrary statements from major Bush officials. Well suggest that you read the whole editorial. But in this chunk, Bush officials turn their backs on the worlds dumbest idea:
You would still lose revenue with all these tax cuts. You just wouldnt lose quite as much as you might have thought through a simple-minded (static) analysis.
"I certainly would not claim that tax cuts pay for themselves! For the record, Candidate Dole had said the same thing in the 1996 campaign (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/30/08). In that campaign, Dole proposed a 15 percent cut in all income tax rates; he said his proposal would earn back about one quarter of the lost revenue through increased economic activity.
Repeat: Candidate Dole didnt claim that his tax cut would pay for itself. Instead, he and his experts claimed that his tax cut would pay for 27 percent of itself. (Adam Nagourney, New York Times, 8/5/96: Aides to Mr. Dole offered only sketchy details today on how he would pay for the package. But the aides said $145 billion, or about 27 percent, of the cost of the tax cuts would be covered by new revenue created by the economic growth resulting from the cuts.)
Duh. No sane politician has ever believed in this, the worlds dumbest idea! Two more examples:
As president, did George H. W. Bush (Bush 41) believe that tax cuts produce extra revenue? If so, why did he raise tax rates in 1990, as part of his famous deficit reduction package? Why didnt he cut tax rates instead? Wouldnt that have produced extra revenue?
As a candidate, did George W. Bush (Bush 43) claim or believe that his tax cut proposal would produce extra revenue? Please! All through Campaign 2000, Candidate Bush said that his tax cut package would reduce the projected ten-year budget surplus by $1.3 trillion. (Reasoning more accurately, Candidate Gore said the actual number was $1.6 trillion or $1.9 trillion over ten years, depending on when you started counting.) At no point did Bush ever claim that his tax cuts would make the projected surplus get larger. But then, no politician has ever believed that tax cuts produce extra revenue.
Can we talk? McConnells statement to the side, no politician has ever believed the worlds dumbest idea. But so what? This may be the worlds dumbest idea, but it was crafted by some of the worlds most successful propagandists. Like the other dumb ideas we have listed above, this dumb idea emerged from highly capable, conservative think tanks. It has been hammered into the publics head over the past thirty years.
Lower tax rates produce higher revenues! Plainly, its the worlds dumbest idea; no big Republican really believes it. But so what? Wherever American politics happens, there are three major teams on the fieldthe conservative world; the liberal world; and the mainstream press corps.
One of these teams is really quite skilled. The other two teams are lazy and dumbhave been so for quite a long time. How has this dumbest idea prevailed? Tomorrow, lets consider the hapless work of the mainstream press corps.
TomorrowPart 2: Watching the mainstream press corps fail.