Conservative terminology

The false dichotomy between progressive & moderate Democrats

Much of the argument following Jon Ossoff’s loss in the Georgia 6th district Congressional race suggests that Democrats need to be more progressive to win. Being a Bernie wannabe seems to be the prescription for firing up the bases to win such elections in an era when the GOP’s leader is an orange-hair baboon.

Others think it’s enough to be simply anti-baboon but that we need to ramp up get out the vote efforts, especially in off year elections when Dems don’t show up.

Others think we need to remove Nancy Pelosi who regularly appears in GOP ads against whatever Democrat is running.

Certainly, we need candidates with passion, but not the foaming at the mouth type we got from Bernie. We need to get progressives and the disenfranchised out to vote, but that’s not a matter of more phone calls. And getting rid of Pelosi, alas, is an idea whose time has come. She simply is too great a symbol for Democrats to overcome. But more important, her strategies are not working. She’s a lightning rod, but also an ineffective strategist.

But missing most is a reason to vote for Democrats.

Here’s where I think we are as a country, politically:

  • Everyone hates the others side, i.e., hyper-partisanship
  • The GOP holds one clear advantage: They appeal to people’s greed. “Cut taxes” has been a winning argument for 35 years.
  • Yet, progressive ideas are actually shared by a majority of Americans. People want government to spend more money on a host of broad budget areas.
  • The GOP holds significant structure advantages in gerrymandering districts to ensure that though they get fewer votes than Democrats for Congress, they elect more members.
  • Everyone seems to agree that government doesn’t work anymore. That meme seems to be a given, and there is no solution. Government is riddled with waste, fraud and abuse and nothing can change it.

Matthew Yglesias comes closest to a sound prescription for Democrats: Stand for something. This makes sense for one compelling reason: Americans want vision. They want to know you stand for something, even if it is anti-immigrants, poor-people bashing racism. Tell us what you think. Be bold. This is where the GOP has always held an advantage. You know what guides their thinking. They’re not afraid of their beliefs. They make no excuses for them.

Who knows what Democrats envision for Americans, other than whatever you’re identity, we’re with you? Bernie tried to lay down some markers with free college, healthcare for all and bashing “millionaires and billionaires.” But it wasn’t grounded in any philosophy, no foundation of what he wanted for America, other than free stuff. People think Democrats want to please everyone and thus have no core principles other than to spend more money.

So what to do? Not that anyone has asked me or that I have a pedigree in political campaigns. I’ve been in a few, though, and spent a career trying to impact narratives. So why not take a crack at it.

Leading Democrats in the House and Senate need to sit down and hammer out a vision of only a page or two and then figure how to reduce it to a 30-second elevator speech. I’d suggest they bring in not only politicians and political activists but also experts in communications and cognitive behavior—people who understand how people think. If I were among them, here’s what I’d suggest.

First, adhere to the Constitution’s mandate to “promote the General Welfare.” Talk about how we see Americans as “being in this together.” Americans love our Founding Fathers. Ground our principles in theirs—why they got us rolling as a nation.

Second, admit that government isn’t perfect, but talk about making government more efficient to better “protect” (not regulate) Americans. (Already we’re seeing that framing among progressives.) Be an agent of change. Part of the problem is that law making is now done hand in hand with lobbyists with so much detail in our laws that the bureaucrats tasked with implementing them have so many rules they must adhere to the process becomes tedious and inefficient.

Cite how politicians have made government less effective in order to prove their view that it doesn’t work. For example, if you cut the IRS staff to the bare bones, you can’t then complain that it doesn’t do its job of catching tax scofflaws.

Talk about making the economy work for people without a college education and making a college education affordable for more people. Talk about vocational education, teaching the trades where there are a lack of skilled workers. Embrace “free enterprise,” but point out that we don’t have free enterprise anymore. We have corporations that have successfully written the laws that give them all the advantages that protect their profits and hurt consumers and workers. It’s no longer a level playing field. Today, corporations cop out by saying they must provide “shareholder value.” That’s not the only goal they should have, just as a father’s role is not simply to bring home the bacon. They have a responsibility to their workers, the communities they operate in, and the taxpayers who provide the infrastructure they use to move their goods and services. As a simple example, if a businessman takes a prospect to lunch, he gets to claim part of the expense as a tax deduction. Why should taxpayers subsidize his marketing efforts? If it’s a good idea to have lunch, let the shareholders pay for it.

Fourth, be honest in saying that many jobs are not coming back unless Americans are willing to pay far higher prices for popular necessary goods such as clothing, autos, technology. We need to work together on making the future better for everyone. There will be upheavals as there were during industrialization at the end of the 19th century. People moved from the farm to the cities. They learned new skills. It was hard. It was a change of life style, but in the end it brought financial rewards. People who’ve lost their jobs to globalization need to make a sacrifice to adapt.

And yes, talk about taxes. Say exactly who will pay more in taxes, about how much and what benefits they will get for their higher taxes. As an example, if I said you could reduce your health care costs by $2000 if we raised your taxes by $1,000 is that a deal you’d consider? The conversation doesn’t start with taxes; it’s starts with envisioning what we want as a society and then figuring out a way to pay for it. That’s the way families work. Parents want a better future for their children and try to figure out how to get it by not only watching their spending but  looking for ways to increase their incomes and invest smartly in their children’s future.

When we talk about taxes we need to put it in terms of what will people pay, not the aggregate costs. Years ago, I tried to convince Virginia Democrats who wanted to raise the gas tax that instead of talking about the dollars they needed to raise, talk about how much the tax would increase the average car owner. It was about $126 a year. That’s a number people can understand. $1.5 billion is not.

George Lakoff has long had the right approach. Progressives spend too much time appealing to people’s reason. People don’t vote for reasoned arguments. They vote their values, which is why, for example, a Congressional district in Kentucky where a majority of the people receive food stamps, Medicaid and other benefits of the social safety net continually vote for a Congressman who wants to cut those programs.

Lakoff believes the fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans is that the latter are paternalistic and the former maternalistic. Republicans believe in a strong father who lays down the law, expects obedience and believes in pulling yourself up the bootstraps. Democrats are more nurturing, want to see all boats lifted and empathize with those struggling.

The message of inclusion, both socially and economically, needs to reach not only rural whites, but the top 20 percent of income earners (those making more than $120,000 annually), according to the author of “Dream Hoarders.” The 20 percenters think they’ve got where they are solely through hard work without a bit of privilege, mostly the white kind. Moreover, they don’t think of themselves as rich because they compare themselves to others living in their sequestered neighborhoods. Many really have no idea how the other 80 percent live, where something as simple as a set of new tires can mean they can’t pay their rent.

What are Democratic values? Can we articulate them without worrying about offending someone? Can we say that, yes, many people have succeeded due to hard work (but with good luck, too), but not everyone can find that good luck that allows them to work hard to succeed? Can we return to those days when we saw all ourselves as being Americans who were “in this together?”

Do Regulations Kill Jobs?: Q but no A

Well, the Washington Post  has made a feeble attempt to weigh in on this question but in a way that makes one wonder why. As I wrote on Monday, a front page story that day had at least 13 references to jobs either in quotes or attributions that made the claim that “regulations kill jobs,” exactly the message Republicans want delivered. Even though the reporters of that story admitted in it that those making the claims didn’t provide evidence that it was true, Post reporters David Hilzenrath and Phil Rucker gave a big megaphone to that claim.

When I sent my Monday post to Rucker, he responded that “we will do our due diligence to fact-check industry’s claims.” Perhaps today’s article is that “due diligence.” If so, it is thin gruel served up not on page one in a 1,500+ word story as was Monday’s, but on page A13 and in less than 600 words. And it makes no effort to fact check.

In fact, the story’s headline sort of promises something the article doesn’t deliver. In the print edition this morning, the headline is “Panel: Do regulations kill jobs?” Hilzenrath then spends the first part of the aisle quoting from a clearly partisan report by the staff of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Republican California Congressman Darrell Issa. All the quotes or attributions are unsubstantiated.

"Many regulations that appear to impose a large burden on the private sector, while providing a dubious benefit to the public, still remain on course and on the books," the staff of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform says in a report prepared for a hearing Thursday on complaints from business groups.

The report is part of a broad review of federal regulations by the new Republican leadership in the House, spearheaded by the chairman of the oversight panel, Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.).

Issa asked business groups to identify regulations that have hurt employment, and the report draws on more than 200 responses addressing rules in areas such as the environment, workplace safety and Wall Street.

Though Issa’s staff has said it is still gathering information, some conclusions appear in the report.

"There is some evidence that regulations affecting the financial services industry may limit the job creation and growth capabilities of the U.S., reducing economic growth by as much as 4 percent," the report says.

The report cites Environmental Protection Agency standards for industrial boilers as "an example of the Agency getting the cost-benefit balance wrong."

It cites the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as arguing that "industries are effectively regulated out of business."

And it highlights the benefits of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a process by which natural gas deposits are extracted. Some communities have protested that the process can contaminate drinking water.

The staff report says fracking "is crucial to accessing enormous deposits," and it says the EPA’s approach to the issue "could be a precursor to full-blown EPA regulation of this job-creating domestic power resource."

Similarly, the report expresses concern about potential regulation of the ash created when coal is burned to create electricity. "The substantial costs of handling coal ash as hazardous waste would be insurmountable for many power plants," it says.

Hilzenrath then turns over the last part of the article to arguments from folks with a different view. They say regulations may spur innovation and create jobs in new fields, or that lack of regulations actually hurts the job market, i.e., insufficient financial regulation costs lots of jobs, and not just in the financial sector. Former labor secretary in the Clinton administration Robert Reich argues colorfully.

"Presumably, we could generate a lot of jobs by getting rid of all regulations and working for $2 an hour in dangerous and fetid working conditions in cities whose air could hardly be breathed and spewing out products that one in 10 consumers might die from."

So the article itself never answers the question in the headline. In fact, the headline is misleading as the panel didn’t pose the question as much as gave a one-sided partisan answer. Granted reporters don’t write headlines and headline writers all too frequently seem not to read articles. But the bottom line is that this is just another “he said, she said” article.

Here is another way of getting to the question.

I grant you that it would be pretty easy to argue that regulations cost businesses money. A particular business hit with regulations may be poorer for it and may consequently, not hire as much as they would if they didn’t have to spend the money complying with regulations. However, even that conclusion is suspect. How do we know that the cash saved by not having to comply with regulations won’t simply go to shareholders as higher dividends or executives in the form of higher pay?

And what about the jobs that regulations create. Certainly someone has to work on the regulations and enforce them. And regulations that might hinder one industry create opportunities for other companies in competing industries.

But I don’t think that’s what regulatory critics are arguing. They are referring to jobs in their companies or industry. But is that what is most important for the common good, or as the U.S. Constitution puts it, are the regulations designed to “promote the general welfare”?

After more than 2,100 words from The Post, we still don’t know.

Evidence of Regulations Killing Job? Anyone?

I just discovered what could be a terrific website called Remapping Debate. It launched last October.

The heart of our work will be original reporting.  We take seriously the idea that the job of journalists is to question and to illuminate.  We believe that we need to question ourselves as much as we question others.

We think we need to reject the mental borderlines that leaves "mainstream" reporters generally speaking to "mainstream" sources, and "alternative" reporters generally speaking to "alternative" sources.

We insist that it is probing – not stenography – that can illuminate and inform, and that challenging a policy maker or policy advocate to engage with alternatives to a pre-scripted sound bite represents not commentary but an essential element of real reporting.

While exploring the site, I found this article, which argues that those claiming “regulations kill jobs” clearly have no evidence to back up their claim. Apropos of my post two days ago on this question, the article illuminates.

The idea is widely taken for granted. “Job-killing regulation” has become not only a mantra of today’s Republicans, but also the marketing pitch for a host of plans to have Congress exercise preemptive powers over federal rule-making and enforcement efforts.

It turns out, however, that it is easier to generate provocative rhetoric on this topic than to provide historical evidence for the proposition that regulations do, in fact, kill jobs. Through repeated inquiry, Remapping Debate established that, at least in Washington, vociferous opponents of regulation are often unable or unwilling to offer any such evidence, even in the area of regulation — environmental protection — that is the ground zero of current Republican fury.

The article gives numerous examples of statements on this issue by people who can provide no evidence to back up their claims. I sent it on to Phil Rucker, one of the Post reporters who responded to me when I sent him my post. He said The Post will fact check these claims in future articles.

In this sidebar below, Remapping Debate summarizes the responses it received after asking for the evidence that EPA regulations kill jobs. Note that Congressman Darrell Issa, the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who is leading the charge against regulations, is among them.

Show us the evidence

Remapping Debate invited several prominent opponents of regulation, in and out of government, to provide evidence of EPA regulations that “killed” jobs. Each of the following was apparently unable or unwilling to do so:

  • Margo Thorning, chief economist of the American Council for Capital Formation and the author of a 2010 study that predicted a loss of 2.4 million jobs if the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill were enacted and implemented.
  • Rosario Palmieri, vice president for infrastructure, legal and regulatory policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, which commissioned the ACCF study and which, on its website, declares the EPA’s proposals a threat to "manufacturers, businesses and jobs throughout America."
  • Nicole V. Crain and William M. Crain, co-authors of a widely cited study — done for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy — putting the total annual cost of all regulation at $1.7 trillion — a figure far higher than most such assessments.
  • Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the new chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform committee, who has announced an inquiry into the "impact of government hyperregulation on job creation."
  • Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY), the prime House sponsor of the REINS Act, which, by requiring congressional approval of every major rule " before it could be enforced on the American people and businesses," aims to "rein in the costly overreach of federal agencies that stifles job creation and hinders economic growth."
  • Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), whose Free Industry Act would amend the Clean Air Act to declare that nothing in that law "shall be treated as authorizing or requiring the regulation of climate change or global warming."

This letter to the editor of Remapping Debate has at least two credible examples of regulations killing jobs.

Media Gives Points for Spin

Michael Kinsley hits it on the head:

What the press seems to value is successful spin. As gaffes and the phony umbrage that follows them gradually swallow up our politics, the press has taken on a bizarre role like that of judges in a figure-skating competition, as opposed to referees in a hockey match. What counts is the artistry. Figures in the news get points for successful spin (whether true or not), for a positive image (whether deserved or not), and for avoiding gaffes (that is, for not telling the truth.)

And, the GOP being better at spin, or at least more successful at getting people to believe lies (“death panels” anyone?), gets a better shake from the Fourth Estate than Democrats.

Wash Post Regurgitates ‘Bailout’ Myth

As negotiations continue of the financial reform package in Congress, The Washington Post’s Brady Dennis regurgitates a discredited GOP talking point:  that the $150 billion, as Dennis reports, “paid for by the industry,” is a “bailout fund.”

I give him credit for mentioning that the money would come from the industry, but why does he feel compelled to repeat the GOP’s reference to it as a “bailout fund.”  By the most common understanding of the phrase a “bailout” is when other people’s money, usually the American taxpayer, saves a company.  The fund, which was dropped from the legislation according to The Post’s story, was to be financed by financial institutions.  It’s not a “bailout,” and there is nothing in using the term that adds to the story, except perhaps to perpetuate a lie.

Is that the role of the news media?

“Pro-life” and “Pro-Choice” Are Dead

Let’s hope other news organizations follow NPR’s lead

On the air, we should use "abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)" and "abortion rights opponent(s)" or derivations thereof (for example: "advocates of abortion rights"). It is acceptable to use the phrase "anti-abortion", but do not use the term "pro-abortion rights".

And while they’re at it, let’s hope they stop using “death tax,” “partial birth abortion,” and other advocates’ terms that have made their way into mainstream journalism.

Post Reporter Promotes Conservative Terminology

Washington Post reporter Anita Kumar, by her own admission, promoted the language conservatives use to describe late-term abortions in her article about Creigh Deeds’ and Bob McDonnell’s legislative records.

McDonnell supported bills that banned a procedure some of its opponents refer to as partial-birth abortion, required minors to obtain parental consent before getting an abortion and mandated a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking one.

So after admitting that the terminology is the language conservatives want her to use, Kumar writes in the very next paragraph.

Deeds supported bills that required parents to be notified if their child was seeking an abortion but not bills that required parental consent or a waiting period. He voted for a ban on partial-birth abortion but later changed his mind because he said he worried that the bills were unconstitutional.

A neutral description would be a “late-term abortion” or “an abortion in the final three months of a pregnancy” and “the later abortions” on second reference.

You see this with other right-wing propaganda that reporters adopt, death taxes being the one that first comes to mind.

The question for Kumar is, why, after admitting it’s the term right-wingers want, she decided to use it instead of a more neutral term?