Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Progressive Hicks in the New England Sticks

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Via Yglesias, here’s a cool map demonstrating granular county level voting patterns. Matt writes:

…the Republican parts of the country form a largely contiguous bloc while Obamaland is an incredibly fragment archipelego…it’s an interesting dramatization of the Democrats’ base in cities and inner suburbs. I wonder if anyone’s familiar with any good work on what accounts for the anomalously progressive views of rural New England. What’s the matter with Maine?

I think one way to answer that question is to look into who really is “rural” in New England and who isn’t. Maine certainly seems a pretty rural place when you’re driving through it, but Portland, Augusta, Lewiston, Bangor etc are perhaps more accurately described as urban — even though individually they’re pretty small urban areas. Heck, I suspect something like half of Maine’s population is within plausible commuting distance to greater Boston (not downtown Boston, mind you, but an office park in Andover, MA is a feasible commute for someone living near Kittery or York). This is doubly true for New Hampshire, whose southern portion — where nearly everybody lives — really is a bonafide extension of the Boston suburbs.

My point is, northern New England appears rural, but its genuinely rural parts are home to vanishingly small numbers of voters. The vast majority of voters in the region actually reside in small cities, or liberal college towns, or in the exurban spillover of Boston.

Even highly dense Massachusetts is a good example. The portion of the state west of Worcester makes up something like half the land area, but something like 10-15% of the population. If you remove Pittsfield, Northampton, Springfield and Amherst, you’re down to what, two or three percent of the state’s population? You’ll no doubt find a decent number of Limbaugh fans from amongst this small cohort, but they’re not sufficiently numerous to nudge Western Massachusetts’s political culture rightwards.

I know the image of the reasonable, centrist/liberal, libertarian Yankee living in the wilds of New England is a comforting one to us liberals, but as a life long New Englander, I doubt it’s a very real image.

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Written by Jasper

November 11, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Fair and balanced radio

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Matt Yglesias ponders the conservative obsession with the Fairness Doctrine:

Am I the only one who’s confused by all this conservative organizing against the re-imposition of the “fairness doctrine” on talk radio? I understand why they oppose that move, but why are they putting so much energy into blocking something that nobody is trying to do. A Fairness Act bill was submitted in the House in 2005, but it only 16 cosponsors. No such bill was submitted in the last conference. Barack Obama opposes reintroducing the Fairness Act. And speaking as a paid-up member of the vast left-wing conspiracy, nobody on our side is getting any marching orders about this.

I guess they need something to talk about on the radio shows, but I’d just focus in on Obama’s plan to turn the United States into a socialist dystopia.

Well, I’ve heard that senators Schumer, Durbin and Feinstein have all been making noises about reintroducing the Fairness Doctrine, so perhaps there is a bit of there there. Frankly it was news to me to learn that President-elect Obama is not a fan of this first amendment restriction.

Anyway, needless to say, I’m not a big fan of this kind of thing, and with respect to talk radio, I’m not overly eager to hear a reduction in radio wingnuttery — mainly because of its genuinely robust entertainment value. There’s nothing to keep you company — and keep you chuckling — when you’re heading up I95 through the wilds of Maine to the Canadian border — like Rush Limbaugh.

And, in fairness to the wingnuts, it’s not like their side would be setting the rules, so I think this time their usual paranoia might be somewhat justified.

In other news, it appears talk radio might not need persecution from Stalinist liberals, given its shitty demographics and declining listenership.

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November 8, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Obama’s carbon tax plans

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Megan McArldle doubts the political viability of battling climate change with carbon taxation:

The Democrats right now are divided into deficit hawks, who think that the nearly $1 trillion deficit headed down the pike means they can’t afford any big programs, and the big spenders, who say to hell with the deficit, let’s spend as much as we can to make it look like we’re really doing something.  More on this later.  But one wrinkle that hadn’t seemed as important as it now does is that the Democrats do not have the luxury of proposing unpassable legislation in order to look like they’re doing something.  They can’t make good on Obama’s electoral promises about global warming by putting up a program the Republicans hate enough to take down, because there aren’t enough Republicans to credibly blame for the bill’s destruction.  So they either have to actually pass a carbon bill that will be massively unpopular when it raises energy prices, or explain why Obama didn’t really mean it.

If the Democrats are smart, they’ll pass a carbon bill that will only gradually raise energy prices, and that won’t really kick in in a serious way for another 5-7 years. Modest rises in energy prices in the short term will not prove to be “massively unpopular” and more substantive increases — while no doubt not exactly something the public will love — will be tolerated if the economy as a whole is once again growing briskly, and median income is once again increasing, and people see real progress in developing the kind of infrastructure that helps them deal with said higher energy prices.

Written by Jasper

November 6, 2008 at 3:24 pm

Predictions

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Since everybody else is making them:

Popular Vote: Obama 53 McCain 44

Electoral College: 381 to 157 (Obama wins)

House: net gain of 27 seats for the Democrats

Senate: Democrats end up with 58 seats

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November 3, 2008 at 5:15 pm

The Infomercial

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What did you think of it?

Personally, I found it unbelievably maudlin and boring — at least the five minutes I was able to sit through. But then again being a firm Obama supporter/contributor/voter, I’m probably not the intended audience. I did like the wheat fields and stirring music intro, however.

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October 30, 2008 at 11:17 am

Obama and Ottawa

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Commenting on John McCain’s enthusiastic pro-Nafta speech this week north of the border, John Ibbitson writes:

Mr. Obama,  on the other hand, is a NAFTA skeptic. “NAFTA and its potential were oversold to the American people,” his website declares. “Obama will work with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to fix NAFTA so that it works for American workers.” When Austan Goolsbee, Mr. Obama’s chief economic adviser, reportedly told Canadian diplomats that Mr. Obama’s statements on NAFTA were mere campaign rhetoric, the ensuing controversy embarrassed both the candidate and the Canadian government. Mr. Obama does appear to be trying to distance himself from some of his earlier tough talk, telling Fortune magazine that some of his trade rhetoric was “overheated and amplified.” But his support for increased trade ties with Canada is lukewarm at best, and he could actually prove hostile to the bilateral trading relationship.

I think the significant majority of Canadians who feel Obama’s politics more closely match their own political ideals (and therefore are inclined to favor his candidacy over McCain’s) are right not to worry too much about the Illinois senator’s nods to the protectionists and anti-globalists in the Democratic party. Nearly all parties of the left in rich democracies count within their ranks substantial numbers of people opposed to the further integration of the global economy. And the thing is, a number of states Obama either badly wants to win (Ohio) or absolutely must win (Pennsylvania) are home to large number of culturally conservative unemployed/marginalized blue collar workers who may abandon the culturally liberal Obama if they perceive he’s an excessively enthusiastic fan of free trade.

I believe it’s clear Obama knows the path to securing the living standards of working people lies in strengthening the safety net and not in erecting barriers to trade.

This is simply American presidential politics 101. There’s no serious prospect of an Obama administration’s igniting a trade war between the US and Canada. And in the unlikely event that a President Obama were to broach the subject of labor standards and worker protections with Ottawa (over the Nafta issue), Canadians would have nothing to worry about, since any resulting action would mean it is the US that would be beefing up its standards to match the practices of the more Western European-style Canadians.

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June 21, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Obama, McCain and the tax code.

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On the topic of the Obama’s and McCain’s views on taxation, Clive Crook writes:

With their fixation on the fate of the Bush tax cuts, both of them are missing the main point: comprehensive reform is needed–and needed so badly it may be unavoidable. The key is to broaden the income-tax base. Income-tax rates are moderate in the United States by international standards, but the income-tax base is narrow, so the total raised is less than you would expect. Raising significant amounts of additional revenue–which is going to be necessary, even if no new spending is undertaken–would push income-tax rates quite high. The country needs to broaden its tax base and simplify the rate structure, and much the best way to do this is as part of a thorough overhaul of the code. A lot of what should be done is neither liberal nor conservative. Ordinarily one thinks of a trade-off between equity and efficiency. At some point, those choices do have to be made, but the United States is not at that point. The current system is so inept, so complicated, and so replete with unintended consequences that it is easy to devise a win-win alternative–fairer and more conducive to growth at the same time. Yet neither Obama nor McCain gives any sign of embracing comprehensive reform. Quarreling over the fiscal legacy of the Bush administration is more to their liking. So much for post-partisan politics.

Although I couldn’t agree more that the country badly needs reform of the tax code, I strongly suspect neither Obama nor McCain is so much “missing” this point as avoiding it, for reasons of politics. Any reform of the tax code that is sufficiently radical to do any real good will require a bloody political fight.

I don’t see much prospect of any decent reform plan getting enacted under a McCain presidency, given the likely composition of the Congress (though you never know, and of course McCain has shown some proclivity for working with Democrats). I reckon Obama is the more plausible agent of change in this regard. If I were he I’d avoid getting into specifics with respect to tax reform ideas if such an agenda were part of my plans (one can only hope tax code reform is part of his plans). Obama displayed admirable unwillingness to pander to the electorate on gasoline taxes — an unwillingness that probably helped him finish off Hillary Clinton. But I don’t think he can count on a similarly happy outcome flowing from the effects of candor on the tax code in general, at least to the extent that any substantive reform cannot wholly ignore the mortgage interest deduction

Written by Jasper

June 7, 2008 at 4:08 pm