Canada’s elections tonight seem certain to produce another minority government for the Conservative Party, which will be by far the largest party in parliament and yet short of the majority they were seeking. Meanwhile, if you like the Electoral College (and I don’t) you’ll love Canada’s wacky mix of multiple parties, first-past-the-post voting, single-member constituencies, and parliamentary government. Here’s some preliminary results:
You’ll see that the three left of center parties (Liberals, NDP, and Greens) got between them 53 percent of the vote. Yet combined they have just 111 seats whereas the Conservatives got 145 seats with 37 percent of the vote. The Greens got 0 seats with 6.5 percent of the popular vote, while since the Bloc Québécois’ supporters are geographically concentrated they get 50 seats with just 8.5 percent of the vote. Basically, the distribution of political power has only a vague relationship to the underlying state of public opinion. If the 25 percent of the population that’s currently voting NDP or Green became more conservative and decided to vote Liberal, then political power would shift left.
UPDATE: It’s worth saying that this isn’t special pleading on behalf of the Liberals. For a long time in the Chrétien era, the structure of Canadian politics seemed to make it impossible for the Liberals to lose. The big winner from the Canadian electoral system is the Bloc Québécois. But the main problem with the system isn’t even that it’s unfair — the US Senate is horribly unfair — but that the system is incredibly unresponsive to shifts in voter sentiment or behavior.
That’s just an enormous lead in a two-candidate field. Of course other national polling has things closer than that and one would probably do well to look at an average of polls (Pollster.com has Obama up by 8.5) but to even be anywhere closer to the range of a 14 point win is striking.
As the director of the new, critically acclaimed documentary film about the late Republican operative Lee Atwater, I am constantly asked one thing: Will the Lee Atwater playbook save McCain and Palin on Nov. 4th?
My film, “Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story,” tracks how Atwater gave the GOP a playbook that has been winning elections even after his death. His central insight was to reach deep into voters’ hearts, inflaming emotions about race and cultural symbols like the flag, guns, and elitism. He used the media as an echo chamber to push issues off the front page and make campaigns all about resentment, mockery, and fear. In the words of Atwater’s disciple Tucker Eskew, now a Senior Advisor to the McCain campaign:
Resentment became the destiny of the Republican Party.
Will this work again in 2008? Will swing state voters like those in New Hampshire forget about an ongoing global financial crisis brought on by Republican deregulation and crony capitalism, choosing to believe that Obama is a “bad guy”?
Let’s look at how it worked back in 1988, when Atwater was confronted by voter revulsion with eight years of GOP rule. Voters disliked the WASPy, elite George H.W. Bush, the ballooning Federal deficit, the Reagan/Bush administrations’s unpopular, illegal war in Nicaragua, and the covert arms sales to Iranian terrorists that Reagan had lied about on national television.
To the disbelief of both Republican and Democratic strategists, who thought the public would never swallow it, Atwater hammered Dem nominee Mike Dukakis’s little-known stance on mandatory Pledge of Allegiance rules for schoolchildren. He also talked endlessly about a black guy who had escaped from a prison furlough, vowing to make Willie Horton Mike Dukakis’ running mate. Although Dukakis was a centrist candidate who had achieved the American Dream through hard work and relentless moral integrity, Atwater successfully painted him as a dangerous, foreign-seeming liberal elitist who didn’t love America and couldn’t keep us safe. Ring any bells?
It should. On Sunday Sarah Palin told a crowd, “We know who the bad guys are, OK?” and was greeted with cries of “Obama!” She said, “We know that in the war, it’s terrorists, terrorists who hate America and her allies and would seek to destroy us, and the bad guys are those who would support and sympathize with the terrorists.” Not surprisingly, their crowds have begun shouting that Obama is a terrorist, has committed treason, and should be killed. The GOP is also inciting racial resentment by falsely accusing ACORN of voter fraud and trying to blame America’s economic meltdown on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
McCain and Palin have already adopted the Atwater playbook. Whether it will help them win the 2008 election is still up in the air. Watch a clip of Boogie Man here:
The NY Times calls Boogie Man “riveting” and honored it as a Critic’s Pick. The LA Times calls it “hugely entertaining,” Entertainment Weekly says it’s “incisive…terrific!” and the Washington Post says “In this can’t-look-away documentary…there is more than one moment that will likely pop your jaw open.” You can see the trailer and find national playdates at www.BoogieManFilm.com.
Now McCain is revising his timeline again. In an interview with right-wing radio host Michael Medved this past Friday, McCain agreed with Medved’s assertion that “the economy was really progressing pretty well under most of President Bush’s term” before Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007:
MEDVED: Let me ask you one other thing senator, which again, I think is on the minds of lots and lots of our listeners. The economy was really progressing pretty well under most of President Bush’s term. Then the Democrats took over in Congress in 2007 and now we’re in this horrible crisis. Coincidence?
MCCAIN: No, it isn’t.
McCain went on to place the blame for the financial crisis on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, claiming that Democrats “were willing co-conspirators with this game of three-card monty that went on and then it collapsed.” Listen to it here:
Medved and McCain’s claim that “the economy was progressing really well” before Democrats took control of Congress is laughable. As Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Christian Weller’s economic snapshot from December 2006 shows, the economy was already in rough shape:
Famly Debt Was Rising: By September 2006, household debt rose to an unprecedented 130.9% of disposable income. From March 2001 to September 2006, personal debt relative to disposable income grew each quarter by 1.6 percentage points—almost five times faster than in the 1990s. In the second quarter of 2006, families had to spend 14.4% of their disposable income to service their debt—the largest share since 1980.
The Housing Market Had Slowed: The supply of homes for sale each month averaged 6.9 months of supply for the six months ending in October 2006—the largest supply since 1991.
Savings Had Plummeted: The personal saving rate of -1.3% in the third quarter of 2006 marked the sixth quarter in a row with a negative personal saving rate.
As for McCain’s claim that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the central cause of the current economic crisis, McClatchy thoroughly debunked it over the weekend, writing that “private sector loans, not Fannie or Freddie, triggered crisis.” McClatchy notes that the “weakening of underwriting standards for U.S. subprime mortgages” began in late 2004 while Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate.
Today – after spending the weekend going back-and-forth about whether to issue new proposals – Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) formally announced his newest economic plan, entitled The Pension and Family Security Plan. Like his previous economic outline – Jobs For America – McCain’s new plan amounts to little more than a handout to the wealthy and corporations, while doing nothing for the vast majority of Americans.
Here is a breakdown of what McCain said about the plan during a speech today in Pennsylvania, and the reality behind it:
McCain: Current rules mandate that investors must begin to sell off their IRAs and 401Ks when they reach age 70 and one half years old. Those rules should be suspended to spare senior citizens from being forced to sell their stock just as the market is hurting the most.
Reality: Under current law, seniors would not be required to sell stock at a depreciated value. As Dean Baker wrote, “the reason no one will have to sell stock is that the law only requires a withdrawal of approximately 4 percent of the account. Virtually no one is going to have a retirement account that is 100 percent invested in stock when they are 70 years old. This means that they can make their withdrawal from money invested in money market funds or other assets. They will not be forced to sell their stock at depressed prices.”
McCain: I will begin by making certain that the 700 billion dollars already committed to economic recovery is not used to further enrich the very people and institutions that invited these troubles with their own reckless conduct.
Reality: In fact, McCain’s plan to have the federal government buy bad mortgages does “enrich the very people and institutions that invited these troubles.” This is because he proposes buying the toxic mortgages at original market value, instead of their depreciated current value. Thus, taxpayers absorb the loss, instead of bankers.
McCain: Retirees have suffered enough and need relief, and the surest relief is to let them keep more of their own savings. It is essential that we avoid an exodus of capital from the market.
Reality: McCain’s plan states that “withdrawals from tax-preferred accounts – IRAs And 401(k)s – should be taxed at the lowest rate – 10 percent – in 2008 and 2009.” But this will merely encourage an “exodus of capital,” as wealthy retirees withdraw from their accounts before the higher rate kicks back in after 2009.
McCain: We will reduce the federal business tax rate from 35 percent — the second-highest in the world — to 25 percent…Reducing business tax rates has the potential to stop and reverse the rise of unemployment, and could create millions of new jobs.
Reality: This proposal, as the Wonk Room has pointed out on multipleoccasions, will not create new jobs. The Congressional Budget Office clearly stated that a corporate tax cut “does not create an incentive for [corporations] to spend more on labor.” In an analysis for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Brian Levine found that McCain’s plan “would create only about 450,000 jobs in 2009, at a cost of $280 billion,” while “the United States needs to generate 1.5 million jobs a year just to keep up with the new workers entering the labor force.”
Last month, Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake said that administrating the new GI Bill will “tax VA’s resources” and announced that “the decision has been made to seek private-sector support to implement this new program.” However, the Army Times reports today that the VA has scuttled the controversial plan after it could not find a contractor. “Instead, VA officials will rely on its own employees to create and implement” the bill’s provisions. Veterans groups had slammed the plan to hire an outside contractor, saying the “level of service [wouldn't] be the same.”
Back in August, John McCain tried to make an issue out of the fact that one of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, had attended a legal conference in Damascus in July. The attempt never went anywhere — in addition to being a total non-story charge, the geniuses working for McCain fumbled the press call by hanging up on a reporter who was asking inconvenient questions about the lobbying work of various McCain staffers and surrogates.
The two lobbyists who Timmons worked closely with over a five year period on the lobbying campaign later either pleaded guilty to or were convicted of federal criminal charges that they had acted as unregistered agents of Saddam Hussein’s government.
During the same period beginning in 1992, Timmons worked closely with the two lobbyists, Samir Vincent and Tongsun Park, on a previously unreported prospective deal with the Iraqis in which they hoped to be awarded a contract to purchase and resell Iraqi oil. Timmons, Vincent, and Park stood to share at least $45 million if the business deal went through.
Timmons’ activities occurred in the years following the first Gulf War, when Washington considered Iraq to be a rogue enemy state and a sponsor of terrorism.
Waas also reports that “proposals that Timmons himself circulated to U.S. officials as part of the effort were written with the assistance of…Iraqi officials, and were also sent ahead of time with Timmons’ approval to [Saddam Hussein's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq] Aziz.” Interestingly, a few years after Timmons worked with Iraqi officials to implement U.S. legislation to ease sanctions on Saddam Hussein, McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann worked with Iraqi exiles to implement U.S. legislation to remove Saddam Hussein. Now that’s diversity!
I support the Presidents decision to launch this action against Iraq in response to Saddam Hussein’s failure to comply with United Nations resolutions. His continued failure to comply with international law merits a condemnation of the world and this decisive action by the world community.
Talking points that Timmons produced for the lobbyists to help ease the sanctions, for example, were reviewed ahead of time by [Saddam aide Tariq] Aziz, [lobbyist Samir] Vincent testified in court. Proposals that Timmons himself circulated to U.S. officials as part of the effort were written with the assistance of the Iraqi officials, and were also sent ahead of time with Timmons’ approval to Aziz, other records show.
Beginning in 1992, Waas adds, Timmons “worked closely with the two lobbyists, Samir Vincent and Tongsun Park, on a previously unreported prospective deal with the Iraqis in which they hoped to be awarded a contract to purchase and resell Iraqi oil. Timmons, Vincent, and Park stood to share at least $45 million if the business deal went through.” On September 19, 1991, however, McCain said Iraqi oil revenue should “go to the people that need it”:
KING: But the U.N. did approve today his selling of oil. I think they’re going to let him sell a billion and a half dollars worth of oil this winter. Did that surprise you?
Sen. McCAIN: No. There are starving people in Iraq and the American people and people throughout the world want to make sure that children don’t die. The key to it, though, is to make sure that those revenues don’t go to Saddam Hussein but they go to the people that need it. That’s what we’ve got to make sure of.
The people who were supposed to receive the benefits of Iraq’s oil, however, ended up being people like Timmons. Did McCain know Timmons was “palling around” with Saddam’s friends?
The second part of that is proposing a shift to including valuable life skills in part of a standard public education. Rather than taking a home ec class where students are asked to make a pan of brownies in one week of a six-week class, why not take a life skill like cooking seriously as part of a comprehensive education? After all, the default has be come that people need to opt in to learning how to cook rather than opting out.
I’d actually like to see schools take on other life skills as part of a required education: learning basic financial skills about how to use a credit card, comprehensive sex education, and learning how to buy for and cook healthy, balanced meals on a budget. After all, these are skills that everyone can use. Rather than assuming everyone pick them up outside of the education system, why don’t we make them part of a required education along with math, English, and physical education?
These sound like pretty good ideas to me. At the same time, it would be a pretty good idea to actually teach everyone to read, write, and do basic math in school and at the moment we’re a pretty long way off. So in some respects, I hesitate to suggest that we should be expanding the scope of the curriculum. On the other hand, perhaps one can make the case that a richer curriculum with a more practical orientation could help people stay engaged with school. Certainly it seems like something worth thinking about.