The Phony Campaign

2011-06-12 Update

[phony baloney]

Well, is my face red. To judge whether candidates should have been included in our phony poll, I'd been checking this Intrade site (clearly marked "βeta"); as it turns out, some sort of βeta bug has been giving Scott Brown a bogus probability of 7.7% of winning the GOP nomination there. That was inexplicable, but I thought it reflected some sort of Intrade reality.

At the production site, however, Senator Brown hasn't been above 4% since May of last year. (Other candidates' numbers seem to roughly match between production and βeta sites.)

So: Scott Brown is gone. Also absent is Herman Cain, who dipped down to a 3.5% probability. Leaving…

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Barack Obama" phony 2,830,000 +390,000
"Michele Bachmann" phony 2,170,000 +300,000
"Sarah Palin" phony 1,840,000 +300,000
"Rick Perry" phony 1,470,000 +250,000
"Tim Pawlenty" phony 1,380,000 +120,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,130,000 -220,000
"Jon Huntsman" phony 549,000 -2,000

But there's plenty of phoniness even in our reduced field:

  • At the Washington Post, fact-checker Glenn Kessler provided yet another example of why President Obama leads our phony poll week after week with an article headlined "President Obama's phony accounting on the auto industry bailout". Kessler analyzes Obama's June 4 speech that attempted to show the bailout's wonderfulness.

    What we found is one of the most misleading collections of assertions we have seen in a short presidential speech. Virtually every claim by the president regarding the auto industry needs an asterisk, just like the fine print in that too-good-to-be-true car loan.

  • Speaker Boehner's site has an amusing article about "President Obama's Phony Pivots to 'Jobs'", a little example of how the White House trots out a metaphor, flogs it relentlessly, the media obediently touts it, then sends it to the glue factory after a few months. (For example, a "senior administration official" is quoted in December 2009: "…we're going to make a very hard pivot to jobs in the run-up to the State of the Union.")

    By March 2010, even ABC's Jake Tapper began to suspect he was being played: "Every week we're told that there's going to be a hard pivot to talk about jobs, and then every week something else happens."

    Here's the deal, though: The President's love of basketball is well-known, and even those with a mere nodding familiarity will recognize the aptness of the metaphor: you pivot when you aren't actually going anywhere.

  • On the GOP side, Tim Pawlenty attempted to appeal to geeky libertarians with what he called the "Google Test":

    If you can find a good or service on the Internet. Then the federal government probably doesn't need to be doing it.

    The post office -- the government printing office -- Amtrak -- Fannie and Freddie were all built for a different time in our country. When the private sector did not adequately provide those services. That's no longer the case.

    Peter Suderman is skeptical, especially when he looks at the fine print:

    Pawlenty's own record suggests he may have trouble applying the Google test. He's previously failed to follow it on at least one of the examples he explicitly mentioned in the speech--government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie. As NRO's Katrina Trinko reported, Pawlenty supported a government bailout of Fannie and Freddie in 2008, saying that "if you allow those entities to fail, the consequences are so severe for innocent bystanders, namely average Americans who rely on the markets, rely on those mortgages, you know, the consequences are too severe."

    Suderman has other examples.

  • In the same speech, T-Paw revealed his Five Ten-Year Plan for fiscal sanity: simply arrange for 5% yearly real GDP growth. Why?

    5% economic growth over 10 years would generate 3.8 trillion dollars in new tax revenues. With that -- we would reduce projected deficits by 40%. All before we made a single budget cut.

    Sounds good! Why didn't we think of that?

    Pawlenty knows that spending cuts are painful, and likely to be very unpopular, especially when the ABC/NBC/CBS Evening News will be doing a sob story every night about cowboy poets whose subsidies were yanked. So why not assume that we can painlessly grow our way out of the problem, at least in part?

    The former Ms. Jane Galt calls this "unambiguously crazy".

    It is entirely possible that the economy will, for some period in the next few years, grow at 5%. But if it does so, this will not be because Tim Pawlenty--or Barack Obama--have done something to cause it. We don't know how to lift real GDP growth much above its trend level, and we certainly can't do so for more than 18-24 months.

    Kevin G. Williamson has a similar pair of posts tackling the issue (arguing against folks like Larry Kudlow and Charles Kadlec). His bottom line:

    The choice is not between growth and austerity. God knows we need a dose of both. The difference is this: Congress can impose a balanced budget (or, more realistically, a less-imbalanced one); Congress cannot impose growth. So enact a balanced-budget plan, already, or a near approximation of one, it being understood that the goal need not be a zero deficit tomorrow but an arrest of the debt pileup and a smooth and steady decline of the debt as a share of GDP. I suspect (but do not know) that a sensible fiscal-reform plan, adopted with bipartisan consensus, would encourage growth, calm markets, encourage investors and hiring managers, and make reducing the proportional size of the debt that much easier. But talking about growth is, I fear, a way for politicians to avoid talking about cuts - and we cannot afford to put them off. Conservative happy-talk is still happy-talk. And I would not bet the future of the republic on it: If our marker gets called in, it's going to be a rough time making good on it.

    I like Pawlenty, but "happy talk" is only going to make honest discussion harder.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:28 PM EDT