The Phony Campaign

2012-06-17 Update

[phony baloney]

You should not infer anything when the Google registers a nearly-tenfold increase in the number of hits for a given string in a single week. Using Google hit counts to conclude anything significant about the real world is a totally bogus methodology. Still:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Barack Obama" phony 219,000,000 +195,900,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,020,000 -20,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 406,000 +5,000

Just one item this week:

Jonathan Bernstein, writing at the Washington Post promises to detail the "Anatomy of a phony Romney talking point." Turns out: it's complicated. Although Bernstein does his best in a short blog post to point his shaky phony-blaming finger at Romney.

What phony thing did Romney say? Bernstein refers to an NYT blog post by Michael Barbaro: "Now Who's Out of Touch? Romney Tries to Turn the Tables on Obama". Barbaro noted the Romney campaign's newly discovered ability to respond quickly to the silly things President Obama says. (Just as the Obama campaign has long done with the silly things Mitt says.)

So what silly thing did the President say? In this case, it was in an interview with a Iowa TV newsperson, Ted Baxter Matt Breen.

Matt Breen asked, "One of those companies I mentioned said, specifically, that they had to close, and move 111 jobs to Wisconsin, because of health care reform you put forward, and Congress passed. What's your reaction?"

"That's gonna be hard to explain, that the only folks that have been impacted in terms of health care bill are insurance companies required to make sure that they're providing preventative care or not dropping their coverage when you get sick, so this particular company probably wouldn't have been impacted by that," said President Obama.

Romney, reported the NYT blogger, jumped all over the "hard to explain" bit:

A gaffe? Mr. Romney treated it that way, and in his speech at a factory that makes air filters, he called the statement "something else that shows just how much out of touch" the president is.

"He said he didn't understand that Obamacare was hurting small business," Mr. Romney said. "You have to scratch your head about that."

And Romney cited a 2011 survey of small business owners performed for the US Chamber of Commerce; 75% of those surveyed claimed "the healthcare law makes it harder to hire more employees."

So what makes Romney's talking point "phony"?

Ah, said Bernstein: it's phony because Obama was responding to Breen's question about a particular company, Nemschoff Chairs. (Nemschoff makes furniture for the health care market; that turns out to be important.)

Nemschoff, as it turns out, is not closing up shop entirely, just its facility in Sioux Center, Iowa. And, although it's not great news for the 111 Nemschoff employees losing their jobs in Iowa, some (smaller) number of jobs will open up in Wisconsin, the company's other location.

Bernstein scoffs:

Oh, it's possible that the company in question claimed that Obamacare was responsible. But I'll put heavy, heavy money on the proposition that this move was made for simple, boring business reasons that had nothing at all to do with anything coming out of Washington.

So, Bernstein claims, Obama was totally correct to find the facts behind Breen's question "hard to explain"; therefore Romney's deduction that Obama is "out of touch" is, like, totally phony. Q.E.D.

Bernstein apparently failed to spend a few seconds Googling for what the company actually said a couple weeks ago about the closure:

[…] representatives from Nemschoff's Parent Company Herman Miller, Inc. [blame] the new healthcare law and federal regulations for the slow down.

Herman Miller Inc.'s Mark Sherman said, "One of the big challenges we continue to face is a lot of healthcare customers have delayed spending on their facilities because of long term uncertainty surrounding the healthcare reform act. We also have more cost with new federal regulatory requirements."

Bernstein's post went up at 10:50am on Wednesday June 13. At 2:09pm later that day, perhaps after noticing that Bernstein's claims were unsubstantiated, and contradicted by the company itself, Greg Sargent proceeded to … double down:

It turns out that the company didn't close because of Obamacare at all, according to a company spokesperson. What's more, the company sees lack of demand as the key problem -- a lack of demand that is partly due to the drive to repeal or modify Obamacare, not to the implementation of the law itself.

Sargent hectored company spokesman Mark Schurman (who I would bet is the same guy as the "Mark Sherman" quoted above) to spin his previous remarks:

"The ongoing uncertainty surrounding what health care reform will take place has caused some health care provider customers and other related aspects of the industry to defer investments in their facilities," Schurman said.

"The issue is not the administration's proposed reforms," he continued. "The issue is that there is no certainty as to what reform is going to look like. Is it going to be repealed or modified? Is it going to be decided in June by the Supreme Court, or the election? Or decided through a series of lawsuits?"

"The uncertainty is caused by the ongoing debate," Schurman said. "Were there no ongoing debate, there would be no uncertainty."

Sargent apparently didn't ask Schurman to reconcile his current comments with the ones he made when the closing was announced.

So the adjusted Sargent/Bernstein argument seems to be: hey, Obama and the Democrats may have punched through wildly unpopular legislation of dubious constitutionality, but none of the resulting uncertainty is their fault. Therefore job losses based on that uncertainty are not their fault either. Therefore Romney's talking point about job losses caused by Obamacare are phony. Again, Q.E.D.

Here's why that's nonsense:

  • One of Obamacare's selling points was cost containment: to decrease the share of national income spent on health care. (You may not believe that can be accomplished via massive state subsidies, regulations, mandates, penalties, taxes, etc. You would be correct. But, still, that was the argument.)

  • So, even if Obamacare were implemented flawlessly, and delivered what its supporters promised, the American health sector would find itself under new spending constraints. That was the idea.

  • Obviously, one of the first things to be cut back: cosmetic high-end fripperies.

  • Specifically, it's child's play to foresee a declining market in fancy furniture from a Herman Miller subsidiary.

  • So, whether caused by "uncertainty" or not, the outlook for Nemschoff Chairs looks less than healthy, thanks to Obamacare.

Probably Obama, in his honest private moments, understands this: any massive government-run shakeup in the private sector is going to produce winners and losers. Nemschoff Chairs is almost certainly a loser. Expecting Obama to be honest about this is silly, but when he pretends to be puzzled instead, that's phoniness.

Now, I'm not sure if the political writers at the WaPo understand that. But if so, they get a fancy Nemschoff chair to pull up to the table at this week's phony feast.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:55 PM EST