Opinion

The Great Debate

What the DSK affair taught Herman Cain

By Amanda Marcotte
The views expressed are her own.

Few events can tune Beltway TVs to C-SPAN like a sex scandal press conference. Yesterday, Herman Cain, as expected, issued a blanket denial of all accusations of sexual harassment, including the two incidents that ended in settlements between the National Restaurant Association and the complainants. But Cain didn’t limit himself to denials. He went on to cast aspersions on the mental health of the one accuser, Sharon Bialek, calling her a “troubled woman” being exploited by the “Democrat machine”.

The only surprising thing about Cain’s invective is that it came straight from his mouth. Most politicians keep their distance from the muck, leaving surrogates to the job of denigrating foes. In general, though, evoking negative stereotypes about women’s mental health is standard-operating-procedure for those trying to pry public figures from accusations of sexual harassment and abuse. As history has shown, changing the conversation from the accusation of what he did to gossiping about who she is works remarkably well to protect those accused of sexual misconduct. Even in cases with substantive evidence behind the allegations, and even when the accuser’s character has no bearing on the facts of the case.

For a quick lesson in how this routine works, look at Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged attempted rape of a hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo. The initial reports stuck to the evidence at hand: the DNA samples, the evidence from the rape kit, the testimony from those who assisted the alleged victim. Strauss-Kahn’s defense team, however, moved swiftly to change the subject to the more fruitful topic of the character of the accuser.  Stories began to trickle out to the media: The accuser had unsavory friends. She had acknowledged Strauss-Kahn’s wealth during a private discussion of the case. She had lied to immigration officials about past sexual abuse to improve her application. There were insinuations about her sexual behavior and her mental health. The leaks worked; once the mainstream media started talking about Diallo’s history, they stopped talking as much about Strauss-Kahn’s. Even more importantly, they stopped talking about the evidence collected by the police.

Call it the “nutty and slutty” strategy, after David Brock’s infamous characterization of Anita Hill in the wake of the Clarence Thomas hearings. The hearings are well-known for making sexual harassment a national issue, but that case also helped set the pattern for changing the subject when a prominent man is accused of sexual harassment or assault. The process goes something like this:

1. Accusations are initially treated seriously, with straightforward media reports on the evidence and implications.

The Democrats’ opportunity in the supercommittee’s failure

By Nicholas Wapshott
All opinions expressed are his own.

Thanksgiving, I don’t have to remind you, marks the settling of irreconcilable differences between the early settlers and the original Americans, the burying of the hatchet, as it were, between Christians and heathens. If only this Thanksgiving marked the same.

The Congressional supercommittee that was created to find $1.2 trillion in spending cuts has until November 23, the night before Thanksgiving, to find a way to pay down the national debt. But things look bleak. Former Bill Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles, whose own deficit cutting plan dribbled into the sand, told the committee the prospect of their reaching an agreement is no more than 50-50. If there is going to be any burying of the hatchet this Thanksgiving, it may be deep in someone’s cranium.

The arguments in the committee echo the ill-tempered debate in the summer over extending the federal debt ceiling. As before, the Democrats will only agree to entitlement cuts if the Republicans agree to raise taxes on the wealthy. As tax breaks for the rich have become an article of faith for Republicans, compromise seems unlikely. Intransigence is the order of the day.

The Keynes-Hayek showdown

By Nicholas Wapshott
The views expressed are his own.

Eighty years ago an anguished debate between two economists began in Britain — and came to shape the politics of the world after World War Two. The differences between John Maynard Keynes and his nemesis Friedrich Hayek sharply described alternative approaches to addressing the ebb and flow of the business cycle, with Keynes arguing that to put the jobless back to work governments could and should intervene in the market and Hayek insisting that such actions were based on an inadequate understanding of how economics really worked and would only delay the day of reckoning.

That snarky disagreement was so vicious and ill-mannered that one old-school economics professor described it as “the method of the duello” being “conducted in the manner of Kilkenny cats.” On Tuesday, in the Asia Society on Park Avenue, New York, two teams of economists, one representing Keynes, the other Hayek, will slug it out before an audience of 250 and bring the debate to America. Seventy years ago, Keynes’s ideas were eagerly embraced by young American economists who began implementing the Cambridge economist’s ideas first in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, then in every government until Jimmy Carter, when Hayek’s disciple Milton Friedman introduced monetarism as a guiding principle.

The Keynes-Hayek debate has never been so topical. Today the fault line between right and left can be defined as the difference between those, like President Obama, who believe that the broken economy can be fixed by the government providing a giant fiscal stimulus, and those, like all the Republican presidential contenders, who believe government in America is too big and should be dismantled to make way for the operation of the free market. While Obama pushes his Jobs Bill, which would inject about half a trillion dollars into the economy, the GOP in the House is preventing any such manipulation of the economy from taking place.

What do Rick Perry and pro sports teams have in common?

By Matt Rognlie
The opinions expressed are his own.

They use the same shady economic methodology to promote their policies.

If you follow the news, you’re familiar with “IMPLAN”, albeit indirectly. It’s the software package underlying the studies that pro sports teams, among others clamoring for public favors, use to claim that each new stadium will generate several gazillion dollars for the local economy—supposedly justifying a massive public outlay. Here’s a study using IMPLAN to justify a new Sacramento Kings stadium; here’s another that looks at the proposed Santa Clara stadium for the 49ers and another that attempts to justify a new stadium for the A’s. There are studies looking at the impact of the Mavericks’ American Airlines Center, the Packers’ Lambeau Field, and Oriole Park. And, of course, there are countless others: whenever someone wants to make preposterous claims about the benefits of his pet project, he’ll inevitably turn to IMPLAN or a similar package. There’s an obvious element of pseudoscience to these studies. They use “input-output” models that painstakingly track the path of spending through the economy—a worthy goal, though perhaps an overambitious one. But they fail entirely to model the supply side of the economy, effectively assuming that there is unlimited capacity, and that each additional dollar of “spending” (magically generated by the new stadium) will become an additional dollar of economic activity—even more, in fact, after you account for the multiplier.

Strangely enough, Rick Perry’s campaign is using the same model to analyze his tax plan, in a context where it makes even less sense.

As James Pethokoukis explains, the Rick Perry presidential campaign has contracted with John Dunham and Associates to run a revenue analysis of Perry’s new tax plan. The impact of the plan depends on your choice of baseline policy: it raises $4.7 trillion less than the CBO baseline for 2014-2020 under conventional, static scoring, and $1.7 trillion less under “dynamic scoring”. Relative to the CBO’s more arguably realistic alternate baseline, the plan does better. But regardless of your preferred baseline, it’s clear that the plausibility of Dunham’s “dynamic scoring” model is key: it provides an additional $3 trillion over only 6 years!

from Ian Bremmer:

Romney’s foreign policy: Reagan redux

By Ian Bremmer
The views expressed are his own.

After yet another GOP debate where foreign policy took a near-total backseat to economic and domestic policy, Mitt Romney is in the catbird seat for the nomination. He even locked up the endorsement of Tea Party AND Republican machine favorite, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Romney’s only problem: it’s October 2011. Not one primary has yet taken place. Romney will have to return to his foreign policy platform to expand it, should he be fortunate enough to make it to the general election. And based on the speech he gave at The Citadel, we can already see that Mitt Romney intends to return to the American exceptionalism of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush eras.

For Romney, as for many politicians of both parties in decades past, the United States is not just a big and powerful country. Rather, it is the only country in the world that deserves superpower status. What’s unfortunate for Mitt and his all-star, Bush-heavy foreign policy team is that, these days, that line of thinking is more nostalgic than realistic. (By the way, though Romney was almost bombastic at times, calling Iran’s leaders “suicidal fanatics,” his actual policies are unlikely to reflect or adopt that tone -- at least not with his foreign policy team as constituted now.) The idea of the U.S. as the leader of the free world is at a post-WWII nadir. However, that’s not because some other country, like China, has risen to fill the vacuum. No, the fault is wholly our own.

In fact, right now there’s a global debate about whether the U.S. really deserves its superpower mantle, given the political and economic issues of recent years that have unquestionably eroded its leadership position. It’s helpful to compare the two camps:

from Newsmaker:

Wait, now the right hates General Electric?

By James Ledbetter
The opinions expressed are his own.

For many years, the River Café, an elegant restaurant that sits just below the Brooklyn Bridge, had a plaque on its wall declaring, in effect, “If you work for General Electric, go eat somewhere else.”

This unusual exclusion policy had a simple explanation: for three decades, two GE plants in upstate New York dumped as much as 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River, poisoning the fish supply that River Café depends on. The effect that this contamination had on wildlife—and on anyone who ate too much fish caught in the Hudson—was severe enough to create one of the largest Superfund projects in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Hudson pollution was not unique; the bend of the Housatonic River in Connecticut where I grew up was frequently unswimmable, because of PCBs floating down from a GE plant in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Another aqueous assault, another massive taxpayer-funded cleanup. (Update: A GE spokesman tells me that the company paid for the cleanup of both rivers. Of course, there were also costs to taxpayers, but this is an important distinction.)

from Ian Bremmer:

Why the GOP is punting on foreign policy

By Ian Bremmer
The opinions expressed are his own.

Three years ago in the presidential primary debates, it would’ve been stunning if practically the only mention of foreign policy had come when a candidate suggested sending troops to Mexico to help fight the drug war. Yet in this year’s contentious Republican debate season, that’s exactly what’s happened, with Texas Governor Rick Perry being the one to float the lead trial balloon.

The surprise here isn’t that Republican candidates’ views on foreign policy are both underdeveloped and unimportant to their base -- more on both of those points later -- but how dramatically our world has changed in the past three years, largely due to the global financial crisis and recession.

Let’s think back even further, to 2000, when another Texas Governor, George W. Bush, promised America that he wouldn’t engage in Clintonian “nation-building” if elected. Needless to say, the shock of 9/11 changed the international calculus, forcing the Bush administration to develop a response that involved two wars and intense diplomacy with nearly every global power and international institution in existence. But the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has provided a symbolic moment of closure. More importantly, President Obama has largely kept his promise to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, outlining a plan more in line with opinion polls than General Petraeus’ guidance.   (Sadly, the withdrawal doesn’t mean Afghanistan won’t face quagmire -- it just means U.S. forces won’t be the ones bogged down.)

Why the GOP defends the wealthy

By David Callahan
The opinions expressed are his own.

With polls showing strong public support for tax hikes on the rich, Republicans should hardly relish a fight with President Obama over “class warfare.” And yet, for weeks, GOP leaders have been bashing the White House for a tax plan that affects just 2 percent of U.S. households and lets the rest of us off the hook.

How is this smart politics?

Maybe it isn’t, but sticking up for the rich is more popular than one might think – and not just in Palm Beach. America is a famously aspirational country and Republicans have long sought to ally themselves with that ethos. If you want to make a pile of money, the GOP is the party for you – or so they say. It vows to clear away barriers to getting rich, like pesky employer healthcare mandates and environmental rules, and let you keep more of your winnings.

Meanwhile, the conservative story goes, all the left cares about is social leveling. Democrats want to punish the successful in order to subsidize the losers, leading us toward a dreary future in which America’s hot shots no longer even make an effort and everyone ends up poorer. As Fox News puts it, Obama favors “takers” over “makers.”

Why Obama needs a primary challenge

By Nicholas Wapshott
The opinions expressed are his own.

There is talk in the air of a Democratic challenge to Obama. Since the Tea Party won the battle of the debt ceiling, it has been solid bad news for the president, and his party is wondering whether he is capable – or even genuinely wants – a second term. It is all very well being the world’s coolest guy, but, when you are leader of a party losing rock solid safe seats and alienating the very independent voters who decide who lives in the White House, you may be  leaving it a bit late to turn the tide. In the latest teasing McClatchy-Maris poll, Obama is both facing defeat — Americans say they will vote against him by 49 percent to 36, with 52 percent to 38 predicting he will lose — but he would beat every GOP candidate currently on offer.

No sooner had James Carville shouted “Panic!” about the state of drift in the West Wing, and demanded that “a lot” of heads roll, than Al Gore’s nemesis, Ralph Nader, announced he was championing a Democratic primary challenge to Obama from half a dozen candidates, though Nader is not even a registered Democrat. According to the Washington Times, an unlikely bellwether of liberal thinking, “More than 45 Democrats are supporting the move, and the candidates will be experts in fields ranging from poverty to the military.”

Among the mavericks named to lead this progressive revolt are the Princeton professor who starred in The Matrix Reloaded movie, Cornel West, the Zen Buddhist priest and actor Peter Coyote, the singer of Anchorage, Michelle Shocked, and the Democrats’ answer to William F. Buckley Jr., Gore Vidal. Asked whether he would be a stalking horse, the usually immodest kamikaze presidential wannabe Dennis Kucinich said he would decline the chance to stand himself, but said, “I think he should [face a Democratic challenger]. It would make him a better president.”

Tea Party has morphed culture wars into economic combat

By Nicholas Wapshott
The opinions expressed are his own.

As Margot Channing put it in All About Eve, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” The battle over Obama’s jobs bill marks the opening of the Keynes Hayek election, which, if the poisonous duel between the two giants of economics is anything to go by, will be a down and dirty clash of opposites. Obama will champion intervening in the economy to get Americans back to work, while his rival will demand a shrunken government and the speedy repayment of the national debt.

The first shots in this snarky contest have already been fired. Take Obama’s dismissal, in his speech to both houses of Congress, of the Hayekian notion that government is too costly and largely unnecessary: “This larger notion – that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own — that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.” Obama finds himself defending the whole of the Democrats’ progressive record, from Roosevelt’s New Deal to Johnson’s Big Society.

Most aggressive in his assault upon Keynesianism is Rick Perry, who declared in the Reagan Library last week that Obama “has proven for once and for all that government spending will not create one job. Keynesian policy and Keynesian theory is now done. We’ll never have to have that experiment on America again.” Gingrich, too, thinks “the American people create jobs, not government.” Most Hayekian is Ron Paul, who said his first act in the White House would be to “bring a course in Austrian economics to teach the people the business cycle and why the Fed creates inflation and depressions and all our unemployment problems.”

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