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and Statistics

It should have been an easy win.  The Republicans hadn’t held that seat in the Senate since John F. Kennedy defeated Henry Cabot Lodge in 1952.  But something went terribly wrong, something that will probably echo through the summer and into the mid-term election this November.  That means that the Democrats have 10 months to either figure out what’s wrong or descend into a paralyzing psychoanalysis about the past, present and future of the party.

Guess which I think is going to happen?

The immediate problem was easily summed up by the person who was out on the campaign and saw it firsthand – the problem is anger.  Martha Coakley said in her concession speech, “Anyone who’s been out on the campaign trail, particularly in this race, has seen the anger of folks who are frustrated, concerned.” That’s true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t tell us what to do about it.  That’s the fight ahead.

Rep. Richard Neal tells us, “The alarm clock has gone off.  We fell into the trap of post-partisanship.  I’m all in favor of being post-partisan as long as the other party is post-partisan.”

Sen. Evan Bayh, who is up for re-election, sees this as less of a partisan fight and more of a call to be centrist. “It’s why moderates and independents even in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts just aren’t buying our message,” he said. “They just don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems. That’s something that has to be corrected.”

“Whatever happens on health care, we’ve got to focus on jobs,” said Sen. Bob Casey, who saw this as a wake-up call to start creating jobs.

This does not look like broad disagreement among Democratic leaders on the surface of it.  The economy is tanking hard and people are angry about it – they want the people in charge to understand what is going on out in the real world.  Where this becomes a serious problem for the Democrats is exactly the extent to which the members of the party are not, after all, connected with the reality of the situation.  That’s why I have little hope that this will go well.

If anyone knows what needs to be done we should reasonably turn to our leader on all things economic, Secretary Geithner. He is being hauled before the House Committee on Oversight today to answer a simple question on the AIG bailout –  “Why (did) these companies received full compensation, when the best they could have hoped for in a bankruptcy proceeding was perhaps 30 or 40 cents on the dollar?” as Rep. Edolphus Towns has asked publicly.

The answer is a simple one.  The people in charge of things knew that they weren’t defending AIG, they were defending the entire system.  AIG was already dead by the time the bailout started.  If they didn’t inject a lot of cash into the system, fast, that we would be looking at a situation that everyone would easily call a Depression.

That doesn’t sound like a lie, and it wasn’t.  But no one, including Geithner, has been completely honest about why so much cash was thrown into the system in a hurry.  To do so would be to admit just how bad it really is, which is to say admit what people across the USofA, including Massachusetts, know in their guts.

This is a Depression.  It’s unique among the five or so Depressions we’re suffered through in our history in that the Federal Government has been on top of it and papered things over with dollar bills as neatly as they could.  But it’s still a Depression.

That’s why we have what is cynically called a “Statistical Recovery”.  “The numbers look good, quit yer whining!” is the best translation of that term.  But while the numbers that we are using to make policy show a recovery, the reality is something very different.  Somewhere along the line the lack of directness about the bailout became a series of numbers that, without question, are a kind of lie.

“There are three kinds of lies in politics,” Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli observed in the 1870s, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Many people on the Left have been rightly upset about the damned lies told about Obama and other Democrats lately.  However, the lies being told by our statistics aren’t helping things much, either.  Did the good people of Massachusetts go Republican for the first time in 58 years because they want the Democrats to fight more for their values or because they want a shift to the center?  My guess is that it’s neither.  I’m willing to bet that people want nothing more than the truth.  Things really are bad out here, and don’t try to tell us that it’s already getting better.

I’m also willing to bet that the message will be lost in a partisan flurry.  But the contest isn’t between left, right and center, it’s between reality and something that’s not quite a fantasy.  Guess who I’ll put my money on in that contest?

14 thoughts on “and Statistics

  1. Right on. Until we get real about the situation, it’s not going to get better. That’s not politics in any way anyone is talking now.

  2. I can’t believe that Mass went for a conservative Republican. It’s just too weird to think about. People must be really angry about the situation, and I think you’ve hit on a good reason why. But this is so far outside of what anyone could expect. I hope this is a wake-up call.

  3. What I think it comes down to is that the leadership we have thinks they can manage their way out of the situation. All they seem to want to do is to make the numbers look good, like any middle-range bureaucrat would do – and since numbers don’t lie, the situation must be good. Right?

    The problem comes when everyone starts to believe their own BS. That’s not just a problem in Washingtoon, that’s a problem just about everywhere. Thing is that just enough people seem to realize that no one really understands what is really going on and they’re angry about it.

    Why shouldn’t they be? If you want to lead, the first thing you have to have is a firm grasp on reality. Without a good map of where you are you can’t go anywhere.

  4. I was going to say that I hope the Democrats don’t squander a huge ,ajority so easily, but I think they already have. If we can’t get anything done with 60 senators, why is 59 any different?

  5. What did we get for the 700 billion dollar$? Ok, you want to argue that it had to be done. But what was different about that or GM than the millions of other jobs that people depend on? Why did our government pick them as the winners and the rest of us as losers?

    That is what make this socialism, and it reeks.

  6. I think what it comes down to is that we had to stabilize the system long enough to buy us some time. That’s what Keynsianism does, ultimately – buy you enough time to make the inevitable Restructuring less painful.

    It is not, however, a permanent solution. Right now it is being treated as if it is one, however. We’ve had negative economic growth in the economy as a whole since 2001 – once you subtract out the Federal deficits that have been with us for a decade. That’s the time we successfully bought, but we have been squandering it.

    I’m afraid that we can’t buy much more time. Call what’s going on “socialism” or anything you want, but it’s hard to call it “sustainable” at the very least. I think that the bailout was inevitable, but it had to be seen as a temporary solution. Long term? Make it into a kind of insurance program, to pay it back, and figure out what made the economy fail in the first place.

    Anything less ignores the reality of this stituation, and I’m arguing that’s exactly what we are doing. I’m also arguing that while people may not understand the details of what needs to be done, they sure seem to understand that we’re ignoring reality. If the “leaders” don’t get a handle on things populism will throw its support behind any number of potential solutions that sound good but aren’t really any more sensible than what we’re trying. That’s when it gets a lot worse – and even more angry.

  7. Sorry but part of me does not know what it is you are getting at. I am not sure people realize how fragile democracy is and how easily it can break (redundant I know). I’m not much of an original or accomplished thinker but I do like to harp a bit on the gini coefficient. Anyways in my younger days I volunteered quite a bit with Progressive Minnesota and we were door knocking and gathering signatures and support for affordable housing. A middle aged man asked why he should care about this and I muttered something about Timothy McVeigh and his frustrations with fitting back into civilian life with a girlfriend and a young child and look what happened. A very poor response I know. Anyways I don’t think we are any more free from terror than we were pre Oklahoma/ pre911 In fact many are probably more terrorized now. Now terror obviously must determine some of our choices ( god how’s that for 100%) Anyways do me a favor read eva etzonis’ “fragile democracy” interview her and give me a clue because I’m too lazy working 10 hour days you know. Keep writing bud and once again according to my wife and I who were the only ones in the theater everyone should see the #1 Bollywood film 3 idiots.

  8. Rereading some of the McVeigh wikipedia is chilling. All these Iraq vets out there with PTSD its chilling.

  9. hey if you want to read a great local paper with a natl following google Anderson valley advertiser. I started reading it after the Chiapas uprising (with a nod to local Steve Perry) followed it for 10 years and gave it up after Bruce Anderson temporarily retired. Well its back and it online!!!

  10. OK I got a nites sleep. I think this is an amorphous social protest movement (as such any metrics are going to be very poor). For me it is hard to identify any leaders yet as it seems fairly anti altho I do think Michelle is as hot as shania twain. It is probably also pretty incoherent the real problem of the governing elites (and I don’t use that term disdainfully necessarily) is if the Glenn beck crowd attracts younger demographics and hispanics (the part that evangelicals and catholics may play a part. They get more cohernet and more focused and leadership emerges and they synergize(theres a better word but I’m in a rush) the new social network technologies. Back to work after a quik coffee brake (intentional)

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