The US is experiencing sluggish growth, high and persistent unemployment, and a trade deficit that has widened again this year. The country’s mood is bleak. As you may have noticed, elections are approaching. Amid all the talk of a “currency war” between the US and China, the greatest surprise may be that talk, so far, is all we have had.
On Wednesday for the first time the RealClearPolitics “no toss-up” prediction for the Senate was a 50-50 tie. (Nevada flipped, as Sharron Angle moved fractionally ahead of Harry Reid in two new polls.) If the Delaware Tea Party had not succeeded in nominating Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, the projection would be a 51-49 Republican Senate.
NJ’s Josh Kraushaar on Democrats’ false optimism:
House Democrats have begun sounding an optimistic note that they will avoid a midterm wipeout as the base starts tuning in, campaigns engage, and President Obama travels the country reminding voters of the stakes.
A New York Times piece last weekend asserted that the “resilience of vulnerable Democrats” is complicating Republican efforts to win back control of the House, a narrative that quickly took hold in other news outlets. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has flatly refused to entertain the possibility that her majority is at risk, at least publicly.
But when you look at the national polling metrics and the race-by-race picture in the House, there’s little evidence of any Democratic comeback. If anything, Republicans are in as strong a position to win back control of the House as they have been this entire election cycle.
Much of the newfound glimmer of hope comes from a misinterpretation of polling data released by Democratic campaigns and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Many of the polls aren’t all that encouraging for Dems, but have been spun to present a misleadingly optimistic picture.
I recommend the new movie by Bjorn Lomborg and documentary film-maker Ondi Timoner, Cool It, based loosely on Lomborg’s book of the same title. It is a reply to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and much better (effective though Gore’s movie was as propaganda). I went to a screening of the nearly final version at the Heritage Foundation yesterday. It is well done. Not just watchable but absorbing all the way through, and extremely persuasive.
I was a little concerned as the film got going that it would be essentially a profile of Lomborg. There’s a chunk of stuff at the start about what a nice guy he is. He has been a friend since I took his side in the controversy that followed the publication of the Skeptical Environmentalist–a terrific book–so I didn’t need to be told that he is conscientious, unfailingly courteous, and sweet-natured. Many others, I suppose, do need to be told this–since he is usually represented by environmentalists as a satanic figure, beguilingly kitted out in T-shirt and jeans, intent on planetary catastrophe. Still, I was glad the personal stuff quickly gave way to an urgent, intelligent, and entertaining account of the climate policy debate, with a strong focus on cost-effective solutions.
An arresting if perplexing blog post from Jonathan Cohn. He calls for more fraud and abuse in government spending. If that is the price one must pay for ramping up public spending more quickly, he argues, it could be worth it.
[E]fficiency isn’t the Recovery Act’s primary purpose. Reviving the economy is. And that’s required spending a vast amount of money very quickly—a goal that, inevitably, is at odds with spending the money carefully. Or, to put it another way, a stimulus that threw a little more money away might have created more jobs.
Where to begin? Most obviously, the main obstacle to further stimulus is popular resistance. “We promise to waste more of your money” might do little to ease that particular constraint. Remembering the emphasis that Democrats have rightly placed up to now on getting good value, I worry it could also complicate the message.
But presentation and winning the public’s confidence aren’t everything. Set these aside. Is the economics correct?
Opinion polls continue to say that Democrats will do badly in next month’s midterm elections. Most analysts expect the Republicans to gain control of the House of Representatives. Many give them a chance of winning control of the Senate, too – which ought to be impossible in a year when the seats up for grabs put the Grand Old Party at a disadvantage.
The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute had a notable success, I think, with the Washington Ideas Forum, which took place yesterday and today. Things ran rapidly and more smoothly than they had any right to: all praise to the Atlantic’s remarkable events team. The Newseum is a wonderful venue by the way; if you are visiting DC, put it on your list.
You can check out the video clips and notes on the forum’s website. Highlights for me were, first, the interview with Michael Bloomberg–a sparkling performance, and how refreshing to hear a politician explaining why he won’t run (in this case, for president) in two words: “Can’t win.” I wonder if he is right about that. (The link now has the full video.) Walter Isaacson also did a great interview with Ken Feinberg (whom I also once interviewed at a Georgetown Law and Aspen event, but not so expertly).
In other WIF news, I moderated a discussion of “the sustainable energy state”. I have long thought “sustainable” a term best avoided, though I find it creeping into my head (and my articles) now and then. Few good things are sustainable, it seems to me, and many bad ones (such as economic stagnation) can be sustained quite easily. Honour-bound not to attack the title of my own session, I was pleased that Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute said that very thing–and even more pleased, and surprised, that the point commanded almost universal agreement in a group that represented every shade of opinion on energy policy. Sustainability is the wrong model, he said: we need a new vocabulary that recognises the need for ceaseless change and innovation. Yes, we do.
In the evening I moderated a discussion on financial regulation. Pleased to say, I could relax: Douglas Elliott of Brookings was there and in his modest way did all the heavy lifting. What an asset to that think-tank and the wider conversation he is: calm, measured, deeply informed, and no suggestion of a partisan axe to grind. These traits should not be rare in the policy and think-tank world, but they are. I’ve linked to his commentary on the financial crisis and the response to it before. (Read his take on the Basel bank-capital accord–more generous than mine.) Thanks, Doug.