MrsDarwin has done the public service of reading through the entirety of the Grand Jury Report on the Gosnell case. The following is a reprint of her post.
Tell me yourself, I challenge you — answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature — that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance — and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.
pg. 101: After the baby was expelled, Cross noticed that he was breathing, though not for long. After about 10 to 20 seconds, while the mother was asleep, “the doctor just slit the neck,” said Cross. Gosnell put the boy’s body in a shoebox. Cross described the baby as so big that his feet and arms hung out over the sides of the container. Cross said that she saw the baby move after his neck was cut, and after the doctor placed it in the shoebox. Gosnell told her, “it’s the baby’s reflexes. It’s not really moving.”
The neonatologist testified that what Gosnell told his people was absolutely false. If a baby moves, it is alive. Equally troubling, it feels a “tremendous amount of pain” when its spinal cord is severed. So, the fact that Baby Boy A. continued to move after his spinal cord was cut with scissors means that he did not die instantly. Maybe the cord was not completely severed. In any case, his few moments of life were spent in excruciating pain.
Gosnell was an eager butcher, one who was willing to torture babies for women under the desperate illusion that they could attain “peace and rest at last” through this “foundation of the unexpiated blood of a little victim”, as Ivan puts it. He had a psychopathic distain for the external nicetices of the abortion business: the sterile clinic, the efficient staff, the quiet, hidden murder and the quick disposal of the bodies. It was all in the open at 3801 N. Lancaster St., insanely blatant in the sheer horrific scale of murder, murders of babies born alive, infanticide, violations of the Controlled Substances Act, hindering, obstruction, and tampering, perjury, illegal late-term abortions, violations of the Abortion Control Act, violations of the Controlled Substances Act, abuse of corpse, theft by deception, conspiracy, corrupt organization, and corruption of minors.
Think I’m exaggerating? Those are the charges recommended against Gosnell and members of his staff by the appalled Grand Jury (pg. 219). →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Here’s something to brighten your Friday: The then-Prime Minister delivering, absolutely deadpan, the Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch.
The Liberal Democrat logo which she’s referring to is this:
Despite the PM’s brilliant delivery, I did miss the line about how, if the parrot weren’t nailed to his perch, he’d be pushing up daisies. Here’s the original for your perusal:
This last week marked the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War and so it offered many pundits a chance to write anguished pieces of self examination in which they told why they wish they had opposed the Iraq War. (Then there’s the variant in which those who were opposed all along snear at those who are late to the anti-war party.)
My reactionary tendency revolts against the late breaking attempt to jump on the band wagon, but even setting that aside I can’t find it in myself to see toppling Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship as an unworthy endeavour. If anything, the main injustice I see in the Iraq War was in not having gone all the way to Bagdad in 1991. We left the Iraqi people hanging out to dry in 1991, allowing Hussein to crush the uprising which we encouraged but failed to support. Hussein remained a brutal dictator, but one ruling at our sufferance from 1991 to 2003. I think removing him at any point during that time would have been a just and noble action.
Certainly, there is a great deal that could have been done better in the aftermath of the invasion and toppling of the regime. I wish that it had been done better and that suffering and loss of life, both Iraqi and American, had thus been less. It seems odd, however, to argue that ending Hussein’s dictatorship could only be just if we knew for a certainty ahead of time that all of our actions in the region afterwards would be carried out with competence and success.
There’s a lot that the Bush Administration can be blamed for, and in many ways the Iraq War and its aftermath were ill-managed. But even in its current unpopularity, I still support the basic justice of seeking to finish the job that we started in 1991 and end one of the world’s nastier little dictatorships while it was still easy to do so.
One of the things that’s been bothering me (as well as several other good bloggers I read) in the days since the election of Pope Francis is the seeming need of many to identify a single cookie-cutter model which every “good” pope most follow. I recall some of this when Benedict succeeded John Paul, but it was perhaps more muted both by a certain gravity stemming from John Paul’s very public death and funeral, and also by the fact that the although we certainly lived in a “new media” age then, it hadn’t gained the dizzying speed which social media has since provided to “reax”.
Thus it seems as if much of the coverage of the new pope boils down to, “Francis isn’t as intellectual and liturgically focused as Benedict, so he’s not as good” or else “Francis is so ‘humble’ and focused on the poor, he’s clearly a much better pope than Benedict”. Then there’s the next level of escallation in which each side tries to steal the virtues of the other: Oh yeah, well if Francis were really humble he wouldn’t insist on simplicity, which is really a subtle exercise in saying “look at me”! You say Francis cares about the poor and about simplicity? Well look how much Benedict cared about the poor and about simplicity!
I think this quickly gets silly, and more to the point it starts to act as if there is only gone right way for the pope to act. The fact is, being the shepherd of God’s flock on earth is a job large enough that there are multiple different ways of doing it that are right. (Which is not to say that every way is right, obviously, we’ve had some pretty bad popes over the centuries.)
It seems to me that John Paul II’s dense intellectualism combined with his oversize and highly charismatic personality was arguably exactly what the Church needed at the time of his pontificate — as we emerged from a time in which it seemed like the roof was coming down and everything was up for grabs. Benedict’s liturgical focus was another thing that the Church desperately needed at the time that he was chosen — and I think that his ability to write deeply yet clearly was also a huge need. If John Paul II’s struggle to incorporate Catholic teaching and a moderl philosophical understanding of the human person were something very much needed in our modern era, I at the same time suspect that Benedict’s books (both his books about the life of Christ and the many books he wrote prior to his pontificate) may actually be read more often by ordinary Catholics in the coming decades than anything that John Paul II wrote.
Similarly, I think that Francis’ intentional simplicity is something that we need to see in our pope at times. This is not to say that Benedict and John Paul were not simple. They were, though in different ways. But while not every saint needs (or should) be simple in the sort of over-the-top way that our pope’s namesake St. Francis of Assisi was, St. Francis nonetheless remains a good saint to have. That it is good that we have St. Francis as an example does not mean that every other saint is the less for not being St. Francis. (I mean, let’s be honest, St. Francis could be kind of nuts.) And similarly, admiration of Pope Francis’s qualities need not, and indeed should not, be turned into a criticism of other popes for not being like him in every way.
Donald McClarey has a well deserved barn-burner of a post up at The American Catholic about a new book entitled The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom out from University of Notre Dame theology professor Candida Moss. I’d seen a couple articles on this book before it came out and more or less passed over them as yet another fluffy work of pop scholarship intent on telling us that “everything we know is wrong” in relation to Christianity. However, the book appears to be getting a certain amount of press and is climbing the Amazon sales ranks, so it’s worth giving it a bit of attention as the politically motivated pop-history that it is.
I initially became interested in this subject because of a homily I heard that compared the situation facing modern Christians in America to the martyrs of the early church. I was surprised by the comparison because modern Americans aren’t living in fear for their lives and the analogy seemed a little hyperbolic and sensational. After this, I began to notice the language of persecution and victimization being bandied about everywhere from politics, to sermons, to the media, but rarely in regard to situations that involve imprisonment and violence.
She goes on to argue that modern Christians have a view that persecution of the early Church was pervasive when it was in fact not:
[A] lot of weight rests on the idea that Christians were persecuted in the early church because, without the idea of near-continuous persecution, it would be difficult to recast, say, disagreements about the role of prayer in schools as persecution. … But intriguingly, the historical evidence for systematic persecution of Christians by Jews and Romans is actually very slim. There were only a few years before the rise of the emperor Constantine that Christians were sought out by the authorities just for being Christians. The stories about early Christian martyrs have been edited, expanded, and sometimes even invented, giving the impression that Christians were under constant attack. This mistaken impression is important because it fosters a sense of Christian victimhood and that victim mentality continues to rear its head in modern politics and society. It’s difficult to imagine that people could make the same claims about persecution today were it not for the idea that Christians have always been persecuted.
This post is a somewhat condensed version of a three post series that I posted on my personal blog last week.
In the coming weeks, we’re going to hear a lot about “assault weapons”. This term is one that makes those who are informed about guns climb the walls a bit. “Assault weapon” is a legal term which was created by a series of gun control laws in the late ’80s and early ’90s culminating in the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Ban. However, the term was coined to sound like the military technology term “assault rifle” (many even use the terms interchangeably.) Assault rifles were a development in military technology coming out of World War II, and it’s there that I’d like to start this story.
Battle Rifle to Assault Rifle
During World War II the need for a lighter gun suitable for rapid fire became increasingly obvious. The roughly .30 caliber battle rifles that were standard issue for all WW2 armies fired very powerful cartridges and were accurate out to distances over 600 yards. However, although the rifles were technically accurate at such long distances, few soldiers had the skill to am the well at long range, and the vast majority of battlefield shooting was conducted at distances of 300 yards or less. Moreover, in WW2’s highly mobile tactics, the ability of infantry soldiers to lay down effective suppressing fire had become important. For most of the war this was achieved through specialization. Most infantry soldiers carried full size battle rifles like the American semi-automatic M1 Garand and the German bolt action K98, while a smaller number of soldiers were issued sub machine guns — lighter weapons which could shoot in fully automatic (firing continuously as long as the trigger was held down) or burst mode (firing bursts of 3-5 shots every time the trigger was pulled.) To make then easy to handle (and allow them to carry more rounds) sub machine guns shot smaller, pistol cartridges rather than a full size rifle cartridge and were thus suitable only for short range.
|Tom Hanks holding a Thompson
Sub Machine Gun (chambered for the
.45 APC pistol cartridge) in
Saving Private Ryan
Military technologists were convinced that a cross between a full sized battle rifle and a sub machine gun was needed. Such a gun would shoot a rifle cartridge, but a lighter one which would not have as much recoil as a high power .30 caliber round. It should also be capable of shooting in burst or fully automatic mode as well as semi-automatic mode (one shot for each pull of the trigger.)
Germany produced the first true “assault rifle” near the end of World War II, the Sturmgewehr 44. It shot a shortened .30 caliber bullet with a lighter charge of powder behind it, making the recoil lighter and the ammunition cheaper to produce and lighter to carry, and it could shoot either in semi-auto or full-auto mode. By late 1943, however, the tide was already turning against Germany and its manufacturing capacity was waning. Only half a million were ever produced (compared to over 14 million of their full size K98 Mauser bolt action battle rifle.) However, it provided the inspiration for Mikhail Kalashnikov’s development of the AK-47 in Russia after the war. The AK-47 also used a light .30 caliber cartridge and selective fire (the ability to fire either semi-auto or full-auto.) The design became the standard Russian infantry rifle in 1949 and went on to become perhaps the most widely produced rifle design in history. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
I’ve been mostly offline the last couple days due to a business trip — leaving early the morning after the election. I may write a bit about the election itself in a few days, but since I’ve spent the last couple days deeply immersed in ways of visualizing data, these two versions of the election map struck me as really interesting in showing what went on Tuesday.
This first image shows the size of the winning candidate’s margin for each county. (click for a larger view) [source]
This second image shows the direction of change in the vote of each county as compared to 2008.
UPDATE: Okay, one more image because with all the discussion of re-alignment and emerging majorities I couldn’t help putting one together:
One of the things which the candidates sparred over repeatedly in the debates was Romney’s tax plan, on which Obama has repeatedly charged “the math doesn’t work”.
Romney’s plan, as it has been presented, is to reduce tax rates by 20%. Thus, for example, the top rate would go down from the current 35% to 28%. Deductions and credits would then be reduced such that while the middle class would experience a net tax decrease, those at the top would continue to pay the same amount in taxes as they do now. Romney suggested how this might be done in the first debate:
[W]hat are the various ways we could bring down deductions, for instance? One way, for instance, would be to have a single number. Make up a number, $25,000, $50,000. Anybody can have deductions up to that amount. And then that number disappears for high-income people. That’s one way one could do it.
The idea here would be that for a family making, say 60k/yr that currently takes a total of $15k in deductions, the deductions would remain untouched while their rate would go down, resulting in lower net taxes. For a family making $400k/yr that currently takes $70k in deductions, their deductions would be capped at $25k but their tax rate would be lower, so they would pay about the same as they do now.
→']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
President Obama’s performance in the first debate was, unarguably, pretty lethargic, and he took a big hit in the polls shortly afterward. The general wisdom drawn from this, especially on the democratic side of the aisle, seemed to be that what was really needed in the debates was, thus, more aggression. Biden delivered this in his own unique way in the Veep debate, to such an extent that one wondered at times whether he would have to be removed from the stage in a straight jacket, still alternating between wild cackling and angry shouting, but at last he ran out of gas and calmed down in the last 20 minutes. Obama has a sense of personal dignity that Biden lacks, and so although he certainly came to the debate in a pugilistic frame of mind, he didn’t make himself silly in the way that Biden did. Nonetheless, despite the fact that the debate was supposed to feature the candidates answering questions directly from voters, it instead was most notable for intense bouts of the candidates rhetorically hammering each other.
The common wisdom is that this kind of thing turns undecided voters off. I saw some anecdotal evidence of this in the reactions of my less partisan friends on Facebook, one of whom posted in indignation:
Dear Gov Romney and Pres Obama,
Every time you keep talking when you are reminded that a normal citizen has a question for you, you reinforce that you think what you have to say is more important than the concerns of the people of your country. You both lost my vote tonight.
This aside, though, I think the focus on rhetorical dominance and aggression has probably been misplaced. Was it really that Obama’s performance in the first debate was so sluggish that cost him so much in the polls? I don’t think most Americans care whether the president is a skilled debater or not. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Alright, I’m in full political crack monkey mode from here on till the election, so I’ll be the one to throw up the instant reactions thread.
My take: This was not the total blowout that the first presidential debate was. Ryan was calm and professional the entire time. Biden brought his Cerberus-style split personality, one head Cheshire Cat, the other head rabid attack dog. He called Ryan a liar in the very first exchange and kept it up all night, at one point even accusing the moderator of lying. Then, during the last fifteen minutes Biden meds ran out and he fell back on the gravely “I’m so concerned” voice for the rest of the debate.
Overall, I’d rate it a draw. I think partisan Democrats are mostly elated, since all they’ve wanted for the last week is to see someone interrupt a Republican and call him a liar, and Biden did indeed do that constantly. Republicans had nothing to cringe about in Ryan’s performance. Ryan remained cool and collected throughout and scored the one audience reaction line of the night in defusing Biden’s attempt to demagogue the 47% quote.
What Independents will have thought I honestly can’t say, though I see a CNN poll of undecided voters called it for Ryan by a 48 to 44 margin. My guess is, this does nothing to help Obama claw back from his collapse with the ordinary voting public, but it does help the Dem campaign by soothing the utter panic which has gripped much of the left over the last week. I’d guess we’ll see basically consistent poll numbers (between a tie and Romney up one) for the next week until the next Presidential debate. Then we’ll see. The big problem for Obama is that the next debate is strictly foreign policy and the one after that is a town hall meeting, so he never gets to imitate Biden’s mad dog routine on domestic policy.
It seems, at the moment, like one of the best ways to start a fight among a bunch of serious Catholics is to start throwing around the term “prudential judgement”. However, for such a frequently used term, the concept is not often defined, and given all the contention around it, I think it would be helpful to try to write a fairly brief post defining it and examining why it seems to be the center of so much controversy.
Prudential judgement is the application of the virtue of Prudence to some given situation in making a judgement as to the virtuous course of action. The Catechism defines Prudence as follows:
1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.” “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.” Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid. [emphasis added]
So a prudential judgement is the application of moral principles to a particular case in order to achieve good and avoid evil. Thus, obviously, saying something is a matter of prudential judgement does not mean that “there is no right answer”. The process of making a prudential judgement is one of judging which is the virtuous action to take in a given circumstance. Prudential judgments are definitionally moral questions. “Is vanilla or chocolate ice cream more tasty?” is not a matter of prudential judgement, it’s a matter of personal taste.
Often “matters of prudential judgement” are contrasted with “intrinsic evils”, especially in matters of political discourse. This leads to a lot of angst in some quarters. What is the difference?
An action which is intrinsically evil is something which is always and everywhere wrong. To use one of the standard examples: Abortion is an intrinsic evil in that the act of abortion can never be a just action. The taking of human life is not an intrinsic evil because it is an action which is unjust in some circumstances (murder) but just in others (self defense, just war, times and places when the common good requires the use of capital punishment). (My goal is to be short here, so I’m not going to enter into discussion of double effect.) As this example shows, just because something is not intrinsically evil doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthy of very, very serious moral reflection. Clearly, one can’t say, “Killing another human being is not intrinsically evil, so reasonable people can feel free to differ on it.” The prudential judgement of “does this situation justify the taking of human life” is clearly a moral question of the very highest magnitude.
Why then this distinction between “intrinsic evils” and “prudential judgments” in political discussion among Catholics? I think reason is that some moral principles seem to have political applications so obvious that there can be little room for variance in judgement. For instance, abortion is often cited as an example of an intrinsic evil on which Catholics may not vary in their opinion in politics. It is a belief held by much of the political left in this country that there is a “right to choice” in regards to abortion, in other words that a woman has a fundamental human right (which the state must respect and protect) to choose to have an abortion if she so chooses. From a Catholic moral point of view, one may not have a right to do something which is evil. I cannot have a “right to choose to torture” or a “right to choose to murder”. As such, I think it’s legitimate to say that a Catholic may not hold that a person has a right to procure an abortion.
→']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Last week, before the debate, I noted that Democrats were mocking Republicans for trying to explain away Romney’s poor performance in recent polling (while themselves showing a certain lack of reality in their assessment of the economy.) The debate came and Romney routed Obama on the debate stage in a way that exceeded my wildest hopes. Now we see an unprecedented post-debate surge for Romney in the polls, with Gallup and Rasmussen both showing Romney in a tie with Obama and a post-debate Pew poll showing Romney beating Obama by 4% among likely voters, a twelve point swing from Pew polling a month before in which Romney trailed Obama by 8%.
And just to show that the desire to fight the data is bi-partisan, now Democrats are trying to explain away the polls, with Jonathan Chait arguing:
Polls have very low response rates. Sometimes short-term events that dominate the news cycle excite partisans and make them more likely to answer pollsters — it happened when Romney picked Paul Ryan — but they don’t reflect a deep remaking of the public opinion landscape, which remains fairly settled.
Of course, that’s true. Polling is a very uncertain science, and there are lots of unknowns like partisan differences in response rates. Of course, that’s equally true whether your candidate is ahead or behind, but it’s something that people usually only emphasize in the latter case.
Romney certainly doesn’t have the race in the bag. There’s a month to go, and the Democrats will be going for Romney’s metaphorical jugular with everything they’ve got. But there’s enough polling floating around right now to suggest that the candidates are now even or else Romney is ahead. (As I go to hit “post”, I see a PPP poll sponsored by DailyKos and the SEIU is out showing Romney up 2% over Obama among likely voters.) It may not last, but I’m hoping it does and enjoying it while I can.
We’ve reached the point in the election where the press decides to mostly report on how the election is being perceived rather than on any particular events, and since the president is doing well in the polls this results in a lot of “desperate Republicans do foolish things” stories. The flavor of the week seems to be the media’s discovery that somewhere out there in the right-leaning internet, there are people who have made a hobby of “re-weighting” polls in order to reflect what the re-weighters think is a more likely partisan composition of the electorate come election day.
There is, yes, a certain sad desperation about this. Now that election reporting is often more about “the race” than about issues or events, being behind in the race is crippling and so people come up with way to try to explain it away. Those with long memories (eight years counts as long in our modern age) may recall that when Bush was so rude as to be ahead of Kerry in the 2004 race, Michael Moore and those like-minded rolled out a theory that all the polls were wrong because an army of voters who only used cell phones and not land lines (and thus couldn’t be polled) were out there ready to vote against Bush.
However, just as everyone’s getting ready to announce that Republicans, in their constant flight from the “reality based community” have decided they don’t believe in polling, we find out that the left has its own reality problem: They’re convinced that the economy has been getting better over the last couple months, despite the fact there’s little reason to believe this. Gallup and the Pew Research Center both have data out showing that Democrats’ opinions of the economy and the job market have suddenly started improving, despite almost universally bad news over the last several months.
As you can see, partisan affiliation wasn’t much of a dividing factor in assessments of the economy a year ago, but now that a bad economy might mean President Obama not being re-elected, Democrats obediently come to the conclusion that the economy really isn’t that bad. According to Pew, the same divide now exists on the job market, consumer prices, the financial market, real estate, and even gas prices. You would think that at least people could agree on what the level of gas prices is, but no, apparently not, though the gap is narrower there than elsewhere: 89% of Republicans say they hear mostly bad news about gas prices while 65% of Democrats do.
The trope goes that you are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. However, as the political divide has become wider and more entrenched opposite sides increasingly do have their own facts, as reality become filtered through a partisan lens.
One of the many divides among modern Catholics is between what we might call the “moralizers” and the “justice seekers”. “Moralizers” are those who emphasize the importance of teaching people moral laws and urging them to abide by them. “Justice seekers” seek to mitigate various social evils (poverty, lack of access to health care, joblessness, etc.) and believe that if only these social evils are reduced, this will encourage people to behave better.
Moralizers tend to criticize the justice seekers by pointing out that following moral laws is apt to alleviate a lot of the social evils that worry the justice seekers, arguing, for example, that if one finishes high school, holds a job and gets married before having children, one is far less likely to be poor than if one violates these norms.
Justice seekers reply that the moralizers are not taking into account all the pressures there work upon the poor and disadvantaged, and argue that it’s much more effective to better people’s condition than to moralize at them (or try to pass laws to restrict their actions) because if only social forces weren’t forcing people to make bad choices, they of course wouldn’t do so.
(I’m more of a moralizer myself, but I think that we moralizers still need to take the justice seeker critique into account in understanding where people are coming from and what they’re capable of.)
One area in which the justice seeker approach seems to come into particular prominence is the discussion of abortion. We often hear politically progressive Catholics argue that the best way to reduce abortions is not to attempt to ban or restrict them, but rather to reduce poverty and make sure that everyone has access to health care. There’s an oft quoted sound bite from Cardinal Basil Hume (Archbishop of Westminster) to this effect:
“If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it’s needed, she’s more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn’t it obvious?”
You’d think that it was obvious, but I’m suspicious of the idea that having more money or resources makes us better or less selfish people (an idea which strikes me as smacking of a certain spiritual Rousseauian quality that doesn’t take fallen human nature into account) so I thought it would be interesting to see if there’s any data on this.
I was not able to find data on the relationship of abortion to health insurance, but I was able to find data on the relation of abortion to poverty, and it turns out that the Cardinal, and conventional wisdom, are wrong.
→']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
It seems like leftist pundits have decided that remarks by Romney at a fundraiser that were secretly taped and distributed by Mother Jones constitute the latest “now Romney has lost the election” moment. In the video, Romney tells supporters that Obama starts out with a huge base of 47-49% of voters who pay no income taxes, are dependent on government, and thus cannot be reached by Romney’s low tax message.
Of course, for those whose memories go back further than the most recent “Romney is finished” moment declared by Andrew Sullivan and Co., the obvious comparison to this is when Obama famously announced back in 2008 that the big difficulty for his campaign was that it was difficult to reach people who are see no evidence of progress in their daily lives and so they become bitter and cling to their guns and their religion.
Both comments spring from a degree of party mythology. It’s not the case that all 47% of people who don’t pay income taxes are Democrat supporters. Because our tax code is so progressive and because of the hefty child tax credit and earned income tax credit (both of which are things Republicans generally support) a lot of middle income families do not pay taxes. That certainly doesn’t make them default Obama supporters. Many of them are in fact die-hard Republicans, because they don’t participate in the modern Democratic Party’s vision of government dependence and social engineering as the solution to their problems.
That said, I think this particular media tizzy is particularly silly, and the pundits declaring Romney to be badly hurt by this are mostly reflecting the beliefs of a bubble in which the GOP is already hated.
Obama’s remarks were, if anything, far more offensive to potential swing voters. He categorized whole sections of the country, demographically, as being given over to bitterness because they hadn’t seen progress and explained that this bitterness came out in their becoming attached to guns, religion, hating minorities and immigrants, etc. There are a lot of small town people who like to hunt and go to church and don’t think of themselves as racist who nonetheless were potential Obama swing voters in 2008.
By contrast, Romney’s analysis may be off (and I don’t think that does him any credit) but it’s really hard for me, at least, to picture someone saying, “Gee, I was really thinking Romney might have some answers on the economy, but now I heard this clip where he says that people who don’t pay taxes and want to be dependent on the government are in the bag for Obama, and I’m proud of the fact that I don’t pay taxes and depend on the government, so forget about him! I’m supporting Obama.”
A lot of people who don’t, on net, pay taxes don’t really think of themselves as not paying taxes. The tax code is complex enough to make it tricky to tell in some ways. (And they pay other taxes even if they don’t pay federal income tax.) Nor do many people who are potential GOP voters think of themselves as dependent on government. If anything, the argument that Obama already has a huge advantage because he’s bribing voters with lots of government handouts seems to fit with Romney’s overall campaign message. Whether that’s a winning message I don’t know (I hope it is) but it’s hard for me to see how this is actually all that damaging.
I’ve been listening to music via Pandora a lot recently (while writing) and the result is that although I’ve been hearing more than my usual share of political ads. (Since I don’t watch television or listen to commercial radio, I’m normally exempt from these despite living in Ohio.)
One thing that particularly struck me is the rampant dishonesty in regards to tax policy that’s going around, in part due to the both party’s bad habit of making tax breaks look more affordable by enacting them only for short terms, thus necessitating frequent renewal.
The first bone of contention is the “Bush tax cuts”. These tax cuts, which affected taxpayers all across the income spectrum, are estimated to have a “cost” of $3.3 Trillion over ten years (this “cost” is the combination of foregone theoretical tax revenues and the cost of servicing the debt resulting from federal spending not going down by a similar $3.3 Trillion.) Democrats like to refer to the “Bush tax cuts” as “tax cuts for the rich” and to quote the full “cost” of $3.3 Trillion as being the cost of those cuts. What this ignores is that two thirds of that $3.3T actually went to what President Obama refers to as the middle class (families making less than $250,000 per year.) So while it’s true that the “Bush tax cuts” had a “cost” of “over three trillion dollars”, the attacks against this ignore the fact that two thirds of that total is “tax cuts for the middle class” which Democrats support.
Just to make it even more confusing, Democrats like to call extending the Bush tax cuts “massive tax cuts for the rich”, despite the fact it is simply an extension of tax rates which have already been in place for some time. Republicans, on the other hand, like to refer the potential expiration of the tax cuts as a “massive tax increase.” This is accurate, to the extent that people would indeed experience their taxes going up, but it ignores the inconvenient fact that Republicans wrote the tax cut in such a way as to expire (in order to avoid having to make hard budget decisions to ‘pay for’ the tax cut.)
As if one set of expiring tax cuts that everyone talks about in different ways were not confusing enough, there’s also the Obama payroll tax cut: a cut of 2% in the payroll tax that pays for Social Security. This was never meant to be a permanent tax cut, but rather a short term economic stimulus. Social Security has financial problems to begin with, it doesn’t help to make a significant cut in its funding. (And that’s ignoring the fiction that the money you put into Social Security is the money you’re get out again.)
However, even though both parties have signaled that they’re essentially willing to let the temporary payroll tax cut expire at the end of this year (though both parties hope to see this done as part of a broader overhaul of taxes suited to their own priorities) that hasn’t stopped some commentators and advertisers from characterizing Republican support for letting the cut expire as “a tax increase on the middle class”.
A number of opinion writers have taken the occasion of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado to express disgust with the fact that the American public shows little inclination towards increased gun control. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who say they “feel that laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict” dropped from 78% to 44% during the period from 1990 to 2010.
Some of the more hyperbolic has claimed this is because the US is seized by a “death cult” or that it “worships violence”, but I think the actual reason is quite rational.
If we look at the percentage of people supporting stricter gun control in relation to the percentage of people who say they own guns (also from Gallup) and the US homicide rate, we see that the homicide rate dropped by 49% from 1990 to 2010 while gun ownership rates have remained fairly flat.
Since people readily perceive that gun ownership remains common, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly since the height of the ’80s and ’90s crime wave, people seem to implicitly believe that restricting gun ownership is not necessary in order to deal with crime.
We can get a somewhat longer term view of this if we look at an older Gallup question which is available in the same study, the percentage of Americans who say they support a ban on civilian handgun ownership. The question has been asked somewhat sporadically by Gallup, so we have only a few data points from the 50s, 60s and 70s, but the pattern is still very interesting.
Gallup first asked the question in 1959 when the murder rate had just gone up from 4.1 in 1955 to 4.9 in 1959. Support for a ban was quite high as 60%. Support for a ban dropped rapidly while crime increased. In 1979 31% of Americans supported banning handguns and the murder rate was 9.8. Support for a handgun ban then rebounded, reaching a recent high of 43% of American in 1991, which was also one of the worst years for violent crime with a murder rate of 9.8. However, violent crime then fell sharply and has continued a gradual decline, and support for banning hand guns has declined along with it with only 29% of Americans supporting such a ban in 2010.
This suggests to me that Americans actually have a pretty reasonable approach to the question. Despite the occasional headline grabbing catastrophe, the current murder rate is down at the same level as the 1950s, despite the availability of Glock handguns and “assault rifles”.