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Monday, June 08, 2015

The derpiest thing you will read all week

by digby

Krugman talks about economic derp in his column today and it's quite entertaining. For those who don't know, he defines derp this way:
Derp” is a term borrowed from the cartoon “South Park” that has achieved wide currency among people I talk to, because it’s useful shorthand for an all-too-obvious feature of the modern intellectual landscape: people who keep saying the same thing no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s completely wrong.
It's a good column, well worth reading all the way through.

I thought I'd also share some first class journalistic derp from "First Read":

On Sunday, the New York Times observed that Hillary Clinton plans to follow Barack Obama's general-election playbook -- competing in the same battleground states Obama contested (and mostly won) in 2008 and 2012. But that means not playing in some of the southern states that Bill Clinton won in 1992 and 1996 (like Arkansas, Louisiana, and Kentucky). David Plouffe, Obama's former top political strategist, summed it up this way: "If you run a campaign trying to appeal to 60 to 70 percent of the electorate, you're not going to run a very compelling campaign for the voters you need." In today's highly polarized political world, this is how you win elections -- by motivating your base and by recognizing there are few swing voters left. But it also makes governing harder, especially when the parties are trading electoral victories every two years (with Democrats benefitting from presidential turnouts, and with Republicans benefitting from midterm turnouts). When you have data-driven candidates appealing to win 51% of voters, it means that a president's job-approval rating is never going to get much higher than that, and it means that bipartisan policy goals (like the TPP free-trade agreement) are the exception rather than the rule.

Of course, there's a chicken-or-the-egg question here: What came first -- this red-blue campaign strategy we've seen since 2000, or America's political/geographical/cultural polarization? There's a strong argument to be made that it's the latter. Campaigns see an America more polarized than ever, and winning is all about coming out ahead in this polarized world. But it makes governing harder than it already was. Bottom line: Campaigns don't engage in persuasion anymore. They simply look for unmotivated like-minded potential voters and find an issue to motivate them. And if someone wins office by not having to persuade a voter who actually swings between the two parties, there isn't any motivation for said elected official to compromise. This cycle of polarization will continue until someone wins a massive election based on a different premise.

Can you see the fallacy there? I knew that you could. Take a look at this chart of presidential election winners sorted by percentage of the popular vote:

There are 57 presidential elections in total in that chart. (I am showing the top 24 winners of the popular vote totals.) You will notice that both George W. Bush's second term in 2004 and both of Barack Obama's elections in 2008 and 2012 are in that top 24. That would indicate that the period between 2000 and today is not marked by particularly narrow margins historically speaking. They aren't in the top ten like Johnson or Roosevelt. But they're comfortably in the middle of the presidential popular vote total derby. (Or should I say 'derpy.")

The point is that their implication that neither Bush or Obama had a mandate because they appealed to their own base is just nonsense. They both had mandates in those elections because they got a majority of the American electorate to vote for them. It wasn't a huge majority in either case, but it was a majority that fits right in the middle of presidential popular vote totals.  If you want to look at some hubristic claims of mandates, you need to go back to Bush's boasting in 2000, when he didn't win the popular vote at all. In fact, that's the one time I can think of a president making a completely empty claim to one based up on the narrowest of victories --- one given to him by his brother's political machine and a partisan Supreme Court majority. Other than that, all presidents have a right to claim their mandate based upon winning the election, period.  (And by  the way, Ronald Reagan got less than Bush 2004 or Obama in 08 and 12 in 1980. Yet, I've never heard anyone claim that he didn't have a mandate.)

As for whether the country is "polarized" because it's polarized, well, it's nice of them to acknowledge that this might not be because politicians are crudely ignoring the Great Independent Voter who represents What Real America Wants for once. Baby steps. But the fact that they even lamented that "campaigns don't engage in persuasion anymore" tells us that haven't given up their precious derp just yet.

Yes, there is little room for compromise when one party refuses to acknowledge that presidents of the other party are legitimate. And it's hard to find consensus when one party is answering to bunch of throwback extremists who've been brainwashed by billionaire run media companies to believe that democracy means that they have the right to flout any norms, rules or laws and use any means necessary to get their way. That little "problem" wasn't caused by the Democrats who spent decades kissing the rings of conservative voters and have only come around to the fact that these miscreants would prefer to  blow up the country rather than give an inch.  It took them too long to figure that out, but at least they seem to have awakened from their slumber. The media is still dreaming.