Krugman’s blog, 2/1/16

February 2, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “More About Renewables:”

I’ve learned a lot of what I know about energy economics from Joe Romm, and he has a post this morning that is, in effect, a primer on the background to today’s column. As I tried to convey, the news is amazingly good — we now have the technology to shift dramatically away from fossil fuels, at relatively low cost.

The bottom line, literally:

As the world gets increasingly serious about replacing fossil fuels with low carbon energy, it seems increasingly clear that a combination of the technologies and strategies discussed above will be able to incorporate very large amounts of renewable electricity into the electric grid cost-effectively. The “intermittency” problem is essentially solved. The will-power problem, however, isn’t.

Bobo, solo

February 2, 2016

In “Donald Trump Isn’t Real” Bobo gurgles that the Iowa vote shows some version of normalcy returned to the G.O.P. race and the vulnerability of the showbiz candidate.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “The big story from Iowa is not the third-place finish of the sniveling, evangelical-pandering science-denier in high heels Rubio, but that Bernie Sanders held his own against Hillary Clinton.  Republican voters, on the other hand, no matter how sane Mr. Brooks would have you believe they are, swept in Ted Cruz in a Santorum-like sweep that recalled his great victory of 2012. Second place went to a self-aggrandizing egomaniacal buffoon with less than zero qualifications for the presidency.”  Here’s Bobo, who still seems to be whistling past the graveyard:

Donald Trump was inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2013. He’d been involved with professional wrestling for over a quarter century. At first his interest was on the business side, because so many of the events were held at his hotels. But then he began appearing in the ring as an actual character.

His greatest moment came in 2007 with the pay-per-view series called “Battle of the Billionaires,” when he verbally went up against the WWE’s chief executive, Vince McMahon. The feud started when Trump interrupted McMahon on Fan Appreciation Night and upstaged him by raining thousands of dollars in cash down on the crowd in the arena. It continued with a verbal barrage and proxy match, and ended with a triumphant Trump shaving McMahon’s head in the middle of the ring.

From the moment he entered this presidential race, his campaign has been one long exercise in taking the “low” manners of professional wrestling and interjecting them into the “respectable” arena of presidential politics.

This is an anxious and angry nation. Many people have lost faith in its leadership. Somewhere in his marketer’s brain Donald Trump intuited that manners are more important than laws and that if you want to assault the established powers you have to assault their manners first.

By shifting the cultural language Trump initiated a new type of culture war, really a manners war. He seemed fresh, authentic and resonant to a lot of people who felt alienated from the way elites govern, talk and behave.

Professional wrestling generates intense interest and drama through relentless confrontation. Everybody knows it’s fake at some level, but it is perceived as fake and real at the same time (sort of like politics). What matters is not so much who wins or loses, or whether you are good or evil, but the aggressiveness by which you wage each mano-a-mano confrontation.

Trump brought this style onstage at the first Republican debate, and a thousand taboos were smashed all at once. He insulted people’s looks. He stereotyped vast groups of people — Mexicans and Muslims. He called members of the establishment morons, idiots and losers.

Trump was unabashedly masculine, the lingua franca of pro wrestling. Every time he was challenged, he was compelled by his code to double down the confrontation and fire back.

Social inequality is always felt more acutely than economic inequality. Trump rose up on behalf of people who felt looked down upon, made them feel vindicated and turned social conduct on its head.

But in Iowa on Monday night we saw the limit of Trump’s appeal. Like any other piece of showbiz theatrics, Trump was more spectacle than substance.

Many supporters may have been interested in symbolically sticking their thumb in somebody’s eye, but they are reality TV watchers, not actually interested in politics or governance. They didn’t show up. We can expect similar Trump underperformance in state after state.

Furthermore, we saw a big management failure in Trump’s organization. Bernie Sanders is a good enough executive that he was able to lead a campaign that brought outsiders to the polls. Trump is not as effective a leader as Sanders.

Trump’s whole campaign was based on success breeding success, the citing of self-referential poll victories to justify his own candidacy. How does he justify a campaign built entirely around his own mastery? Can an aggressor like him respond gracefully in the days ahead to self-created failure? His concession speech was an act of pathetic self-delusion.

What happened in Iowa was that some version of normalcy returned to the G.O.P. race. The precedents of history have not been rendered irrelevant.

Ted Cruz picked up the voters who propelled Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee to victory in previous caucuses. His is a Tea Party wing in the G.O.P. But its size and geographic reach is limited.

The amazing surge for Marco Rubio shows that the Republican electorate has not gone collectively insane. At the last moment, and in a state that is not naturally friendly to him, a lot of Republicans showed up to support a conservative who could conceivably get elected and govern.

Marco Rubio now has his moment. He is the only candidate who can plausibly unify the party. Desperate Cruz-hating Republicans will turn their faces to him.

But can he rise to this moment? Can he see that the Trump phenomenon touched something, even if the blowhard candidate offered people nothing but bread and circuses? Can Rubio take his growing establishment base and reach out to the working-class voters with a message that offers concrete assistance for those who are being left behind?

The Republican Party usually nominates unifying candidates like Marco Rubio. The laws of gravity have not been suspended. He has a great shot. But he has to show one more burst of imagination.

Marco Rubio is an empty suit.

Krugman’s blog, 1/31/16

February 1, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Pre-Iowa Notes:”

I don’t know what will happen in the caucuses tomorrow. Actually, I know what will happen on the Republican side: someone horrifying will come in first, and someone horrifying will come in second. The names are less clear.

On the Democratic side, well, the last five polls all show Clinton in the lead, and FiveThirtyEight gives her an 80 percent chance of winning, but it’s not a sure thing.

While we wait, however, a few informal, not very analytical thoughts on the Democratic race. I’ve talked to a few friends who are Sanders supporters, some others who are Clinton supporters, and I have some impressions. This is not reporting; just a personal reaction.

The appeal of the Sanders campaign, at least to people I know, is that it brings a sense of possibility. For those who were joyful and uplifted on inauguration day 2009, the years that followed have been a vast letdown: American politics got even uglier, policy progress always fell short of dreams. Now comes Sanders — very different in personal style from Obama 2008, but again someone who seems different and offers the hope of transformation. And some people really want to hear that message, and don’t want to hear that they’re being unrealistic.

But there’s something else, which I keep encountering, and which I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice: even among progressives, the two-decade-plus smear campaign against the Clintons has had its effect. I keep being told about terrible things the Clintons did that never actually happened, but were carefully fomented right-wing legends — except I’m hearing them from people on the left. The sense that where there’s smoke there must be fire — when the reality was nothing but Richard Mellon Scaife with a smoke machine — is very much out there, still.

Unfortunately, that underlying Foxification of perceptions marries all too well with the tendency of some — only some — Sanders supporters to assume that any skepticism about their hero’s proposals or prospects must reflect personal corruption. Something like that was probably inevitable in a campaign whose premise is that everything is rigged by the oligarchy, but it interacts with the vague perception, the product of all those years of right-wing smearing, that there’s a lot of Clinton dirt.

Even among those who don’t believe in the phony scandals, there is, as there was in 2008, a desire for someone new, who they imagine won’t bring out all that ugliness. But of course they’re wrong: if Sanders is the nominee, it will take around 30 seconds before Fox News is nonstop coverage of the terrible things he supposedly did when younger. Don’t say there’s nothing there: a propaganda machine that could turn John Kerry into a coward can turn a nice guy from Brooklyn into a monstrously flawed specimen of humanity in no time at all.

On the other hand, that history is, I think, one factor behind a phenomenon we saw in 2008 and will see again this year: there’s a lot more passionate support for Clinton than either Sanders supporters or the news media imagine. There are a lot of Democrats who see her as someone who has been subjected to character assassination, to vicious attacks, on a scale few women and no men in politics have ever encountered — yet she’s still standing, still capable of remarkable grace under fire. If you didn’t see something heroic about her performance in the Benghazi hearing, you’re missing something essential.

And Clinton’s dogged realism, while it doesn’t inspire the same kind of uplift as Sanders’s promise of change, can be inspiring in its own way.

The truth is that both Democrats have a lot of genuine, solid support. Both had 80 percent approval among Democrats in the DMR poll released yesterday. One item from that poll that seems to have surprised reporters:

There’s no enthusiasm gap — it’s just different forms of enthusiasm.

So here we go. May the best person win.

I loved his take on the Republican primary results…

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

February 1, 2016

In “Iowa’s Black Caucusgoers” Mr. Blow says despite their relatively small numbers, black voters on Monday could make a difference in the direction of the presidential campaign.  In “Italian-Iranian Hall of Mirrors” Mr. Cohen says the West has not capitulated by hiding the Capitoline nudes. But Italy has again failed the test of seriousness.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Wind, Sun and Fire:”  Will we have a renewables revolution? He says it may be closer than you think.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Monday, Iowans will become the first people in the nation to officially express their choices for the next president of the United States.

But what interested me in particular was that a subset of those voters will be black. And since black voters in national polls are overwhelmingly Democratic and overwhelming prefer Hillary Clinton to her rivals, it seemed important to explore how these voters are processing this election cycle and its candidates.

Over three days in Des Moines — from Friday to Sunday — I interviewed more than 30 black people, and spoke briefly to many more at a black church, a black-owned barbershop, a popular soul food restaurant and at African-American social events.

My first impression from these conversations was that there existed a staggering level of ambivalence and absence of enthusiasm. A surprising number of people said that they were undecided and started an answer with the clause, “If I had to chose …”

Furthermore, there also seemed to be a generational divide between the people who felt more embraced and informed by the political campaigns — the older ones, and those who felt more abandoned or ignored by them — the younger ones.

As Wayne Ford, co-founder and co-chairman of the Iowa Brown and Black Forum, told me Sunday, the level of excitement in the black community is “nowhere near where it was 2008” when Barack Obama was a candidate.

Also, the preference for Clinton over Bernie Sanders was a two-pronged assessment; it was a sophisticated weighing of comfort and of policy without an absolutism of good vs. bad, but rather a matter of degrees better or worse, more real or more fantasy.

On the policy front, many simply found Sanders’s policies unrealistically ambitious, an over-promising of giveaways. As one woman put it, “He sounds like Oprah: ‘You get a car! And you get a car! And you get a car!’ How is he going to pay for all that?”

Clinton’s ambitions seemed to be judged more realistic.

Then, there was the problem of comfort.

The Clintons seem to intuitively understand the value of retail politics, particularly when doing outreach to marginalized groups. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from black people about the time that one of the Clintons — most often Bill Clinton — spoke at or showed up at an event important to the black community.

This means something. It adds to an aura of familiarity that doesn’t extend to Sanders.

For instance, on Saturday, the second and final day of the “I’ll Make Me a World in Iowa” annual festival, billed as the largest African-American festival in the state, Hillary Clinton was the only candidate to make an appearance, albeit incredibly briefly.

(Some may recognize the phrase “I’ll make me a world” as a line in James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation” from his 1927 book of poems “God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse.” Those who don’t may already be at a deficit in African-American outreach.)

This year for the first time a straw poll was taken at the event, and Clinton got more votes than all other candidates combined.

But it seemed to me that the support was remarkably soft. People, in general, weren’t charging toward passion but slumping toward acquiescence.

The next day, Bill Clinton strode into the Corinthian Baptist Church — accompanied by Representatives John Lewis and Sheila Jackson Lee. While Hillary had spoken for just a few minutes at the previous day’s event, Bill spoke so long at the church that there was no time left for a sermon.

Bill Clinton seems to understand the powerful role the griot plays in black culture, and he channels that spirit when he speaks, far more than any non-black candidate I’ve seen.

Maybe that is why no one I spoke to mentioned “how much damage the Clintons have done — the millions of families that were destroyed the last time they were in the White House thanks to their boastful embrace of the mass incarceration machine and their total capitulation to the right-wing narrative on race, crime, welfare and taxes,” as Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” put it Thursday on her Facebook page.

For Sanders’s part, he seemed to be judged too unfamiliar and too absent, particularly down the homestretch. This feels to me like a terrible tactical error. No matter how much his positions and policies may benefit black voters, they are no more interested than any other group of voters in a long-distance love affair. You have to show up. You have to put in the time.

It is true that in the last census, blacks were only 3.7 percent of the population in Iowa, but that vote matters, not only for Iowa but also as a harbinger for those who will come after.

As Rick Wade, Obama’s director of African-American outreach in 2008, told CNN last week, “In both large and small caucuses, black voters can tilt the scales when the numbers are close.” He continued: “And strong black support in Iowa could affect black response and support in South Carolina and nationally.”

As an aside, if you haven’t read “God’s Trombones” find a copy.  You won’t regret it.  Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Italy’s decision to cover up the nudes at the Capitoline Museum in deference to the sensibilities of the visiting Glasgow-educated Iranian president has been widely interpreted as final proof of the capitulation of Western civilization to theocratic Islam.

It was, Hisham Melhem, a columnist for Al Arabiya English, suggested, a “brazen act of self-emasculation and obeisance.”

If Italy, inheritor of the glories of the Roman Empire, boxes up some of its finest works of art just in case the eye of President Hassan Rouhani should fall on the plum-like breast of a marble goddess, then nobody should be surprised if Islamic fanatics (Sunni, not Shia, but still) choose to destroy the glorious Greco-Roman legacy at Palmyra.

Or so the reasoning goes.

As a consequence of Boxgate, Italy has suffered ridicule. Nothing is worse than ridicule. Here it is merited. Not so much, I would argue, for Italy’s clumsy attempt at courtesy, for courtesy is important and has become an undervalued virtue. Reading the fall of the West into the concealment of a nude is going too far. Mistakes happen.

No, the ridicule is merited because the decision to hide the works of art was, it seems, taken by nobody. In Rome, the buck stops nowhere.

The Capitoline Venus just boxed herself up one night because she was bored and took a few deities along with her.

The prime minister, Matteo Renzi, did not know. The foreign minister did not know. The culture minister called the decision “incomprehensible.” They were, they insist (perhaps too much), as surprised as anyone to find all those white cubes — none, incidentally, provided by the prestigious White Cube gallery in London.

One account has it that a woman named Ilva Sapora who works at Palazzo Chigi, where Renzi’s office is located, made the decision after visiting the Capitoline with Iranian Embassy officials. “Nonsense,” Jas Gawronski, a former Italian member of the European Parliament, told me. The notion that a mid-level Chigi official in charge of ceremonial matters could have made the decision does seem far-fetched. Gawronski believes it is more likely to have been officials at the Farnesina, home to the Foreign Ministry.

One thing can be safely said: Nobody will ever know. I was a correspondent in Rome for some years in the 1980s. Periodically there would be developments in terrorist cases — the Piazza Fontana bombing of 1969 or the Brescia bombing of 1974. Trials, verdicts, appeals followed one another. Facts grew murkier not clearer. It would take decades to arrive at convictions that did not resolve doubts. Italy has never had much time for the notion that justice delayed is justice denied.

Renzi has wanted to break with this Italy of murky secrets, modernize it, bring stable government and install accountability. He’s made significant changes in electoral and labor law. But he has a problem. At the same time as the Boxgate scandal was unfolding he was telling my colleague Jim Yardley in an interview that, “I’m the leader of a great country.”

A great country doesn’t have statues that box themselves up all by themselves.

Truth in Italy is elastic. A much-conquered country learned the wisdom of ambiguous expression, as for that matter did much-conquered Persia. The Italians say, “Se non é vero, é ben trovato” — roughly if it’s not true it ought to be.

At bottom, this story is one of an Iranian-Italian hall of mirrors with a pot of gold sitting in the middle of the hall valued at about $18 billion in new trade deals.

The Iranians insist nobody asked for those masterpieces of Classical humanism to be hidden: another case of nobody’s decision.

Iran too distrusts clarity. It is a nation whose conventions include the charming ceremonial insincerity known as “taarof,” and “tagieh,” which amounts to the sacrifice of truth to higher religious imperative.

Speaking of truth denial, Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has again questioned the existence of the Holocaust. He chose to do so in a video uploaded to his website on Holocaust Remembrance Day. There is to be another “Holocaust Cartoon and Caricature Contest” in June.

Needless to say this Holocaust denial is odious, the regime at its worst. It is also a sign of desperation among the hard-liners determined to block Rouhani’s opening to the world. They reckon Holocaust denial will derail any détente. The buzzword of the hard-liners is “nufuz,” or infiltration by the West. Iranians are being warned to guard against it in this month’s parliamentary elections.

You can hide a few statues in the Capitoline Museum, but you can’t hide the deep rifts between an Iranian society overwhelmingly in favor of opening to the West and a theocratic regime determined to ensure the nuclear deal does not lead to wider cooperation with the United States and Europe.

Far from finding itself in a state of capitulation, the West exerts a very powerful cultural magnetism, evident in the rabid desperation of its opponents.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

So what’s really at stake in this year’s election? Well, among other things, the fate of the planet.

Last year was the hottest on record, by a wide margin, which should — but won’t — put an end to climate deniers’ claims that global warming has stopped. The truth is that climate change just keeps getting scarier; it is, by far, the most important policy issue facing America and the world. Still, this election wouldn’t have much bearing on the issue if there were no prospect of effective action against the looming catastrophe.

But the situation on that front has changed drastically for the better in recent years, because we’re now achingly close to achieving a renewable-energy revolution. What’s more, getting that energy revolution wouldn’t require a political revolution. All it would take are fairly modest policy changes, some of which have already happened and others of which are already underway. But those changes won’t happen if the wrong people end up in power.

To see what I’m talking about, you need to know something about the current state of climate economics, which has changed far more in recent years than most people seem to realize.

Most people who think about the issue at all probably imagine that achieving a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would necessarily involve big economic sacrifices. This view is required orthodoxy on the right, where it forms a sort of second line of defense against action, just in case denial of climate science and witch hunts against climate scientists don’t do the trick. For example, in the last Republican debate Marco Rubio — the last, best hope of the G.O.P. establishment — insisted, as he has before, that a cap-and-trade program would be “devastating for our economy.”

To find anything equivalent on the left you have to go far out of the mainstream, to activists who insist that climate change can’t be fought without overthrowing capitalism. Still, my sense is that many Democrats believe that politics as usual isn’t up to the task, that we need a political earthquake to make real action possible. In particular, I keep hearing that the Obama administration’s environmental efforts have been so far short of what’s needed as to be barely worth mentioning.

But things are actually much more hopeful than that, thanks to remarkable technological progress in renewable energy.

The numbers are really stunning. According to a recent report by the investment firm Lazard, the cost of electricity generation using wind power fell 61 percent from 2009 to 2015, while the cost of solar power fell 82 percent. These numbers — which are in line with other estimates — show progress at rates we normally only expect to see for information technology. And they put the cost of renewable energy into a range where it’s competitive with fossil fuels.

Now, there are still some issues special to renewables, in particular problems of intermittency: consumers may want power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. But this issue seems to be of diminishing significance, partly thanks to improving storage technology, partly thanks to the realization that “demand response” — paying consumers to cut energy use during peak periods — can greatly reduce the problem.

So what will it take to achieve a large-scale shift from fossil fuels to renewables, a shift to sun and wind instead of fire? Financial incentives, and they don’t have to be all that huge. Tax credits for renewables that were part of the Obama stimulus plan, and were extended under the recent budget deal, have already done a lot to accelerate the energy revolution. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which if implemented will create strong incentives to move away from coal, will do much more.

And none of this will require new legislation; we can have an energy revolution even if the crazies retain control of the House.

Now, skeptics may point out that even if all these good things happen, they won’t be enough on their own to save the planet. For one thing, we’re only talking about electricity generation, which is a big part of the climate change problem but not the whole thing. For another, we’re only talking about one country when the problem is global.

But I’d argue that the kind of progress now within reach could produce a tipping point, in the right direction. Once renewable energy becomes an obvious success and, yes, a powerful interest group, anti-environmentalism will start to lose its political grip. And an energy revolution in America would let us take the lead in global action.

Salvation from climate catastrophe is, in short, something we can realistically hope to see happen, with no political miracle necessary. But failure is also a very real possibility. Everything is hanging in the balance.

Krugman’s blog, 1/29/16

January 30, 2016

There were four posts yesterday.  The first was “The Anti-Fed Two-Step:”

Back when Ted Cruz first floated his claim that the Fed caused the Great Recession — and some neo-monetarists spoke up in support — I noted that this was a repeat of the old Milton Friedman two-step.

First, you declare that the Fed could have prevented a disaster — the Great Depression in Friedman’s case, the Great Recession this time around. This is an arguable position, although Friedman’s claims about the 30s look a lot less convincing now that we have tried again to deal with a liquidity trap. But then this morphs into the claim that the Fed caused the disaster. See, government is the problem, not the solution! And the motivation for this bait-and-switch is, indeed, political.

Now come Beckworth and Ponnuru to make the argument at greater length, and it’s quite direct: because the Fed “caused” the crisis, things like financial deregulation and runaway bankers had nothing to do with it.

Mike Konczal says most of what’s needed here. In particular, if the Fed’s sins in 2008 — not actually raising rates, but not cutting them as fast as we now know they should have, and talking too much about inflation — were enough to cause 10 percent unemployment, we need radical change in our system, because policy will never be perfect.

I’d just add that if there were anything to this story, we should have seen a sharp increase in long-term real interest rates, as investors saw the Fed getting behind the disinflationary curve. Here’s the real 10-year rate in the months leading up to Lehman:

Do you see the kind of spike that could cause a catastrophe?

But to come back to the main point: It’s a very dubious claim that the Fed could have prevented the crisis with more aggressive policy in 2008; it’s three-card monte to transmute that into the claim that the Fed caused the crisis.

The second post yesterday was “A Renewable Feast:”

So you say you want a revolution? Politically, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed — unless the revolution you have in mind involves putting Donald Trump’s finger on the button. But an environmental/energy revolution? That’s looking remarkably within reach.

Joe Romm has the story. The backdrop is the remarkable progress of recent years in renewable-energy technologies, which have put solar and wind power in striking distance of matching the costs of electricity generation using fossil fuels. There are two remaining hurdles: the costs aren’t quite there, and renewables have a hard time matching fluctuations in demand.

Enter three policy changes. First, the last budget deal retained tax incentives for renewables, which will have a huge impact — maybe even a DT yuge impact — on their deployment over the next decade. Second, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge by power companies to EPA rules leading to “demand response” pricing — basically, paying people not to consume electricity during peak periods, which helps renewables a lot. Finally, if Democrats hold the White House we’ll have the Obama administration’s plan to limit carbon going into effect, creating a big incentive to switch to renewables.

Nothing in this should lead to complacency. We’re still facing a huge climate challenge, and President Trump (or for that matter any of the seven dwarfs from last night) could and would destroy the whole thing. But we’re now achingly close to making rapid progress on emissions, much more rapid than I think anyone imagined possible just a few years ago.

His third post yesterday was “Republican Face-Off In Iowa (Silly):”

Can’t help myself:

The last post yesterday was “My Classified Life:”

Gah. Another Clinton email story, this time involving emails covering material that wasn’t classified when sent but is now deemed top-secret — with the Clinton campaign demanding that they be released, presumably to show how innocuous they really were. Max Fisher at Vox suggests that it’s basically a story about the craziness and excesses of the classification system, and my own experience — although deeply out of date — suggests that he’s probably right.

You see, I was in the US government, as a senior staffer at the Council of Economic Advisers, in 1982-1983. No, I wasn’t a Reaganite — it was a sub-political, technocratic position, which I filled because Martin Feldstein, the council’s chairman, wanted the smartest young technocrats he knew. I was the senior international economist; the senior domestic economist was a guy named Larry Summers. What ever happened to him?

Anyway, given the area I covered, I received a lot of classified reports from the CIA, the State Department, etc.. They had all sorts of warnings in capital letters on their covers: SECRET NOFORN NOCONTRACT PROPIN ORCON, I think, was the standard litany. And there was a security person who came through our offices at night, scooped up any classified documents we left out, put them in a safe, and issued citations. Between the number of classified documents I received and my continuing true identity as an absent-minded professor, I got a lot of citations — second only to Marty.

But the reason I kept forgetting to lock the things up was that none of them — literally not one, during a whole year — contained anything actually sensitive. There was nothing in any of them you couldn’t have read in newspapers, or figured out for yourself given public information.

I was privy to a few bits of sensitive information, I guess — for example, I knew that Brazil was out of money a few days before it was public — but none of it was in classified documents. (And the larger secret I learned from my year — that the quality of discussion in cabinet-level meetings is lower than you can imagine — isn’t the kind of thing people put in classified documents.)

So my guess is that the only scandal here is how much anodyne stuff gets “Top secret” slapped on it.

Collins, solo

January 30, 2016

In “An Iowa To-Do List” Ms. Collins says Republicans have a choice of so many good targets to send packing.  Here she is:

Iowa Republicans have a lot of choices on Monday, none of whom bear any resemblance to the second coming of Abraham Lincoln.

They’re not going to pick a paragon. But maybe they could at least get rid of somebody awful. Ted Cruz? Please, Iowa, if you could do anything to knock Ted Cruz out of the race, the country would be grateful. I know he has supporters. But the intensity of loathing among the rest of the population is very strong.

In Iowa, Cruz has been attempting to overcome his personality handicap by visiting every single one of the state’s 99 counties. That’s a sort of tradition, among candidates who don’t know how to prioritize. It didn’t even work on television for Alicia Florrick’s husband on “The Good Wife.” Who, admittedly, was under the handicap of having gone to jail for using public funds to hire prostitutes.

Probably Cruz felt that since he had failed to endorse Iowa’s most beloved government subsidy — the ethanol program — the least he could do was make his way to the town of Fenton, population 279.

Cruz spent most of this week’s debate sniping at Marco Rubio — and Iowa, if you could get rid of both these guys, it’d be appreciated. I know that’s a lot to ask.

But Rubio, who used to be sort of the Boy Scout of the pack, has been getting more and more irritating with every passing day. He’s been trying to glom onto Cruz’s religious constituency, although he sounds less like a young evangelist than Eddie Haskell on “Leave It to Beaver.” During Thursday’s debate, Rubio was asked about a magazine cover that called him the “Republican savior,” and he quickly announced that the only savior was “Jesus Christ who came down to earth and died for our sins.”

Cruz and Rubio are both the offspring of immigrants, and both have a stupendous record of duplicity when it comes to the issue of what to do with more recent arrivals. First Cruz loved all legal immigrants, then some not so much. He offered an amendment to allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, then claimed it was only a ploy to destroy immigration reform. Rubio went from immigration hard-liner to bipartisan reformer — cynics say because he wanted to cozy up to Republican donors. Then he changed his mind entirely when the Tea Party got steamed.

Donald Trump, of course, was not around for that debate. We are not going to spend one more second discussing him except to point out that at the counter-event he staged for veterans, he introduced his daughter Ivanka, who is very pregnant. If the baby came over the weekend in Iowa, that really would be a kind of coup. Even better than the time Senator Christopher Dodd tried to win Iowa by enrolling his child in a kindergarten there.

So many worthy targets for political elimination, but is there a Republican we’d want to see Iowa keep in the game? I do look forward to future Republican debates when we could play a drinking game based on every time Chris Christie mentions 9/11 or says “… as a former federal prosecutor.”

Probably not Ben Carson. Granted, he’s a candidate who’s easy to listen to, since it’s hard to hear anything he’s saying. But Carson probably hurt his chances when he responded to a question about Russia by saying “Putin is a one-horse country.”

How about Jeb Bush? Bush really picked up some steam when Trump vanished from the stage this week. And he seems to have made peace with the family-dynasty problem by simply embracing it. At the debate he described George I as “the greatest man alive” and George II as “my brother, who I adore.”

There was also the requisite bouquet to his mother, although nothing weird, like Jeb’s recent announcement in New Hampshire that he loved his mother more than his dad. Who tells a room full of strangers that you like one parent better? Remember the rule about always saying that you love each of your children equally? Works both ways. Even if it’s not true, you stick to the code.

How about Rand Paul? He can be a little strange — we never did get past that day in the Senate when he ranted on about environmentalists ruining his toilet. But at least he’s interesting. And he does do a lot of free eye surgery for the poor. Plus he cuts his own hair. And he’s pretty good at making fun of Ted Cruz.

Or John Kasich? He’s the only candidate who brings up religion and then suggests that God might like to see our government spend money on the sick and the mentally ill. And if you wake up on Tuesday and read “IOWA PICKS KASICH” you’d know that there was a genuine miracle.

The truth, of course, is that someone awful will win, and nobody will go away. There’s still hope. And New Hampshire! Equally cold, but only 10 counties.

Krugman’s blog 1/28/16

January 29, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Single Payer Trouble:”

A week ago I worried about the Sanders health plan; it looked as if he was low-balling costs in an effort to obscure how hard making such a plan would be, and how many currently well-insured people would end up being losers. I wrote that his plan

both promises more comprehensive coverage than Medicare or for that matter single-payer systems in other countries, and assumes huge cost savings that are at best unlikely given that kind of generosity. This lets Sanders claim that he could make it work with much lower middle-class taxes than would probably be needed in practice.

To be harsh but accurate: the Sanders health plan looks a little bit like a standard Republican tax-cut plan, which relies on fantasies about huge supply-side effects to make the numbers supposedly add up. Only a little bit: after all, this is a plan seeking to provide health care, not lavish windfalls on the rich — and single-payer really does save money, whereas there’s no evidence that tax cuts deliver growth. Still, it’s not the kind of brave truth-telling the Sanders campaign pitch might have led you to expect.

Now Kenneth Thorpe, a health policy expert (and a long-term supporter of health reform who believes that single payer would be a good thing if politically feasible) has tried to crunch the numbers, and it really doesn’t look good. Thorpe estimates that the plan would actually require about twice as much new revenue as Sanders claims.

The Sanders campaign is calling this a “hatchet job”; but as Jonathan Cohn says, Thorpe’s assumptions

are broadly consistent with what most health policy experts believe.

Or as Ezra Klein puts it,

the gap between Thorpe and Sanders is the gap between an economist who is optimistic that single-payer can save some money and a campaign optimistic that it can save a huge amount of money.

And it’s not good to see the campaign basically responding to questions about its numbers by attacking the motives of someone who should be on their side.

Brooks, Bruni, and Krugman

January 29, 2016

Bobo thinks he knows “What Republicans Should Say.”  He says David Cameron has outlined a truly conservative, pragmatic response to poverty, and we need an American version of it.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “This is why conservatives make my skin crawl. They treat poverty as a disease that some people catch, and then try to cure it by improving their character. Feed them religion instead of steak. Teach them how to live in poverty instead of paying higher wages.  Conservatives fret about values, as if they don’t emerge from the day-to-day experiences of people who struggle through unemployment and the economic abandonment of entire cities.”  Mr. Bruni, in “G.O.P. Debate Stars the Ghost of Donald Trump,” says during a night of spirited exchanges, there was no getting away from the spirit of the missing Republican front-runner.  In “Plutocrats and Prejudice” Prof. Krugman says an unspoken agenda is behind the ugliness in American politics.  Here’s Bobo:

For a few decades, American and British conservatism marched in tandem. Thatcher was philosophically akin to Reagan. John Major was akin to George Bush.

But now the two conservatisms have split. The key divide is over what to do about the slow-motion devastation being felt by the less educated, the working class and the poor.

Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have appealed to working-class voters mostly by blaming outsiders. If we could kick out all the immigrants there wouldn’t be lawbreakers driving down wages. If we could dismantle the Washington cartel the economy would rise.

In Britain David Cameron is going down another path. This month he gave a speech called “Life Chances.” Not to give away the ending or anything, but I’d give a lung to have a Republican politician give a speech like that in this country.

First, he defined the role of government: basic security. In a world full of risks, government can help furnish a secure base from which people can work, dream and rise.

Cameron argued that both sides in the debate over poverty suffered real limitations because they still used 20th-century thinking. The left has traditionally wanted to use the state to redistribute money downward. The right has traditionally relied on the market to generate the growth that lifts all boats.

The welfare state and the market are important, but, he argues, “talk to a single mum on a poverty-stricken estate, someone who suffers from chronic depression, someone who perhaps drinks all day to numb the pain of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. Tell her that because her benefits have risen by a couple of pounds a week, she and her children have been magically lifted out of poverty. Or on the other hand, if you told her about the great opportunities created by our market economy, I expect she’ll ask you what planet you’re actually on.”

Cameron called for a more social approach. He believes government can play a role in rebuilding social capital and in healing some of the traumas fueled by scarcity and family breakdown.

He laid out a broad agenda: Strengthen family bonds with shared parental leave and a tax code that rewards marriage. Widen opportunities for free marital counseling. Speed up the adoption process. Create a voucher program for parenting classes. Expand the Troubled Families program by 400,000 slots. This program spends 4,000 pounds (about $5,700) per family over three years and uses family coaches to help heal the most disrupted households.

Cameron would also create “character modules” for schools, so that there are intentional programs that teach resilience, curiosity, honesty and service. He would expand the National Citizen Service so that by 2021 60 percent of the nation’s 16-year-olds are performing national service, and meeting others from across society. He wants to create a program to recruit 25,000 mentors to work with young teenagers.

To address concentrated poverty, he would replace or revamp 100 public housing projects across the country. He would invest big sums in mental health programs and create a social impact fund to unlock millions for new drug and alcohol treatment.

It’s an agenda that covers the entire life cycle, aiming to give people the strength and social resources to stand on their own. In the U.S. we could use exactly this sort of agenda. There is an epidemic of isolation, addiction and trauma.

According to an AARP survey, one-third of adults over 45 report being chronically lonely. Drug overdose deaths of people ages 45 to 64 increased 11-fold between 1990 and 2010. More than half the American births to women under 30 are outside of marriage. Poorer parents are too strained and stressed to spend as much quality time raising their kids. According to the sociologist Robert Putnam, college-educated parents spend 50 percent more “Goodnight Moon” time with their kids than less-educated parents.

Meanwhile social support systems are fraying, especially for those without a college degree. Religious affiliation is plummeting. Since 1990 the number of people who declare no religious preference has tripled. Social trust is declining. Only 18 percent of high school seniors say that most people can be trusted.

There are two natural approaches to help those who are falling behind. The first we’ll call the Bernie Sanders approach. Focus on economics. Provide people with money and jobs and their lifestyles will become more stable. Marriage rates will rise. Depression rates will drop.

The second should be the conservative approach. Focus on social norms, community bonds and a nurturing civic fabric. People need relationships and basic security before they can respond to economic incentives.

But Republicans have walked away from their traditional Burkean turf. The two leading Republican presidential candidates offer little more than nativism and demagogy.

David Cameron has offered an agenda for a nation that is coming apart. There desperately needs to be an American version.

Next up we have Mr. Bruni, writing from Des Moines:

Donald Trump’s absence, of course, was the most compelling presence.

At the Republican debate here on Thursday night, Fox News didn’t put up an empty lectern. It didn’t need to. Trump was remembered. Trump was invoked. His ghost lingered, because he’d reshaped his Republican rivals’ images, reconfigured the challenges in front of them, rewritten the rules of this extraordinary race.

“Let’s address the elephant not in the room tonight,” said Megyn Kelly at the very start, and there was no doubt that the tusked behemoth in question had an oddly shaped swirl of vaguely cantaloupe-colored hair. She then asked Ted Cruz what message Trump’s failure to attend the event sent to the voters of Iowa.

Cruz didn’t just discuss Trump. He imitated him.

“I’m a maniac, and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly,” Cruz said. Addressing Ben Carson, he added: “You’re a terrible surgeon.”

“Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way,” he continued, “I want to thank everyone here for showing the men and women of Iowa the respect to show up.”

He was mocking Trump, but in the process affirmed that everything revolves around Trump.

Almost a half-hour later, he was still making fun of Trump.

“If you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage,” Cruz warned sarcastically.

Marco Rubio got in on the action by chiming in: “Don’t worry, I’m not leaving the stage no matter what you ask me.” The point of reference remained Trump, who was also the subject of some of the first words out of Jeb Bush’s mouth.

“I kind of miss Donald Trump,” Bush said. “He was a little teddy bear to me.” He then claimed that in debates past, he had taken on Trump more boldly than any of his competitors on the stage. Trump, in other words, was the proof of his mettle, the dragon that he alone set out to slay.

Shortly before the event began, Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News, tweeted, “Republican candidates must be looking forward to tonight’s debate. Speaking without Donald getting all attention.”

Wishful thinking.

Trump got plenty of attention, because the drama offstage matched the drama onstage. For the two days leading up to the event, the main story — seemingly the only story — was his decision to skip it: Political suicide or stroke of genius?

In the hours before it, CNN could speak of almost nothing but Trump. It kept flashing footage of the fan-packed rally he had orchestrated just a couple of miles from the debate, to compete with it.

“There are thousands who have waited hours throughout the day,” the anchor Erin Burnett marveled.

When her colleague Anderson Cooper then interviewed a CNN correspondent at the debate itself, the first question he asked her was about how the debaters were likely to adjust to a Trump-less event.

“His shadow is looming large, even though he is not there,” Cooper said to the correspondent, then he turned to the network’s panel of political analysts, who talked about Trump, Trump, Trump.

And here I am, writing about Trump, Trump, Trump.

It’s impossible not to. It would be irresponsible not to, because believe it or not, hate it or love it, he’s the Republican campaign’s great and sobering lesson to the country, telling us things about its discontents that we didn’t properly understand. He’s the campaign’s undeniable force of gravity, exerting a pull on everyone and everything around him.

You could feel that pull at the debate, where the toughness with which Kelly grilled Cruz and Rubio on immigration — even showing footage of past remarks that caught them in flips, flops and contradictions — was a clear demonstration of her readiness to put any candidate on the skewer, not just Trump.

You could feel that pull in the fieriness of many candidates’ manners and the extremes to which they pushed their positions. Trump has set the temperature of the conversation, and it’s a blistering one that had Rubio pledging over and over to keep Guantánamo Bay open and stuff it full of terrorists.

You could feel that pull above all in the duration and emotionalism of the immigration discussion itself. It’s Trump’s promised wall and Trump’s pledges to deport millions of immigrants that have made this issue so prominent and compelled Republican candidates to take harder lines than they previously had.

On Thursday night, those lines tripped up Rubio and Cruz, whose difficult time onstage had everything to do with the fact that Trump wasn’t there. He’s the front-runner; he would have been the main target. Without him, they drew more fire.

“I’m kind of confused,” Bush said of Rubio’s approach to immigration reform over the years. “He led the charge to finally fix this immigration problem that has existed now for, as Marco says, for 30 years. And then he cut and run because it wasn’t popular among conservatives, I guess.”

Rubio didn’t have a persuasive response, but later went after Cruz, insinuating that he once had an approach to immigration less unyielding than the one he’s promoting on the campaign trail.

“Now you want to trump Trump on immigration,” Rubio said.

Political observers have been waiting for Rubio’s breakout moment, and many predicted that he’d have it at this debate. He didn’t. Put frequently on the defensive, he reverted to lines he’d used before and nuggets from his stump speech, and he kept returning to ISIS and military might, military might and ISIS. He came across as overly programmed, one-dimensional and itchy to go to war.

And Cruz couldn’t banish a sour expression and an air of grievance.

Three of the underdogs — Bush, Chris Christie and Rand Paul — had the best moments. Christie circled back too frequently to his beloved, overworked boast that he would make sure that Hillary Clinton never again got close to the White House, but he had a terrific retort to Cruz’s and Rubio’s explanations of their legislative histories on immigration reform.

“I feel like I need a Washington-to-English dictionary,” Christie said.

Bush was genuinely funny, as when he reintroduced Trump toward the end of the debate.

“I mentioned his name again just if anybody was missing him,” Bush said.

Missing him? Not really. I’d be glad to have him gone for good.

But he isn’t and he wasn’t, not on a night when the candidates molded their answers to the reality (and the reality show) that he’s created, not when they felt obliged to bring him up, not when he dominated the discussion without even taking part of it. Nifty trick, that.

Elephant, bear, dragon: Those aren’t the right beasts.

What the debate made clear is that Trump is all fox.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Every time you think that our political discourse can’t get any worse, it does. The Republican primary fight has devolved into a race to the bottom, achieving something you might have thought impossible: making George W. Bush look like a beacon of tolerance and statesmanship. But where is all the nastiness coming from?

Well, there’s debate about that — and it’s a debate that is at the heart of the Democratic contest.

Like many people, I’ve described the competition between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as an argument between competing theories of change, which it is. But underlying that argument is a deeper dispute about what’s wrong with America, what brought us to the state we’re in.

To oversimplify a bit — but only, I think, a bit — the Sanders view is that money is the root of all evil. Or more specifically, the corrupting influence of big money, of the 1 percent and the corporate elite, is the overarching source of the political ugliness we see all around us.

The Clinton view, on the other hand, seems to be that money is the root of some evil, maybe a lot of evil, but it isn’t the whole story. Instead, racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice are powerful forces in their own right. This may not seem like a very big difference — both candidates oppose prejudice, both want to reduce economic inequality. But it matters for political strategy.

As you might guess, I’m on the many-evils side of this debate. Oligarchy is a very real issue, and I was writing about the damaging rise of the 1 percent back when many of today’s Sanders supporters were in elementary school. But it’s important to understand how America’s oligarchs got so powerful.

For they didn’t get there just by buying influence (which is not to deny that there’s a lot of influence-buying out there). Crucially, the rise of the American hard right was the rise of a coalition, an alliance between an elite seeking low taxes and deregulation and a base of voters motivated by fears of social change and, above all, by hostility toward you-know-who.

Yes, there was a concerted, successful effort by billionaires to push America to the right. That’s not conspiracy theorizing; it’s just history, documented at length in Jane Mayer’s eye-opening new book “Dark Money.” But that effort wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as it has without the political aftermath of the Civil Rights Act, and the resulting flip of Southern white voters to the G.O.P.

Until recently you could argue that whatever the motivations of conservative voters, the oligarchs remained firmly in control. Racial dog whistles, demagogy on abortion and so on would be rolled out during election years, then put back into storage while the Republican Party focused on its real business of enabling shadow banking and cutting top tax rates.

But in this age of Trump, not so much. The 1 percent has no problems with immigration that brings in cheap labor; it doesn’t want a confrontation over Planned Parenthood; but the base isn’t taking guidance the way it used to.

In any case, however, the question for progressives is what all of this says about political strategy.

If the ugliness in American politics is all, or almost all, about the influence of big money, then working-class voters who support the right are victims of false consciousness. And it might — might — be possible for a candidate preaching economic populism to break through this false consciousness, thereby achieving a revolutionary restructuring of the political landscape, by making a sufficiently strong case that he’s on their side. Some activists go further and call on Democrats to stop talking about social issues other than income inequality, although Mr. Sanders hasn’t gone there.

On the other hand, if the divisions in American politics aren’t just about money, if they reflect deep-seated prejudices that progressives simply can’t appease, such visions of radical change are naïve. And I believe that they are.

That doesn’t say that movement toward progressive goals is impossible — America is becoming both more diverse and more tolerant over time. Look, for example, at how quickly opposition to gay marriage has gone from a reliable vote-getter for the right to a Republican liability.

But there’s still a lot of real prejudice out there, and probably enough so that political revolution from the left is off the table. Instead, it’s going to be a hard slog at best.

Is this an unacceptably downbeat vision? Not to my eyes. After all, one reason the right has gone so berserk is that the Obama years have in fact been marked by significant if incomplete progressive victories, on health policy, taxes, financial reform and the environment. And isn’t there something noble, even inspiring, about fighting the good fight, year after year, and gradually making things better?

Krugman’s blog, 1/27/16

January 28, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Health Wonks and Bernie Bros:”

So Charles Gaba, whose excellent site ACA Signups has been a huge secret resource for those of us covering health reform, is getting the Bernie Bro treatment. Never mind his long service to the cause of covering the uninsured (and his declaration that he’ll support either candidate in the general): his carefully laid-out explanation of his support for Hillary Clinton’s incremental approach means that he’s a corrupt tool of the oligarchy.

Oh well. Meanwhile, the Sanders skepticism of the wonks continues: Paul Starr lays out the case. As far as I can tell, every serious progressive policy expert on either health care or financial reform who has weighed in on the primary seems to lean Hillary. This could be because being in the trenches of the health care fight gives you an acute sense of the possible, and because having paid close attention to the financial crisis makes you a shadow-banking, not too big to fail guy. Or it could be because they are, one and all, corrupt corporate lackeys. I report, you decide.

Just to be clear, Sanders himself is not at fault here. And if Hillary is the nominee, I expect him to do what she herself did in 2008, and will surely do if he wins an upset: make it clear that whatever their differences, and whatever the primary loser’s personal frustration, there’s no comparison with the reactionary extremism of all the GOP candidates.

But it’s disappointing to see so much intolerance over what are basically differences in strategy, not goals.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

January 28, 2016

In “Hillary Clinton’s Crucible” Mr. Blow says at the town hall, her back was against the wall, and she was brilliant. That seems to be when she gives her best performances.  It isn’t often that I disagree violently with Mr. Kristof, but today’s one of those days.  He gives us “Compassionate Conservatives, Hello?” in which he whines that Democrats are too quick to assume they have a monopoly on caring. He then says bravo to efforts by some Republicans to disprove them.  The “some Republicans” are headed up by the Zombie Eyed Granny Starver — Paul Ryan, of all people.  In the comments “JABarry” from Maryland had this to say:  “I’m sorry Mr. Kristof, but “Compassionate Conservative” is an oxymoron. Republicans have shown over many decades that their pretense of compassion is misleading advertisement…you must read the small print. For instance, you say Republicans “were right that the best way to spell aid is often j-o-b.” Progressives agree, a job is a pathway out of poverty, BUT what do Republicans say in the small print? They say that you must give the wealthy class more tax cuts, then jobs will trickle down. They say, NO to raising the minimum wage because they don’t believe in a living wage; they are quite satisfied that people work for slave-pay. Republicans don’t believe in labor unions, they don’t believe in employment benefits such as healthcare, maternity leave, childcare leave, or equal pay for women. They don’t believe in social security, which is earned based on work. The bottom-line is Republicans actually spell aid: s-e-r-v-i-t-u-d-e. Servitude fits in with their vision of serfs serving the interests of the privileged wealthy class–that is the small print Republican definition of “Compassionate Conservative.””  Amen.  Ms. Collins is “Deconstructing Hillary and Bernie” and says let’s look at how the two Democratic candidates — Martin who? — differ.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Monday night’s presidential town hall provided the best format and platform yet for the Democratic candidates. Each was able to play to his or her strengths without the back-and-forth conflict-baiting that debate moderators seem to demand.

Even so, Hillary Clinton stood out.

Not only did she seem completely at ease in this environment, but she was also confident and wide-ranging in her answers, delivering many in an assertive tone that was one tick below yelling, and displaying a depth and breadth of knowledge that few can match.

She was at the top of her game.

She had to be. Senator Bernie Sanders is breathing down her neck in Iowa with a message that’s increasingly popular among dissatisfied liberals and that she hasn’t been able to counter sufficiently. Furthermore, at the previous debate, she made a huge tactical error by attacking Sanders’s motives and integrity, a move that made her appear smaller, desperate and hostile.

At the town hall, Clinton’s back was against the wall, and she performed brilliantly. Indeed, that seems to be when she gives her best performances — when her back is against the wall. But she is often in that position because of her own doing, her own lapses in judgment, her own miscalculations.

It is an odd, cyclical exercise to continue to praise her for climbing out of holes she digs for herself. There almost seems to be a self-destructive, self-defeating impulse at play, a need to be perpetually down so that she can perpetually fight her way back up, a sort of crisis dependency.

It is hard to see how this seesawing can produce a winning campaign or a successful presidency, should she win it. She’s going to have to stay at or near the top of her game for the duration.

Then there is the strange reality that the ritual of her fighting her way back, even with strong showings like Monday’s, can take on air of disingenuousness in and of itself.

The cynical read is that these command performances are calculated, the maneuvering of a purely political being with a gift for guile.

That assessment isn’t particularly fair, but it is quite real. I believe it happens in part because there can be an animatronic plasticity present in her comportment and conveyance that raises questions of ambition versus authenticity. She is hands down the most broadly qualified and experienced among the candidates. But there remains an intangible quality that eludes her: connectivity. Even many people who admire her simply don’t trust her.

This is the same problem that, to varying degrees, Mitt Romney, Al Gore and Bob Dole had. It’s not fixable. Indeed, attempts to fix it feel even more forced and phony.

Another part of this problem stems from something far more tangible: the taint of scandal that has trailed her and her husband much of their lives.

One of the questions she got Monday night cut to the quick of this issue for her.

A young man rose and asked the following:

“It feels like there is a lot of young people like myself who are very passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders. And I just don’t see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you. In fact, I’ve heard from quite a few people my age that they think you’re dishonest, but I’d like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn’t there.”

These are Clinton’s biggest weaknesses: people’s sense of her trustworthiness, and the relative lack of excitement she engenders, particularly among young voters.

Perceptions of honesty and trustworthiness are bad and getting worse, even among Democrats. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday, among Democrats and independents leaning that way:

“Sanders now leads by 12 points, 48-36 percent, in being seen as more honest and trustworthy, vs. 6 points last month and an even split in October.”

Then there is Clinton’s mounting younger-voter problem.

According to a USA TODAY/Rock the Vote poll conducted this month, Sanders leads Clinton among millennial Democrats and independents (those age 18 to 34) 46 percent to 35 percent. Among millennial Democratic and independent women, Sanders’s lead in the poll was even greater: 50 percent to Clinton’s 31 percent. Sanders’s strength, and Clinton’s weakness, is mostly driven by the youngest millennials. According to the paper:

“Among both genders, Sanders has 57 percent backing in the 18-25 age group, according to the USA Today/Rock the Vote poll. That drops to 36 percent for those ages 26-34. For Clinton, the opposite is true. She gets 44 percent of those ages 26 to 34 and 25 percent of those 18-25.”

Sanders has become the cool uncle and Clinton has become the cold aunt.

Although many of Sanders’s plans appear on their face to be unworkable and, if they were workable, would cause a massive, possibly unprecedented, expansion of government in this country, I don’t think young people think about it that way. I believe that many of them see Sanders as someone committed to dismantling a broken system and its component broken institutions — financial, political and educational.

Millennials are notoriously distrusting of institutions. Sanders is anti-institution. The Clintons are an institution.

Clinton answered the question at the town hall mostly by evading it, and turning her attention to the constant in her life: her enemies and their attacks on her. She said at one point:

“You know, look, I’ve been around a long time. People have thrown all kinds of things at me. And you know I can’t keep up with it. I just keep going forward.”

Survival doesn’t excite, and it’s not proof of moral rectitude. But it is evidence of a certain kind of I-will-survive resilience and an I-know-how-to-survive savvy.

And that informs the choice Democrats have to make in choosing a nominee: Do they want to put forth a survivor in chief, of whom many are suspicious and about whom few are truly excited, or a dream in chief (in the candidacy of Sanders) who says all the things they want to hear but that they quietly know he’ll never be able to deliver?

Now here’s the oh-so-wrong Mr. Kristof:

Back in 2000, George W. Bush did something fascinating: On the campaign trail he preached “compassionate conservatism,” telling wealthy Republicans about the travails of Mexican-American immigrants and declaring to women in pearls that “the hardest job in America” is that of a single mother.

Those well-heeled audiences looked baffled, but applauded.

That instinct to show a little heart helped elect Bush but then largely disappeared from Republican playbooks and policy. Yet now, amid the Republican Party’s civil war, there are intriguing initiatives by the House speaker, Paul Ryan, and some other conservatives to revive an interest in the needy.

Liberals like myself may be tempted to dismiss these new efforts as mere marketing gestures, meant to whitewash what one of the initiatives acknowledges is “the longstanding view of a meanspirited conservatism.”

Maybe the liberal skeptics will be proved right. But we should still all root for these efforts, because ultimately whether the poor get help may depend less on Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders than on Republicans at every level. Whether Medicaid is expanded, whether we get high-quality pre-K, whether we tackle addiction, family planning and job training, whether lead continues to poison American children — all these will depend mostly on Republicans who control Congress and most states.

Moreover, Democrats are too quick to assume that they have a monopoly on compassion. President Bush, for example, didn’t govern nearly as compassionately as he campaigned. Yet his program against AIDS saved millions of lives. He did a stellar job battling malaria and pressing the fight against sex trafficking.

This will be even harder for Democrats to accept, but Republicans have also sometimes been proved right on poverty issues. They were right that the best way to spell aid is often j-o-b. They were right on the importance of strong two-parent families: We now know that children in single-mother families are five times as likely to live in poverty as those in married households.

So I’d be thrilled if Republicans participated in debates about poverty, rather than forfeited the terrain. A real debate would also elevate issues that now are largely neglected, and it would create an opening to hold politicians’ feet to the fire: If Ryan cares, then why did he try to slash budgets for evidence-based programs that help children?

One of the new initiatives is “Challenging the Caricature,” based on a document that will be presented at an event at Stanford’s Hoover Institution next week. Written by Michael Horowitz, Michael Novak, John O’Sullivan, Mona Charen, Linda Chavez and other prominent conservatives, it calls on the right to tackle human rights issues so as to shatter “the caricatures that define conservatives as uncaring.”

“Our values are regarded by millions of Americans as inconsistent with theirs and with America’s inherent decency,” the document warns.

Ryan moderated a forum this month on poverty that drew six Republican presidential hopefuls and tried to frame a G.O.P. perspective on the issue. “We now have a safety net that is designed to catch people falling into poverty,” Ryan said, “when what we really need is a safety net that is designed to help get people out of poverty.”

One reason for skepticism that any of this will get traction: Among the candidates who skipped the forum were the front-runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Neither seems interested in this arena.

A final initiative is an excellent plan to reduce poverty put together by a team from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institution. The report pushes work requirements for government benefits, but also a modest rise in the minimum wage. Instead of increasing public funds for higher education, it suggests taking financial assistance that now goes to higher-income families and redirecting it to the neediest.

This report emphasizes that one way to bridge the political divide is to focus on evidence. We now have robust results showing that vocational programs like career academies help disadvantaged young people get jobs and raise their marriage rates.  Parent-coaching programs improve disadvantaged children’s outcomes so much that they save public money.

If you’re a liberal, you may be rolling your eyes. You’re sure that Republicans are just layering compassion camouflage over policies meant to benefit billionaires. Sure, be skeptical. But at least now there can be a debate about how to help, about what the evidence says, about whether Ryan and others act the way they speak.

The parties see each other as the root of all evil. But when they have cooperated on humanitarian efforts, real progress has been made: on AIDS, on prison rape, on the earned-income tax credit.

The sad truth is that neither party has done enough to address the shame of deep-rooted poverty in America. So let’s hope for a real contest in this area, because everybody loses — above all, America’s neediest — when most of the time one party doesn’t even bother to show up.

I’ll believe that ZEGS and the rest of the mole people give a crap about the poor when pigs fly.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

The Democratic presidential race hasn’t been getting as much attention as the Republican side. This is for the same reason that professional wrestling gets more viewers than “Book TV.” There’s something compelling about a lot of grunting and body slams.

Let’s get focused. Time to discuss how Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton differ on the issues.

You forgot to mention Martin O’Malley.

No, I didn’t.

About Clinton and Sanders. Their positions on most things are similar. They both favor universal prekindergarten and support gay marriage, reproductive rights and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They both want to raise the minimum wage, but Sanders is shooting for $15 while Clinton says $12. They both have ambitious plans to fight climate change. Clinton wants to see more than half a billion solar panels in operation by 2020; Sanders has called for 10 million.

Ha! Who’s the transformational thinker there, Bernie?

Well, his campaign says it meant solar roofs. The more important point is that Sanders also wants a major tax on businesses that keep using fossil fuels. As we go along here, you will note that his proposals are almost all much bolder and that practically everything on his shopping list includes new or higher taxes on somebody. Occasionally everybody, although Sanders would argue that the little people will get their money back through things like free health care and generous family leave policies.

Clinton doesn’t want to raise taxes?

Some, but mainly on the superrich. Nothing on couples making less than $250,000.

I vote the person, not the platform. Who would I like more?

You’d like them both. These are politicians. They spend their lives trying to please people. You don’t get to this level if nobody can stand being around you. Unless, of course, you’re Ted Cruz.

Do you think Sanders has so many young supporters because he’s transformational or because he wants to make college free?

That’s certainly a big applause line. This is another good way of looking at the candidates’ differences. Sanders has a sweeping plan: free tuition at public colleges and universities, period. Clinton has a similar goal, but her plan is more complicated because she wants to screen out kids whose parents could afford to pay the freight themselves.

So his is easier to understand, while she avoids the problem of having to explain in the final election why the taxpayers should be underwriting chemistry class for Donald Trump’s grandchildren.

Are you going to talk about Wall Street? Preferably briefly. Without mentioning the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

Very, very basically, Bernie Sanders has a dramatic plan to regulate the big banks, tax the speculators and punish Wall Street evildoers. Clinton would argue that the banks have been pretty well taken care of by the Dodd-Frank law and that what you really need to do is focus on the hedge funds. This is so oversimplified, I’m kind of ashamed. Maybe we should go back and …

That’s plenty. Really! So Clinton isn’t in the pocket of big special interests who paid her millions of dollars to give speeches?

Many people think her Wall Street reform plan is O.K. But on a personal level, it was inexcusable of her to give those $200,000 speeches for investment bankers and the like when she knew she was going to be running for president. Not good at all.

You’d better say something positive about Hillary Clinton now or I’m going to call this quits.

She’s stupendously smart. She has a lifetime record of fighting for good causes, particularly children and women’s rights. She would almost certainly be a lot better at working with Congress than President Obama has been.

What about a President Sanders? Could he actually do any of the stuff he’s talking about?

It’s hard to imagine getting Congress to upgrade Obamacare to a single-payer system — what he describes as Medicare for all. You remember what an enormous lift it was to get any health care reform at all passed. But Sanders’s theory is that by electing him, the people will be sending a message so strong even Congress can’t ignore it.

Wow, do you think that could happen?

That’s the bottom line of the whole contest. Vote for Bernie: Send a message. Vote for Hillary: She knows how to make things work.

I would like to elect someone who can make things work while simultaneously sending a message.

Do you ever watch those house-hunting shows where people make the list of what they want in their next home, and it’s always a place in the heart of the city that’s quiet and has green space for the dog and four bedrooms so guests can come visit, for no more than $500 a month?

You’re saying I can’t have everything.

Hey, wait until I ask you to choose between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.


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