Sunday, June 17, 2012

Kelly tries to make Obama into the liberal characterture of Dubya

Today's Jack Kelly column is a startling study in what information to leave out when you try to persuade your readers of a point of view. I don't believe anything Jack Kelly says (or anything he quotes) is, strictly speaking, untrue, but he leaves out information that would indicate the reverse of the points he is trying to make and, I would argue, tries to persuade us of arguments not supported by reality.

The title of the column plays off the media stereotype of Mitt Romney - "Out-of-touch Obama: The president doesn't understand how the private sector works". Right of the bat Kelly is referencing the soundbite from the President - "the private sector is doing fine". Pretty much everyone knows Obama was making a comparison between a weakly growing private sector and state and local governments that are laying off employees. Yeah, that sentence was a stupid thing for Obama to say, but the point of the entire press conference was not lost on the public, since right after Mitt Ronmney said we have enough teachers and firefighters right now, we don't need any more (maybe in the wealthy suburbs where your three current houses that I know of are).

Actually, starting with that title and in the rest of the column, it really reminded me of the media stereotype of George W Bush. Kelly starts the column talking about how Obama has set a record for fundraising appearances. This is certainly true (I have seen it reported elsewhere), but Jack Kelly omits a couple of interesting facts. First, in a list of the top ten groups that give money to candidates, seven of the ten are industry groups that are now giving to Republicans. The other three are unions that are now giving to Democrats, but they are in the process of shrinking largely because of what is being done to public service unions by Republican governors. The second point is, despite Obama's numerous fundraising appearances, Mitt Romney is now raising more money than him. So when Jack Kelly insinuates that Barack Obama does not understand how bad the economy is for ordinary folks because all he does is hang out with rich people at fundraisers, why shouldn't we think that applies even more to Mr Romney?

Kelly takes throwaway shots at Obama along the way, reminding us of Scott Walker's victory in Wisconsin and how he describes "green" energy projects as "crony capitalism". You have to kind of assume that Jack Kelly's readers know that billionaire businessmen are giving record amounts of money to Mitt Romney and other Republicans, so I guess this constant rant about "crony capitalism" is the far right's attempt to paint the Democrats as worse in this area. It is an attempt to paint efforts to curb carbon emissions as having a financial benefit for the President's pals. This all fits into the greater narrative of the far right, that global warming is an obviously refuted hoax, created to solidify government control of our lives redistribute wealth from the rich to the bureaucrats by robbing energy companies of their income and impoverishing us all. I guess, I don't really follow the sketchy logic of the far right world view (where Jack Kelly lives) all that well.

At this point in the column, Jack Kelly describes the current state of the economy, which is not good. I guess he does this to show that while Barack Obama is out of touch, Jack Kelly (and I suppose by extension we are supposed to think Mitt Romney) is in touch with the pulse of the economy. This could be a risky strategy; on Bill Maher's "Real Time" on Friday night David Frum suggested the hidden message of the Romney campaign is that Barack Obama can't fix the mess the Republicans created.

Jack Kelly then does an abrupt about face, he suggests that in fact Barack Obama is wrong about state and local governments. First Kelly cites an interesting unemployment number (4.2%) for government workers. Honestly I don't know quite why it is so low, but I will say that a) it is for the feds, state and local, and Media Matters takes considerable pains to explain the effect of state and local job cuts. Among others, they quote the Economist magazine expressing alarm about the job cuts.

Kelly then points out that state revenues grew by 4.1 percent in the first quarter of 2012. There are two reason why this statement is so incomplete as to be misleading. First of all, tax revenues starting falling hard in 2008. and didn't start recovering until 2010, and just like the economy at large, tax revenues have not recovered to 2008 levels (hint: part of that is unemployment not having dropped to 2008 levels). So to illustrate the point with totally made up numbers, if tax revenues were at 100 in 2008 (100 percent, perhaps), they might have dropped to, say 75% by 2010, and have slowly grown back by maybe 10 points in 2011 and now by 4 more points in the first quarter of 2012. That's still more than 10 points down from 2008 levels, and there is the state and local debt incurred in 2008 through 2010. The stimulus defrayed some of that in 2009 and 2010, but it was temporary and (now generally acknowledged) too small, so it is no surprise that state and local governments are scrambling to cut jobs - a half million or so in the last couple of years. Add in Republican governors pursuing an anti-union agenda to the mix, and we see a special enthusiasm for cutting government jobs.

Kelly also raises that old canard that government workers are paid 16 percent more in pay and benefits than public sector workers, but that misses the point that many government workers such as teachers pretty have to have at least bachelors degrees in order to teach. Government workers are, in general, better educated and therefore better paid than the private sector as an average. Actually, I have read that government workers are in fact more poorly paid than their equivalents education wise in the private sector (teachers making less than corporate trainers, for example).

But a larger point is that Jack Kelly is making contradictory arguments here. First he is telling us the economy in general and the private sector in particular are doing badly. Then he tells us that the public sector is doing well. Yet how can this be the case if states and local governments have to depend on tax revenues, which we have already indicated are likely quite reduced. Remember, they can only borrow for capital projects, and then only by issuing bonds. Kelly's contention that the private sector is doing well (too big) makes no sense. Which is one of the problems of the Republican narrative as a whole.

Kelly's final snark about Obama being more out of touch than Romney is undermined by Kelly's distortions by omission throughout his column. Maybe Obama is out of touch, but how would the Republicans know when they think a half million laid of workers is a sign of healthy state and local governments? And anyway it is still true that the Republican is building a car elevator in his vacation home.

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