Tuesday, September 1, 2015

David Brooks, the Prime Offender

Elliott Dexter and Pauline Garon in Cecil B. DeMille's Adam's Rib (1923). 
David Brooks, "Hillary Clinton, the Great Defender", September 1 2015:
Hillary Clinton has obviously had a bad summer. She’s losing in New Hampshire to Bernie Sanders, even among women. She’s barely leading him in Iowa. In a Quinnipiac poll of potential general election matchups, she’s beating Donald Trump by only four points, 45 to 41, and she’s beating Marco Rubio by only one point.
David Brooks has obviously had a bad summer. In moral philosophy, he consistently loses to columnists who actually have a point of view, however repellent, like Ross Douthat; in a shocking turnaround, he's even losing to Douthat in wry cynicism—the smile-pout that has long been his signature moue (Ross is a Hansel come to challenge Brooks's Zoolander). In a head-to-head test of how he is viewed by economists, he gets considerably less respect than Thomas L. Friedman, and is barely more positively regarded than Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post.

The conventional view on the pandit cocktail circuit is that he horribly mishandled the fabricated-data scandal that accompanied the launch of his campaign book, The Road to Character. That's part of it, especially since (unlike, say, just for example, Hillary Clinton) he had clearly done something unethical, but popular opinion shows a more pervasive personal set of weaknesses, portraying him variously as a tool of the Likud Party; a hypocritical moralizer asking people to live their family, work, and religious lives in a way he has been completely unable to do himself; and an ignorant twit. He—

But you get the point.
In an AP/GfK poll, only 40 percent of Americans think she is compassionate. Only 30 percent say she is honest. 
 Not exactly, though it's not exactly his fault; the pollsters don't describe their questions very well:
Only 4 in 10 voters say they view Clinton as “compassionate.” Just 3 in 10 said the word “honest” described her either very or somewhat well.... The percentage of respondents calling Clinton at least somewhat inspiring also slipped from 44 percent to 37 percent. Even the number of voters saying Clinton is at least somewhat decisive, previously a strong point for the former New York senator, fell from 56 percent in April to 47 percent in the new poll.
They asked respondents to rate her on this list of adjective as very, somewhat, slightly, or not at all, and "how well does this word describe" her; and if you check out the topline and count the slightlys, you get a very different picture: 76% think that "compassionate" describes her at least slightly well, 79% "honest", 78% "decisive", 78%  "inspiring", 77% "likable", and 79% "competent". In treating "slightly" as a negative (equivalent to "somewhat disagree"), the poll is making an elementary error. They also fail to tell us—they may not have asked—how any of the Republicans rated on these, but we have the approval numbers from the same poll, and
Nearly all of the Republican candidates surveyed in the poll shared her underwater approval ratings. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a leading GOP candidate, saw his unfavorable ratings rise to 44 percent from 36 percent in April.
Which is not exactly right, in the sense that it's more than "nearly" all and every one of them is not just underwater but doing worse than her in one respect (net negative) or another (recognition). That is, in positive-minus-negative ratings,
  • Obama -1 (5% don't know)
  • Rubio -2 (43% dk)
  • Walker -5% (58% dk)
  • Carson -5% (62% dk)
  • Clinton -10% (9% dk)
  • Bush -13% (23% dk)
  • Cruz -13% (43% dk)
  • Christie -21% (31% dk)
  • Trump -30% (12% dk)
Where you can see if Rubio, Walker, and Carson have a higher score, it's an arithmetical artifact of nobody knowing who the hell they are. In raw scores, Clinton, at 39% approval, is by far the least unpopular other than the guy who's not running (Obama at 47%), miles ahead of Bush (31%), Trump (28%), Carson (20%), or Walker (17%). More to the point, it's entirely irrelevant to how she's doing in the primary, since neither Sanders nor O'Malley nor any other Democratic candidate is included.
In a variety of polls, many voters say she just doesn’t get people like them, usually the key Democratic strength.
Which ones? ("All of 'em, Katie!") Actually looks like he got it from Mark Shields last time they were on the teevee together. It seems true, too, that she has been scoring poorly of late on the "cares about people like you" question ("cares", not "gets"). But as far as I can tell from pollingreport.com it hardly gets asked on a national level for anybody else in the field, so who knows what it means? Possibly that the horse-race media is fixated on it in respect to her and nobody else.
Clinton’s campaign nonetheless has a distinct aura. Maybe next to Michael Dukakis’s, it is the least romantic, poetic and uplifting Democratic campaign in decades.
Some aura! I'm OK with campaigns not being romantic, though. Poetic, fine, but classical. Or maybe Baroque.
All descriptions of her campaigns have to start with the fact that for most of Clinton’s political career she has been playing defense....
In her campaign speeches she describes a political, economic and global world that is red in tooth and claw.
Really? In what sense?
You may have heard Governor Bush say last week that Americans just need to work longer hours. Well, he must not have met very many American workers.
Let him tell that to the nurse who stands on her feet all day or the trucker who drives all night. Let him tell that to the fast food workers marching in the streets for better pay. They don’t need a lecture – they need a raise.
The truth is, the current rules for our economy reward some work – like financial trading – much more than other work, like actually building and selling things the work that’s always been the backbone of our economy.
Ah, he means she thinks there are some problems that need to be solved. How dreadfully shrill! What a weird stance for a Democratic politician to take, huh?
She’s still the prohibitive favorite to get the nomination, but we have yet to see if she can play offense.... She can be quite funny in her speeches, but her humor is the humor of the counterattack — mostly sarcastic humor aimed at Republicans, the press and her critics.
She's so defensive it's downright offensive! Or, as my dad used to say, the best defense is a good punch in the throat.

Speaking of which, I guess that's all he's up to here. Trying to stand out by not writing about Donald Trump. Twiddling his thumbs and praying for Trump to go away, he can't write about Republicans at all, so he's concern trolling. Defending his party by changing the subject.  He has nothing, as usual, to say.

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