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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On Pandering

posted by on May 6 at 11:07 AM

OK, I think Clinton’s proposed gas-tax holiday is pointless (and misguided—shockingly, working-class voters aren’t buying the Yale-educated lawyer’s “I don’t listen to elites” rap) political pandering. But lest you think Clinton’s the only candidate who, to use Obama’s phrase, “panders” to working-class voters with “classic Washington gimmicks,” check out what Obama himself had to say when he voted for a similar “gimmick” in the Illinois state senate—not once, but on three separate occasions:

Obama told constituents that gasoline prices would drop: “Gas retailers must post on each pump a statement that indicates that the state tax has been suspended and that this temporary elimination of the tax should be reflected in the price per gallon of gas.”

During one state Senate floor debate, Obama joked that he wanted signs on gas pumps in his district to say, “Senator Obama reduced your gasoline prices.”

Maybe, as some have argued, Obama’s gas-tax holiday reduced gas prices in Illinois. (Personally, I don’t think lowering gas prices temporarily is a good thing, so both candidates get demerits from me on this front). Maybe it didn’t. But let’s be clear: neither of the two Democratic presidential candidates is a stranger to political pandering. Hillary does it. And so does Obama.

Here’s another example: In a campaign mailer timed for Kentucky’s May 20 primary, a plaid-shirt-clad Obama declares his allegiance to “clean Kentucky coal.” Currently, though, there are no “clean coal” plants in Kentucky, which is to say that there is no such thing as “clean Kentucky coal.” There is, however, plenty of dirty Kentucky coal, as Grist reports:

Obama may believe in clean Kentucky coal, but many residents of the state are more familiar with the dirty kind. According to activists on the ground, strip-mining “is turning Eastern Kentucky into a despicable latrine.” Hundreds of mountains have been leveled, leaving poverty and unemployment in their wake. The number of jobs created in Kentucky by coal has dropped by 60 percent in the last 15 years.

As Kentucky resident Erik Reese reported in Grist, studies in the state have found that children there suffer from “an alarmingly high rate of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and shortness of breath — symptoms of something called blue baby syndrome — that can all be traced back to sedimentation and dissolved minerals that have drained from mine sites into nearby streams. Long-term effects may include liver, kidney, and spleen failure, bone damage, and cancers of the digestive tract.”

There’s a difficult conversation to be had with voters in coal states like Kentucky about the fate of coal and the steps political leaders can take to help coal communities through the coming transition. For the moment, at least, Obama seems unwilling to have that conversation.


RSS icon Comments


"Kentucky, a despicable latrine"? Sounds about right.

Posted by Peter F | May 6, 2008 11:12 AM

Love your "my politician panders less than yours" game.

Obama had the balls to admit he voted for it and it was a mistake. He also had the guts to say it did very little to help consumers.

But, as with all things, you'll give Hillary a free pass.

Posted by Jeff | May 6, 2008 11:17 AM

Ha! Another one. I love it.

Obama used to support a gas tax holiday. Then he saw it doesn't work and he changed his position. It shows that, unlike your candidate, he's not just a panderer and he's capable of admitting his mistakes and learning from them.

Posted by keshmeshi | May 6, 2008 11:19 AM

Jesus! I'm so sick of this shit! C'mon...Hillary is going around calling every economist in America an "elitist"...that's pandering on a pretty fucked up, Bush-esque scale. How does this not bother you??? Where's your brain?? Wake up!!

Posted by Matthew | May 6, 2008 11:19 AM

Obama has cited his experience with the Illinois gas-tax reduction as evidence that the current proposal will not work. The reason for the signs on the pumps was to try to ensure the oil companies didn't just pocket the tax savings.

Admittedly the clean coal does worry me, but I don't see Hillary taking a stand against coal.

Posted by X37V | May 6, 2008 11:22 AM

Yes, they are both massive panderers, as we've always know. This issue is that Hillary is pandering right now, feeding Republican lines of attack and risking that, if she is actually elected (hard to see that happening), she will actually try to implement this dumb fucking idea. Obama won't.

Posted by lorax | May 6, 2008 11:24 AM

Obama said on Meet the Press just this weekend that he learned from the Illinois vote that the gas tax thing won't work.

And people still say he doesn't have experience?

Posted by happy renter | May 6, 2008 11:30 AM

Way to change the subject.

Posted by Trevor | May 6, 2008 11:30 AM

I'm sorry. You all are trying to use logic, well-balanced reasoning and facts to back up your arguments.

As an advocacy jouranlist Erica is immune to these petty things.

Posted by Jeff | May 6, 2008 11:31 AM

I never quite understood all the ECB hate till now.

That Frost article is a piece of shit and linking to it twice doesn't make it better.
The Illinois gas tax moratorium was applied at the pump, unlike the tax which which Clinton/McCain are going after which is collected during production. In Illinois most of the savings were passed on to consumers. It was pandering, but at least it mildly effective at actually benefiting those it claimed to help. The federal tax is collected during production and very little of those savings would ever make it to consumers. The tax holiday amounts to an enormous check being written to Oil companies.

Secondly, "clean coal" has nothing to do with extraction techniques and everything to do with carbon-sequestering coal-fueled power plants.

I'm not saying that Obama's support for gas-tax moratorium in 2000 or "clean coal" are good things. They are run of the mill political ploys.

Clinton's gas-tax plan is so idiotic that it almost seems like bait.

Posted by dirge | May 6, 2008 11:31 AM

ECB please give me a reason on why Hillary is a better choice than Obama. All your posts lately have been how Obama does things just like she does but you don't make any posts that are actually arguing why we should elect her over Obama.

I really think you may have become delusional.

Posted by cbc | May 6, 2008 11:32 AM

Obama has said that voting for it in IL was a mistake and that's why he knows it would be a mistake if done nationwide. Your point only makes sense if are uninformed about how he's come to this position - otherwise it seems that you are intentionally leaving out this fact to mislead your readers.

Posted by HUH? | May 6, 2008 11:33 AM

Erica can you please talk about Hillary's campaign ad that says she will "lower gas prices for good"? Surely you've seen the ad; if not I'll find you a link.

If she plans on building her energy policy and her foreign policy around the Republican idea that cheap gas is an American birthright, shouldn't we be paying attention?

Posted by elenchos | May 6, 2008 11:39 AM

Folks, changin course just cuz things aren't goin the way you thought they would is nuthin but weakness. What's Obama gonna do if he makes it to the White House? Look at "facts"? Talk to "experts"? Learn from "history"? Not my whiskey-swiggin gal Hillary! She's gonna make decisions with her gut! She don't need some East Coast college degreed librals telling HER what to do. If George needs some inspiration she'll just go clear some brush to clear her head, hit the ranch for a couple days, and then George . . . I mean Hillary . . . wait, I'm confused . . . what year is this? And what party?

Posted by Mary F. | May 6, 2008 11:48 AM

This post was not at all predictable.

Posted by w7ngman | May 6, 2008 11:55 AM

This post does absolutely nothing to answer the question "Why is Hillary a better candidate than Obama?"

Just saying "But, Obama..." whenever Hillary says or does something stupid doesn't answer the question.

Posted by Hernandez | May 6, 2008 11:56 AM

i just wish the word "elitist" could be left out of the discussion. in theory, it should be possible for hillary to defend her position without insulting everyone who disagrees with her.

and i could do without her declaring that she refuses to listen to expert opinion when it doesn't jibe with her position. after the past 7 years, that kind of talk scares the living shit out of me.

Posted by brandon | May 6, 2008 11:59 AM

Hillary has a vagina -- That's where Erica's support begins and ends. The rest is just rationalizations to obfuscate the truth.

Posted by ru shur | May 6, 2008 12:00 PM

If someone is giving away pandas I want one!

Posted by inkweary | May 6, 2008 12:02 PM

So you're blaming Sen Obama for LEARNING from past mistakes?

While Sen Clinton refuses to?

Um, which one sounds like King George ...

I'm gonna say Sen Clinton wins the George Bush Prize for Moronic Insistence on Unreality Despite All Proof To The Contrary Award here ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 6, 2008 12:03 PM

I think a distinction should also be made between pandering on the coal issue when many voters in Indiana rely on coal for their livelihoods and pandering on the gas tax issue to save consumers $30 over three months.

Posted by keshmeshi | May 6, 2008 12:04 PM

Obama is pandering terrorist anti-american towel head.

A vote for Obama is a vote for Bin Laden.



Posted by ecce homo | May 6, 2008 12:24 PM

21 - You nailed it Keshmeshi, there is an actual difference between pandering something to people that they will actually BENEFIT from, vs folling them into supporting something that literally saves them a couple pennies per day. OF course, this is way WAY over ECBs head right now since it is lodged firmly up HRCs ass.

Posted by longball | May 6, 2008 12:25 PM

Perhaps Obama's belief in clean coal means he is interested in funding research to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions and nurturing some real green-collar domestic manufacturing jobs?

Posted by boyd main | May 6, 2008 12:25 PM

Obama's claim is on even shakier ground than ECB realizes. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12266 (May 2006) studied the effects of the Illinois (and Indiana) gas tax holidays:

There are surprisingly few estimates of the effect of sales taxes on retail prices, especially at the firm level. Further, along both sides of a state border, a change in one stateís sales tax can shed light on the nature of competition, as a subset of firms effectively experiences a change in its marginal cost. This paper considers the suspension, and subsequent reinstatement, of the 5% gasoline sales tax in Illinois and Indiana following a temporary price spike in the spring of 2000. Earlier laws set the timing of the reinstatements, providing plausibly exogenous changes in the tax rates. Using a unique dataset of daily, gas station-level data, retail gas prices are found to drop by 3% following the suspension, and increase by 4% following the reinstatements. After linking the stations to driving distance data, some evidence suggests that the tax increases are associated with higher prices up to an hourís drive into neighboring states.

But to confine the analysis to microeconomics is to engage the issue at the level of dogs watching tennis. Politically, the Clinton proposal (which will not pass) cuts the inferior McCain proposal (which likewise will not pass, but which would otherwise exert political traction throughout the fall campaign) off at the knees. That's a good thing.

Obama has blindsided himself with a sanctimoniously high-minded take that will cede importnat vote shares to his opponent, should he become the nominee.

Note finally that economists, to their collective embarrassment, are demonstrably abysmal predictors of the economic effects of economic policy. (The reasons for this would take us beyond the topic at hand.)

I suppose Lee will be along momentarily to label me "insane" for sharing these observations.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | May 6, 2008 12:38 PM

Didn't Bill Clinton get his BA in Economics? So didn't she MARRY an ELITIST!!???

BTW, If you were First Lady, went to Yale, and are serving in the Senate guess what? YOU ARE FUCKING ELITIST!!!!!

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | May 6, 2008 12:40 PM

ECB has no defense of Hillary's position so she digs up something Obama that led to a more informed opinion for him. Youre a fucking hack ECB. Fucking partisan hack.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 6, 2008 1:03 PM

RonK, you're getting desperate and shrill. More desperate and shrill in fact. And you're also wrong about economists and economics. Shock of Bavaria

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 6, 2008 1:07 PM

Actually, coal prices are skyrocketing - futures are up across the board, on news that Canada is serious about installing CO2 scrubbers on all coal plants and most of the economic powerhouse states of the USA will quickly follow, in addition to China and other nations.

(source: not the National Don't Wake Up Fnarf To Wikipedia Unreality Day web site, but today's print edition of the Wall Street Journal, multiple sections, not including the ones on the EIGHT FRICKIN PLUG-IN HYBRID MODELS being produced worldwide for US consumption, two of which are for sale in 2008 and four of which are for sale in 2009 ....)

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 6, 2008 1:07 PM

That's not citing a source, Will. To cite a source, you either give a URL or you give author, title, and page number.

I've noticed that you never actually cite sources; you only drop hints like this that suggest the source exists but you expect me to go on a wild goose chase to find it. And most of the time I find nothing.

Why is that?

Posted by elenchos | May 6, 2008 2:03 PM

Last time I checked, n00b, the WSJ was a paid subscription on the web, and thus can't be cited.

But I'll bet you never checked beamline times using HTML 0.1 ...

Your reality is being manufactured on the Internets, where we're busy selling wood to be used for cellulosic ethanol.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 6, 2008 2:11 PM
the WSJ was a paid subscription on the web, and thus can't be cited.

Oh, Will. So it has no URL whatsoever, even for paid subscribers? Or a title and page in the dead-tree edition? Does it just magically appear in a browser tab for WSJ subscribers when their brain wills it so?

Posted by tsm | May 6, 2008 2:33 PM

Totally. Tell me the author's name, the date, and the title or the article, and you let me handle how I get access to their web site. Or if the sun is out, I'll walk down do the library and pull the WSJ our of the stacks and read it the old fashioned way.

But I'm not going to sift through every issue beacuse Will said somewhere in there is his source. And I'm not going to just trust your say so. Sorry, Will, but you don't have the credibility for that so you need to give author name, date and article title if you have a source.

In truth you turn out to be right some of the time, but I'd still rather check.

Posted by elenchos | May 6, 2008 2:40 PM

Blue baby syndrome - nitrate poisoning - can also be caused by untreated runoff from agriculture and overuse of septic systems.

Posted by Greg | May 6, 2008 2:46 PM

@32 - oh come on, you think I pay extra for online WSJ? get real.
B1, B5, B7, C1, almost every page in section C, D3, and others.

This is why I don't do links.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 6, 2008 3:29 PM

21, 23, et al.

Entire sectors of the economy are based on getting only a few pennies from one person but getting them from many persons.

Posted by umvue | May 6, 2008 3:40 PM

I think we all know why you don't do links, Will.

Posted by elenchos | May 6, 2008 3:44 PM

When were demoted to noob, elenchos? Was there a ceremony? Hat knocked off in public?

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | May 6, 2008 3:51 PM


"...what is most troubling--and what has the most serious implications for the feminist movement--is that the Clinton campaign has used her rival's race against him. In the name of demonstrating her superior "electability," she and her surrogates have invoked the racist and sexist playbook of the right--in which swaggering macho cowboys are entrusted to defend the country--seeking to define Obama as too black, too foreign, too different to be President at a moment of high anxiety about national security. This subtly but distinctly racialized political strategy did not create the media feeding frenzy around the Rev. Jeremiah Wright that is now weighing Obama down, but it has positioned Clinton to take advantage of the opportunities the controversy has presented. And the Clinton campaign's use of this strategy has many nonwhite and nonmainstream feminists crying foul."

Posted by Trevor | May 6, 2008 4:08 PM


I'm sorry, did you have a point?

Posted by keshmeshi | May 6, 2008 4:09 PM

What I've been reading n the dozen or so economics blogs in my list is that at a state level, it can have greater effect than at the federal level. The reason the tax won't work too well is because the supply is relatively fixed. But at the state level, it is not fixed. If the tax is lowered in the state, suppliers can divert supplies from other states.

Those blogs haven't said it's a great idea even at a state level. Just that more of the benefit of the tax cut goes to consumers of gasoline.

Posted by King Rat | May 6, 2008 9:07 PM

Also, is it so seriously hard for ECB to ever agree with a criticism of Clinton without also pointing fingers at how Obama is so awful as well.

"Johnny, stop kicking the table!"
"But Susie is picking her nose!"

Posted by King Rat | May 6, 2008 9:11 PM

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