He’s the maverick Republican/libertarian US senator and son of another maverick Republican/libertarian who ran for the White House three times and shook up the GOP in the process – retired US Rep. Ron Paul. Senator Paul is just a couple of points behind front-runner New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the nomination, according to the RealClearPolitics.com polling average.
Paul has taken a couple of pokes at Mr. Christie recently, accusing the New Jersey governor of “embracing Obamacare, expanding Medicaid in his state [which] is very expensive and not fiscally conservative." He also has suggested that Christie’s recent easy reelection “was, in large form, based on that he got a lot of federal money for his state.”
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But back to that question Friday night about whether he’ll enter the 2016 presidential race.
"Where's my cellphone? Can I call my wife?" Paul joked. "There's two votes in my family. My wife has both of them and both of them are 'no' votes right now."
“If I’m a very able politician, I’ll tell you in a year whether I’m able to persuade my wife. Right now, I don’t know yet, but I thank you for your interest,” he said.
Like his father, Paul is a medical doctor (eye specialist). His wife is Kelley Ashby, a former political consultant. The couple has been married for 23 years, and they have three sons.
In a Vogue magazine profile of Paul, Ms. Ashby expressed concern about the impact a presidential race would have on the family.
"In this day and age it's mostly about character assassination," she said. "When I think of the tens of millions of dollars in opposition research that they'd be aiming right at us and our family – that's what it's about."
It’s not an unusual attitude.
Former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels (now the president of Purdue University) declined to seek the 2012 Republican nomination even though he was the favorite of much of the party establishment. That was based largely on concerns expressed by his wife, Cheri, and their daughters. (One story sure to have been covered endlessly was the fact that the couple divorced and then remarried after Mrs. Daniels had left the family to marry another man for a period.)
One reason retired US Army Gen. Colin Powell chose not to run for the presidency in 1996 was Mrs. Powell’s concern for his safety. "A black man running for president is going to be in a dangerous position,” Mrs. Powell said, noting hate mail she had received.
In Paul’s case, any run for higher office would certainly revive charges – which he acknowledges and has expressed regret for – that he and his staff borrowed heavily from other sources without attribution for his speeches and writings, including his book “Government Bullies: How Everyday Americans are Being Harassed, Abused, and Imprisoned by the Feds.”
Whether or not Rand Paul runs for the White House, he is sure to have a strong following among tea partyrs and other libertarians, as did his father.
On “Fox News Sunday,” he said he’s opposed to congressional efforts to extend jobless benefits.
“When you allow people to be on unemployment for 99 weeks, you are causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy,” he said.
He says the answer to Detroit’s bankruptcy is not a government bailout but "Economic Freedom Zones" offering lower taxes – income taxes, the corporate tax rate, payroll taxes, and the capital gains tax – to businesses willing to invest in troubled cities.
"What we hope to do is create taxes so low that you essentially are able to bail yourselves out, by having more money accumulate in the area over time," Paul said in announcing the proposal before speaking to the Detroit Economic Club Friday.
In the Vogue article, Kelley Ashby is described as an "impassioned defender of her husband and his ideas.”
But for now, it seems, that impassioned defense appears not to include any desire to be first lady.
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The monthly jobs numbers are among the most important and anticipated economic measures produced by the federal government. On Fridays prior to their release, reporters, economists, and number nerds gather on Twitter and other social media and count toward the magic hour of 8:30 a.m. Eastern time as if they’re football fans awaiting Game Day kickoff.
Then “Boom!” the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases the report, and immediately experts are racing through it to divine its meaning. The top-line unemployment rate seems clear enough, and usually it’s indicative, but then all those folks on CNBC start rattling off sub-numbers to make subsidiary points. They’ll say stuff like “non-farm seasonally-adjusted retail payrolls are flat, so the markets will freak out like tweener girls!” and so on.
After that they start throwing around “U-6” and “monthly revisions” and arguing about what the Fed will do, so you switch to PBS in search of old British sitcoms. Is the jobs report really that complicated?
Well, it’s got a lot of things in it. The actual report is some 40 pages of data. But here’s our guide to a trick (or two) that will help you make sense of the numbers and sound like an expert to boot.
We’ll start with Friday's report on November’s job situation. Unemployment dipped down to a five-year low of 7 percent. That’s good – it shows that hiring has picked up and remained strong since mid-summer. It’s better than many experts expected. Americans with jobs are working more hours and their wages are going up a bit.
“The numbers amount to confirmation that the jobs recovery remains underway, is well-entrenched, and is solid and steady,” concludes Neil Irwin, economic czar of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.
But here’s the trick: the unemployment rate does not really measure the total number of out-of-work Americans.
It’s a solid number in the sense that it is a consistent measure that over time provides a good idea of the state of the US economy. But it counts a shifting population of Americans who do not have a job, but haven’t been out of work for an extended period of time, and are still looking, since they haven’t gone back to school or joined the military or taken a seasonal job at Williams-Sonoma because they just got laid off.
It’s true. The BLS unemployment measure does not include people who have been out of work for 12 months. It does not count “discouraged” workers who have given up looking for a job. It does not count people who are underemployed, such as PhD microbiologists working as nannies. (Yes, “Doonesbury”, we’re looking at you.)
The BLS does have a broader measure of unemployment that includes these people. To us, it gives a better picture of the social impact of joblessness throughout the economy. This is the “U-6” unemployment number. For November, it stood at 12.7 percent, down from 13.2 percent in October.
So, getting better. But not great by any means.
One last pro tip: The labor force participation rate is fun to look at, too. OK, maybe not “fun,” but instructive.
That’s because lots of new workers enter the job market every month. Some 125,000, in fact. So just looking at the number of jobs created does not tell you everything that’s happening. The labor force participation rate shows how well US job creation is keeping up with this influx of newbies while providing new opportunity for the veteran unemployed.
November’s participation rate was 63 percent, up from 62.8 percent in October. But this number is still at a low point in comparison to recent years. A year ago it was 64 percent, for example.
The bottom line there may be that the US economy is still struggling to lift out of the morass of joblessness created by the Great Recession.
The subject came up while he was talking about the price of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.” He noted that between cable and phone bills many young people are paying more than 100 bucks for connectivity, and that health insurance at the same price is a good deal.
Then he said, “Now, I am not allowed, for security reasons, to have an iPhone,” adding that Sasha and Malia seem to be spending a lot of time on their own presumably Apple-produced mobile communication devices.
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That means Mr. Obama still uses a government-issue BlackBerry. There’s one customer, Research In Motion! Maybe the troubled Canadian BlackBerry maker can spin that into a holiday ad of some kind, perhaps with Bo the "first dog," if he’s done upsetting White House Christmas parties.
Anyway, we think this complaint says something about Obama’s relationship to his job. Pro tip for journalists: Always pay attention to government sources' jokes and offhand comments. They’re usually a window into what they’re thinking.
Thus our first reaction: The White House is indeed a gilded cage. No iPhone? It sounds trivial, but it’s a symbol of the lack of control presidents have over their own personal surroundings. He (or she, eventually) can’t pick out his own phone, his own car, his own schedule – even, often, his own dinner companions. This is a truism about America’s first executive that George Washington discovered, and it has grown ever since. At least the Secret Service keeps office-seekers out of the White House now – their importuning used to be the bane of Abraham Lincoln’s existence.
Secondly, so what? BlackBerrys are better for what presidents actually do. Speaking as a member of a mixed Apple/RIM household, Decoder notes that iPhones are great entertainment devices. They have access to a gazillion apps, of which approximately 100 are useful. The rest are the kind of thing that is fun for several days and then sits forgotten, like the light-up tie your kids gave you for your birthday. Beyond that, iPhones are uncomfortable to speak into and difficult to message on, given their on-screen keyboards.
A BlackBerry, on the other hand, is a perfectly fine phone on which to get updates on "Obamacare" enrollment from your terrified minions. And its physical keys are a much more accurate way to type out crucial messages to Vladimir Putin. We don’t want an embarrassing auto-correct to affect relations with Russia, do we?
Finally, if security really is the problem here, we know a computer consultant who just might be able to lock up an iPhone so well that even the National Security Agency couldn’t crack it (as it apparently did with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone).
Anybody got Edward Snowden’s e-mail?
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Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas has begun to explicitly invoke his Christian faith as a reason why state voters should reelect him in 2014. He’s talked about it in political gatherings back home, and on Wednesday his campaign unveiled an unusual ad in which Senator Pryor cites the Bible as the wellspring of his political values.
“This is my compass, my North Star,” says Pryor, holding his Holy Book as he looks straight into the camera. “It gives me comfort and guidance to do what’s best for Arkansas.”
Statewide candidates don’t often talk so directly about religion. Pryor is certainly a devout Christian, but he’s now brought this private matter into the public arena. Opponents will surely question his motives. Why has he gone in this direction with an election still 11 months away?
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Our answer to this question has two parts. The first is that he’s in trouble and needs to start the intense part of his campaign with something big.
In 2008, Arkansas Republicans did not bother to field a challenger to Pryor and he ran essentially unopposed. But the political landscape is much different now, and in 2014 he’s perhaps the most endangered member of a small club: red state Democratic senators.
In the past, Arkansas has not been as solidly Republican as many other Southern and border states. But it’s getting there. Pryor’s Democratic colleague, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, was swept away in 2010 and he’s now the lone member of his party in the Arkansas congressional delegation. In presidential politics, the state has never voted for Barack Obama. Sen. John McCain won 59 percent of the vote there in 2008. Mitt Romney took 61 percent in 2012.
Now Pryor is looking at a volatile electoral landscape in 2014. He voted with other senators of his party for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and given that law’s current unpopularity, his chances for a third term might not seem great. Oh, and he’s also facing a well-known GOP member of congress, Rep. Tom Cotton, who’s an Iraq and Afghanistan war vet.
“Bottom line: if the GOP can’t beat this [guy] ... in a conservative state with a Harvard Law grad turned decorated veteran as its nominee, it should disband,” writes Allahpundit on the right-leaning Hot Air website.
But the second part of our answer as to why Pryor is talking about his Bible is that he has a chance. He isn’t buried. He is an incumbent and son of a former three-term senator who remains personally well-regarded in the state, after all.
The national prognosticating Cook Political Report rates his race as “toss-up,” as does University of Virginia political scientist and handicapper Larry Sabato.
Given that, the manner in which Pryor talks about religion is interesting. He’s invoking it as a higher power that essentially trumps partisan loyalty. In that context, he’s saying, how much does the “D” next to his name really matter?
“The Bible teaches us that no one has all the answers, only God does, and neither political party is always right,” he says in his new “North Star” spot.
And Pryor’s votes kind of back this up, in the sense that he’s much more moderate than most chamber Democrats. The National Journal Vote Ratings, which consider all ballots a lawmaker cast in a year, put him at 50.7 for 2012. That means he stood in almost the exact partisan middle of the Senate. That year, only one Democrat, the now-retired Ben Nelson of Nebraska, had a ranking to his right.
His ratings for other years are similar. “Pryor has kept his early promise to maintain a moderate voting record,” wrote Cook Political Report in September.
Will Arkansas voters care that Pryor is professing allegiance to a higher power than the Democratic National Committee? The national political landscape of November 2014, yet unknown, may be what tips this race in the end.
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A “substantial minority” of uninsured Americans say they will ignore Obamacare’s requirement that they purchase health coverage for 2014, according to a new Gallup poll.
Sixty-three percent of people currently without health insurance plan to go ahead and get a policy for next year, according to the survey, which was released on Tuesday. But 28 percent – more than one in four – say they won’t, even though that means they’ll have to pay a fine to the federal government.
“The percentage planning to pay the fine has changed little in the last month, even as the 2014 deadline for having insurance draws nearer,” writes Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones.
Age does not appear to factor into this decision. Younger uninsured people were just as likely to say they would, or wouldn’t, get a policy as older counterparts.
But political partisanship did make a difference. Fully 45 percent of Republicans who now don’t have a health policy said they would rather pay a fine than get one. Only 15 percent of uninsured Democrats, and 31 percent of uninsured independent voters, felt that way, too.
“The biggest challenge to achieving universal coverage ... may not be in making Americans aware of the requirement or in getting younger uninsured Americans to sign up. Rather, it may be getting those likely to oppose the law, namely Republicans, to overcome their ideological opposition to the law and sign up for insurance,” writes Mr. Jones.
Reducing the number of uninsured US residents is one of the primary goals of the president’s signature health law, whose formal name is the Affordable Care Act. One way it aims to accomplish this goal is to simply require it. The law contains an individual mandate directing that most Americans get health insurance or pay a fine.
For 2014, the fine is $95 per each uninsured adult and $47.50 per each uninsured child, up to a maximum of $285 per family, or 1 percent of family income minus personal exemptions, whichever is greater.
Gallup estimates that 17 percent of the US population does not have health insurance right now. If 28 percent of these say they won’t get coverage for next year, that means a minimum of 5 percent of the population will remain uncovered in 2014.
When next year rolls around, the actual number is likely to be much larger. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 14 percent of Americans won’t have health insurance in 2014, despite Obamacare’s mandate.
And this 14 percent figure excludes the millions of illegal immigrants in the US, who aren’t eligible for Obamacare subsidies intended to help middle- and lower-income citizens afford policies.
As the fines get steeper in coming years the percentage of uninsured Americans will slowly shrink, according to CBO. By 2017 it will plateau at 8 percent of US citizens.
Why won’t the Affordable Care Act reach its goal of universal coverage? Partly, it’s because there are many exceptions to the individual mandate. Prisoners serving time in jail don’t have to get health insurance, for example. People undergoing difficult life circumstances, such as divorce or homelessness, are exempt. You don’t have to get coverage if the lowest-priced “bronze” plan available through your local ACA exchange marketplace would cost you more than 8 percent of your income.
Plus, there are people who just won’t go along with the federal government’s requirement, as the Gallup poll shows.
HealthCare.gov is working much better. There seems little dispute about that. On Monday, 1 million people successfully visited the Affordable Care Act website, for instance, though some people had to hold on a waiting page while those further along in the process finished applications for coverage.
“Site stable, faster for users,” claimed the official HealthCare.gov Twitter feed on Tuesday morning.
Lower-income Americans made eligible for Medicaid under the terms of the ACA are also flooding into that safety net program. On Tuesday, the administration released a report saying that nearly 1.5 million people signed up for Medicaid in October. Enrollment was up 16 percent in states that agreed to the ACA’s terms for Medicaid expansion.
Is victory at hand? That’s what the White House seems set to say. On Tuesday afternoon, President Obama will appear with people who have benefited from the law, according to officials. It’s unlikely he’ll use the event to wring his hands over the flawed rollout of his signature domestic achievement.
But perhaps he should. At the least he might need to avoid sounding too sunny. That’s because it’s the front end of HealthCare.gov, the part consumers see, that’s much improved. The back end, which transmits the details of enrollees to insurers, is better as well, but it still has problems.
More ominously, those glitches may be retroactive. The enrollment records for one-third of the people who have signed up for insurance since HealthCare.gov opened for business contain errors, according to a report in Tuesday’s Washington Post. That means they might not get the coverage they’re expecting to begin on Jan. 1.
“The mistakes include failure to notify insurers about new customers, duplicate enrollments or cancellation notices for the same person, incorrect information about family members, and mistakes involving federal subsidies,” write the Post’s Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin.
Insurance executives have been warning of this scenario for months. At issue are 834 enrollment forms, which the government website is supposed to send insurers every night to inform them of their new customers.
HealthCare.gov had problems with 834 form accuracy from the day the website opened. But the administration made fixing the front end a higher priority to try and dampen consumer anger.
A pivot to 834 fixes came later. In recent days, more than a dozen software bugs affecting the forms have been fixed. One big problem, which affected the proper entry of Social Security numbers, accounted for 80 percent of 834 problems, according to administration officials. That’s one of the things that has been straightened out, they say.
But insurance industry officials are still worried. Their nightmare is that sometime in January they’ll have to face angry consumers who think they’ve properly enrolled, but haven’t.
Does the White House “think that big customer service issues come January, if the ‘834’ back-end enrollment problems are not fixed by then, will be blamed on the insurance industry and not the administration?” writes Bob Laszewski, a consultant to the industry who has warned of this problem for weeks.
Enrollment for 2014 will remain open through March 31. At this point it is uncertain whether 7 million people will obtain insurance next year through the ACA’s insurance marketplace exchanges, as the Congressional Budget Office predicted when the law passed.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Sunday said his firm is working on ways to deliver small packages via drones. That’s right: Amazon “Prime Air” may eventually have thousands of robot flying machines buzzing through neighborhoods across America, dropping off everything from shoes to consumer electronics.
At least, that’s the vision Mr. Bezos outlined on “60 Minutes.”
“It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” he told correspondent Charlie Rose.
Well, we would not wager against Amazon, given its relentless march toward US retail dominance. And it’s easy to see how the concept would work, in a technical sort of way: Small "octocopter" unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of carrying five pounds or so already exist.
The “fun,” however, may be in the eye of the beholder. In urban areas, swooping octocopters might seem a hazard, pigeons with gas-powered propellers. In rural areas, they might be targets for people bored of hunting deer.
“Amazon fine print: ‘Drone delivery unavailable outside urban areas during hunting season,’ ” RedState's Erick Erickson tweeted on Monday.
And the real problem here might be the Feds. The Federal Aviation Administration is working to integrate civilian drones into US airspace. That’s unlikely to be a speedy process. Amazon’s realistic drone-delivery start date might be 2025 or beyond.
That’s if Amazon can satisfy the FAA’s safety concerns at all. The Amazon concept brings drones into closer contact with people than other civilian UAV uses currently under FAA study. Will it be possible to avoid packages dropped from a hundred feet up, buzzing drones snagged on power lines, out-of-control drones plummeting into bedroom windows? Plus, what about privacy and national security concerns?
“The safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the [national airspace] is a significant challenge,” the FAA notes in the conclusion of its road map for approval of civilian drone use.
Of course, civilians already fly drones in America. They’re used for everything from land-use planning to photography. Drone development is a big industry. Some 50 companies are working on 150 systems right now. Civilian UAV sales may hit $6 billion by 2016.
But these are generally one-time uses. Many are subject to restrictions, such as a requirement that operators maintain sight of the UAV. Amazon wants something much larger, a sort of UAV cargo airline across the United States.
Currently, the FAA is supposed to finalize drone regulations by 2015. It has already missed some deadlines, however, and the agency may not meet that goal. Furthermore, look at the fine print in the FAA road map, and it’s apparent that Amazon’s plan probably falls into the FAA’’s long-term outlook – meaning it couldn’t gain approval until 2022 or 2026.
The FAA’s concept list of drone uses doesn’t include civilian package delivery, for one thing. (It does contain cargo carriage, but that’s for delivery from one airport to another.)
A perusal of the road map shows that the FAA intends to develop security vetting procedures for UAV personnel. That means Amazon's ground-based UAV pilots would have to undergo some Fed-approved training. The FAA also is working on airworthiness rules. In others words, it intends to provide guidelines for the design and testing of robust UAV structures, as it does now for manned aircraft. That means the nifty Amazon drone seen buzzing on “60 Minutes” might have to reengineered.
And the FAA intends for civilian UAVs to include sense-and-avoid technology to ensure they don’t hit airliners or one another. That’s something that won’t be perfected for years, the agency acknowledges.
“Although research will continue, fully certified [UAV] collision avoidance solutions may not be feasible until the long-term and are deemed to be a necessary component for full [UAV national airspace] integration,” the FAA road map says.
The bottom line here is that Amazon Prime Air might not be operational until Miley Cyrus is playing on oldies radio. That’s led some critics to charge that unveiling the plan on “60 Minutes” at the beginning of the holiday shopping season was really a well-planned publicity stunt.
“[I]t’s all hot air and baloney,” writes James Ball of the Guardian.
Like millions of Thanksgiving weekend shoppers, President Obama did his bit for the economy Saturday.
No, Mr. Obama didn’t join one of those frenzied mobs fighting their way into a big box store. That would have required more than the usual phalanx of Secret Service agents and perhaps a squad of Marines.
Instead, the president chose to highlight “Small Business Saturday,” taking daughters Malia and Sasha to the Politics and Prose bookstore and coffee house, a local independent business not far from the White House.
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Paying by credit card, he left with sacks of books that that included “Harold and the Purple Crayon," "The Kite Runner," and "Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football." (See the full list below.)
“When our small businesses do well, our communities do well,” Obama tweeted. “Join me and visit a small business near you today to celebrate #SmallBizSat.”
Like everybody, presidents try to relax some on Thanksgiving weekend, although there’s still work to do.
There is that turkey to pardon, guests to entertain at dinner (where, reportedly, nine different kinds of pie were served at the White House this year), China and Iran to keep an eye on, HealthCare.gov computers to fix over at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Obamas sat down with ABC’s Barbara Walters for an interview at the White House broadcast Friday night.
He addressed the problems with the Affordable Care Act website, and what this has meant for his own plummeting poll numbers,
"I've gone up and down pretty much consistently throughout," Obama told Ms. Walters. "But the good thing about when you're down is that usually you got nowhere to go but up."
As for Obamacare, he said, “I continue to believe and [I'm] absolutely convinced that at the end of the day, people are going to look back at the work we've done to make sure that in this country, you don't go bankrupt when you get sick, that families have that security.”
"That is going be a legacy I am extraordinarily proud of,” Obama said.
Looking ahead to the time when he’s an ex-president, Obama said the family decision on where to live – they all count Chicago as their home town – may depend largely on daughter Sasha, who’ll be a high school sophomore. (Malia will be in college by then.)
"You know we gotta make sure that she's doing well ... until she goes off to college,” Obama told Walters. “Sasha will have a big say in where we are.”
Meanwhile, there was more presidential work to do between Thanksgiving Day feasting on Thursday and “Small Business Saturday” shopping.
For Obama, that was a 40-minute visit with activists fasting in a tent on the National Mall, protesting congressional inaction on immigration, some of whom have had nothing but water for two weeks.
A White House statement said Obama thanked the hunger strikers "for their sacrifice and dedication and told them that the country is behind them on immigration reform."
Then it was off to Politics and Prose.
According to the White House, here’s the list of books Obama purchased for gifts as well as for his own reading:
“Half Brother” by Kenneth Oppel
“Heart of a Samurai” by Margi Preus
“Flora and Ulysses” by Kate DiCamillo
“Jinx” by Sage Blackwood
“Lulu and the Brontosaurus” by Judith Viorst and Lane Smith
“Ottoline and the Yellow Cat” by Chris Riddell
“Moonday” by Adam Rex
“Journey” by Aaron Becker
“The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri
“Red Sparrow” by Jason Matthews
“Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson
“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra
“The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance” by David Epstein
“Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football” by Nicholas Dawidoff
“Ballad of the Sad Cafe: And Other Stories” by Carson McCullers
“My Antonia” by Willa Cather
“Ragtime” By E.L. Doctorow
“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
“Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka
“All That Is” by James Salter
“Wild: From Lost to Found On the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed
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Does it matter what President Obama calls his health-care reform law? That question arises because he’s seemed to shift his references in recent days. Previously, he’d embraced the label “Obamacare,” saying it reflected the fact that he did indeed care about uninsured Americans. But as Politico notes, that term now seems to have fallen into White House disfavor.
Instead, the administration appears to again prefer “Affordable Care Act” (ACA), which reflects the law’s full name, “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” That’s how Mr. Obama has been referring to it in public. Democratic Party talking points now emphasize the “Affordable Care Act” phrase.
“Calling it the Affordable Care Act has advantages for Democrats seeking to defend health care reform while still criticizing the bungled White House rollout,” Politico’s Reid J. Epstein wrote last week.
Think this is just a minor tweak, or maybe the media are reading too much into the president’s rhetoric? We’d say that’s highly unlikely. Administrations poll voters on the use of one word or another all the time. Indeed, that’s a technique used throughout US politics.
“It’s a truism in politics that labels matter,” Gallup’s editor in chief Frank Newport writes in his blog on survey techniques.
To show this, Gallup ran a poll that tested different ways to refer to the health-care law. The results showed that the name had at least a marginal effect on respondents’ opinions.
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Gallup’s test went like this: Some people were asked whether they approved of the Affordable Care Act that had been signed into law by Obama. Some were simply asked if they liked the 2010 law that had changed the US health system. A third variant asked if respondents liked “Obamacare.” A fourth asked if they liked the “Affordable Care Act,” with no mention of Obama at all.
That last version polled the best. Using that question, Gallup found that 45 percent of respondents approved of the ACA and 49 percent disapproved.
In contrast, the version that referred only to “Obamacare” polled worst. Only 38 percent approved of Obamacare per se, while 54 percent of respondents disapproved.
“These results suggest that the Obama administration’s decision to shift to Affordable Care Act as their label of choice and to avoid using Obamacare would appear to be a branding strategy that works in the administration’s interest,” Mr. Newport writes. “Clearly, all else being equal, the words ‘Affordable Care Act’ engender a modestly more positive reaction than the term Obamacare.”
This shouldn’t be that surprising. Presidents can be polarizing. Lots of political science research shows that personal involvement on the part of a US chief executive makes political opponents view an issue in a more negative light.
We’d also note that even the best-case scenario in that Gallup poll shows that opinion of the ACA is more negative than positive. That probably reflects both the public’s long-felt wariness about the law and the continued negative publicity from its problematic rollout.
[Updated: 7:45 p.m. Eastern time] President Obama met with actors and animators at DreamWorks in Glendale, Calif., on Tuesday, including banjo player/comedian Steve Martin, who is the voice of a villain in an upcoming film. In remarks afterwards Obama stressed the importance of the movie industry to the US economy.
“In a global race for jobs and industries, the thing we do better than anybody is creativity,” said Obama.
Why DreamWorks? CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is a longtime Obama friend, supporter, and fundraiser, so we’ll go with that. However, we’ll also note that the White House rejects such a direct connection. Mr. Katzenberg’s past support for Obama, it says, has no bearing on the locale.
“DreamWorks obviously is a thriving business and is creating lots of jobs in southern California,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, according to the Associated Press.
But cash is clearly a central purpose of the president’s current two-day swing through Los Angeles. He’s spending lots of time raising money from Hollywood liberals.
Obama attended two fundraisers on Monday, one at the home of former Lakers great Magic Johnson, another at the home of media mogul Haim Saban. On Tuesday he’s hitting another cohosted by Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the sitcom “Friends.”
Obama’s not running again, so the money’s not for his own political coffers, of course. It’s for the Democratic Party as a whole and for a party fund that donates to House and Senate Democratic candidates.
Variety has good figures on the estimated attendance and ticket prices at these events. Mr. Johnson expected about 160 guests, paying from $2,500 to $15,000 a ticket. Using the highly scientific method of just picking a number in between, we’d say the average guest paid $8,000, which would roughly lead to a haul of $1.3 million.
The Saban party had 120 guests at $16,200 a ticket. That’s $1.9 million. The “Friends” fundraiser was expected to draw 30, at $32,500. That’s another $975,000.
Altogether, that’s an estimate of about $4.175 million in Democratic Party money raised. Not bad for delivering a couple of speeches in a city that’s not getting hit by a cold storm, as Washington is.
Of course, Republicans have long tried to use the Democrats' Hollywood connection against them. This election cycle, a "super PAC" associated with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is already running a Web ad hitting Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes for her Hollywood support.
“Why does Alison Lundergan Grimes take money from Obama-backing Hollywood celebrities who don’t share our Kentucky values?” the ad concludes.
And Hollywood does seem pretty liberal if all you are looking at is the actual stars. The invaluable political-money research group Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) analyzed the political contributions of the 2013 Academy Award nominees, for instance, and found them overwhelmingly directed toward Democrats.
Nominees and their families have made more than $3.6 million in federal political contributions since 1990, but only $4,000 of that went to Republicans, according to CRP. (That $4K came from film director Steven Spielberg, if you’re interested.)
But when tracking political money for a particular industry, it’s always good to look beyond the individuals. Hollywood in a corporate sense spends its political money differently. In the 2012 election cycle, the PAC of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), film’s D.C. trade arm, gave slightly more money to Republicans than to Democrats, according to a CRP estimate. And it gave $100,000 to Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group led by conservative Grover Norquist.
The MPAA “is a savvy Washington organization. Its chairman and CEO is retired Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), but by no means does it support only liberals,” according to CRP.