How Democracy Works (and some specifics re: Newt Imposion, The Onion Predicts the WSJ, and Much, Much Less)

Where to start on this one…how’s about some background on the nature of democracy and representation?

The authors aren’t the first ones to look at this issue, but the previous studies have often been limited and US-centric. In contrast, the authors built a database for nine countries in which representation on a state or provincial level is disproportionate: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States. They also obtained several decades worth of fiscal data on each of them, providing a broader perspective that covers time periods before or after reapportionment brought representation closer into line with population.

The analysis is quite simple: take the total representatives and the national population, and figure out how many legislators per capita there are. Then do the same calculation with individual states and provinces, and figure out how badly they differ from the national value. That creates a simple index for representation, and a similar process can provide an equivalent index for the amount of national budget expenditures that flow to each state. With those in hand, it’s a simple matter to see if there’s a correlation between the two.

How does that work out in the U.S.?   Glad you asked.  I ran the numbers for the Senate and currently is stand like this…

AVG Number of U.S. Citizens Represented Per Democratic Senator:   2,201,489
AVG Number of U.S. Citizens Represented Per Republican Senator:   1,976,177

So each Repbulicans Senator, on average, represents roughly 10% less people than your average Democratic Senator.  This is how a party that represents the fiscal interests of 1% of the country and the social interests of 15% of the country, can consistently garner 40% of the government.  It should also be noted that the 1% of the population Republicans represent through their economic policy has over 50% of the country’s wealth.

It’s also what leads to this phenomenon, where many “Red States” turn out to be the ones with the best tax/spending ratio.

So, measured by wealth, it’s a pretty equally divided country politically.  Measured by population, very much less so  (Note: this becomes evident when polling is done on policy positions divorced from party affiliation.  The most important D’s policies have support in the upper 60’s-70’s, and the R ones usually get the other third, at least in the current election cycle). 

 This disconnect, created through the selective exposure to information, is on full display in the current Ryan Medicare Plan debate. 

When you ask the question like this…

In order to reduce the budget deficit, it has been proposed that Medicare should be changed from a program in which the government pays doctors and hospitals for treating seniors to a program in which the government helps seniors purchase private health insurance. Would you approve or disapprove of changing Medicare in this way?

You get 47% to 41% in favor of Ryan’s plan.    When you point how exactly how it “reduce[s] the budget deficit”…

Now compare the Times’ wording to that contained in a Washington Post/ABC News poll also released this week, which asked respondents which of two statements they most agreed with:

Medicare should remain as it is today, with a defined set of benefits for people over 65, OR Medicare should be changed so that people over 65 would receive a check or voucher from the government each year for a fixed amount they can use to shop for their own private health insurance policy.

That phrasing offers a more detailed explanation of what the Ryan plan entails, both clarifying that the program involves vouchers, and that those vouchers would be for fixed amounts. When presented like that, a robust 65% majority of respondents said Medicare should remain unchanged, versus 34% who said it should be changed.

[full story]

This is part of why I find places the willfully spread bad information to be so insidious.    Yes, the Ryan Plan cuts spending on Medicare…but it does so by screwing (relative to today’s system) the next generation.   If you only say the first half (Fox Style) you get lots of support.  When you explain the whole thing (Good Journalism Style), the support drops off.  

Now, considering that the Republican faithful all get their information from sources pushing biased readings of pretty much everything,  this leads into these weird situation where right-wingers get absolutely lambasted for questioning the wisdom of such radical changes.  In this case, the person questioning the need for such radical change was serial adulterer and Clinton impeacher, Newt Gingrich.   He did so last Sunday. 

The reaction came swift and resounding…as everyone forgot Reagan’s 11th commandment in their fervor to defend the Ryan Plan (which they have convinced themselves is actually pragmatic, rather than a complete change to the notion that this country should care for its elderly citizens).

Newt Gingrich is getting hammered for his criticism of Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. Here’s just some of what GOP leaders and conservative talkers are saying — along with Gingrich’s response.

“I am not going to justify this. I am not going to explain this. The attack on Paul Ryan, the support for an individual mandate in health care? Folks, don’t ask me to explain this. There is no explanation.” Rush Limbaugh

“With allies like that, who needs the left?” -Paul Ryan

“He can’t help himself. Gingrich prefers extravagant lambasting when a mere distancing would do, and the over-arching theoretical construct to a mundane pander. He is drawn irresistibly to operatic overstatement – sometimes brilliant, always interesting and occasionally downright absurd … It’s Newt’s misfortune to want a high-pressure executive job with monarchical trappings where steadfastness and dignity matter.” – National Review editor Rich Lowry

“By using the word ‘radical,’ Mr. Gingrich deliberately chose to echo the liberal critics who want to write the Ryan plan out of respectable political debate. Mr. Gingrich knows that all but four House Republicans voted for a budget outline that includes Mr. Ryan’s Medicare plan, so his remarks had the political effect of undermining his former comrades in the middle of their budget showdown with President Obama.” – The Wall Street Journal editorial page

“When you have a conservative fighting for real change, the last thing we need is a presidential candidate cutting him off at the knees.” – South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

[full sources]

So just to catch you up, the Republicans have decided to go all-in on the Ryan Medicare proposal, hoping beyond hope they can keep the details of the plan, and the effects it would have on our society, out of the hands of the majority of voters.    This will be very easy for the R base, but like most of the R primary, it will alienate a large majority of actual voters.

One other funny little tidbit to note on this post, as per the title.   I mention this mainly because the situation outlined above leads to some incredibly ridiculous situations.  In this case, it’s The Onion parodying and predicting a piece in the Wall Street Journal by nearly a month.

The Onion…

April 21 – Mitt Romney Haunted By Past Of Trying To Help Uninsured Sick People”

The Wall Street Journal…

May 12 – Obama’s Running Mate : Mitt Romney’s ObamaCare problem

Q: Who would have guessed using the free market to help poor people get health care would be an albatross around a Christian Republican candidate’s neck?

A: Anybody who has been following what that party has become in the last few years.

If you don’t understand this…realize something…Senator Rand Paul, Republican from Kentucky, recently equated public healthcare with SLAVERY.

“With regard to the idea whether or not you have a right to health care you have to realize what that implies. I am a physician. You have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. You are going to enslave not only me but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants, the nurses. … You are basically saying you believe in slavery,” said Paul (R-Ky.), who is an ophthalmologist.

Read more:

 This, to me, is really indicative of how the whole Republican party has gone of the ideological and rhetorical deep end.     This guy is a “rising star”, and is completely out there.

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