Political Animal


September 21, 2011 10:45 AM Mainstream pundits vs. mainstream voters

By Steve Benen

As part of its new offensive on the economy, the Obama White House has been pushing an ambitious, more populist agenda, focused on job creation, public investments, middle-class tax breaks, and asking the very wealthy to shoulder more of the tax burden. In response, plenty of high-profile pundits have offered their assessment: this is a big mistake.

David Brooks, Mark Penn, and Mark Halperin all weighed in yesterday, saying President Obama’s plan, regardless of its prospects in Congress, is the kind of agenda centrist and independent voters just hate. Politico declared this morning, “Obama sparks middle-of-road rage.”

The problem, of course, is that those who claim to know what moderate voters want actually have no idea what the American mainstream is thinking.

Gallup released a new poll late yesterday, and the results weren’t even close. While the Brooks/Penn/Halperin triumvirate said most Americans reject tax increases on the wealthy, the data shows otherwise — increasing income taxes on the wealthiest Americans enjoys broad support (66% favor, 32% oppose), while eliminating corporate tax deductions is even more popular (70% to 26%).

Just as important, support wasn’t limited to the left — nearly half of Republicans agree.

As for the measures in the American Jobs Act, most of Obama ideas enjoy overwhelming support from the American public, including three-to-one backing on ideas like saving public-sector jobs from state layoffs and infrastructure investments. Again, the popularity spanned the spectrum.

Greg Sargent went even further, documenting the extent to which Brooks, Penn, and Halperin are wrong when they assume the president and his team are only playing to their base, alienating everyone else.

[L]et’s be clear about this: It’s all utter nonsense…. While it’s true that Obama’s new posture is partly about firing up his base, he and his advisers also view it as the best way to win back moderates and independents. […]

To insist that this is only about winning over disaffected Dems is to misstate the nature of the bet the White House is making, which is a bet on where the true center of the country lies. Worse still is the unstated assumption underlying much of the analysis: That there’s no way the middle of the country could possibly embrace Obama’s new approach.

But as it happens, strong majorities of moderates and independents support tax hikes on the wealthy as the best way to close the deficit. I’ve compiled a half dozen polls showing that to be the case.

“Centrist” pundits think they know what moderates and independents want, but the gap between their assumptions and the polling data is striking.

If folks like Brooks, Penn, and Halperin want to make the case that the American mainstream is wrong, they’re welcome to give it their best shot. But to simply make up public attitudes, based on their own bogus assumptions, is ridiculous.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • stormskies on September 21, 2011 10:53 AM:

    These corporate pundits=clowns are all multimillionaires who are bought and paid for to splutter the propaganda necessary to make Americans believe the opposite of what is actually true .... they should, in reality, be treated as journalistic criminals ...

  • dj spellchecka on September 21, 2011 10:53 AM:

    basic rule of thumb: when brooks, penn, and halperin agree something is a bad idea, it's a good idea....

  • zmulls on September 21, 2011 10:54 AM:

    It bears repeating, always in this context, that the top 1% of income is defined by those who make $350K and up. Anyone on television is making that amount, easily. So anyone you see on television, complaining about how unamerican it is to tax millionaires, is sitting on a perch higher than 99% of the country.

    People on television are, by definition, rich. Maybe not super-rich, or uber-rich, but compared to almost the entire country, quite well-off indeed.

  • c u n d gulag on September 21, 2011 10:56 AM:

    Mark Penn is the "Democratic" version of Bill Kristol.

    And the job of people like Brooks, Halperin, and people of their ill ilk, isn't just to give their opinion - it's to shape opinion in their direction - the Conservative direction.

  • exlibra on September 21, 2011 11:00 AM:

    Bill Keller, having stepped down as the Executive Editor of the NYT, has now joined its stable of "opinionators". And, right out of the gate, dumped a full load on the heads of the Repubs. None of the mealy-mouthed "Congress" -- Congressional *Republicans*. Even sabotage is mentioned :)

  • ceilidth on September 21, 2011 11:03 AM:

    These guys have not gone beyond the Beltway for years, excluding their annual summer vacations to the Hamptons or the Vinyard, etc. and speaking engagements to Boston or NY. They have zero clue about what people outside their tiny little world think. And since they perceive themselves as middle class--of course it seems unfair to tax themselves. Check out Yglesias's post yesterday about how people perceive their wealth. It's pretty funny and, in my experience, utterly true. Those one or two rungs below the top only look up when they position themselves. Just because you aren't Michael Bloomberg, doesn't make you middle class. The median family income in the US is $50,000. If your family income is $200,000, you earn 4 times the median.

  • TCinLA on September 21, 2011 11:07 AM:

    folks like Brooks, Penn, and Halperin

    What do these three guys have in common? They are all corporate shills. You can believe that anything they say is what the corporate ruling class wants them to say.

    For those who think Hillary would have been a better president, two words: Mark Penn. With that fox in the chicken coop (in addition to all the other foxes on that campaign) advising the President on what the people think, we would be much worse off.

    This is what happens when you live in a fact-free universe, which the Republicans have now created. Asswipe morons like these three idiots can just make things up, pull it out of their ass, and they're supposed to be taken seriously.

    We are so much worse off information-wise than the Germans were between 1933-45...

  • Gregory on September 21, 2011 11:10 AM:

    Since when is conservative mouthpiece David Brooks a "centrist" pundit?

  • Lifelong Dem on September 21, 2011 11:13 AM:

    I watched Hardball last night long enough to see Bob Shrum--Bob Shrum--put down Mark Penn as the guy who said Barack Obama could not win the general election.

    Halperin's antipathy toward the current president is well known, and he also has a track record of failure. Besides, he's kind of a dick. And Brooks is simply the NYT token Republican.

    Given the track record of these bozos, particularly Mark Penn, I'm constantly amazed that anyone pays attention to anything they say. About anything.

  • Mimikatz on September 21, 2011 11:16 AM:

    Mark Penn speaks for his corporate clients who don't want to see their taxes go up, plain and simple. Brooks is a whiner who conflates his opinions with every one else's in a massive display of narcissism. It is easy to see what these people's income level is by how loudly they squeak, same with the rest of the overpaid pundit class.

  • Zach W. on September 21, 2011 11:16 AM:

    I couldn't think up 3 bigger hacks then Brooks, Penn, and Halperin. The most sinister aspect about all of them is their claim "centrism". The only thing they are in the center of is conservatism/corporatism. If they identified themselves as such, then I really wouldn't care what they said. But under the guise of "seriousness", the demand credibility when none has been earned.

  • SecularAnimist on September 21, 2011 11:22 AM:

    Wake up, Steve.

    These guys are not "pundits" who are "wrong" about the American people think.

    They are bought-and-paid-for propagandists for the corporate oligarchy, and they are deliberately LYING about what the American people think.

    That's their job. They get paid a lot of money for it.

    And they are NEVER GOING TO STOP.

  • Rick Massimo on September 21, 2011 11:22 AM:

    A "centrist" pundit is someone who says, "Well, yes, I agree with everything the Republicans say, and have for 20 years, but there's a chance I won't agree with them tomorrow - really!"

  • Robert Waldmann on September 21, 2011 11:27 AM:

    Excellent post. I only knew about the Brooks piece which definitely said that the proposals are things which liberals like and which enrage conservatives and moderates. I thought it was clear that by "moderates" David Brooks meant "David Brooks. In fact for almost all the proposals* the number who say they agree with Obama almost exactly the sum of the numbers who self identity as liberals and as moderates. A good summary would be that most liberals and most moderates support the proposals and most conservatives don't (although of course some self described conservatives support the proposals and some self described liberals and moderates don't).

    What does Brooks have to say about the polling data ? Nothing. They are mere facts beneath his notice.

    *The exceptions, where opinion is about evenly divided, are further extension of UI which people might have thought meant UI after 99 weeks not UI after in weeks 26-99 when the current temporary program expires and extending the payroll tax holiday (people must assume this affects the social security trust fund which it doesn't affect). Notably one of the two proposals with divided opinion was partly designed by Republicans who insisted on replacing the Obama tax cut of 800 per family with a payroll tax holiday.

    Penn is especially disgraceful as he claims to be a pollster. Of course he was a disgrace as a pollster hiding the raw numbers and reporting only on processed nyumbers looking only at soccer moms or office park dads because, by inventing and defining subgroups he could get results which pleased his real clients, the firms which hired his PR firm for politician relations.

    Progressives who are disappointed in Obama should remember that Clinton trusted Penn. Just imagine.

  • DAY on September 21, 2011 11:29 AM:

    I took a poll of several hundred million Americans this morning. One question: "Who are Brooks, Penn, and Halperin?"
    several people said "a stream, a writing instrument, and a headache pill". The rest didn't know.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on September 21, 2011 11:45 AM:

    Day FTW

  • Anonymous on September 21, 2011 11:48 AM:

    Portraying the intellectual equivalent of toe-jam as "public opinion" is what Brooks, Penn and Halperin do. It's their gig. They do it for much the same thing that anonymous wingnut email drafters do when they attribute one of those lists of facile crackpot platitudes they so love to Bill Gates or Norman Rockwell or Abraham Lincoln rather than the obscure FDR-hating 1930s industrialist who actually wrote them.

    The problem is that Brooks and Halperin are professional hacks. Acting as the public dispensers of nonsensical Beltway CW cooked up over cocktails at some D.C. socialite's abode is what they do. Penn, however, holds himself out as a pollster. When he protrays his mental toe-jam as "public opinion," it's malpractice at best and fraud at worst.

    On the other hand, if portraying mental toe jam as "public opinion" on the basis of secret polls actually affected real public opinion, Hillary Clinton would be president. She been an outstanding Secretary of State, one who'll go down as one of the best. But as long as foolish people keep murmuring about her and 2012, her inability to distinguish competent campaign personnel from second-rate hacks and outright charlatans should never be forgotten.

  • Ron Byers on September 21, 2011 11:51 AM:

    Brooks, Halprin and Penn are correct if the only people whose opinions matter are people making more than $350K who live in a couple of zip codes in and around Washington or New York. In other words, Brooks, Halprin and Penn are repeating the stuff they heard at dinner parties or at the Capitol Grill within the last week. They don't get out that much.

    My current worry is that we are falling into the same trap, and are creating our own echo chamber.

  • T2 on September 21, 2011 11:54 AM:

    just as with the bogus AP article cited in the post before this one, it is the job of the Media to help the Republicans obsfucate or ignore any substantive accomplishment or program developed by the Obama Administration. He cannot be seen as a success or as actively trying to fix some of our problems.
    I'll give Hillary Clinton credit for calling out the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy almost 20 years ago. It is still live and well and living in your Television and Newsprint.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on September 21, 2011 11:55 AM:

    You know, when I see Mark Halpein, I just think, "what an asshole."

  • DisgustedWithItAll on September 21, 2011 12:02 PM:

    Here's how this works:

    1) Public thinks X, as evidenced by poll after poll
    2) Wingnut and "moderate" pundits say public thinks Y, in direct opposition to X
    3) Democrats stay quiet
    4) Repeat steps 2) and 3) ad nauseam

    5) Public thinks Y

    All that needs to be done to change the algorithm's eventual result is step 3). That won't happen.

  • edba on September 21, 2011 12:17 PM:

    I may consider voting for Obama again IF he figures out how to pass some of the stuff he is proposing. He is fine at making speeches - he's improving anyway. If he has figured out the whole "politics" thing he should be able to pass something substantive. Otherwise, he should look in the mirror and realize being President just isn't the right job for him.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on September 21, 2011 12:30 PM:

    @edba: You seem to be a very stupid wingnut.

  • Texas Aggie on September 21, 2011 1:01 PM:

    They aren't "assuming" that the moderates and independents agree with them. They know darn well that they don't. What they are doing is trying to get a message going that says the opposite of reality in order to change that reality. It's like the cigarette people or now the antiglobal warming people did to protect themselves. They knew that they were lying, but all they had to do was insert just a bit of doubt into the conversation and thus were able to prolong the time that they could savage the American public. It's the same type of behavior.

  • chopin on September 21, 2011 1:06 PM:

    exlibra @ 11:00am, thank you so much for that link. It explains my frustration with Obama and cements my resolve to support him as the grown up in contrast to the stupid petty fascist bastards of my own party.

  • kevo on September 21, 2011 1:08 PM:

    I will reserve judgment for both Brooks and Penn, but I will always note just how much of a dick Halperin can be when he opens his mouth or pens a column!

    Willful vanity and self-proclaimed importance are what drive many a pundit in the Beltway!

    Why would they change when the prevailing mind-set is rewarded, and they're never held accountable when such self-proclaimed utterances or penned columns prove time and again just how off their perspectives have been regarding the current affairs we are facing, and, for far too long now to forgive the salary underwriters for these intellectual hacks any excuse as to why they haven't been fired yet! -Kevo

  • gone_west on September 21, 2011 1:49 PM:

    No doubt that Brooks is a sap and believes that his readers are all saps or saps wanna-be's just needing a little swaying from the Brooksmeister. The logic he uses in his Obama putdown is not so hard to find these days, and that in itself qualifies Brooks as a sap. When the bs is pulled out of the pile, his thesis amounts to this: Brooks argues that Obama the liberal will fail because he has moved away from the moderate strategy Obama followed in spite of the fact the moderate strategy was a failure. Gotta think if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner understood what Brooks had written, they would be proud.

  • Rich2506 on September 21, 2011 1:53 PM:

    Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos points out that Obama's identity of "the process-focused consensus builder was a flop." The President gained nothing from his embrace of the center while, yes indeed, alienating his base. He was conducting a lose-lose process that wasn't getting him anywhere.
    Have to say, I was extremely to see that Obama appears prepared to toss Cat Food Commission II under the bus.