Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

23 April 2008


For Obamanites like me, last night was a disappointment. We all hoped Pennsylvania would put Hillary away and stop the Democrats’ hemorrhaging.

But what happened yesterday says nothing about Obama’s ability to win the general election. It proved only that a hard core of tradition-bound, poorly educated white workers and white seniors—in a single state—preferred Hillary to Obama. If Obama is the Democratic nominee, that hard core will vote for him.

Pennsylvania’s Democrats said so. In the past several weeks, I have seen countless interviews of Pennsylvania voters. Nearly all who expressed a preference for Hillary and discussed the general election said they will vote for Obama if he is the nominee.

They have no other rational choice. The economy is overwhelmingly their top issue. The war in Iraq and health care are not even close seconds on their issues list.

As I’ve pointed out in an earlier post, McCain doesn’t understand economics. His economic prescriptions are warmed-over Republican nostrums—the very sort of nonsense that got us into our present state. When he strays from conservative orthodoxy, he does so only to pander, as with his ridiculous proposal to decrease gasoline taxes during the summer.

No Democrat who can read is going to prefer McCain on economic issues in the fall, and registered Democrats grossly outnumber Republicans in Pennsylvania. Three hundred thousand new Democrats registered there for yesterday’s primary.

So if Obama is the nominee, he will win Pennsylvania. You can take it to the bank. Hillary’s insinuations to the contrary are pure demagoguery and pure lies. Not even her most partisan, angry consultants actually believe Pennsylvania will go Republican in November, under any circumstances now foreseeable.

The second thing to realize about Pennsylvania is something that no member of Obama’s campaign team dares say out loud. That cradle of American democracy is now one of our most backward states. (I can say it because I am not even remotely a part of Obama’s campaign.)

On almost every economic and demographic measure, Pennsylvania reflects our nation’s past, not its future. It has our oldest population. It is in the “top” rank of states having the largest percentage of workers without a college education. Ditto for people who live and die within fifty miles of their place of birth, never leaving their state of birth. It has one of our lowest populations of immigrants and our lowest rates of in-migration.

Despite some effort to transform itself, Pennsylvania is still a “Rust Belt” state marked by the carcasses of dying industries like steel and heavy manufacturing. Its second largest industry is a hospital-medical complex serving its aging population in Philadelphia. The dirtiest fuel known to humanity, coal, is still a significant industry there.

So everything about Pennsylvania today bespeaks our history, not our aspirations for the future. It is understandable that Pennsylvania’s Democrats would vote for an establishment candidate married to the last person whose presidency enjoyed balanced budgets and balanced prosperity. The rest of the country is not like Pennsylvania.

More important, the salient points of general-election strategy have not changed one iota. The Democrats will win the so-called “blue” states (the states that Kerry won in 2004) no matter who is their nominee. The worse our economy gets, and the more the middle class suffers, the more reliable that prediction will be.

Contrary to Hillary’s campaign propaganda, her much-touted wins in big blue states like California, New York, and Pennsylvania mean nothing. Any Democrat with a pulse will win those states in the fall.

What matters is who can best win the “red” states. Even with Hillary’s victories in Ohio and Texas, the record on that point still overwhelmingly favors Obama.

So Pennsylvania changed nothing. Obama is still the most electable and best candidate. Hillary can use the old Republican code words and McCarthy-like (Joe, not Gene!) guilt-by-association tactics to suggest that Obama’s race and his youth disqualify him. But no one is listening. This election is too important, and we’ve all been burned by that sort of nonsense too many times before.

The New York Times is as strong a Hillary partisan as exists among news media worthy of the name. Yet even it has given Hillary a stern warning: stop demagoguing and get back to issues!

If Hillary declines to take that advice, her campaign will self-destruct. If she takes it, voters will rediscover some other unchanging truths. Obama understands economics better. He has demonstrated far better judgment on foreign policy. Although less glib, he is more thoughtful, prudent, and self-restrained. And he lacks the baggage of an increasingly erratic and unattractive Bill. In other words, although less skilled at demagoguery, Obama is the better candidate on every measure related to governing.

We Americans are now wise to demagoguery, which got us in our current state. We are gravitating toward two honest candidates who are, by and large, too honorable and respectful of our nation and its current sorry state to resort to the type of demagoguery that Hillary used to retain her failing grip on Pennsylvania.


Why McCain’s Gas-Tax Holiday is Ridiculous

John McCain has proposed a temporary reduction of gasoline taxes this summer, in order to reduce consumers’ gasoline bills during the peak driving season. Here’s why the proposal is a ridiculous bit of demagoguery unworthy of McCain’s reputation for straight talk.

Taxes are not part of the cost of producing gasoline. That cost depends primarily on the cost of crude oil. Crude oil prices are at an all-time high, primarily due to rising demand from emerging industrial economies in China, India, Brazil and Russia. Reducing gas taxes inside the United States would stimulate demand there, further upsetting the worldwide balance of supply and demand for crude oil and further increasing its price.

The resulting increase in the price of crude oil would have two effects. First, it would increase gasoline prices after the tax decrease ended, as compared to what they would be if the summer passed with no tax holiday. This effect is virtually certain.

Second, by raising the demand for and the price of crude oil, the tax holiday would increase the price of producing gasoline and therefore its pre-tax price. As a result, the temporary reduction in tax would forfeit revenue much needed by government for infrastructure rebuilding, but economic relief to consumers would be only a fraction of the forfeited revenue. The reason is that taxes would go down, but the wholesale price of gasoline, which reflects the price of crude oil, would go up.

McCain’s proposal is also ridiculous for a much simpler reason: he’s not our president. He has no power to affect what happens this summer. The general election won’t even occur until fall.

If McCain continues showcasing his ignorance of economics with such utterly ridiculous proposals, he will be even easier to beat in the fall than his advanced age and testosterone-laced Iraq war policy make him now.

Red State Tables

The table below shows the results of red-state primaries in descending order of the decisiveness of Obama’s wins. As before, the blue rows show Obama’s wins, the pink Clinton’s, and the darker shades of each color wins by a margin of 2-to-1 or greater.

Red StateObama/Clinton
Vote (percent)
Idaho80/17 - >4 to 1 4
Alaska74/25 - 3 to 1 3
Kansas74/26 - >2.5 to 1 9
Nebraska68/32 - >2 to 1 5
Colorado67/32 - >2 to 1 9
Georgia66/31 2 >2 to 1 15
South Carolina55/27 18 2 to 1 8
Virginia64/35 1 >1.8 to 1 13
North Dakota61/37 1 >1.5 to 1 3
Louisiana57/36 - >1.5 to 1 9
Utah57/39 3 1.5 to 1 5
Alabama 56/42 1 1.3 to 1 9
Iowa38/29 30 1.3 to 1 7
Missouri 49/48 2 1 to 1 11
New Mexico48/49 2 1 to 1 5
Texas47/51 1 1 to 1 34
Nevada45/51 4 1 to 1 5
Arizona42/51 5 1 to 1.2510
Ohio44/54 2 1 to 1.2520
Tennessee41/54 4 < 1 to 1.25 11
Oklahoma31/55 10 <1 to 1.7 7
Arkansas27/69 2 <1 to 2.5 6

The table below shows Hillary’s relative deficit in electoral votes, assuming she or Obama would lose in the general election red states each lost in the primaries. (It’s worth noting that Obama won the caucuses in Texas, but neither of these two tables reflects that win.)
Clinton EV Deficit
All red states won1109812
Won by 2-to-1 or greater53647

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