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nate silver sticks to his guns

It is incredibly refreshing to see somebody not only provide a solid methodology for aggregating various state and national polls, but also offer something besides a constant stream of equivocation. There’s been quite a bit of backlash from the Romney camp against FiveThirtyEight‘s election projections, which currently forecasts a 79% chance for a President Obama re-election. Either way, Silver seems to be one of the few making strong, credible, and data-driven (read: beyond ‘a gut feeling’) assertions in the news cycle.

If Nate Silver is correct once again this time around, I have to wonder how it might actually change the game of punditry and set off a chain of events that eventually renders his current methodology in need of heavy modifications.

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Immediate Impact: Global Gag Rule

New York Times editorial recently covered a piece of international women’s health/development policy that would face immediate consequences in the event of a Romney victory next week. Mitt Romney has already pledged to reinstate the ‘Mexico City policy’ which forbids federal dollars for family-planning to any organization that provides information, advice, referrals, or services related to legal abortion — even if they are doing it with their own funds or funding from a different donor. It even extends to organizations that have supported the legalization of abortions in the countries in which they operate. This is not exactly a surprise; since its inception, the Mexico City policy has been activated by Republican presidents and suspended by Democratic presidents as they come into office.

To understand the largely pointless and political nature of this gag rule, it is important to note that, due to various existing federal statues, it is already illegal for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to fund activities related to the practice of abortion under any circumstances. This policy simply hurts family-planning groups and clinics that provide many other necessary and lifesaving, family-planning activities funded by the American people for the sake of one practice that is already unsupported. In turn, this results in negative outcomes for men and women seeking  family-planning help and creates larger unmet need. This is not ideal, as fewer unwanted pregnancies lead to fewer abortions. Studies (and sometimes, common sense) have linked prevalence of modern contraceptive methods to lower rates of abortion.

Caring Might Not Be Enough

Yesterday, Washington Post published an opinion piece by Richard Cohen, highlighting how President Obama seemed to be a man without passion for the issues he pursued throughout his first term. According to Cohen, the president spent significant political capital on passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), but that was never his crusade, and he spent very little time speaking passionately in favor of it. After a comparison with Robert F. Kennedy, Cohen concludes that “Obama never espoused a cause bigger than his political survival.”

The article is worth a read, but I have a fundamental disagreement with Cohen on what Obama could have possibly done in terms of espousing those causes that are bigger than his political survival. By nearly any measure, President Obama ran a centrist, if not right of center, administration and still came up against unparalleled resistance from opposition that outright vowed to make him a one-term president. If Mr. Obama came armed with huge liberal causes, that resistance would not only come from the Republicans in Congress, but many moderate Democrats. The country is just that right of center at present. Considering he was also greeted by a flailing and volatile economy on his first day in office, there was just too much that required immediate attention to ‘care’ too much about the bigger issues. I am not making excuses for the president; I feel strange every time I take it on myself to defend the ACA, which is inadequate compared to actual universal health care, but it was easily the best of two viable options and lays the groundwork for the future.

As I alluded to in my earlier, I do not believe the American public is ready to support (with their votes) something they may even appreciate.  That is not disparagement of the voting public; it is appreciation for the power of interests that convince voters to vote against their own interests. Many people appreciate the lifesaving benefits of the ACA’s individual clauses, but opt to run with the narrative they are inundated with: it is a big government takeover, freedom, etc. Any grand effort on by the president would be up against these interests.

The kind of gambit that Mr. Obama could have taken with any number of issues would have been unlikely to go into effect, and even if they did, would have gone largely unappreciated. However, Mr. Obama’s presidency has quietly led us left from the far right where the Bush Administration left us, if not quite as far enough for liberals, progressives, and people who bought into the 2008 campaign rhetoric with no cynicism for what one man can do in four years. I personally take issue with the administration’s treatment of human rights, but it’s not as if a vote for any other candidate that has a shot would change that situation for the better. Given another four years, I believe that the Obama administration will continue to move America back towards a true, moderate center and make those sweeping causes more palatable to the American public.  If the will of the nation is behind positive changes, it will be far more sustainable than the will of one man.