Jonathan Cohn

Senior Editor

Not for the first time--and, I'm sure, not for the last--Paul Krugman wrote what I was thinking this morning: Four years ago George W. Bush narrowly won the presidential election, and Republicans achieved a 30-seat majority in the House and a 10-seat majority in the Senate. Immediately there was a vast chorus from the commentariat, proclaiming the death of liberalism; America, everyone said, was a conservative nation. I have a whole shelf of books with titles like Building Red America and One-Party Nation. Maybe the current polls are all wrong.

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Why aren't employers, who complain constantly about the cost of employee health benefits, begging and pleading for government to take health insurance away from them? That's the question Ezra Klein asks in a smart post over at the American Prospect site: The big question here, of course, is employers. Why they haven't risen up and demanded an end to the employer-based health care market is one of the questions that I've never been able to answer. Why does GM want to build cars and also provide health insurance?

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The Tampa Bay Rays just defeated the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. For the Rays, it means a date with the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. For the Red Sox, it means no repeat of last year's World Championship.As a Sox fan, I'm obviously disappointed. And I'm still not over the shock that the Rays, cellar dwellers for nine of the ten years they've existed, even made it to the postseason. But at least one person predicted this, more or less, and he deserves some credit.

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Colin Powell has announced he's supporting Barack Obama. He did it during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press"; he then discussed the subject further afterwards, in a session with reporters outside of the studios. The endorsement was neither ambiguous nor qualified. Powell began by expressing his admiration for both candidates. He then talked about the performance of the two, particularly in reaction to the financial crisis of the last few weeks.

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It is hard to imagine we’ve heard the last of Barack Obama’s interactions with William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. But lately John McCain seems much more interested in talking about another Obama encounter. It’s the now infamous conversation Obama had with “Joe the Plumber”--and one particular phrase that Obama uttered in the course of it. For those who may have been in hibernation the last few days, Joe the Plumber--whose real name is Joe Wurzelbacher--met Obama during an Ohio campaign event last weekend.

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Here's John McCain, speaking today to an audience in Concord, North Carolina:  You might ask: How do you cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans, when more than 40 percent pay no income taxes right now? How do you reduce the number zero? Well, that's the key to Barack Obama's whole plan: Since you can't reduce taxes on those who pay zero, the government will write them all checks called a tax credit. And the Treasury will have to cover those checks by taxing other people, including a lot of folks just like Joe.

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I try really hard not to dignify Michelle Malkin by responding to her rants. But I can't let this one pass.  It seems that Malkin is angry over the recent treatment of Joe Wurzelbacher--a.k.a., "Joe the Plumber." As you may recall, John McCain invoked Wurzelbacher a few times during Wednesday's debate, using Joe's situation to suggest that Barack Obama would raise taxes on the middle class. Since that time, reporters and Democratic partisans have been digging into Joe's story, to see whether McCain's claims are right.

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John McCain didn't utter the phrase "middle class" in debates one and two. He didn't utter it tonight, either. Instead, he talked about "Joe the Plumber." Joe, whose full name is Joe Wurzelbacher, is the plumber who asked Barack Obama about tax policy during an Ohio campaign event this week. Wurzelbacher hopes to buy his own business. But, as he explained during their now-famous exchange, he worries that he'd face higher taxes if Obama were to become president. It's not clear to me that Wurzelbacher really would be worse off financially if all of Obama's plans were implemented.

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As I type this, Stan Greenberg is briefing reporters on his focus group of undecided voters in Colorado. He said the respondents felt Obama "won" and that the results were "more decisive than either of the last two." That's a reference to Greenberg's previous focus groups, which also came away preferring Obama. The most striking result came on the favorability ratings. Although the focus group was officially undecided, it leaned towards McCain.

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Would Barack Obama's health care plan be bad news for Joe the Plumber? Not at all. In fact, Joe the Plumber would be among the plan's primary beneficiaries. It's no secret that small businesses have a really hard time finding affordable health insurance right now. And it's no secret why. For one thing, it costs an insurer a lot more money to solicit, and then run, an insurance plan for multiple small businesses than it does for one large employer with the same number of employees.

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