Monday, September 14, 2009


DougJ: His Joe Wilson problem — and ours

John Bresnahan has an excellent article about efforts to get Joe Wilson to apologize, including this nugget:

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and other Republicans also privately asked Wilson to make an apology on the floor, but he wouldn’t comply, according to GOP insiders.

We’ve reached a stage where the Joe Wilsons and Michelle Bachmanns of the world are more beholden to Glenn Beck and the tea baggers than their own party leaders. The good news is that this weakens the Republican party. The bad news is that it creates a self-contained pocket of complete craziness in Washington that could do a lot of damage under the right circumstances.

Boy do I wish I had written this:
The Bullying Underdogs
As a follow-up to my last post, I'd just like to mention that I think one of the things driving conservative insanity is the cognitive dissonance between their fantasy of being the underdog and their desire for being in the majority. So, while they like to see themselves as a growing movement that's slowly educating America about what Obama is up to, they also like to imagine they're already in the majority. And you can pick up on both of these narrative threads within the same post, even if they're entirely contradictory.

And they're absolutely thrilled to see 70,000 like-minded people while pretending it's two million people, and will insist that this is a mass uprising which bodes ill for Obama and his evil minions. Yet, McCain won over 58 million votes last year, which wasn't enough to defeat Obama. And Kerry won over 59 million votes in 2004, yet they considered him to be a major loser who flamed out in defeat.

So, while two million people is a large protest, it's fairly meaningless in terms of a political movement which requires more than thirty times more people; particularly if all two million were part of the 58 million which suffered a major defeat. For as much as they're imagining this to be some massive uprising against Obama, this is nothing more but a continuation of an election that is long over.

And so they're powerful underdogs who insist that some game-changing event has happened in D.C., even though they're just a small fraction of a much larger group which still isn't big enough to win. And all the same, no matter which fragment of their grand narrative you're listening to, and whether they're the rebels fighting the emperor or the victors reaping the spoils, one thing is clear: It's all an epic struggle with them as the good guys and us as the bad guys. Rest assured, they will prevail; even if they can't figure out the plot.
Sargent: Does Health Care Reform Debate Carry Risks For The GOP, Too?

One point that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves: When it comes to health care, Dems are not the only major American political party courting serious political risk.

The vast majority of commentary, understandably, has focused on the risks Obama and Dems are facing as they seek to overhaul this huge chunk of the American economy. Dems are in charge and will determine what proposal ultimately faces a vote. But what if pundits are missing another story — that the GOP has a great deal to lose, too, depending on the outcome of this war?

The new Washington Post poll has bad news for both parties. It finds that 48% remain opposed to the reform proposal, versus 46% who favor it, and that a big majority wants Dems to craft a bill that will win GOP support. But it also finds…

* That Dems hold an overwhelming 20-point lead on which party is most trusted on major issues, with Obama preferred over Republicans by 12 points on health care.

* That a majority, 53%, agrees that “government reform of the nation’s health care system is necessary to control costs and expand coverage,” underscoring yet again that the public wants government action.

* That a plurality now believes reform won’t prevent people from keeping their own health care, suggesting the public may be it reform as less and less threatening.

* That a big majority, or 62%, believe Republicans have not made a good faith effort to cooperate with Dems on health care.

This isn’t to minimize the political headwind Obama and Dems face right now. But what if a fair amount of the opposition reflects short term anxieties and fear of the legislative unknown? What if a reform bill gets through with virtually no Republican support, and the public decides they like it? How will the GOP’s efforts to block the current proposals look to the public in retrospect?

What if Republican efforts to defeat health care reform really are rooted in the fear — famously articulated in Bill Kristol’s 1993 memo, and reiterated since — that the realization of reform could banish the GOP to the minority for a generation, by cementing the Dems as the party that’s resurrected the notion that government can improve the lives of the middle class? Just thought I’d throw this possibility out there.

Yglesias finds: Warning Signs for GOP in Health Care Poll

Greg Sargent makes the point that the press seems weirdly averse to noting polling data about health reform that indicates the existence of political risks for the GOP in opposing Obama. For example, “Dems hold an overwhelming 20-point lead on which party is most trusted on major issues, with Obama preferred over Republicans by 12 points on health care.” And “a big majority, or 62%, believe Republicans have not made a good faith effort to cooperate with Dems on health care.”

There are only two parties out there. If people see congressional Republicans refusing to engage in good-faith negotiation with a president who they trust more than the GOP on the issue at hand, this is of major benefit to their Democratic opponents. The economic situation is very bad right now, public faith in institutions is low, and nobody in politics is incredibly popular. But elections are zero sum—if I win, you lose and vice versa. Democrats look to be in big trouble except when judged relative to the Republicans but there’s nobody else to judge them against.

digby: Finding Real America Again
From Boehlert I see that the Washington Post featured the Teabagger March on the front page today and devoted a lot of space to explaining that these are just regular folks from all around America expressing their thoughts. I've been getting the sense in the media for the past few days that they are about to take a U-turn on this story, even as they continue to highlight Joe Wilson and his outburst.

I could be wrong, but things like this make me nervous:
Most of us in what is called the communications field are not rooted in the great mass of ordinary Americans--in Middle America. And the results show up not merely in occasional episodes ... but more importantly in the systematic bias toward young people, minority groups, and the of presidential candidates who appeal to them.

"To get a feel of this bias it is first necessary to understand the antagonism that divides the middle class of this country. On the one hand there are highly educated upper-income whites sure of and brimming with ideas for doing things differently. On the other hand, there is Middle America, the large majority of low-income whites, traditional in their values and on the defensive against innovation.

"The most important organs of and television are, beyond much doubt, dominated by the outlook of the upper-income whites.

"In these circumstances, it seems to me that those of us in the media need to make a special effort to understand Middle America. Equally it seems wise to exercise a certain caution, a prudent restraint, in pressing a claim for a plenary indulgence to be in all places at all times the agent of the sovereign public."
Actually, that was a very famous piece written by the David Broder of his time, Joseph Kraft, back in 1968. And it's what led to the Village of today --- a bunch of wealthy elites who feel they have to identify with the white middle class of an America that only exists in their minds.

It would be depressing to see this ridiculous set of assumptions get a new lease on life, but I won't be surprised if it does.
Matt Yglesias: WaPost Op-Ed Page Once Again Misleading Its Readers

If Kay Bailey Hutchison wants to claim that “A few of them have formal titles, but most are simply known as ‘czars’” then fine. Maybe she’s ignorant, or maybe she’s a huge liar. Either way, Amanda Terkel points out that this is completely false. There are zero officials in the Obama administration who lack formal titles and are simply known as czars. She’s totally wrong. Completely and utterly. Is she careless? Is she dishonest? Honestly, I don’t care.

What I do care about is The Washington Post. This is a newspaper. They charge people money to buy it. The idea is that if you pay money in order to buy it, you’ll become better informed. But they regularly publish material in their opinion pages that demonstrates a total disregard for this function. The article in question manages to not so much as mention that all of our recent presidents have employed “czars.” I find it completely impossible to believe that Washington Post editors are unaware that George W. Bush employed “czars.” I find it completely impossible to believe that Washington Post editos have completely forgotten the administration of a man who was still president as recently as nine months ago. And I find it completely impossible to believe Washington Post editors don’t grasp the relevance of this fact to assessing the credibility of Hutchison’s complaint. Her use of phrases such as “unprecedented” to describe Obama’s czar-related conduct, combined with the total lack of context, is transparently designed to mislead the audience. And the Washington Post decided to print it!

You never really hear about people picking up a Kaplan test prep book and walking away feeling as if they’ve been deliberately misled.

It's hardly a surprise that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has fully embraced "Tenther" attitudes -- rejecting the federal government's authority to do much of anything based on a long-discredited, right-wing interpretation of the 10th Amendment.

So, when DeMint told Aaron Wiener over the weekend that he thinks Congress lacks the "constitutional authority" to intervene on health care policy, it was fairly predictable. Of far greater interest was DeMint's response when asked about Medicare. This matters, of course, because if there's even a shred of intellectual consistency to the Tenther approach, everything from Medicare to Social Security, the G.I. Bill to the interstate highway system, are all unconstitutional.

DeMint expressed doubts as to the legality of Medicare under the Constitution, but said, "Regardless of constitutionality, it is a promise that we have to keep.... I think Medicare and Social Security have to be protected."

"Regardless of constitutionality" strikes me as an instant classic. Indeed, it's the worst of both worlds -- DeMint's ideology is so far gone that he actually believes Medicare and Social Security are unconstitutional, but DeMint's principles are so weak that he supports the illegal programs anyway.

For the American mainstream, DeMint's legal analysis makes him a nut. For the Tenther fringe, DeMint's willingness to deliberately endorse policies he considers unconstitutional makes him a sell-out.

There's also the small matter of Republicans trying to convince America's seniors that it's the GOP, not Democrats, who are the real champions of Medicare. That is, of course, what the RNC's Michael Steele has been arguing for weeks.

That pitch is all the more ridiculous when, over the course of five days, Sarah Palin recommends privatizing Medicare and Jim DeMint argues Medicare's existence is illegal.

Sully: Dissent Of The Day

A reader writes:

You wrote:

"But those who voted for [Bush] are absolutely enraged at the possibility of any change."

This is an absolute strawman, a tactic straight out of the Obama playbook. I am for all kinds of change. Health care deregulation would be nice. Ending agriculture subsidies and corporate welfare would be nice. Tax reform would be outstanding.

But with Obama we don't get change, we get more of the same. More government, just like Bush. A failed Keynesian stimulus driving us ever deeper into debt (and straight out the Bush playbook, with his ridiculous tax rebate of last year). More government in health care (Bush, Medicare expansion). More government in energy policy (energy bill passed under Bush's watch). I'm all for change, just not for big government.

Well, count me in, then. Unlike many of these tea-partiers and their supporters, I actually took on the Bush administration's big government tendencies, fiscal recklessness and massive expansion of executive power at the time (and was largely cast out of the conservative coalition as a result). I opposed the Medicare prescription drug benefit as unaffordable - and no one can argue that what looks like the current healthcare reform would cripple future finances as profoundly as that Bush entitlement. But it was rammed through the Congress by some of the very people who are complaining loudest about the debt today. And unlike Obama, who has pledged either to find the money by internal reform or to take spending cuts if that fails, Bush never offered any way to pay for it - except to rack up even more Chinese IOUs.

Sure, Obama isn't ideal. I'd like a carbon tax rather than cap and trade, drastic 1986-style tax reform, and an end to the government subsidizing employer-based insurance plans. I'd also like marriage equality in every state and a flat tax and an immediate end to the military's gay ban. But unlike so many of these tea-partiers, I also realize that in real politics, you have to construct a solid coalition for all this and make arguments for it consistently (as Reagan did for decades) and have some credibility. But the GOP has been doing he opposite, fighting wars - cultural and military - instead of attending to basic fiscal responsibility and limited government. You cannot just pivot on a dime without some accounting of the recent past. Well, you can, but you look so partisan and so two-faced you'll only persuade people by ratcheting up fear and hysteria to drown out the actual issues.

But there's something else here and it has to do with a view of constitutional politics. I don't believe in politics as warfare.

While I adhere to most of the principles of the small government right, I am aware of the important balancing act of a liberal coalition in keeping this country on an even keel. I come from the Oakeshottian school that supports what he called "civil association" but also understands the necessity for the other strain in Anglo-American thought, "enterprise association." I do not want either party to have total power; and I do not believe every political argument has to be zero-sum. I loathe the cynicism that prefers trashing a new president over solving a serious social problem for people in real need.

And look: while I would like all the things my reader does in an ideal world, none of them was seriously on the table in last year's election. And the candidate who was closest to them was soundly beaten. It's perfectly proper - even admirable - to demonstrate and argue against the new administration's ideas, but it's also worth recalling that this plan in its essentials was an integral part of the president's campaign platform and his party's effective manifesto. It was debated ad nauseam last year, and Obama won by a hefty margin. The tone of these protests suggests that this is some wild power-grab. It isn't. It's a centrist and not-too-ambitious plan to fulfill a clear campaign pledge as responsibly as possible within a sensible fiscal framework.

The protestors keep saying that they want their country back. Sorry, my fellow small-governmenters, but this country is a democracy, and you didn't lose your country, you just lost an election. You had your chance for eight years. You blew it, and you lost. What Obama is doing is what he was elected to do. The principled response is not a massive, extremist-riddled hissy fit a few months in, but a constructive set of proposals to build on universal care for a more market-friendly and cost-conscious system in the future. You have to win some political credibility for that; and then you have to beat the man you lost so badly to last year. That's the civil and civilized way forward for the right. It also seems, alas, to be the one they are currently refusing to take.

Coates: Race Is A Factor But...

Glenn Greenwald argues that Obama-hatred is largely unprecedented--if you don't consider the last Democrat to occupy the White House:

To see that, just look at what that movement's leading figures said and did during the Clinton years. In 1994, Jesse Helms, then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, claimed that "just about every military man" believes Clinton is unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief and then warned/threatened him not to venture onto military bases in the South: "Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He better have a bodyguard." The Wall St. Journal called for a Special Prosecutor to investigate the possible "murder" of Vince Foster. Clinton was relentlessly accused by leading right-wing voices of being a murderer, a serial rapist, and a drug trafficker. Tens of millions of dollars and barrels of media ink were expended investigating "Whitewater," a "scandal" which, to this day, virtually nobody can even define. When Clinton tried to kill Osama bin Laden, they accused him of "wagging the dog" -- trying to distract the country from the truly important matters at hand (his sex scandal). And, of course, the GOP ultimately impeached him over that sex scandal -- in the process issuing a lengthy legal brief with footnotes detailing his sex acts (cigars and sex talk), publicly speculating about (and demanding examinations of) the unique "distinguishing" spots on his penis, and using leading right-wing organs to disseminate innuendo that he had an abandoned, out-of-wedlock child. More intense and constant attacks on a President's "legitimacy" are difficult to imagine...

Other than the fact that Obama's race intensifies the hatred in some precincts, nothing that the Right is doing now is new. This is who they are and what they do -- and that's been true for many years, for decades. Even the allegedly "unprecedented" behavior at Obama's speech isn't really unprecedented; although nobody yelled "you lie," Republicans routinely booed and heckled Clinton when he spoke to Congress because they didn't think he was legitimately the President (only for Ted Koppel to claim that it was something "no one at this table has ever heard before" when Democrats, in 2005, booed Bush's Social Security privatization proposal during a speech to Congress).
For the most part, this is my view. As I've said, I'm not convinced that Joe Wilson wouldn't have yelled "You lie!" at President Hillary Clinton, or President John Edwards. I'm also not sure that "Birther-ism" is more sinister than alleging that Clinton murdered Vince Foster. For the most part, think that Obama is facing what any Democrat would face at this point in history--which if you're black, is the problem.

It's worth noting that a lot of Clinton's troubles, and a lot of any generic national Democratic troubles post-1968, are inextricably tied to race. Clinton was a Southerner, and as such, there was some hope that could help reclaim white Southern votes that had left the Democrats after 1968. Why did these white Southerners leave, in the first place? What was the exact nature of the shoals Clinton had to navigate? It's worth thinking about the efficacy of the Sista Souljah move, and who that tactic was targeting. It's worth thinking about Ricky Ray Rector. It's worth thinking about the growth of the militia movement during Clinton's presidency, and exactly what sort of person these groups were enlisting. It's worth remembering Randy Weaver, and exactly what he stood for.

Let me not be reductive--Clinton stood at the center of a cultural conflict stretching back to the 60s and involving everything from gay rights to the nature of the military. I don't have any means of apportioning how much of that hostility had to do with race, and how much of it had to do with all the issues brought forth by the 60s. But much of what looks to just be vanilla issues (crime, welfare, taxes etc.) were suffused with the politics of race. I think Obama benefited by the passage of time, and the fact that crime and welfare, aren't national issues, at the moment. But as Glenn notes, the standard craziness has been intensified by Obama's race.

There's a danger in making that last point too casually--"Yes race is a factor, but..." The crazy-tax is intensified by Obama's blackness--that his blackness didn't invent the crazy-tax doesn't mitigate the point. We all have to visit the dentist every six months, not because of racial discrimination, but because we're human. But if the dentist charges black people five dollars more per-visit, pointing out that twenty years ago I couldn't even go to the dentist, or that "Racism doesn't cause tooth decay," won't make me feel much better. And it shouldn't--I'm still getting ripped off.

If we concede, as most reasonable people do, that racism is a factor--not the factor but a factor--in resistance to Obama, then in fact, what we've seen this year is, by the very nature of an Obama presidency, nprecedented. Put simply, we've seen the crazy-tax, of which race is a portion, before. But we've never seen the crazy-tax intensified by race. We have not seen it accompanied by watermelon jokes, by Congressmen referring to him as boy, by clucking heads claiming that the president "has exposed himself as someone with a deep-seated hated of white people." We've never seen the whitey tape, before.

There's a tendency to lump anti-black racism in with all the serious problems presented when you try to make a democracy work. There is always a danger of becoming single-minded, of bringing to bear a myopic analysis which sees one thing in everything. Moreover, watermelon jokes are a long way from red-lining, and in seeing how far we've come, the temptation is to dismiss how far we have to go.But from a black perspective, it's a temptation you can ill-afford. Racism cost us dollars a half-century ago. Today it costs us quarters--but it still costs.

Don't let the grinding familiarity of Obama blind you to the profound times we live in, and the work that's still left to do. We've never had a black president before. This is without precedent. We've also never had anti-Semitic white supremacists shooting up the Holocaust Museum. This, too, is unprecedented.

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