Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Brave Sir Robin Party

Village Voice Headline: Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority in the Senate

Aravosis: Feinstein says forget climate change, and go really slow on health care reform, and maybe even shrink the size of the bill
How about puppies? Legislation about puppies shouldn't be too controversial. Then we can move on to kittens if the fall elections aren't too bad. What? Too bold? Okay, kittens are for the second term.
Within hours of the Brown win and as the Dems scattered like frightened sheep, I received an email fundraiser from Organizing for America:
Yesterday's disappointing election results show deep discontent with the pace of change. I know the OFA community and the President share that frustration.

We also saw what we knew to be true all along: Any change worth making is hard and will be fought at every turn. While it doesn't take away the sting of this loss, there is no road to real change without setbacks along the way.

We could have simply sought to do things that were easy, that wouldn't stir up controversy. But changes that aren't controversial rarely solve the problem.

Our country continues to face the same fundamental challenges it faced yesterday. Our health care system still needs reform. Wall Street still needs to be held accountable. We still need to create good jobs. And we still need to continue building a clean energy economy.

The President isn't walking away from these challenges. In fact, his determination and resolve are only stronger. We must match that commitment with our own.

But it won't be easy. Real change never is. For that reason, I am grateful you're part of this fight with us.

Thank you,

What utter bullshit. As every Dem within sight of a microphone signaled craven capitulation on our party's signature issue, they ask for money. I'm with Paul on this one:
Krugman: He Wasn’t The One We’ve Been Waiting For

Health care reform — which is crucial for millions of Americans — hangs in the balance. Progressives are desperately in need of leadership; more specifically, House Democrats need to be told to pass the Senate bill, which isn’t what they wanted but is vastly better than nothing. And what we get from the great progressive hope, the man who was offering hope and change, is this:

I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on. We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people. We know that we have to have some form of cost containment because if we don’t, then our budgets are going to blow up and we know that small businesses are going to need help so that they can provide health insurance to their families. Those are the core, some of the core elements of, to this bill. Now I think there’s some things in there that people don’t like and legitimately don’t like.

In short, “Run away, run away”!

Maybe House Democrats can pull this out, even with a gaping hole in White House leadership. Barney Frank seems to have thought better of his initial defeatism. But I have to say, I’m pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in.

And here's Hitler's take:

From the Balloon Juice comments:


Pelosi is the one Democrat we can count on to get shit done. The House passed their health care bill two freakin’ months ago.

Maddow on the party of meek . . .

Democrats poor political salesmen Jan. 20: Newsweek's Howard Fineman remarks on the apparent meekness of the Obama administration and Democratic lawmakers as exemplified by the lack of effort to defend Erroll Southers as their nominee for TSA head.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tim F.: Last Point About Calling Your Representative

Those of you who feel confident to let Democrats play n-dimensional chess on health care need to read Josh Marshall’s front page. No particular post, just scan the whole thing from bottom to top. The message from all over DC is that Dems have no idea what to do right now. They’re terrified and adrift. This idea that leaders are calmly pushing pieces around a sand table is insane.

Take Barney Frank. Last night he declared that the whole enchilada was cooked and we might as well give up. That’s like a startled alpha deer running into a tree and knocking itself out. Way to lead the herd. Frank defended himself repeatedly to baffled constituents and then he walked the story back almost a full day later. If Frank is one of our best, I hate to imagine how the rest of our caucus feels.

Don’t call a Congressperson because he or she will turn around and do what we say (if you’re new at this, they won’t). We should call because the caucus will meet tomorrow and probably a few more times after that, and then the Democratic majority will have a plan. Maybe the plan will involve fighting like hell to get HCR done before some other stupid thing happens, but it seems a little Charlie Brownish to feel confident about Dems doing anything that productive. If Reps show up buzzing about noisy supporters demanding HCR then we stand a slightly better chance than if they show up dwelling on their usual phobias turned up to eleven.

At least that’s my view. Small chance of having a meaningful impact, etc. etc.. At least it vents the frustration better than yelling at pseudonyms on an internetblog.

Sully: Obama's Non-Ideology In a Populist Age

George Packer reflects on Obama's first year:

[T]he whole drift of political currents—especially in the wake of last night’s Massachusetts result—is away from Obama’s agenda, and toward a kind of populism that, like a wild fire, can shift directions with any light wind that blows through and quickly burn up large tracts of land (it just immolated Martha Coakley). This is a politics that Obama has never been comfortable with. His preferred approach, as we’ve learned this past year, is to bring together his relatively non-ideological advisers, let each one argue a point of view, then make a decision on the rational basis of evidence and expertise, and explain it to the public in a detailed, almost anti-inspirational manner. Thus the bank plan, the Afghanistan policy, the “jobs summit,” etc. A Democratic politician recently told me that the best way to get Obama to do what you want is to tell him that it’s the unpopular, difficult, but responsible thing.

If Obama has any ideology, it’s this process. It is not an approach that’s easily adapted to leading and guiding the volatile hearts and minds of a beleaguered and cynical public. My guess is that it’s driven his political advisers around the bend many times.

The whole post is worth a read. It helps illuminate the divide between Obama's Reaganite campaign and George H W Bush-like administration. The trouble is: I think we need exactly this kind of good faith engagement with serious and complicated problems right now. And looking back, the first Bush administration looks substantively better and better. The question is whether this kind of small-c conservative good-governance can survive in a climate where the mood is populist, the economy is wrecked, the opposition is as angry as it is incoherent, and the Democratic base is in a mood for revolution.

Bush had no option. But Obama does. He can do the "vision thing". He needs to find a way to harness it to the pragmatic tasks in front of him. Never easy. But we will now see what he is made of.

Can Democrats utilize their majority? Jan. 20: Congresswoman Debbie Stabenow talks with Rachel Maddow about what the Democrats can hope to accomplish with a 59 member majority in the Senate and what their expectations are of cooperation from a post-Brown Republican Party.

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Sully: The Gulf

Here's why it's hard to see anything positive coming out of this debacle. Stephen Bainbridge, an intelligent man and one of the few conservatives who also found Bush and Cheney appalling, can write this:

Obama and the Congressional Democrats (especially in the House) governed for the last year as though the median voter is a Daily Kos fan.

This must come as some surprise to most Daily Kos fans. But if one had traveled to Mars and back this past year and read this statement, what would you assume had happened? I would assume that the banks had been nationalized, the stimulus was twice as large, that single-payer healthcare had been pushed through on narrow majority votes, that card-check had passed, that an immigration amnesty had been legislated, that prosecutions of Bush and Cheney for war crimes would be underway, that withdrawal from Afghanistan would be commencing, that no troops would be left in Iraq, that Larry Tribe was on the Supreme Court, that DADT and DOMA would be repealed, and so on.

But when even a sane and honest person like Bainbridge has lapsed into believing the FNC mantra, you realize that ideology has simply altered our understanding of reality. I note that Peter Berkowitz, another sane conservative, notes "extreme partisanship" on health insurance reform - but sees it as entirely a Democratic failure!

Bainbridge is admirably candid about GOP failures, which makes him far more credible than the FNC crowd. But here is his wish list of things not to do in the last few months of Democratic majorities:

Just say no to:

  • Financial regulation that restricts growth and investment (did the pro-regulation types learn nothing from The Sarbanes-Oxley Debacle?
  • Additional stimulus (a.k.a. pork) spending
  • Obamacare-lite
  • Corporate welfare (for once)
  • Bigger entitlement programs
  • New wars of choice

No financial regulation; no health insurance reform (or rather the tinkering that McCain prposed, which would do almost nothing to contain costs and nothing to insure more people); no more stimulus; maintenance of the entitlement crisis; and no more wars of choice (as if Obama were even proposing one). The premise must be that the US need not address its fundamental problems. It can just ignore them for a while longer, while Stephen dreams of a libertarian nirvana and asks the GOP to propose specific spending cuts.

Dream on.

John Cole: I Take It Back- He Gets It

Ok, glad I didn’t slit my wrists after that NYT piece. This interview with Obama was reassuring:

OBAMA: No—well—absolutely. No, keep in mind the point that I’m making here.

It was the right thing to do for us to salvage the financial system, and I make no apologies for that, at all. But we knew at the time how politically toxic that was.

What it gave people a sense of is, “We’re spending all this money, but I’m not getting any help.”

And, “Gosh—I wanted Obama to come in there to start making sure that I was getting help; not the big special-interest and the institutions.”

Now if I tell them, “Well, it turns out that we will actually have gotten TARP paid back and that we’re going to make sure that a fee’s imposed on the big banks, so that this thing will cost taxpayers not a dime,” that’s helpful. But it doesn’t eliminate the sense that their voices aren’t heard, and that institutions are betraying them.

And I think that’s been expressing itself all year. And they’ve gotten increasingly frustrated over the course of the year.

So I take complete responsibility for the fact that—A—we had to salvage a financial system that could have made things much worse. We had to take the steps that we did at the beginning of the year, in order to stabilize the economy.

And I am actually glad to see that the economy’s now growing again, and we have the prospect of a much better economy in 2010. But that doesn’t negate the anger and the frustration that people are feeling.

Read the whole thing.

Simon Johnson: Paul Volcker Prevails

Paul Volcker, legendary central banker turned radical reformer of our financial system, has won an important round. The WSJ is now reporting:

President Barack Obama on Thursday is expected to propose new limits on the size and risk taken by the country's biggest banks, marking the administration's latest assault on Wall Street in what could mark a return -- at least in spirit -- to some of the curbs on finance put in place during the Great Depression.

This is an important change of course that, while still far from complete, represents a major victory for Volcker - who has been pushing firmly for exactly this.

Thursday's announcement should be assessed on three issues.

  1. Does the president provide a clear statement of why we need these new limits on banks? The administration's narrative on what caused the crisis of 2008-09 has been lame and completely unconvincing so far. The president must take it to the banks directly - tracing the origins of our "too big to fail" vulnerabilities to the excessive deregulation of banks following the Reagan Revolution and emphasizing how much worse these problems became during the Bush years.
  2. Are the proposed limits on the total size (e.g., assets) of banks, or just on part of their operations - such as proprietary trading? The limits need to be on everything that banks do, if they are to be meaningful at all. This is not a moment for technocratic niceties; the banks must be reined in, simply and directly.
  3. Is there a clear strategy for (a) taking concrete workable proposals directly to Congress, and (b) win, lose, or draw in the Senate, running hard with this issue to the midterm elections?

Push every Republican to take a public stand on this question, and you will be amazed at what you hear (if they stick to what they have been saying behind closed doors on Capitol Hill.)

The spin from the White House is that the president and his advisers have been discussing this move for months. The less time spent on such nonsense tomorrow the better. The record speaks for itself, including public statements and private briefings as recently as last week - this is a major policy change and a good idea.

The major question now is - will the White House have the courage of its convictions and really fight the big banks on this issue? If the White House goes into this fight half-hearted or without really understanding (or explaining) the underlying problem of unfettered banks that are too big to fail, they will not win.

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