Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Evening Potpourri

Republican lawmakers were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the economic recovery package that rescued the economy from the abyss. A year later, GOP officials are still railing against the economic life-preserver.

Well, at least most of the time. Occasionally, Republican lawmakers who hated the stimulus brag about how great its provisions are for their state/district. Take Delaware's Mike Castle, for example.

Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) has staggered to the right, voting against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the stimulus), financial regulation reform, the recent jobs package, and health reform. Running for the U.S. Senate this year, Castle has cast aside his image of a GOP moderate and joined his conservative colleagues in their reflexive opposition. But despite his right-wing voting record, Castle is attempting to drum up positive media coverage by claiming ownership over one of the progressive measures he voted to kill.

In the past two weeks, Castle has blasted multiple press releases publicizing stimulus funds awarded to his state. In his most recent release, he not only calls the money "imperative," but in "announcing" the funds, he tacitly claims credit for securing them.

What impresses me is not just the hypocrisy, but how common this is. It seems as if every few weeks we see yet another congressional Republican who thought the recovery package was an awful idea, but who nevertheless thinks the federal recovery efforts for their constituents is a great idea.

About a month ago, it was Rep. Bill Shuster (R) of Pennsylvania. A few weeks before that, it was House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia.

Over the last several months, Bobby Jindal, Mitch McConnell, Saxby Chambliss, Johnny Isakson, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined the same club. They all have two things in common -- they (1) railed against recovery efforts, rejecting the very idea of government spending improving the economy; and (2) later discovered they liked stimulus spending after all, and felt it was important to help the economy in their state.

The phrase these guys are looking for, but can't bring themselves to say, is "Thank you, Mr. President, for rescuing the economy from the recession we helped create, and which we would have made worse had we been in power."

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan argues in her column today that President Obama could have had more success pursing a less ambitious health care reform bill.

In a way Mr. Obama made the same mistake President Bush did on immigration, producing a big, mammoth, comprehensive bill when the public mood was for small, discrete steps in what might reasonably seem the right direction.

The public in 2009 would have been happy to see a simple bill that mandated insurance companies offer coverage without respect to previous medical conditions. The administration could have had that -- and the victory of it -- last winter.

Instead, they were greedy for glory.

It's hard to overstate how incredibly wrong this is. The most obvious problem is that the president and his allies weren't "greedy" at all -- they gave up on single-payer before the process even started, and then compromised away several important elements in order to get it through Congress. The reform package -- like Social Security and Medicare before it -- is poised to be both a landmark achievement and a modest, moderate step forward.

But on a more fundamental level, Noonan's argument suggests she hasn't paid very close attention to the policy debate. As the former Reagan speechwriter puts it, all Obama should have done was prevent insurers from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions. At that point, presumably, the president could declare victory and move on to the next subject.

Except, her proposal doesn't make sense. Paul Krugman explained today:

Start with the proposition that we don't want our fellow citizens denied coverage because of preexisting conditions -- which is a very popular position, so much so that even conservatives generally share it, or at least pretend to.

So why not just impose community rating -- no discrimination based on medical history? Well, the answer, backed up by lots of real-world experience, is that this leads to an adverse-selection death spiral: healthy people choose to go uninsured until they get sick, leading to a poor risk pool, leading to high premiums, leading even more healthy people dropping out.

So you have to back community rating up with an individual mandate: people must be required to purchase insurance even if they don't currently think they need it.

But what if they can't afford insurance? Well, you have to have subsidies that cover part of premiums for lower-income Americans.

In short, you end up with the health care bill that's about to get enacted. There's hardly anything arbitrary about the structure: once the decision was made to rely on private insurers rather than a single-payer system -- and look, single-payer wasn't going to happen -- it had to be more or less what we're getting. It wasn't about ideology, or greediness, it was about making the thing work.

I get the sense from Noonan's column that these pesky details don't matter. Like too many Republicans, making effectively policy through sensible lawmaking just isn't that important.

Worse, Noonan went on to argue that the president put health care above the economy and national security -- which is as offensive as it is ridiculous. As Andrew Sullivan explained, "Noonan's column is a fantasy, a dream, a weird incantation of a thesis that is merely how she feels, without any substantive relationship to reality."

Sullivan: Peggy Noonan's Giuliani Syndrome

Just as Rudy Giuliani simply asserts that there were no terror attacks on the US under Bush, so Peggy Noonan gives us this view of Obama's first year. She argues that the only focus of Obama's attention was the health insurance reform bill which she says proves he is a leftist president, not a center-left president:

It was not worth it—not worth the town-hall uprisings and the bleeding of centrist support, not worth the rebranding of the president from center-left leader to leftist leader, not worth the proof it provided that the public's concerns and the administration's are not the same, not worth a wasted first year that should have been given to two things and two things only: economic matters and national security.... [Obama] had frittered his attention on issues that were secondary and tertiary—climate change, health care—while al Qaeda moved, and the system stuttered.

So Obama put health insurance reform before the economy and national security. She writes this in a newspaper. She states this as fact. But it is not fact. It is patently false in every single respect.

The following is indisputable. Obama's first act was increasing national security by ending the torture program, and pledging to remove the biggest recruitment tool for our enemies: Gitmo. His second focus was a stimulus package, which, according to AEI, added four points to economic growth. His third focus - how soon they forget - was on rescuing the banks. Before health insurance reform passed, he initiated and completed and implemented a total overhaul of the Afghanistan war. He maintained rendition and the Bush time-table for Iraq withdrawal. He tried (and failed) to restart the Israel peace-process but was stymied by Netanyahu. His policy toward Iran has seen the regime more vulnerable than at any point in its history. His success at finding and killing many Qaeda operatives, his dispatch of Somali pirates, his intense focus on drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan: these are also simply facts of history.

And the health insurance reform has no public option, pledges to cut Medicare, and will reduce the deficit, according to the CBO. It brought 30 million new clients for the private drug and insurance companies. This is leftist.

Noonan's column is a fantasy, a dream, a weird incantation of a thesis that is merely how she feels, without any substantive relati0nship to reality. Well, at least she understand that the GOP is offering nothing - nothing - substantive as an alternative except oil drilling and torture and more bellicose rhetoric toward the rest of the world because that worked out so well under Bush.

Sullivan: Peggy's Predicament

A reader nails it:

Peggy Noonan's biggest problem is that she's not a Republican anymore but she doesn't want to admit it. Like you, Bruce Bartlett, Chris Buckley and myself, she's a conservative - but unlike "us" she is unwilling to completely disengage from the party itself and recognize that it no longer represents true conservative values. But she's too smart to simply regurgitate GOP talking points, so she ends up talking herself into circles.

I think that's about right. But she does at least acknowledge the GOP's bankruptcy and extremism. Which is something.

Yglesias: While Economy Burns, Jon Kyl Blocking Treasury Nominees Over Petty BS

I, for one, thing there should be some subcabinet officials in the Treasury Department confirmed by the Senate. Senator Jon Kyl feels otherwise:

Senate Minority Whip Kyl is blocking pending Treasury Department nominees with jurisdiction over tax policy and international finance in response to the Obama administration’s delay of new Internet gambling prohibitions, according to Senate aides…Kyl was among the few arguing against a delay.

The background? Pat Garofalo explains:

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) evidently doesn’t like online gambling very much, and in 2006, he helped craft a law banning the processing of online wagers. The law and its corresponding regulations were supposed to go into effect last month, but the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve pushed back the start-date until June.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is your modern United States Senate. If there’s some random crap that nobody cares about, it just takes one Senator with a bee in his bonnet to ruin everything for everyone who would like to live in a country with a properly administered government. There are six Treasury nominees still awaiting action being held up by Kyl.

You might think it would be a good idea to have an Under Secretary for International Affairs. Kyl disagrees. You might think it would be a good idea to have an Under Secretary for Domestic Finance. Kyl disagrees. You might think it would be a good idea to have an Assistant Secretary for International Markets and Development. Kyl disagrees. You might think it would be a good idea to have an Assistant Secretary for International Economics and Development. Kyl disagrees. You might think it would be a good idea to have an Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets. Kyl disagrees. You might think it would be a good idea to have an Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy. Kyl disagrees.

This kind of thing really has to stop, it’s a ludicrous way to run a country. Amidst a global economic meltdown, we can’t get confirmation for the international economics officials. Not because the senate has a problem with them, but because one guy isn’t happy with the delay of some internet gambling regulations.

Tristero: 9/11 Doesn't Count

Nor does the anthrax terrorism, Richard Reid, the July 4, 2002 on El Al at LAX, or attacks on abortion clinics in 2001, 2005, 2006, and 2007 (see here).

All of this happened under Bush, but it doesn't count, according to Giuliani.

You know what's worse than Giuliani's lie? That Stephanopolous let him get away with it.

Weiner (HuffPost): Rudy Giuliani: 'We Had No Domestic Attacks Under Bush; We've Had One Under Obama'

Rudy Giuliani has joined fellow Republicans Dana Perino and Mary Matalin in seeming to forget that the September 11th attacks happened under President Bush.

On "Good Morning America" Friday, the former New York mayor declared, "We had no domestic attacks under Bush; we've had one under Obama."

Not only does the statement suggest Giuliani does not remember the devastating attack in his own city, it also omits the anthrax attacks and the attempted shoe bomber attack.


"Um, really?" wrote ABC News reporter Rick Klein on Twitter. Later he added, "even if Rudy MEANT to say post-9/11, what makes this incident different than [shoe bomber] Richard Reid, I wonder?" Of course, Giuliani could have been referring to the Fort Hood shootings rather than the botched underwear bombing.

A day earlier, Giuliani falsely claimed that the shoe bomber attack occurred before September 11th.

Curiously, the Associated Press did a long write-up of Giuliani's Obama criticisms but omitted the startling mistake. George Stephanopoulos, who conducted the ABC interview, included the quote in a blog post but did not question it.

Sullivan: CNN Comes Through

I just watched Wolf Blitzer's interview with Giuliani where he committed journalism, actually demanding that Giuliani relate his rhetoric to reality. I don't have the transcript but Giuliani dismissed the anthrax attacks after 9/11 as a major domestic terror attack, because he didn't have proof that they were the work of Islamists. When Blitzer - yes! - brought up the Richard Reid case, Giuliani punted and refused to criticize Bush for the same thing he criticized Obama for. Blitzer's one failure was to press for a specific criticism of Bush's decision in that case. But otherwise ... much better.

But what I really take from Rudy's remarks is that he believes that merely saying "war on Islamist terrorism" again and again somehow helps us win. What most sentient beings have learned these past several years is that taking this war to a constant and grand rhetorical level empowers Jihadists more than it weakens them. There is a sick syndrome in which "conservatives" get into some dysfunctional relationship with Islamists with each faction elevating the other in global consciousness.

Obama is trying to wind down this drama and focus on actually finding and killing terrorists, removing their recruitments tools (like torture and Gitmo), and defusing their appeal to the Muslim middle. I will further note that Giuliani, in his criticism that Obama has not treated this like a war, has failed to mention the huge build-up of forces in Afghanistan. I remain deeply ambivalent about this strategy, but surely Giuliani would approve. It's many more troops and many more resources than Bush ever devoted to Afghanistan. And yet all Giuliani believed showed Obama's concern with terrorism was his use of the word "war" yesterday.

This is not a serious policy. It is not a serious politics.

John Cole:

Which, of course, made this piece on PRI’s the World all the more jarring.

I think sometimes we are so used to the craziness of the Republicans and the teabaggers and the neocon lunatics that we forget just how crazy it is, but when I listened to this, it reminded me how desensitized we have all become to their bullshit. They actually had a man (James Carafano) on who talked at length that the real problem was not saying the words “war on terror” and the reason for this was because the “left” hates Bush.

That isn’t a policy position- that’s warblogger masturbating. It’s insanity. They have no substantive critiques or help to offer, just insane rambling about what words we use. I can only imagine what the rest of the world thinks about us.

And to prove they have no idea what they are talking about, they can’t even tell you what the President has actually said.

It really is just nuts.


To hear conservatives tell it, the White House's handling of the failed Christmas terrorist plot has been inadequate. President Obama, the Right has argued, waited too long to speak publicly about the incident, and hasn't taken the matter seriously enough.

Of course, the obvious response is probably the most effective one: Obama commented on the Abdulmutallab plot a lot faster than Bush responded to an identical attempted attack eight years ago.

But that doesn't fully capture the important and illustrative differences between the two responses.

The Abdulmutallab attempt was two weeks ago today. Over the course of these two weeks, President Obama has spoken publicly about the incident three times -- Dec. 29, Jan. 5, and Jan. 9. He also devoted his weekly address to the subject last weekend. Also, over the span of two weeks, the president's national security team prepared a relatively thorough security review of what transpired and a new directive on corrective actions.

Now let's compare the previous administration's response to a nearly identical terrorist plot -- Richard Reid's failed shoe-bomb attack (the same chemical, the same target, the same intended consequence, in same month of the year, with the same twisted ideology). Consider these two weeks, from eight years ago:

Dec. 22: Reid's attempt fails.

Dec. 28: Bush hosts a press conference from his Texas ranch. In his opening statement, the president makes no reference to the terrorist attempt. Reporters ask Bush 15 questions, zero about the Reid incident. The president references the failed attack anyway, saying a total of 89 words on the subject.

Dec. 29: The president reads his weekly radio address. He makes no reference to the attempted terrorism.

Dec. 31: Bush again chats with reporters at a media availability in Crawford. Reporters ask Bush 10 questions, zero about the Reid incident. Again, Bush referenced the matter briefly, saying 53 words on the subject.

Jan. 4: Karen Hughes hosts a briefing for reporters. There were no questions about the Reid incident, and the subject wasn't addressed.

Jan. 5: The president reads another weekly radio address, and makes no reference to the attempted terrorism. Later that day, Bush appears at two public events, one in California, the other in Oregon. The shoe-bombing incident doesn't come up at all at either event.

Do you notice a difference between the two weeks after the Abdulmutallab plot and the two weeks after the Reid plot? Tell me -- which of these two presidents seemed to respond to the attempted attacks more forcefully, more seriously, and with more depth? Which of the two seems more engaged when it comes to counter-terrorism?

Keep in mind, Bush faced literally no criticism for hardly responding at all to an attempt to blow up an airplane over the United States. There was no media pushback, no complaints from Congress, nothing. And this was just four months after 9/11, when presumably the terrorist threat was foremost on the nation's mind.

Rudy Giuliani said on CNN this week, "I think [Obama] has to make a major correction in the way he is dealing with terrorism because I think he has mishandled the situation. First of all, it was 10 days too late. This is something you react to immediately, not 10 days later after your vacation. The president of the United States, when there is a potential massive attack on this country, which is what this guy was going to do, should have been on top of this immediately, not 10 days later, 11 days later, 12 days later."

Bush pretty much ignored, at least publicly, the nearly identical "potential massive attack on this country," and no one seemed to care.

If I didn't know better, I might think there was a double-standard here, and a "controversy" has been manufactured by petty partisans hoping to undermine the Obama White House without cause.*

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