Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Kos: What Democratic leadership failure looks like

This is almost 13 months of net favorability ratings for both the Republican and Democratic parties, from our weekly state of the nation poll:

Dem party collapse

There are two early bumps. The first was the inauguration. The second was the passage of the stimulus bill. Voters liked success! That entire time, Republicans looked like shit and plummeted southward.

Then the Democrats stopped delivering victories, and in August, the teabaggers gave the GOP a new lease on life. And they've been trending upward ever since. At this point, they'll cross over the Democratic Party's trendlines and be the less unpopular party. Indeed, that crossover has already happened with our generic congressional ballot question:

Gen congressional ballot

While voters still don't like the GOP -- it's a party that refuses to govern, after all -- they've realized that the Democratic Party is incapable of governing. And how could it, when it rewards its most disloyal members with big fat checks? And hence the party is punished.

It took all of last year to get into these dire straits. We still have 10 months to turn things around. But that would require victories, and with our broken Senate, I'm afraid to hope for the best.

Ezra Klein: Obama: If Democrats don't pass health-care reform, 'I don't know what differentiates us from the other guys'

Today's televised session between Barack Obama and the Senate Democrats wasn't encouraging to those of us hoping the Democrats are spending their time worrying about how to pass the health care bill. There were questions on the deficit, on jobs, on partisanship, on energy and on judicial nominees. No one bothered to ask about health-care reform. The closest was New York's Kirsten Gillibrand, who asked about health care for 9/11 responders. It felt, for a moment, like we were back in the Bush years. Want to talk health care? Add 9/11 to the sentence.

To Obama's credit, he valiantly twisted questions on things like jobs and partisanship into opportunities to talk about health-care reform. He reminded Democrats that they have the second-largest majority since the 1970s. He mentioned the Village Voice's mocking headline, "Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority in the Senate." Democrats laughed at that. Obama didn't. "Think about it," he said sternly.

If we don't pass this, he told the assembled Democrats, "I don't know what differentiates us from the other guys." It's nice to believe good things, but no one keeps their home, or pays for their doctor visit, because Democrats believe good things. "If anyone is searching for an answer to the lessons of Massachusetts," Obama continued, "I promise you, it's not to do nothing."

Evidence for that came in Tuesday's Illinois primary. Democrats were choosing their candidate to try to keep Obama's Senate seat. Republicans were looking for a standard-bearer able to take it. The turnout numbers were scary for the Democrats. As Jon Chait noticed, "GOP primary turnout is up 11 percent over 2004. Democratic turnout has dropped 29 percent." That's what elections looks like in a world where 59 Senate Democrats give up on health-care reform. The base gives up and stays home. And come the day after the election, those Senate Democrats will find themselves spending plenty of time home, as well.

Booman: Loser Centrists
Here's a question. With news that former senator Dan Coats is going to challenge Evan Bayh it looks like some of our most conservative Democrats are vulnerable to defeat in November. But, aside from the overall political makeup of their particular states, what makes them so vulnerable? Why is Blanche Lincoln less popular than a case of the clap? Why do Nevadans hate Harry Reid? It's not like they're crooks or sexual deviants.

Here's what's going on. Even where Democrats are still winning, they're suffering from an enthusiasm gap. Democrats who stall the president's agenda and badmouth him and the party are most likely to exacerbate this enthusiasm gap. In a purple or red state, combining a kind of inherent cyclical enthusiasm gap with a self-created one is enough to put your reelect number in the thirties.

Lesson? Stop tying to save your hide by bashing the left and embrace good policy. We talk a lot about why we hate the DLC and Clintonism. Well, the number one reason we hate them is because they're political losers. It's not centrist policy that is the primary problem. You work with the Congress you have, not the one you might wish for. But it's the idea that you can win elections by bashing your own party and your own party activists. Listen to Blanche Lincoln complain about left-wing blogs. Do you think that wins her any votes?

Yglesias: Lincoln Slams Mythical Liberal Extremists

This stuff really pisses me off:

[Blanche] Lincoln, who faces serious competition in her ‘10 re-elect — and a 27 percent approval rate in Arkansas — practically demanded Obama “push back in our own party… for people at the extremes.”

She added that “no one in your administration” understands how to make payroll.

As I’ve said before, this is nonsense. It’s just mathematically impossible for liberals to advance a liberal-as-opposed-to-centrist agenda through congress. The votes aren’t there. The only proposals that can pass the House are proposals that have some support from Blue Dogs. The only proposals that can pass the Senate are proposals that Blanche Lincoln votes for. Therefore 100 percent of the items on the legislative agenda have been pre-trimmed in advance to suit the desires of centrist Democrats. There’s been no Universal Medicare plan, there’s been no 100% auction of carbon permits plan, there’s been no gay marriage bill, there’s been no $1.5 trillion stimulus, there’s been nothing.

That’s the way it is. Blue Dogs and Blanche Lincoln types have succeeded at positioning themselves in the legislative pivot points. Consequently, they control the legislative agenda. I don’t blame them for it. Indeed, I regularly urge liberals to accept political reality support the Blue Dog / Blanche Lincoln agenda as preferable to the status quo. But unfortunately the Blanche Lincolns of the world uniformly refuse to take responsibility for their own position as the drivers of the agenda. They’re the ones who’ve been in charge. And frankly it hasn’t been going very well. In particular, they’re decision to take the President’s stimulus request and say “this is too big” rather than “this is too small” has been a horrible fiasco, leading millions of people to suffer avoidable unemployment.

Ezra Klein: The social networks of the Senate

Andrew Odewahn has put together a fantastic set of slides showing the slow deterioration in Senate bipartisanship between 1991 and 2009.

But keep an eye not just on the deterioration of cross-party cooperation, but the shifting blocs within both parties. As Odewahn shows, "there are clear and distinct moderate blocks within both parties." Saying that Democrats have 60 votes doesn't tell you whether Harry Reid has 60 votes, or whether liberals have 60 votes. The story of the Senate is not just that the two major parties don't agree and don't cooperate with each other, but that they don't always agree and cooperate with themselves.

Yglesias: The Political Virtue of Lying and Determination

Suppose you’re committed to defending a politically unpopular position. You think, for example, that banks shouldn’t pay any increased taxes or face any new regulation. What to do? Well as Frank Luntz explains to congressional Republicans, you just lie like crazy. You pretend that the bill you’re opposing is a giant bailout for banks, and that you oppose the bill because you’re against unpopular bailouts. Here’s his sample language:

Congress is preparing to enact legislation to pass a law with $4 trillion more for more bailouts. Should people who write the financial reform laws be the same ones who helped cause the crisis? Should taxpayers be punished and the big banks and credit card companies be rewarded? The time has come to take a stand. Oppose the big bank bailout bill.

That’s just totally false. Jon Chait has an amusing riff on this, but I think it highlights something important about the political process, namely the absolute importance of deciding what you want to do. Once a political party has achieved consensus on what it wants to do, almost all political problems are solvable. Want to oppose taxes and regulations on banks? Just pretend you’re opposing bailouts! It’s extremely easy.

What’s hard is to actually try to construct the boat while you’re sailing. If you have an agreed-upon plan, you can then huddle with focus group experts and work out the language. But that only works if everyone on your team actually agrees as to what’s going on. If there’s disagreement, then your language needs to contain some real content, since your statements involve communicating with other members of congress. At the moment, for example, nobody’s quite sure what Chris Dodd will put in his bill. Consequently, nobody’s quite sure if they agree with Dodd’s bill. And as a consequence of that, Dodd can’t just lie blatantly when he talks about his process—his utterances need to contain content that’s relevant to the merits of the issue, because key actors actually want information from Dodd about the bill. If he starts lying, nobody’s going to be sure what’s going on.

In a practical legislative controversy, this is a pretty crippling disadvantage. And then to make matters worse, the very fact of disagreement makes your ideas look bad. If all Republicans think something is bad, and Democrats can’t seem to agree on whether or not it’s bad, then heuristical reasoning leads to the conclusion that it’s probably bad.

Roth (TPM): 'We Might As Well Be Able To Vote For Disney': Tea Partiers Slam Citizens United Ruling

Some Tea Partiers are expressing vocal opposition to the Supreme Court's recent ruling striking down the ban on corporate political spending -- a stance that puts them at odds with the Republican Party and the broader conservative movement.

Just hours after the court ruled last month, RNC chair Michael Steele praised the decision, calling it "an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights" of corporations.

But some Tea Partiers don't agree. Shane Brooks, a Texas-based Tea Party activist, told TPMmuckraker in an email:

This decision basically gives the multinational corporations owned by foreign entities [the right] to pour unlimited funds into the pockets of corrupt corporate backed politicians to attack everything this country stands for. We might as well be able to vote for Disney or the SEIU as President of the United States of America.

In a recent blog post, Kevin Smith of the Nashville Tea Party wrote that the ruling "puts corporations in a position to crowd out smaller competition and buy politicians from the local sheriff to the President himself."

In a statement provided in the wake of the ruling to the Reid Report blog, Dale Robertson, the Houston-based leader of, took the same view:

It just allows them to feed the machine. Corporations are not like people. Corporations exist forever, people don't. Our founding fathers never wanted them; these behemoth organizations that never die, so they can collect an insurmountable amount of profit. It puts the people at a tremendous disadvantage.

Jim Knapp, a Sacramento based Tea Party activist, went even further, telling TPMmuckraker via email: "Most of the anger by Tea Party supporters is directed at the effects of special interest money."

Knapp continued:

I believe that campaign finance reform is the most important political issue facing America. I would even go so far as to say that this issue is even more important that our current financial crisis and jobs. Everything in American politics is affected by special interest money. From who controls our monetary policies in treasury and the Fed to regulation of Wall Street. I would also venture to say that it was special interest money which precipitated the current economic crisis.

And Everett Wilkinson, the leader of a Florida Tea Party group, told TPMmuckraker that his group had "mixed feelings" about the ruling. One the one hand, Wilkinson said, "getting corporations more involved with politics could be a detrimental thing." But on the other, Wilkinson said it was a free speech issue.

Even the movement's leadership, which generally has closer ties to the GOP, isn't rushing to embrace the ruling. Neither FreedomWorks, the Washington grassroots lobby group that helped organize several Tea Party rallies, nor leaders of the Tea Party Patriots responded to questions from TPMmuckraker about their stance on the court's decision.

Some of the activists who oppose the ruling had already made clear that they weren't willing to blindly accept GOP orthodoxy. Brooks recently posted a video on YouTube that warned "We must not allow the Tea Parties ... to be hijacked by the GOP." Smith, who had worked closely with the organizers of the upcoming Tea Party convention before a falling out, echoed that theme in a blog post, lamenting that the movement had been "co-opted by mainstream Republican demagogues determined to use this as their 2010 election platform." And Knapp has sounded similar alarms.

But their opposition to the court's ruling on behalf of corporations hints at an ideological split between the movement and the GOP that has long existed under the surface. Tea Partiers -- especially the rank-and-file activists, as opposed to the movement leaders -- often embrace a more populist, anti-corporate position than does the Republican Party, or the conservative movement that under-girds it. This difference underlies much of the tension we're increasingly seeing between Tea Partiers and the GOP.

It was Steele, of course, who recently declared himself a Tea Party fellow-traveler. "If I wasn't doing this job, I'd be out there with the Tea Partiers," he told Fox News recently.

If that ever happens, the RNC chair might be wise not to bring up the Citizens United case.


We talked yesterday about a broad, new Research 2000 poll, commissioned by Markos Moulitsas, gauging the attitudes of rank-and-file Republicans nationwide. The results were discouraging.

A plurality of rank-and-file Republicans wants to see President Obama impeached. More than a third of self-identified Republicans believe he wasn't born in the United States. A 63% majority is convinced the president is a socialist, about a fourth believe he wants terrorists to be successful, and about a third think Obama is a racist who hates white people.

One of the lingering questions is whether these extreme beliefs will push more reasonable voters away from the GOP.

"This shows a huge vulnerability for Republicans," says Jef Pollock, a veteran pollster and Democratic strategist working for Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) -- who was forced to bolt from the GOP after conservative Pat Toomey attacked him from the right.

"Independents, who are particularly disinclined toward any kind of partisan rhetoric, are going to be turned off when they hear Republicans say stuff like this, which is patently crazy," Pollock said.

The report added that Republican leaders concede "privately" that "the extremity of the base, and a hard-to-harness populist tea party movement, could give deeply wounded Democrats new life."

That's certainly possible. The American mainstream -- which not too long ago elected President Obama and large Democratic majorities -- is no doubt deeply unsatisfied with the economy and the pace of change in Washington, but it's unlikely to gravitate towards right-wing extremism and bizarre Republican ideas like impeaching the president. The poll points to a GOP base that's fallen off a right-wing cliff.

But the problem with Democrats counting on this to help their electoral fortunes is that it takes a fairly high level of political knowledge. Those who are engaged in current events -- folks like you -- can see Republicans moving further and further from the mainstream, and perhaps find the trend offensive. But the only way to capitalize on Republicans becoming the "party of crazy" is for Americans to realize this has happened.

Given the "megaphone gap," it would take considerable effort on Dems' part to make this a key campaign narrative this year. Something to keep an eye on.

Marshall: Boxed Out, Buddy

For years John McCain has been saying that when the generals said it was time to change Dont Ask Don't Tell, he'd support it. Yesterday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said it was time. (Presumably McCain wasn't restricting his point to the Army and Marines?) But McCain said it was still wrong. Now Colin Powell says it's time too. And McCain has repeatedly invoked Powell's view as guiding his.

I thought that after 2008 we wouldn't get more chances to see McCain betraying all the principles and positions he claims to stand for. But the primary challenge in Arizona seems to be providing many more opportunities.

Any word from McCain about the Supreme Court decision gutting his signature campaign finance legislation?

John Cole: The Not-So Magnificent Seven

Anyone know who the seven Republicans are:

And when Obama backed a bipartisan commission to find ways to cut the long-term deficit – including reexamining popular entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – a handful of Republican sponsors switched their positions and joined in filibustering it, the president said.

“This failed by seven votes, when seven Republicans who had cosponsored the idea suddenly walked away from their own proposal after I endorsed it,’’ an exasperated Obama told the crowd. “I said, ‘Good idea.’ I turned around, they’re gone. What happened?’’

Dollars to doughnuts that Mean Old Man McCain is one of them.

  • from the comments:


    Republican Bumper Sticker

    Vote Republican, We negotiate in bad faith.

    Yes, McCain is on the list.

  • August J. Pollak

    One of them is Gregg, who proposed the commission in the first place.

digby: The Nucleus Of Our Society
As I surmised yesterday, the administration has in fact decided to debate the Republicans on the basis of ideology (when they aren't joining hands with them to make deficits the biggest threat to America since Osama bin Laden.)

Orszag’s criticism of Ryan on Tuesday is part of a sustained White House strategy to use Ryan as a foil. He took similar shots over the weekend while previewing the budget and on Monday when it was released.
Ryan fired back at the White House in a gaggle with reporters.

“The primary reason [for the attacks] is that they don’t want to talk about their own approach,” Ryan said. “It’s an embarrassment.”

The White House effort appears aimed at taking on GOP lawmakers who have portrayed the Democrats’ proposed Medicare cuts in healthcare reform as a attempt to cut benefits for seniors. By attacking high-profile GOP plans as devastating to seniors, the White House could counter that criticism.

Far from running away from a fight with the president, Ryan has embraced it. On Tuesday, he responded to Orszag’s criticism with a five-minute defense.

“We simply believe that the nucleus of our economy and our society is the individual, not the government,” he said. “And we believe we ought to have a safety net, to help people who cannot help themselves, are down on luck. But we don’t want to turn that safety net into a hammock.”

So, if you are over 65, unless you are "down on your luck" (definition TBD), you'd better get your lazy old butts out of that social security and Medicare hammock and get to work -- if you can find a job. And everybody else had better get rich and stay healthy or plan on working until you're in your grave. That's how Real Americans stay strong.

I think the White House has hit pay dirt. This guy's going to be completely honest about what conservatives really believe in. Let's roll.
Yglesias: Obama’s Doomed Strategy

Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny report on the White House’s political strategy:

The White House’s goal is to show voters that Mr. Obama is willing to engage Republicans rather than govern in a partisan manner while forcing Republicans to make substantive compromises or be portrayed as obstructionist given their renewed power to block almost all legislation in the Senate.

I think this is doomed to fail. Hulse & Zeleny, to their credit, take the rare step of noting that actual events in the world rather than political strategy are the most important thing:

While the strategy addresses some of Mr. Obama’s short-term political problems, it is not clear that it will help him with the more fundamental issue facing him as the leader of the party in power, which is showing voters results before Election Day, especially with unemployment in double digits and the health bill stalled.

But I think it’s hard to work even in the short-term. The problem with this strategy is that it relies on massively overestimating the amount of attention people give to political events and the level of detail on which it’s possible to persuade them. Ezra Klein has a great post on the relevant literature:

This focuses Americans on the part of the political process that scares them: disagreement. In their book “Stealth Democracy: Americans’ Beliefs About How Government Should Work,” the political scientists John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse use focus groups and voluminous survey data to show that people don’t know much about policy and don’t care much about policy. Instead, they believe in broad goals for the country, and they think that political actors working in good faith could accomplish those goals with a minimum of disagreement if they were interested in doing so.

“People believe that Americans all have the same basic goals,” write Hibbing and Theiss-Morse, “and they are consequently turned off by political debate and deal making that presuppose an absence of consensus. People believe these activities would be unnecessary if if decision makers were in tune with the (consensual) public interest rather than cacophonous special interests.”

You know how annoying “Village” pundits inside the Beltway tend to take a “pox on both houses” response to any sign of political gridlock, no matter how obvious it is that the blame should be assigned primarily to one party? Well, the point is that your average American living his average life pays much less attention to detail than even the laziest pundit and thinks the exact same way. If the GOP refuses to negotiate in good faith and nothing gets done, people will assume that nothing is getting done because “people in Washington” aren’t negotiating in good faith. The only way for the blame to be assigned to one specific party would be to persuade the broad mass of people to stop spending time doing the things they normally do (working, taking care of the kids, spending time with family & friends, watching TV, etc.) and start paying attention to the details of congressional debates.

In the real world, if your problem is that 41 Senators are playing procedural hardball and making it impossible to get things done, the solution is for 59 Senators to play hardball in return and stop letting the 41 stop things. Recognize that zero voters will punish you for engaging in procedural hardball and that the number of voters who will even realize any of it happened is approximately zero.

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