Sunday, March 21, 2010

On the wrong side of history

As major health care reform is hours away from passing, we're getting a very clear view into the republican soul - or where the republican soul would be if they had one. It ain't pretty.
Yglesias: The Case for Health Reform

Dan Balz talks to Newt Gingrich who explains that some things are more important than short-term politics:

But former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich said Obama and the Democrats will regret their decision to push for comprehensive reform. Calling the bill “the most radical social experiment . . . in modern times,” Gingrich said: “They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” with the enactment of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

It’s true that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society—Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Title I federal education spending, and a suite of other anti-poverty programs—played a roll in the unraveling of the New Deal coalition. At the same time, the Civil Rights Act has not been repealed. Nor has Medicare. Nor has Medicaid. Nor has the Voting Rights Act. Federal aid to education for the poor is more firmly entrenched than ever in the landscape. Some of the other Johnson-era anti-poverty programs have been repealed or substantially scaled back. But we’re overwhelmingly living in Lyndon Johnson’s America, whereas Barry Goldwater’s alternative vision of a backwards and brutal society in which the poor and elderly languish without health care and African-Americans eat at separate lunch counters is so discredited that Goldwater’s heirs and admirers generally refuse to admit that this is what he stood for.

  • BooMan adds:

    Passing the Civil Rights legislation did in fact shatter the Democratic Party, lead to a realignment of the parties, and help usher in the Reagan Revolution. The biggest price we paid for ending Jim Crow was the loss of a liberal consensus on economic matters in this country. It used to be that the southern racists in our country were generally in favor of the New Deal. That meant that we were safe from any kind of radical Randian experimentation with massive deregulation or extreme changes in progressive taxation. The middle class was protected. But, once the south abandoned the Democratic Party and linked up with country-club Republicans, all bets were off. We lost a great deal when we sacrificed the Democratic Party on the altar of Civil Rights. And, yet, would any of us, knowing the costs in advance, not make the same choices now?

    It's not even a close call.

    Moreover, while there are some 35 or more Democratic members of the House who are going 'no' on health care today, they aren't going to switch parties over it (albeit one Democrat from Alabama has already done exactly that). Almost all the members voting against health care reform are doing it because they are scared about their reelection prospects, but there is no comparison to the well-meaning, enlightened southern Democrats who felt compelled to vote against Civil Rights legislation. That era's politicians faced certain defeat, while today their fate is uncertain.

    It's possible that the Republicans will pick up dozens of seats in the midterms, including a bunch from Democrats who voted for health care reform. But we won't see former Democrats winning those elections. It won't be a true realignment because the two parties will still believe the same things. And there is no reason to believe that the Democrats won't come right back and win seats in 2012, using the same arguments that won them seats in 2006 and 2008.

    In other words, there isn't any relationship between 1964 and 2010. Newt Gingrich has been sniffing glue again. Democrats should do the right thing and not worry about the long-term political implications. Most people, including the Republicans, believe the Democrats will benefit greatly in the long-term.

Think Progress: Fox ‘News’ cheerleads for Tea Party protesters.

Serving its traditional role as the voice of the Tea Party movement, Fox News has been dedicating inordinate coverage today to the couple thousand anti-health care protesters gathered outside the U.S. Capitol. Fox host Megyn Kelly breathlessly reported every movement and rallying cry of the protesters, declaring at one point: “Fox News alert! … Protesters are outside and, now we are getting word, inside the U.S. Capitol!
Kelly invited Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) onto the show to ask him about the protesters. Weiner dismissed the question, noting, “The important action is going on the floor of Congress.” He added, “The important story today is whether or not there we are going to be able to get 216 votes to save the taxpayers a lot of money and provide insurance for people that don’t have it.” Watch a compilation of Fox’s promotion of the Tea Party protest:

The reputation earned by the House Republican caucus is obviously well deserved.

A protester sitting in the House gallery just disrupted the early business going on in the chamber by screaming out: "The people have said no!" and "You took an oath." Leadership tried to gavel the members back into session and ordered the Sargent in Arms to remove the unruly man. Before he was escorted out, however, he did receive a fair amount of applause from the Republican side of the aisle.

It's not terribly unusual for some nut to start shouting from the visitors' gallery in the House, interrupting proceedings, and they're always quickly escorted from the room. But I've never heard of an instance in which House members actually applaud the nut. This sort of thing simply doesn't happen in the United States Congress.

And we're not just talking about a GOP member or two. Jonathan Cohn, who was literally a few feet away, said "at least a dozen" Republican lawmakers cheered on the protestor.

"Did you guys see the Republicans encouraging the disruption?" Frank told reporters. "These clowns are out there encouraging violation of the law and making the job of the guys up there harder. It's really disgraceful.... That's why you get this kind of virulent hatred outside."

Around the same time, three unidentified House Republican appeared on Congress' South Balcony waving a "Don't Tread on Me" flag, to the delight of right-wing activists assembled below. They also held up a sign reading: "Kill" "The" "Bill."

This not only speaks to a pervasive, almost dangerous extremism in the House GOP caucus, but also a blurring of a line between Republican lawmakers and their unhinged activist allies -- the only difference appears to be the suit and the ability to vote on federal policy.

Think Progress: GOP Rep. Nunes Excuses Racist, Homophobic Tea Partier Slurs As A Response To ‘Totalitarian Tactics’

This morning on C-Span’s Washington Journal, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) justified the disturbing racist and homophobic epitaphs that angry tea baggers hurled yesterday at Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), and other House Democrats. Nunes insisted that everyone has a right to “smear” whoever they want and that the tea baggers’ behavior was understandable given the “crazy totalitarian tactics” that he alleges Democrats are engaged in:

SCULLY: A lot of angry comments aimed at a couple of your colleagues, including Barney Frank and Congressman John Lewis, using the “n” word as some of the protesters jeered at him as he walked through the halls of the Capitol.

NUNES: Yeah, well I think that when you use totalitarian tactics, people, you know, begin to act crazy. I think, you know, there’s people that have every right to say what they want. If they want to smear someone, they can do it. It’s not appropriate. And I think I would stop short of characterizing the 20,000 people protesting, that all of them were doing that –

SCULLY: — those are just some of the stories.

NUNES: Of course. I think the left loves to play a couple of incidents here or there.

Later in the show, a caller said he “took exception” to what Nunes said because he “sort of justified” the racial slurs. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), who followed Nunes’ appearance on C-Span this morning, repudiated his remarks. Becerra acknowledged that “it’s a free country, we get to say what we wish,” but added, “I don’t think there’s any excuse that can be given and there never should be.” Watch it:

While Nunes justified the ugly rhetoric and actions of yesterday’s event, most other Republican lawmakers spent today distancing themselves from the outbursts.

“Nobody condones that at all. There were 30,000 people here in Washington yesterday. And, yes, there were some very awful things said,” stated Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) on ABC. On Meet the Press, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) insisted that these “few isolated incidents” shouldn’t obscure the fact that “millions of Americans fear the impact of the Democrats’ healthcare reform.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele dismissed the incidents as consisting of “a handful of people who just got stupid.” Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) took a somewhat harsher tone when he stated that he decried the behavior of the protesters “in the strongest terms.”

Kurtz (TPM): Ain't No Big Thing
Rep. Steve King (R-IA), on racial and gay slurs being hurled at Democratic congressmen: "I just don't think it's anything. ... There are a lot of places in this country that I couldn't walk through. I wouldn't live to get to the other end of it."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky isn't especially knowledgeable about public policy, and has never shown any real interest in the substance of lawmaking, but he understands strategy and political tactics with surprising acuity.

In fact, for all of his shameless dishonesty, McConnell is often quite candid about his tactical efforts. He told the NYT this week about his decision early on to undermine health care reform by ensuring total GOP opposition: "It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out." Since all Democratic legislation necessarily must be killed, all Republicans necessarily had to stand together against it, regardless of merit.

He offered similar candor in an interview with National Journal, explaining the importance he and the House GOP leadership put on "unify[ing] our members in opposition" to just about everything Democrats wanted to do.

"Public opinion can change, but it is affected by what elected officials do. Our reaction to what [Democrats] were doing had a lot to do with how the public felt about it. Republican unity in the House and Senate has been the major contributing factor to shifting American public opinion."

This is critically important, and often forgotten. The basic civics model tells us that if a policy agenda receives an electoral mandate, and enjoys support in public opinion polls, the challenge for opponents of that agenda is deciding whether or not to buck prevailing attitudes and ignore election results.

But the basic civics model is wrong, or at a minimum, overly simplistic. The public's reactions are shaped by officials' reactions. The challenge for a minority party isn't whether to defy the country's wishes, but rather, how to convince the country that their opposition alone necessarily makes the majority's agenda dubious.

Matt Yglesias explained this nicely:

That's exactly right. Since January of 2009, instead of sticking their fingers in the wind and only opposing unpopular initiatives, Republicans have reduced the popularity of initiatives by opposing them. The blanket opposition makes Obama's initiatives look "partisan" and then it leads, necessarily, to Democratic infighting that further reduces support. If you don't care at all about the welfare of human beings, this is a very smart strategy.

Right. And as McConnell and his cohorts have made abundantly clear, Americans' welfare and the nation's future pale in comparison to the Republican quest for power.

JedL (Dkos): Let the (Republican) finger-pointing begin!

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum says that while he opposes the health care reform plan, its passage will represent a major defeat for the Republican Party. In his words, it will be the GOP’s "Waterloo."

Frum’s key point:

Those of us who said there was a deal to be done, that there are a lot of parts of this bill that look familiar, that look like Mitt Romney’s plan, that look like plans Republicans proposed in 1993 and 1994, they look like things that were drafted at the Heritage foundation in 1990 and 1991, we can work with this, there are things we don’t like, [but] President Obama will pay a lot maybe for 20 or 30 Republican votes, let’s deal — that was shut down, we went the radical way, looking for Waterloo, and it looks like we arrived at Waterloo.

...Some of the Republican leadership like Jim DeMint, I think did play a very hard-line role. Some of our leaders were trapped. They were trapped by voices in the media that revved the Republican base into a frenzy that made dealing impossible. I mean, you can’t negotiate with Adolf Hitler, and if the President is Adolf Hitler, then obviously you can’t negotiate with him. So some of the blame has has got to go to those who said, who got the psychology of the party to a point where a lot of good people, reasonable people were trapped.

...We are encouraging a mood of radicalism in the party that is not just uncivil, that’s not the problem, the problem is it makes you stupid. It makes you make bad decisions, it leads you to think that President Obama with 53% of the vote is as beatable in 2009 as President Clinton with 42% of the vote in 1993, and that’s obviously not true.

Frum points the finger squarely at "radical" Republicans like Jim DeMint who made the decision to not negotiate with President Obama, instead betting all their chips on a failed strategy of obstruction.

Frum says that within the bill there are many provisions that conservatives should be able to support, and that it was a huge mistake for them to say "no" instead of seeking common ground. As a result, Frum says, Democrats will be able to claim full credit for passing a bill with many popular provisions, leaving the GOP out in the cold.

Frum’s argument relies on a difficult juggling act, simultaneously saying he doesn’t like the bill and blaming blaming conservatives for having negotiated with Obama on it, but his basic argument was that Republicans never had a chance of defeating reform, and should have tried to get as much as they could given that it would pass. By standing on the sidelines, he says, Republicans missed an opportunity to at least achieve some conservative goals, and he places the blame for that squarely on the most extreme elements of the GOP.

Whether or not you agree with everything Frum has to say, it’s a very clear example of kind of self-examination and finger pointing that will dominate the discussion inside the GOP in the wake of their defeat on health care reform.

Update (1:55PM): KingofSpades notes this tweet from Frum:

Frum Tweet
Think Progress: The ‘Kristol Ball’ predicts that ‘the bulk’ of health care reform will be repealed by 2013.

Today, the House of Representatives plans to vote on final passage of the Democrats’ health care reform legislation, which has unleashed a wave of unhinged political posturing from the right. Many Republicans believe that repealing health care benefits in subsequent years is their ticket reclaiming power. “Sparked by the conservative activist group Club for Growth,” the repeal movement has won the support of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who said Republicans would “have an effort to repeal the bill.” Today, on Fox News Sunday, right-wing pundit Bill Kristol predicted that “the bulk” of health care reform would be repealed by 2013:

People are concerned about the future of this country and they think this bill is bad for it by a majority, and I believe that will be the Republican message and the Republican message will be a responsible one to repeal this bill and replace it with better health care reforms and to get a handle on the debt, which this bill increases…The American public are going to insist on its repeal over the next three years. We are! I predict in 2013 the bulk of this will be repealed and replaced with better health care legislation.

Watch it:

Of course, the “Kristol balldoesn’t have the best track record when it comes to making predictions. Plus, as Igor Volsky has pointed out, once the bill is enacted repeal will not look like a favorable option. “The short term benefit of motivating your base by condemning a drawn out and somewhat dirty process may be substantial, but repealing policies that give billions of dollars in federal funds to the states and protect individuals from some fairly egregious insurer practices makes little sense,” he wrote.

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