Monday, April 12, 2010

Reality Bites

Bernstein: Of Course Its a SCOTUS Filibuster
Apparently there's some sort of argument about whether Senate Republicans "will" filibuster the Supreme Court nominee. Thus Matthew DeLong begins his story in the Washington Post today like this:
Senate Republican leaders declined to rule out a filibuster of President Obama's nominee to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, if they think the pick falls outside the judicial mainstream.
And Greg Sargent predicts that a filibuster is unlikely.

I don't think this makes any sense. A better understanding of the situation, I think, is that of course the Republicans are filibustering, if by that one means that Obama will need 60 votes to get his nominee confirmed. It may be that, falling short of the 41 votes needed to block a candidate, the Republicans will choose not to force a cloture vote. It may even be that a small minority will insist on losing a cloture vote, and that in response some Republicans will vote yes on (assured) cloture and no on the (assured) nomination. But that's all just playing to the crowds and posturing. The real story is that if there are more than 40 Senators opposed to the nomination, then those Senators will demand a cloture vote, defeat cloture, and defeat the nomination. That's true of this nomination, and it's true of every nomination that Barack Obama has sent up for the courts and for the executive branch since he was sworn in to office.

What Lamar Alexander, Matthew DeLong, and Greg Sargent are talking about is how Republicans will respond to an anticipated failure to reach 41 votes. That's not "will they filibuster?" -- that's if the filibuster fails, how will they stage-manage it.
As congressional lawmakers return to Capitol Hill after two weeks off, members have plenty of unfinished business on their to-do list, and a closing window of opportunity to act on its agenda before the midterm elections.

And while there will no doubt be plenty of attention focused on the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation fight, some contingents of the Democratic majority nevertheless has their eyes on the new, top legislative priority.

Liberal Democrats see an opportunity to reassert their power in the Senate this spring on the Wall Street reform bill, after being forced to swallow a series of compromises on everything from health care reform to jobs legislation.

A group of Democrats, joined by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, are planning an aggressive spring offensive to strengthen key provisions of the financial reform bill -- and daring Senate Republicans to vote against them.

"Given that [large financial firms] steered this country into the ditch, it's going to be very hard to stand up on the floor and say don't do financial reform or do it without teeth," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.). "There are a number of people in our caucus who feel like there are things that can be done to strengthen it."

Liberal Democrats believe widespread frustration across the country with Wall Street bailouts will make it difficult for Senate Republicans to mount a full-scale opposition to the legislation, particularly as voters near the midterm elections this fall.

I like the Dems' optimism, and it's encouraging to see them weigh the benefits of going on the offensive. On the merits, the strategy makes sense, not only because adding new accountability and safeguards to the financial system would help provide economic stability for years to come, but also because Americans aren't exactly fond of the bailed-out industry that brought the global system to the brink of collapse.

But be on the lookout for two broad angles. The first are the less-ambitious Democratic senators who are more inclined to weaken the bill to get more Republican support. The momentum seems to be moving in the other direction, but the moderates may yet stand in the way of a bold effort.

The second is reflexive, knee-jerk opposition from all Republicans at all times. Whenever anyone thinks, "Republicans wouldn't dare do [fill in the blank]," the GOP invariably does just that. In this case, it seems implausible that Republicans, en masse, would fight against reforming a system that nearly destroyed the global economy, but I'd remind Senate Dems that when related legislation came up in the House, it generated exactly zero GOP votes.

The Politico piece added, "Unions, consumer groups, party activists and liberals on Capitol Hill see regulatory reform as a win-win issue: They get either a strong bill or a strong campaign argument for the midterm elections." That sounds about right, but Dems would be wise to prepare for inexplicable Republican resistence.

Media Matters: Note to Newt: Women really, really don't like Palin

Noted women's rights thinker Newt Gingrich appeared on CNN recently to announce that Sarah Palin is something of a feminist icon. Explaining her appeal, Gingrich seemed to suggest that women --aside from San Francisco liberals-- adore Palin and are drawn to her unique, can-do qualities.

Except that, of course, they're not.

According to the latest CBS News poll, Palin is weighed down by an astonishingly low favorable rating among women; just 21 percent. In fact, women give Palin the lowest marks of virtually any demographic group polled by CBS.

But other than that, Gingrich appears to be dead on in his "feminist" analysis.

The Sarah Palin Network. Excellent!

Jonathan Bernstein: Palin as the Test Case
I've been reading Julian Sanchez's interesting posts on "epistemic closure," or the idea that conservatives have, or are trying to, create a media environment in which they only talk to each other and are totally cut off from the larger flow of information. For conservatives, Sanchez says:
Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile...Internal criticism is then especially problematic, because it threatens the hermetic seal.
To me, the most interesting aspect of this is the extent to which it permeates not to the rank-and-file, but to the leaders themselves. Sanchez doesn't think so for some of those leaders:
The New York– and D.C.-based conservatives who staff the movement’s think tanks, magazines, and advocacy shops don’t in fact inhabit a different universe from their liberal counterparts. They all read the New York Times and drink lattes and go to parties together. There’s some clustering, to be sure, but nobody acts like they really believe the folks on the other side are insidious hellspawn. The pose is for the benefit of the base, who—not because they’re conservative, but because they aren’t urban media professionals—are likely to draw on a narrower range of trusted news and opinion sources.
I tend to think that's correct, but I'm not as sure as I used to be, at least not for one group of conservative leaders -- politicians and the people they get information from. Steve Benen is confident that Mitch McConnell and Saxby Chambliss weren't faking it when they couldn't manage to talk about health care reform beyond their talking points in a recent interview. Former White House staffer Keith Hennessey was almost comically wrong about the chances of health care reform passing (and see also this Megan McArdle post). But of course it's possible that McConnell and Chambliss understood the issue well be simply refused to discuss some aspects of it, and it's possible that Hennessey (and McArdle, or at least the conservatives she spoke to) were just playing for the rubes.

Sarah Palin's presidential ambitions, it seems to me, will be the test case. Presidential nominations are, for the most part, top-down contests; voters matter mainly when party leaders cannot agree on a candidate, or as a means for party leaders to test whether candidates they like for other reasons have broad appeal (see my article here -- gated -- or Cohen, Karol, Noel, and Zaller's book). In other words, if party leaders don't want Palin to be nominated, her chances are slim at best. My assumption is that most Republican leaders should be capable of seeing that Palin would be a poor general election candidate and a potentially disastrous president for them if she was elected. If they can't see that, and support her despite all the warning signs, it seems to me that it will constitute fairly strong evidence that Republican pols and the people they listen to have entered the closed information loop that Sanchez discusses.

See also Matt Yglesias on the causes of the situation. I think he's partially right; I also think that Steve Benen is partially right when he asserts that Republicans just don't care very much about policy (some certainly do, but I don't think he's totally off). And see also TNC on the related subject of the relative importance of, uh, lunatics on the two party coalitions.
digby: Climate Economics
There's lots of talk today about Krugman's article in the NY Times magazine about the green economy. Adam Siegel writes:

The New York Times Sunday magazine will feature a tour de force on climate economics by Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. Entitled Building a Green Economy, a more appropriate title might be Climate Economics 101 and it should be required reading of every single Member of Congress and any journalist who writes on the issue of costs and benefits of action to mitigate climate change.

Sadly, I don’t have time to do Krugman’s excellent work full justice. He examines the costs and benefits of action on climate change, tackles issues (cogently) about the science, and highlights the critical importance of ‘insurance’ — valuing the potential, in decision-making, not just of ‘Climate Change’ but of catastrophic climate consequences — the low probability but incredible serious in impact risks.

Siegel points out some weaknesses in the article and gives some context so I'd take a look at the full post as well as Krugman's article. But this article forms one of the core progressive arguments we should have been having for the past year about the economy and the environment. Let's hope our politicians are listening and take this one on the road for the fall campaign.
DougJ: Principled opposition to big government

Carl Paladino, a Tea Party candidate for governor in New York State has been sending out stuff like this emails (via WNYMedia—scroll down the link with caution as the larger article contains many NSFW images):

I can’t ascertain how official Tea Party support for Paladino is, but he is mentioned (favorably) in 20 local Tea Party emails I have received over the past few months (I added myself to their mailing list).

DougJ: Mainstream fringe

I spoke with some people at WNYMedia about how mainstream Carl Paladino is within the Western New York Republican party. They told me:

[H]is announcement a week ago was attended by a who’s who of Republican hackerama. (Republican Congressman) Chris Lee was there. The head of M&T bank was there. ECRC (Erie County Republican Committee) Chair Domagalski was there.

Paladino had been sending this crazy racist stuff around to local Republicans for months. Chris Lee and Domagalski certainly knew about this already.

As with the Confederate History Month in Virginia, Republicans make no effort to distance themselves from what they know full well is insane, racist, hateful nonsense. And why should they, I guess? Objecting to it would just piss off the base and there’s no political price to be paid for not objecting. Everyone knows that the objectionable images were photo-shopped or created by liberal plants or by created by FBI plants, and even if they weren’t, MoveOn did the same stuff to Bush. Plus none of it is really racist.

Ezra Klein: The political case for immigration reform

I'd say it's pretty unlikely that comprehensive immigration reform happens this year. But then, who cares what I think? Harry Reid is in charge of the Senate, and he says he's got 56 votes, and it's gonna happen. “We need a handful of Republicans,” he told an immigration rally in Las Vegas.

The cynical take, of course, is that Reid is running for reelection in a state that's about 20 percent Hispanic. But that suggests an important change in the political reality: The cynical thing for Democrats to do in an election year might be to pursue immigration reform. And that would make immigration reform a much likelier addition to the agenda.

As Ron Brownstein frequently points out, Obama won fewer than 40 percent of working-class whites in 2008. Congressional Democrats may well do even worse this year. But it's hard to believe they can do that much worse, or that they can do much to change their standing among this group. It's also not clear that immigration is a big motivator for these voters: The GOP tried to use it in 2006 against the Democrats, and the effort pretty much fell flat on its face.

Actually, it did worse than that: It drove Latino voters toward the Democrats. Obama won 67 percent of Hispanics in 2008 -- a much better showing than Democrat made in 2004. The fear in 2010, however, is that Hispanics won't show up to vote. If Democrats actually pursue immigration reform, their participation becomes likelier. And if Republicans -- or tea partyers, or conservative talk radio -- overreact to the prospect of immigration reform, their participation becomes virtually assured.

That last bit also suggests another reason Democrats might want to see immigration on the agenda: It's got the possibility to tear the Republican coalition apart. Beltway Republicans are very, very concerned about losing Latino voters, and so they try to be careful on the issue. Remember that the last effort at immigration reform came while Bush was in the White House.

But grass-roots conservatives tend to be very, very opposed to immigration reform. Remember that it was conservatives -- led by talk radio -- who killed the immigration reform effort. So what do Republican politicians do when their base goes into anti-immigration overdrive but their consultants beg them to tread carefully? It looks like Harry Reid, for one, would like to find out.

karoli (C&L): Michele Bachmann says repeal and pass the same provisions over again

Oh, Michele Bachmann. I take it you really, really didn't read that bill before you voted against it. Minnesota voters, how does that make you feel, knowing that your elected representative couldn't be bothered to read something before voting against it?

Michele's solutions are either in the bill already or are just restatements of the same old arguments with different words. After explaining just how difficult it will be to repeal health care reform, she then enumerates how the country can best cover the "thirty-thousand uninsured". Here is her list:

  1. Sell across state lines - That's already in the bill in the form of regional co-ops that can form with regulatory approval by all involved states. What ISN'T in the bill: Basing operations in a US territory or state with very little in the way of insurance regulation and selling into states that are heavily regulated. If Bachmann had her way, insurers would move their base of operations to the Cayman Islands and insure only those who made more than $250,000/year. The rest of us could be screwed, but hey, at least we could buy insurance across state lines!
  2. Make insurance 100% deductible - This is in the bill, too. Of course, for those receiving subsidies, the insurance is not 100% deductible because the government is picking up all or part of the cost. What Bachmann fantasizes about is having everyone skip off to their friendly offshore insurer and shelling out big bucks up front that they might be able to get some tax benefits from on the back end. That's how the wealthy folks live, not the rest of us.
  3. Make health care costs 100% deductible - Strange. Wouldn't that be like the government picking up all of our health care costs by reimbursement on the back end? What happened to that Health Savings Account idea where contributions are limited to a fraction of what might actually be paid in a year? I'm sure glad the Democrats are the fiscally responsible party.
  4. Tort reform - The bill provides funding and incentives for states to innovate around liability and tort issues. Bachmann and the rest of her Republican cronies should know that tort reform is a state-by-state issue. Jurisdiction for how torts are litigated belongs to the states, not the federal government. After all, isn't that part of the argument for repealing health care reform?

What struck me about Bachmann's list of includes was what she excluded. Nothing about pre-existing conditions exclusions. Nothing about lifetime caps. Nothing about rescissions. Nothing about stopping insurers from excluding children born with pre-existing conditions.

She didn't mention even one of those. They didn't cross her mind. It wasn't an accident. The battle lines were always drawn at pre-existing conditions. It's driving the Republicans crazy that the middle class actually might be able to get health care without selling their souls, homes and assets to do it.

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz noted this morning that NBC's "Meet the Press," still the most watched Sunday public affair show, is posed to undergo some cosmetic changes. It will not, however, follow ABC's lead on the fact-checking front.

[A]ccepting a challenge from New York University's Jay Rosen, interim host Jake Tapper has arranged for the St. Petersburg Times' PolitiFact site to fact-check what "This Week" guests say after each program.

An "interesting idea," Gregory allows, but not one the NBC show will be emulating. "People can fact-check 'Meet the Press' every week on their own terms."

I'm not entirely sure what this means. At face value, it suggests a certain misunderstanding of the point of the exercise.

One of the Sunday shows invites a high-profile guest to discuss current events. The guest responds to pointed questions, and makes a variety of claims and arguments. Some of those claims and arguments will be accurate, and some won't. For the news consumer watching at home, the information gleaned from the interview is only useful if he/she knows whether the guest's comments are factual.

With that in mind, the Sunday shows have a couple of choices. First, hosts can become knowledgeable about the subject matter and fact-check the guests' claims during the program. Second, the shows can partner with independent fact-checkers like "This Week" has done with PolitiFact. Or third, some combination of the two.

Gregory's comments suggest a more traditional approach: let viewers figure things out "on their own terms." Why separate fact from fiction for news consumers when they can do that on their own?

Perhaps because they aren't well equipped to do this on their own, and rely on professional news outlets to provide them with reliable information.

For what it's worth, PolitiFact's fact-checking isn't part of the "This Week" broadcast, at least not yet, but has partnered with the show online. The first installment was published yesterday afternoon, and will apparently be updated again today.

Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, a relatively obscure Republican freshman lawmaker, published a piece this week on the Obama administration's nuclear policies and counter-proliferation efforts. Fleming, apparently, isn't impressed, and rehashed a variety of tired right-wing cliches and demonstrably false claims.

In particular, Fleming repeatedly urged President Obama to be more like Reagan, which made his opinion piece "dishonest and nonsensical," given Reagan's support for nuclear disarmament and treaties like the one Obama signed in Prague this week.

But Fleming's conclusion is what stood out for me.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I work daily to ensure our men and women have the resources they need to protect this country, and I continue to be dismayed by the national security policies coming out of this White House. Simply put, President Obama is disadvantaging the United States one step at a time and undermining this country's national defense on purpose. Whether he is catering to the anti-war leftists or truly doing what he thinks is best for our security, the president is leading this nation down a very dangerous path. [emphasis in the original]

Now, most of the piece is boilerplate garbage. Fleming, or someone on his staff, wrote an op-ed without bothering to understand the details of the policy it seeks to critique. It's the kind of superficial, misleading, and uninformed "analysis" we've come to expect from congressional Republicans.

And if Fleming had simply characterized the approach endorsed by the president, the Pentagon, and the Joint Chiefs as misguided, and even potentially dangerous, it'd hardly be worth mentioning. But note that one line that the congressman italicized -- he believes the White House is "undermining this country's national defense on purpose."

Ignorance is commonplace. Belligerence is routine. Stupidity has become habitual throughout much of the caucus. But let's not overlook the fact that Fleming spoke directly to President Obama's motives. Fleming argued that the president isn't just mistaken, but rather, is deliberately trying to make the United States less safe and more vulnerable.

In other words, Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana effectively accused the President of the United States -- the Commander in Chief during two wars -- of treason. For Fleming, Obama is choosing to betray the nation, in his words, "on purpose."

I write a lot about the excesses of Republican rhetoric, in part because I find GOP remarks illustrative of a party gone mad, and in part because of the impact the rhetoric has on the larger political culture/discourse. Most of the time, the temptation is to mock the absurdities.

But once in a while, we find a case like this one, in which a sitting member of the House of Representatives -- not a Fox News personality, not a host of right-wing radio show -- suggests, in print, that the president is a traitor.

Is nothing beyond the pale for Republican officials in 2010? Must there be no difference between GOP lawmakers and unhinged right-wing activists? Are we to believe that we should simply expect and tolerate the casual accusations of treason against American patriots?

Sully: "The Jump Backward"

Jon Meacham gets candid with his fellow Southerners:

If the slaves are erased from the picture [of the Civil War], then what took place between Sumter and Appomattox is not about the fate of human chattel, or a battle between good and evil. It is, instead, more of an ancestral skirmish in the Reagan revolution, a contest between big and small government.

We cannot allow the story of the emancipation of a people and the expiation of America’s original sin to become fodder for conservative politicians playing to their right-wing base. That, to say the very least, is a jump backward we do not need.

Yglesias goes deeper:

Something that links the mentality of today’s right to the mentality of the slaveowners and segregation proponents is the white southern political tradition’s very partial and selective embrace of majoritarian democracy.

As long as national institutions are substantially controlled by white southerners, the white south is a hotbed of patriotism. But as soon as an non-southern political coalition manages to win an election—as we saw in 1860 and in 2008—then suddenly the symbols of national authority become symbols of tyranny and the constitution is construed as granting conservative areas all kinds of alleged abilities to opt out of national political decisions.

Even if you think opposition to the Affordable Care Act has nothing whatsoever to do with race, the underlying political philosophy by which a George W Bush or James Buchanan is a national president but an Abraham Lincoln or a Barack Obama merely a sectional one remains incoherent and pernicious.

1 comment:

  1. This was too funny because we all know they would try it if they could. Keep going Silver medalist winner Bailin.