Friday, July 16, 2010

Your Mid-day Heartburn

Atrios: Reminders
Summers didn't help.
Romer had run simulations of the effects of stimulus packages of varying sizes: six hundred billion dollars, eight hundred billion dollars, and $1.2 trillion. The best estimate for the output gap was some two trillion dollars over 2009 and 2010. Because of the multiplier effect, filling that gap didn’t require two trillion dollars of government spending, but Romer’s analysis, deeply informed by her work on the Depression, suggested that the package should probably be more than $1.2 trillion. The memo to Obama, however, detailed only two packages: a five-hundred-and-fifty-billion-dollar stimulus and an eight-hundred-and-ninety-billion-dollar stimulus. Summers did not include Romer’s $1.2-trillion projection. The memo argued that the stimulus should not be used to fill the entire output gap; rather, it was “an insurance package against catastrophic failure.” At the meeting, according to one participant, “there was no serious discussion to going above a trillion dollars.”
I know I'm crazy, but I think sustained 9.5% unemployment is "catastrophic failure."
Kurtz: Vitter Blames 'Liberal Thought Police'

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is bitterly denying that he is a birther or even birther-curious and says his remarks over the weekend were taken out of context by the "liberal thought police."

The video of Vitter's original remarks pretty much speaks for itself: "I support conservative legal organizations and others who would bring that to court. I think that is the valid and most possibly effective grounds to do it.

JedL (DKos): NV-Sen: Mason-Dixon/LVRJ put Reid up by 7

Harry Reid isn't out of the woods yet -- and he won't be until the election is over -- but if he continues to run the kind of campaign he's run and Sharron Angle continues to run the kind of campaign she's run, there's no question but that he's going to end up the winner. LVRJ:

U.S. SENATE RACE: Reid takes lead on Angle

New poll shows Republican losing support among every voter group

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has opened a strong lead over Republican opponent Sharron Angle after pummeling her in a ubiquitous TV and radio ad campaign that portrays the Tea Party favorite as "too extreme," according to a new poll for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Democratic incumbent's aggressive strategy of attacking Angle's staunch conservative views from the moment she won the June 8 primary has cost her support among every voter group -- from men and women to both political parties and independents -- in vote-rich Clark and Washoe counties.


The Mason-Dixon poll showed that if the general election were held now, Reid would win 44 percent to 37 percent for Angle. Ten percent were undecided, 5 percent would choose "none of these candidates," and the remaining 4 percent would pick another candidate on the ballot.

In another poll this week, Rasmussen showed Angle with a scant 3 point lead. Given Rasmussen's noted pro-Republican bias, Angle +3 actually meant that Reid must have had a healthy lead, and today's release of the Mason-Dixon poll confirms that.

Although the national focus has largely been on Angle's extremist views across the board, in Nevada the focus has been on Angle's tea party fueled economic views, including her pledge that if she were elected to the U.S. Senate, she would not work to create jobs in Nevada. About two weeks ago, Reid released an ad hammering Angle for saying "People ask me, what are you going to do to develop jobs in your state? Well that's not my job as a U.S. Senator."

As if she were a circus animal, Angle responded on cue, slamming Reid for having worked to save thousands of jobs at MGM's CityCenter project:

We know when they put those jobs at CityCenter, it was jobs that were taken away, business that was taken away from other areas, so it actually injured the economy of other businesses.

Angle doubled and tripled down on her bizarre zero-sum theory of economics in the following days and yesterday, Reid released a new ad firing back at her callous indifference to the plight of Nevada's unemployed:

Between Angle's general craziness, her extreme right-wing economic views, and her campaign's general incompetence, it's not hard to see that she's got virtually no path to victory, especially given the campaign team that Reid has put in place.

Drum: The Truth About Obama's Record

I've got some good news and some bad news for you today:

A broad overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system, intended to address the causes of the 2008 economic crisis and rewrite the rules for a more complex — and mistrustful — era on Wall Street, cleared one last procedural hurdle in the Senate on Thursday as it headed for final Congressional approval later in the day.

....With the Senate poised to send the bill to President Obama for his signature, the White House was already planning a ceremony — sometime next week — to mark completion of another landmark piece of legislation, following the enactment of the historic health care bill in March and last year’s major economic stimulus program.

Here's the good news: this record of progressive accomplishment officially makes Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. And here's the bad news: this shoddy collection of centrist, watered down, corporatist sellout legislation was all it took to make Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. Take your pick.

In any case, I think this probably marks the end of Obama's major legislative agenda. I don't give Congress much chance of passing a climate bill, and after the midterms the Democratic majority will either be gone or significantly reduced, making large-scale legislation just about impossible.

Still, if you're a liberal, this is the best you've had it for a very long time. Whether this is cause for cheer or cause for discouragement is, I suspect, less a reflection on Obama than it is on America writ large.

Part of me wondered if, after the Senate overcame a Republican filibuster on Wall Street reform, several GOP senators would go ahead and vote for it. After all, at that point, everyone knew it would pass, and who wants to take a stand against safeguards and accountability for a financial industry that nearly collapsed the global economy? Republicans had done what they could to kill the legislation, but going ahead and supporting final passage was a freebie.

Of course, that didn't happen, and only three Republicans broke ranks. An identical number of House Republicans voted with Democrats on the same bill a few weeks ago. With just four months to go before the midterm elections, what makes the GOP think it's a good idea to stand, en masse, with Wall Street lobbyists against a measure to bring greater economic security and stability in the wake of a crash?

The AP reported yesterday that Republicans have a plan. It's predicated on exploiting public confusion.

Not too long ago, senators from both parties imagined a bill with broad bipartisan support that reflected a consensus that the financial sector needed a new set of rules. These days, though, Republicans liken the legislation to Obama's health care legislation and the $862 billion economic stimulus package -- two initiatives that have not rallied public support. [...]

Republican operatives believe the complexity of the bill gives them an advantage.

"This bill, in the minds of most Americans, is just a big amoeba," said John Feehery, a Washington-based GOP strategist. "Because this bill is so complicated, it makes it easier for Republicans to oppose it, and by opposing it, call it a job killer."

Greg Sargent summarized the GOP line: "Never mind what the bill actually does. Never mind that the set of problems it's meant to address -- problems that brought about the near-collapse of our economy -- are also rather complex. As long as the public remains confused about it, so much the better for us!"

Republicans aren't just treating the public like fools, they're counting on the public to be dupes. When an entire political party takes on the role of a con man, on purpose, because it sees the electorate as a bunch of suckers, it's really not healthy for the political system.

  • DougJ adds:

    To my mind, this is one of the central problems of contemporary American politics: any reasonably complicated bill can be twisted into a soshulist, unAmerican, job-killing atrocity. The media doesn’t help, obviously. Conservative pundits are happy to help with the twisting, straight reporters mostly write “shape of earth, views differ”, and there’s always Charles Lane to tell us that, while, it isn’t truly a job-killing machine, there are legitimate concerns that we can read about in an American Enterprise Institute study.

    Clearly, the only solution here is to make sure that all bills are no longer than the Constitution.

mistermix: A Heady Mix of Incompetence and Self-Hatred
We Hate Ourselves.  It's  true.

This brand-enhancing ad was paid for by the Democratic Governors’ Association, who gave $782K to a 527 group trying to get Iowa Governor Terry Branstad beaten by his primary challenger. Someone needs to tell the DGA that the definition of ratfucking is not “fucking yourself with the opponent’s dick”.

Also, too: The answer to the often-asked question of why the Democratic Party isn’t better at promoting its core values is that an influential part of the party establishment is ashamed of those values and the party leaders who promote them.

  • The comment thread following this post is quite wonderful.

McClatchy's headline says quite a bit: "GOP: No more help for jobless, but rich must keep tax cuts." That says quite a bit, doesn't it?

Republicans will no doubt howl about "bias," but the article actually just presents facts as they exist. Whether reality has a liberal bias is up to voters to decide.

Republicans almost unanimously oppose spending $33.9 billion for extended unemployment benefits for some 2.5 million people who've lost them, because they say it would increase federal budget deficits.

At the same time, they're pushing a permanent extension of Bush administration tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, which could increase federal budget deficits by trillions of dollars over the next 10 years.

The article is filled with various rationalizations to justify this. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), for example, thinks this makes sense because "tax policy is dynamic." Good to know.

It's generally hard to guess what the public will find compelling, but if I had to guess, I'd say more Americans would rather spend $33.9 billion for extended unemployment benefits than $678 billion for tax cuts for the wealthy.

It's probably why the McClatchy article will be discouraging at RNC headquarters. Of course, if they Republican lawmakers don't like it, they could embrace a policy more in line with common sense, but that seems highly unlikely.

Kevin Drum: Time for a Timeout

Jon Chait:

One of the very few impressive things about conservatives over the last few years is that their opposition to President Obama, though frequently unhinged, misinformed, hypocritical, or outright dishonest, has generally lacked much in the way of racial animus. Obviously you can find some exceptions — Rush Limbaugh is a notable one, casting health care as "reparations" and trying to make his listeners fear that "in Obama's America," black kids can beat up white kids with impunity. Limbaugh has largely been an exception against the general trend of de-racialized nuttiness on the right.

What you're starting to see from Fox News now, though, is the most widespread and mainstream right-wing effort to exploit racial fears against Obama.

Hmmm. Is this really all that new? Yes, there's Rush Limbaugh. And the whole Jeremiah Wright flap during the campaign. And Glenn Beck saying on national TV that Obama has a deep-seated hatred of white people. And the obviously racially tinged birther nonsense. And the famous Drudge headline about Obama "playing the race card." And the endless obsession over Sonia Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment. And now Megyn Kelly's fixation on the trivial and laughable New Black Panther Party — except, as Dave Weigel points out, Fox has actually been beating the NBPP drum for quite a while:

The difference between the Panthers and other freakish groups that look good on the air, of course, is that that they threaten white people.

....How often does Fox bring on the Panthers, or talk about them? A Lexis-Nexis search finds 68 mentions of "Malik Zulu Shabazz," a leader of the NBPP. The majority are appearances on Fox News, where Shabazz is repeatedly brought on to act as a foolish, anti-Semitic punching bag. Among the segment titles: "Professor's Comments on Whites Stir Controversy" and "Black Panthers Take a Stand on Duke Rape Case."....This isn't journalism. No one cares what the NBPP thinks about anything. This is minstrelsy, with a fringe moron set up like a bowling pin for Hannity to knock down. And that's the role the NBPP plays on Fox, frequently.

Granted, most conservative pundits are bright enough not to go down this road themselves. And racism certainly isn't Obama's biggest problem. Still, there's unquestionably been a thread of it visible from the start, and also unquestionably, most conservative pundits have kept pretty quiet about it.

But they might be playing a dangerous game here. As Chait says, the Fox/Megyn Kelly crusade against the NBPP is taking this to a whole new level, one that's far more overt and far more incendiary than in the past. And there's no telling how that's going to turn out. As a friend puts it, "I think the reason why conservatives have so assiduously censored themselves from playing fast and loose with Atwater-esque racial overtones is that it can be a very difficult genie to put back in the bottle once released on a national stage." The press will start paying attention, tea partiers might feel freer to spout off, and the whole thing could turn ugly very quickly.

Or not. Who knows? But for reasons of both principle and self-interest, some of the conservative movement's big guns might want to think about weighing in on this before it gets out of hand. It can't hurt.


It seems clear what the media considers the question of the week. The NYT's Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes a political dynamic today that seems pretty familiar.

If passage of the financial regulatory overhaul on Thursday proves anything about President Obama, it is this: He knows how to push big bills through a balky Congress.

But Mr. Obama's legislative success poses a paradox: while he may be winning on Capitol Hill, he is losing with voters at a time of economic distress, and soon may be forced to scale back his ambitions.

Though the Stolberg piece was far more sensible, it considers the same question Politico asked yesterday. Obama keeps racking up breakthrough victories, the observation goes, and these successes are supposed to buoy a president's political standing, but polls nevertheless suggest Obama is on shaky ground.

It's not necessarily an unfair question, but it's probably a mistake to treat it as some kind of mystery. Kevin Drum noted yesterday that the simplest explanation happens to be the right one.

If you want to, you can come up with a thousand reasons why Obama is failing. But if the economy were doing well and Obama were riding high in opinion polls, [Politico's John Harris and Jim VandeHei] would come up with a thousand reasons why Obama is succeeding. Unfortunately, admitting that the economy is the overriding explanation for everything makes for a very short, very boring column, and no one wants to write it. It's still true, though.

Yep. The economy stinks, which puts a lot of Americans in a sour mood. Much of the public probably thought economic conditions would be a whole lot better by now, and voters are very likely feeling pretty impatient about the pace of progress. It's what happens when the unemployment rate hovers around 10% for a year, and "it could have been worse" fails to resonate.

So, Obama's standing, while still reasonably high under the circumstances, has faltered, and Republicans stand to do well in November. It's not rocket science.

Of course, as the economy improves and the unemployment rate drops, I'll look forward to the media coverage pondering how President Obama finally figured out how to start connecting with the public again.

Think Progress: Peter King: Republicans Shouldn’t ‘Lay Out A Complete Agenda,’ Because It Might Become ‘A Campaign Issue’
For the past year, Republicans have been desperately trying to show Americans that they have substantive policy ideas, and that they are not just “the party of no” that reflexively opposes anything President Obama supports in order to score cheap political points. “House Republicans have engaged with the American people to develop innovative solutions that meet the serious challenges facing our country,” House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) declared on the flimsy “GOP Solutions” website.

But Rep. Peter King (R-NY) was perhaps a little too honest yesterday, explaining to radio host Bill Bennett that Republicans shouldn’t “lay out a complete agenda,” because then people would be able to scrutinize it and make it “a campaign issue”:

BENNETT: Is it enough for Republicans to say we are opposed to what [Obama's] doing — stimulus, health care, we don’t like what he’s doing with the government, and look at the job situation — or do we need to have meat on the bones? And say, this is what we are for? Do we have to have positive proposals? [...]

KING: So, It’s a combination of being against what Obama is for, and also giving certain specifics of what we are for. Having said that, I don’t think we have to lay out a complete agenda, from top to bottom, because then we would have the national mainstream media jumping on every point trying to make that a campaign issue.

Of course, an agenda should be a campaign issue — the most important issue. But King’s political calculation reflects the strategies of several Republican candidates, like Sharron Angle and Rand Paul, to hide from the mainstream media, lest they accidentally reveal more of their extreme agenda.

And later in the interview, King offered a good example of why he probably shouldn’t be talking about policy. While saying that conservatives need to craft a “much more intelligent argument” to defend the Bush tax cuts, King argued that those tax cuts “saved our economy”:

KING: That’s where we have to make a much more intelligent argument and defend the Bush tax cuts. Because after all the years of the Bush tax cuts, after two wars, after September 11th, as of 2007, the deficit was down to $165 billion, which is almost chump change by today’s standard. No, the tax cuts is what saved our economy. People forget, they have this talk about how there was a $6.5 trillion surplus projected when President Bush come in. The fact is, he inherited a severe economic downturn — the third quarter of 2000, the first quarter of 2001, the economy was tanking. Then we had September 11th, then we did have two wars — both of which I’ve supported — and with all of that, the economy continued to add jobs, and by 2006, 2007 the deficit was being dramatically reduced.

Listen to a compilation here:

King’s claim that the Bush tax cuts increased revenues reflects the “view of virtually every Republican on that subject,” according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), but contradicts the facts and Bush’s own economic advisors, including former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

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