Friday, August 27, 2010


John Cole: Folding Like a Cheap Suit


With the economy rapidly weakening, some senior Democrats are having second thoughts about raising taxes on the nation’s wealthiest families and are pressing party leaders to consider extending the full array of Bush administration tax cuts, at least through next year.

This rethinking comes barely a month after Democrats trumpeted plans to stage a high-stakes battle over taxes in the final weeks before the November congressional elections.

The Bush tax cuts are set to expire in December. Republicans are pushing to extend them all, while President Obama has forcefully argued that the country cannot afford to keep tax breaks on income over $250,000 a year for families and $200,000 a year for individuals.

But a growing cadre of Democrats – alarmed by evidence that the recovery is losing steam and fearful of wounding conservative Democrats in a tough election year – are advocating a plan that would permanently extend tax cuts benefiting the middle class while renewing breaks for the wealthy through 2011, senior Democratic aides said.

Awesome strategery, Democrats. Extend tax cuts that do nothing to stimulate the economy and de facto cede the argument about tax cuts helping the economy, get blamed for the deficit costs of those tax cuts as more evidence of the free-spending liberals, continue the growth in income inequality and the distribution of wealth concentrated at the top of the tiers, leave less money available to engage in worthy projects, and demoralize your base while throwing a bone to people who are NEVER EVER EVER going to vote for you.

I hate being a Democrat.

Economic growth in the second quarter (April through June) was initially estimated to be pretty weak. This morning, the figure was revised downward -- from 2.4% to 1.6%. It's not only evidence of anemic growth, it points to a trend moving in the wrong direction, after two stronger quarters preceding it.

What's more, it's discouraging news that comes on top of other discouraging news. Just over the last couple of weeks, the reports on home sales were awful, and recovery in the manufacturing sector is also stalling.

On Wednesday, President Obama organized a conference call with his top economic advisers, reportedly considering "the next steps to keep the economy growing." But the White House agenda in the short term is not focused specifically on the economy -- on Sunday, Obama will be in New Orleans for the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and on Tuesday, the president will deliver an Oval Office address on the war in Iraq. Later in the week, the focus will be on Middle East peace talks.

A White House official told ABC's Jake Tapper, "We know he needs to be out there to talk about the economy next week. We haven't yet figured out the way he's going to do that."

I think the sentiment is only partially true. A White House focus on the economy certainly makes sense, and "figuring out" a way to convey that to the public seems wise.

But getting Obama "out there to talk about the economy" isn't necessarily the answer -- that is, unless the president has something new to say. By all accounts, he doesn't.

The White House is pushing its $30 billion small business lending initiative and other measures to stimulate economic growth, such as the elimination of capital gains taxes for small business investments. But advisers say there is little appetite on Capitol Hill for any new spending programs, and limited time in the congressional calendar, suggesting that they feel there aren't any more major initiatives the administration will push in further attempts to revise the sputtering economy.

And that, I fear, is the problem.

The president can get "out there to talk about the economy," and he has a reasonable message to offer -- his policies prevented a catastrophe, created millions of jobs, and made economic growth possible. Had Republicans been in charge at the moment of crisis last year, the evidence is incontrovertible that we'd be in a much worse place.

But the message is also underwhelming. Obama is right, as a factual matter, to tout his economic successes, but in terms of real-world implications, it's wholly unpersuasive to struggling, anxiety-ridden Americans.

I don't want to see the president "out there to talk about the economy"; I want him out there with an ambitious agenda to improve the economy. He won't do that, however, because Republicans won't allow a vote on additional recovery efforts, and panicky Dems thinks voters will punish them for trying to do what works.

I guess that leaves the Fed?

Joan McCarter (Dkos): CBO: Repealing Medicare portions of health law would increase deficit by $455 billion

Of course, since Republicans don't actually care about the deficit, they just like to use it as a bogeyman, this letter from the CBO [pdf] (via the Wonk Room won't make them stop screaming "REPEAL!!!"

On balance, the two laws’ health care and revenue provisions are estimated to reduce the projected deficit in 2020 by $28 billion, and the education provisions of the Reconciliation Act are estimated to reduce the projected deficit in 2020 by $2 billion. [...]

Finally, you asked what the net deficit impact would be if certain provisions of PPACA and the Reconciliation Act that were estimated to generate net savings were eliminated—specifically, those which were originally estimated to generate a net reduction in mandatory outlays of $455 billion over the 2010–2019 period. The estimate of $455 billion mentioned in your letter represents the net effects of many provisions. Some of those provisions generated savings for Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and some generated costs. If those provisions were repealed, CBO estimates that there would be an increase in deficits similar to its original estimate of $455 billion in net savings over that period.

The "you" the CBO is responding to is Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), who must have thought that if he asked just one more time, the CBO would give him a pony in the form of the health law not reducing the deficit. It's really rather remarkable--the CBO originally said, make these changes and save $455 billion--did Crapo really think that repealing those provisions wouldn't then cost $455 billion? Sometimes the CBO must get very frustrated by the letters they get from Congress.

Igor Volsky adds:

If they were to repeal the law, Republicans would have replace it with something that makes up for the deficit increases (assuming, of course that they will still care about the deficits) and helps slow the growth rate in the Medicare program. The GOP’s old leadership backed plan and its reliance on medical malpractice reform as a money saver won’t be enough.

They don't care about the deficit. They don't care about trying to control the costs of the absolutely essential Medicare and Medicaid and CHIP, to keep them healthy and effective. And they sure as hell don't have a plan for making the nation's health care system work.

What Booman said .....

This series of posts are all from Booman at The Booman Tribune.

Know Thy Enemy
Hey, Matt Taibbi seems to have finally wised up about the biggest threat facing our country, which isn't, by the way, that we've suddenly become ruled by a bunch of powerful corporate interests.

I'm beginning to wonder why effective boycotts against these hate-media channels, and particularly Fox, haven’t been organized yet. Why not just pick out one Fox advertiser at random and make an example out of it? How about Subaru and their unintentionally comic “Love” slogan? I actually like their cars, but what the fuck? How about Pep Boys and that annoying logo of theirs? Just to prove that it can be done, I’d like to see at least one firm get blown out of business as a consequence of financially supporting the network that is telling America that its black president wants to kill white babies. Isn't that at least the first move here? It's beginning to strike me that sitting by and doing nothing about this madness is not a terribly responsible way to behave.

Well, yes, it is all fine and dandy to be disappointed that our bought-and-sold Congress isn't particularly dedicated to jailing their financial benefactors, but it is kind of a misallocation of resources to focus exclusively on those shortcomings when a nativist, xenophobic, homophobic movement is poised to make tremendous political gains in our county. The biggest blind spot on the left isn't a failure to recognize foreign enemies, it's a failure to recognize domestic ones. When people on the left begin to understand the nature of the beast that Barack Obama defeated, hopefully, they will begin to marshall their energy towards keeping that beast down instead of arguing about why we haven't reached Scandinavian levels of progressivism in the last twenty months.

Obama's coalition is still the majority and the future of this country. And maintaining that coalition, including its centrist elements, is still our only bulwark against a new form of fascism based in racial, religious, and jingoistic values.

Understanding Conservatism
E.J. Dionne says that the Republicans are experiencing an 'insurrection.' At least metaphorically, maybe they are. Most people are understandably viewing this as a kind cyclical right-wing reaction to both a Democratic president (who happens to be black) and a severe economic downturn, but Dionne makes an important additional point.

The agitation among Republicans is not surprising, given the trauma of the final years of George W. Bush's presidency. After heavy losses in 2006 and 2008, it was natural that GOP loyalists would seek a new direction.

A party that suffers consecutive beatdowns at the polls needs to retool and reevaluate its assumptions and priorities. The party leadership isn't doing that, so the voters are doing it for them. But they're doing it in a very interesting way. Our eyes are colored by the years 1995-2009, when the Republicans were either ascendant in Congress, held the White House, or both. But this little historical window is misleading. Conservative ideology grew over time. It's incubative period began in 1933, when a second consecutive landslide election brought Franklin Roosevelt to power. From 1933 to 1995, the Republicans controlled the House for four years (1947-48 and 1953-54) and the Senate for ten (1947-48, 1953-54, and 1981-1987). In the entire post-war era, the Republicans only controlled both houses of Congress twice, and each time they were thrown out at the first opportunity. Forty years elapsed (1955-1995) without the Republicans once controlling the House of Representatives. This is an absolutely crucial fact to know if you want to understand the modern Republican Party. Their childhood and adolescence were completed with almost no experience in actual governing in Congress. They were an almost uninterrupted opposition.

This is why a conservative movement began to grow outside the Republican Party. Actual Republican elected officials still had to legislate and they often had a Republican president (Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan) to work with. But because the Republicans never had control of the legislative product, their base came to see Congress as an enemy and their legislation as somehow illegitimate. This feeling was extended to the Supreme Court during the Earl Warren era. As a result, conservative ideology cannot easily adapt to actually being in power and having to fund the various agencies and programs of the government. It isn't surprising that in their first term in power (1995-1996) they shut down the government rather than agree to a Democratic president's budget. And it won't be surprising if this happens the next time the Republicans gain control of one of the houses of Congress.

The Republican base is extremely hostile to the federal government and, particularly, to federal appropriations which are unrelated to national security. You can see this quite clearly by looking at the makeup of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Four of the Republican appropriators are retiring, two have been defeated in primaries, one is a former Democrat, and one recently lost badly in her gubernatorial bid. Additionally, Arlen Specter was forced out of the party. Ordinarily, landing a seat on the Appropriations Committee is considered a boon that allows you to funnel money back to your state and makes you too valuable to replace. But that didn't prove true for Arlen Specter, Bob Bennett, or Lisa Murkowski. These legislators were Republicans but they didn't subscribe to the conservative ideology that all federal activity is suspect, illegitimate, or even unconstitutional. So, they're gone.

From 2003 to 2007, the Republicans controlled everything in Washington but they didn't know what to do with the power. They funded the agencies of government much like a Democratic congress would have done (albeit, with much different priorities) and allowed budget deficits to rise to out of control levels. This wasn't what conservative ideology called for. It was, in essence, a betrayal. But conservative ideology is not reality-based; it's oppositionally-based. It has no governing philosophy, but, instead, a grouping of rationalizations for why federal governance is bad.

What's going on with the Tea Partiers is that they are trying to force the GOP to take conservative ideology seriously and to have them act based on the implications of that ideology. And because that ideology sees the federal government as basically illegitimate, you are seeing calls to repeal amendments from the 14th (establishing birthright citizenship), the 16th (creating an income tax), the 17th (providing for direct elections of senators), and the 19th (establishing female suffrage). It's also why you see opposition to Social Security and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which provided for desegregated public facilities. Some of this is simply based in racism, but the ideological component is arguably just as important.

Because of this anti-federal government ideology, the Republicans cannot govern the country without either violating their espoused principles or simply shutting the place down. You can't shut down the government for any substantial period of time, so the Republicans will consistently violate their own principles once empowered in Congress. Instead of abolishing the Department of Education, they give us No Child Left Behind. Instead of letting Medicare wither on the vine, they give us a massive subsidized prescription drug benefit. And when they try to follow through on their radical ideology (for example, by privatizing Social Security), they are quickly thrown out of office.

People keep asking the Republicans to offer a positive agenda and they keep promising to provide one, but they can't because modern conservatism does not know of any positive role for the federal government. The few Republicans who try to legislate are now being drummed out of the party.

So, call it an insurrection if you want, but it's not the GOP who is besieged. It's the entire federal government (and, therefore, the country) that is under assault. The post-war consensus was never agreed to by conservatives. And they're coming to try to uproot eighty years of legislating history. That they won't succeed doesn't mean that we want to witness them try.

Understanding Wingnuts
Steve Benen:

I've long looked for consistency -- intellectual, moral, ethical -- among opponents of stem-cell research, and I've never found any. If someone believes a fertilized egg that has grown to a few dozen cells is a full-fledged human being, deserving of the full protection of the law, then IVF would constitute nightmarish science. Conservatives would be compelled to protest at fertility clinics, and condemn families that try to have babies through the procedure. After all, the IVF process is designed to include discarded embryos.

But no one is making that argument. There's a high degree of comfort level with discarding embryos at fertility clinics, but intense conservative opposition to medical research involving embryos that offer the promise of life-saving science. I've never understood this.

Of course it doesn't make sense. These people are religious whackadoodles. When a religious argument is tremendously unpopular politically, what happens is that the politicians bend the religious principles. That's why, for wingnuts, it's murder to have an abortion unless the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Logically, it would still be murder, but that's not politically viable. Likewise, if destroying an embryo is murder when you use it for research, it is also murder when you don't implant it in a womb and throw it in a hazardous waste bin. But no political party wants to ban fertility treatments, so you get this kind of nonsense. The religious conservatives hold absolutist views on complex moral issues that are rendered absurd when cast in a politically viable context.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lunchtime Readings

Rayfield (TPM): Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi: Peaceful Muslims In TN Ruining It For The Rest Of Us

Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi was on the scene in Tennessee to report on local opposition to a planned mosque in Murfreesboro. "Opponents say building a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero is simply too close," Mandvi said. "But did you know that 18,000 blocks is also too close?"

Mandvi found out that there was already a mosque in the town that had been there for about 30 years. So he asked a local Muslim woman: "Thirty years? What is taking so long? I mean, let's go people. I mean, you're not a sleeper cell. You're a comatose cell!"

When she contended that all they want is a place to worship, Mandvi replied: "A few good apples like you could really ruin it for the rest of us, you know that?"


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Egan (NYT): Building a Nation of Know-Nothings

Having shed much of his dignity, core convictions and reputation for straight talk, Senator John McCain won his primary on Tuesday against the flat-earth wing of his party. Now McCain can go search for his lost character, which was last on display late in his 2008 campaign for president.

Remember the moment: a woman with matted hair and a shaky voice rose to express her doubts about Barack Obama. “I have read about him,” she said, “and he’s not — he’s an Arab.”

McCain was quick to knock down the lie. “No, ma’am,” he said, “he’s a decent family man, a citizen.”

That ill-informed woman — her head stuffed with fabrications that could be disproved by a pre-schooler — now makes up a representative third or more of the Republican party. It’s not just that 47 percent of Republicans believe the lie that Obama is a Muslim, or that 27 percent in the party doubt that the president of the United States is a citizen. But fully half of them believe falsely that the big bailout of banks and insurance companies under TARP was enacted by Obama, and not by President Bush.

Take a look at Tuesday night’s box score in the baseball game between New York and Toronto. The Yankees won, 11-5. Now look at the weather summary, showing a high of 71 for New York. The score and temperature are not subject to debate.

Yet a president’s birthday or whether he was even in the White House on the day TARP was passed are apparently open questions. A growing segment of the party poised to take control of Congress has bought into denial of the basic truths of Barack Obama’s life. What’s more, this astonishing level of willful ignorance has come about largely by design, and has been aided by a press afraid to call out the primary architects of the lies.

The Democrats may deserve to lose in November. They have been terrible at trying to explain who they stand for and the larger goal of their governance. But if they lose, it should be because their policies are unpopular or ill-conceived — not because millions of people believe a lie.

In the much-discussed Pew poll reporting the spike in ignorance, those who believe Obama to be Muslim say they got their information from the media. But no reputable news agency — that is, fact-based, one that corrects its errors quickly — has spread such inaccuracies.

Rush LimbaughStephen Lovekin/Getty Images Rush Limbaugh

So where is this “media?” Two sources, and they are — no surprise here — the usual suspects. The first, of course, is Rush Limbaugh, who claims the largest radio audience in the land among the microphone demagogues, and his word is Biblical among Republicans. A few quick examples of the Limbaugh method:

“Tomorrow is Obama’s birthday — not that we’ve seen any proof of that,” he said on Aug. 3. “They tell us Aug. 4 is the birthday; we haven’t seen any proof of that.”

Of course, there is proof as clear as that baseball box score. Look here,, for starters, one of many places posting Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate.

On the Muslim deception, Limbaugh has sprinkled lie dust all over the place. “Obama says he’s a Christian, but where’s the evidence?” he said on Aug. 19. He has repeatedly called the president “imam Obama,” and said, “I’m just throwing things out there, folks, because people are questioning his Christianity.”

You see how he works. He drops in suggestions, hints, notes that “people are questioning” things. The design is to make Obama un-American. Then he says it’s a tweak, a provocation. He says this as a preemptive way to keep the press from calling him out. And it works; long profiles of Limbaugh have largely gone easy on him.

Once Limbaugh has planted a lie, a prominent politician can pick it up, with little nuance. So, over the weekend, Kim Lehman, one of Iowa’s two Republican National Committee members, went public with doubts on Obama’s Christianity. Of course, she was not condemned by party leaders.

It’s curious, also, that any felon, drug addict, or recovering hedonist can loudly proclaim a sudden embrace of Jesus and be welcomed without doubt by leaders of the religious right. But a thoughtful Christian like Obama is still distrusted.

“I am a devout Christian,” Obama told Christianity Today in 2008. “I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” That’s not enough, apparently, for Rev. Franklin Graham, the partisan son of the great evangelical leader, who said last week that Obama was “born a Muslim because of the religious seed passed on from his father.”

Actually, he was born from two non-practicing parents, and his Kenyan father was absent for all of his upbringing. Obama came to his Christianity like millions of people, through searching and questioning.

Finally, there is Fox News, whose parent company has given $1 million to Republican causes this year but still masquerades as a legitimate source of news. Their chat and opinion programs spread innuendo daily. The founder of Politifact, another nonpartisan referee to the daily rumble, said two of the site’s five most popular items on its Truth-o-meter are corrections of Glenn Beck.

Beck tosses off enough half-truths in a month to keep Politifact working overtime. Of late, he has gone after Michelle Obama, whose vacation in Spain was “just for her and approximately 40 of her friends.” Limbaugh had a similar line, saying the First Lady “is taking 40 of her best friends and leasing 60 rooms at a five-star hotel — paid for by you.”

The White House said Michelle Obama and her daughter Sasha were accompanied by just a few friends — and they paid their own costs. But, wink, wink, the damage is done. He’s Muslim and foreign. She’s living the luxe life on your dime. They don’t even have to mention race. The code words do it for them.

Climate-change denial is a special category all its own. Once on the fringe, dismissal of scientific consensus is now an article of faith among leading Republicans, again taking their cue from Limbaugh and Fox.

It would be nice to dismiss the stupid things that Americans believe as harmless, the price of having such a large, messy democracy. Plenty of hate-filled partisans swore that Abraham Lincoln was a Catholic and Franklin Roosevelt was a Jew. So what if one-in-five believe the sun revolves around the earth, or aren’t sure from which country the United States gained its independence?

But false belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is run by a Holocaust denier.

It’s one thing to forget the past, with predictable consequences, as the favorite aphorism goes. But what about those who refuse to comprehend the present?

Katrina vanden Heuvel (WaPost):Citizens United aftershocks

What are the consequences of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision allowing corporations "unlimited spending in pursuit of political ends"? The world of campaign finance is new, confusing -- and very alarming.

Corporate groups are already using the ruling to raise lots of cash. Consider the recent work of a consortium of coal companies in West Virginia and Kentucky, including Massey Energy -- owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine where 29 miners were killed in April -- which is attempting to target "anti-coal" Democrats this fall.

In a letter to various coal concerns, Roger Nicholson, senior vice president and general counsel at International Coal Group, said, "With the recent Supreme Court ruling, we are in a position to be able to take corporate positions that were not previously available in allowing our voices to be heard. A number of coal industry representatives recently have been considering developing a 527 entity with the purpose of attempting to defeat anti-coal incumbents in select races, as well as elect pro-coal candidates running for certain open seats. We're requesting your consideration as to whether your company would be willing to meet to discuss a significant commitment to such an effort."

Among the interesting things about this is that 527 groups were relatively free to accept and spend cash even before Citizens United, but -- whether by confusion about the law, strategy among corporate fundraisers or both -- the decision might catalyze all manner of new corporate spending, anyway. Of course, 527's face looser rules, too. "As a result of Citizens United, 527's can now use corporate money to run TV ads within 60 days of the election, and can say anything they want about the candidate," says Joseph Sandler, former general counsel of the Democratic National Committee. "That's a big difference."

But corporations might want to think twice before jumping deeper into political races, attracting more attention in the process. According to a new Survey USA poll, 77 percent of all voters -- including 70 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of independents -- view corporate election spending as an attempt to bribe politicians rather than an expression of free speech that should not be limited.

Target is learning this the hard way. It donated $150,000 to Minnesota Forward, a group channeling funds to Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer -- known for his opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. As a result, the company now faces a consumer boycott and angry institutional shareholders who have asked for a "comprehensive review" of Target's political donation process. Best Buy also donated $100,000 to the group and is facing similar calls for a boycott.

Still, what we are seeing are just the initial stages of what will result in, among other things, a flood of corporate campaign cash. Conservative groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads, are gearing up to spend $300 million to hammer Democratic candidates in 2010, according to a Democratic Party memo obtained by The Washington Post. And chief executives are in "wait-and-see" mode when it comes to direct political spending, according to a former counsel to the Federal Election Commission.

There is no way private citizens can match the resources available to corporations to make their voices heard. That's why a public backlash against the Citizens United decision is so critical. Progressives -- galvanized by the brazen activism of the court -- have responded by organizing around a far-reaching pro-democracy platform and have already scored some important wins.

Under pressure from New York City public advocate Bill de Blasio , Goldman Sachs said it would refrain from spending corporate funds on "electioneering communications." Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo pledged to follow suit. De Blasio has also created an online Corporate Spending Tracker, which displays the electoral spending policies and contact information for the 100 largest companies in America.

MoveOn has also embarked on what it calls its "most ambitious campaign ever" -- focused on overturning the court's decision through a constitutional amendment and passing the Fair Elections Now Act, which would bar participating congressional candidates from accepting contributions larger than $100 and allow them to run honest campaigns with a blend of small donations and public funds. (The Nation, of which I am the editor and publisher, is a coalition partner in this campaign.) Right now, the campaign is pursuing a goal of getting 100 members of Congress and candidates to sign a pledge endorsing this agenda before the congressional recess ends on Sept. 10.

Passing the Disclose Act -- which was recently defeated by yet another Republican filibuster -- would be a modest step in the right direction; it requires corporations to show how they spend money in elections. But the deep reforms needed to truly put democracy back in the hands of the people will require a long and tough-minded struggle by all small-d democrats.

In the mean time, corporations are free to do a lot more than just donate to less-regulated 527's. They have a blank check. As President Obama noted in his most recent weekly address, the Citizens United decision "allows big corporations to . . . buy millions of dollars worth of TV ads -- and worst of all, they don't even have to reveal who is actually paying for them. You don't know if it's a foreign-controlled corporation. You don't know if it's BP. You don't know if it's a big insurance company or a Wall Street bank. A group can hide behind a phony name like 'Citizens for a Better Future,' even if a more accurate name would be 'Corporations for Weaker Oversight.' "

Rep. John Fleming (R) of Louisiana was campaigning alongside Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) this week, speaking to a Republican women's group near Shreveport. Fleming did his best to frame the midterm elections in a very specific way.

"We have two competing world views here and there is no way that we can reach across the aisle -- one is going to have to win," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La. [...]

"We are either going to go down the socialist road and become like Western Europe and create, I guess really a godless society, an atheist society. Or we're going to continue down the other pathway where we believe in freedom of speech, individual liberties and that we remain a Christian nation.

"So we're going to have to solve that argument before we can once again reach across and work together on things."

There's all kinds of fascinating angles to this remarkable nonsense, but let's not some of the highlights.

First, for all the talk from pundits that Democrats need to do much more to reach out and compromise with congressional Republicans, Fleming's wildly foolish comments are a reminder that there's just not much Dems can do with the modern-day GOP.

Second, there's nothing in the Democratic agenda that calls for an "atheist society"; Western Europe is filled with countries that have official state churches; and it doesn't make any sense to simultaneously claim to protect "individual liberties" and a "Christian nation." The United States separates church from state. Fleming may want a Christian-style theocracy -- maybe an Iran for the West -- but that's just not how Americans do things.

And finally, Fleming was campaigning with David Vitter. Voters are supposed to chose righteousness, by backing the right-wing politician who hires prostitutes?

Postscript: Brian Beutler notes that the godless Democratic heathens have nominated David Melville to run against Fleming in November. Melville is a Methodist pastor.

Update: A friend emails: "Would Vitter be subjected to stoning in Fleming's Christian nation?"


The lead Politico story this morning reports on the borderline-panic among leading Democrats about the midterm elections. It's not a pretty picture.

Top Democrats are growing markedly more pessimistic about holding the House, privately conceding that the summertime economic and political recovery they were banking on will not likely materialize by Election Day.

In conversations with more than two dozen party insiders, most of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly about the state of play, Democrats in and out of Washington say they are increasingly alarmed about the economic and polling data they have seen in recent weeks.

Hopes earlier this year that economic conditions would noticeably improve by the fall have given way to a discouraging reality. Dems thought to be in relatively "safe" districts are now seen as vulnerable. The article quoted an unidentified Democratic pollster saying the party's House majority is "probably gone."

The dread is not universal -- some leading party strategists said the crushing pessimism is mostly "inside-the-beltway chatter" -- and the campaign committees are taking steps to help mitigate losses. Politico added, "Republicans have been out-raised and out-spent at the national level and in many of the key races."

But it's nevertheless safe to say that the political winds are picking up, and they're not at the Democrats' backs.

None of this, however, is new. Indeed, many of us could have sketched out the entire article in our heads before reading it. The question the Politico didn't get to is what Democrats plan to do about their predicament.

The article said there are competing strategies about the elections, but Dems "mostly agree there are few good options beyond grinding it out in each individual race."

There may be limited "good options," but there are options. For example there are Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and Dems could use the limited legislative calendar to push strong bills -- job creation, small businesses, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," energy -- that voters might like, and which might motivate the Democratic base to turn out.

Sure, Republicans will oppose everything, and will very likely prevent votes in the Senate. But there's nothing wrong with putting up a fight, showing voters the party's priorities, forcing the GOP to cast tough votes shortly before an election, and giving the party something to be excited about.

It's better than hoping for the best.

Jonathan Bernstein: Ideology, Groups, and Impulses

I have to warn you -- this might be a bit rambling. And it's not exactly definitive, either (especially towards the bottom of this very long post; among other things, I'm not as up on some relevant literatures are I should be). Take this, perhaps, as a different way of thinking about some ideas, ideology, and other such things, rather than something I'm going to assert is the correct way of looking at those things. That said...

There's been a bunch of interesting comments recently around the blogs concerning the general topic of ideology. Matt Yglesias did an item in which he noted that he's for deregulation of various things, but that it doesn't make him feel as if he's a conservative on those issues. For a two paragraph post, he really started something, with Conor Friedersdorf using it to take a(nother, and completely justified) swipe at Mark Levin (with a follow-up), and then Adam Serwer got in on it, first making the Chait-esque point (but see Kevin Drum) that American liberals don't believe in big government the way that American movement conservatives believe in small government, and then making what I think is the better point that American movement conservatives don't really believe in small government in that way, either -- they believe in small government rhetoric, but in reality are happy to support government intervention in support of other important goals. Yglesias also posted recently about what he sees as a possible decrease in ideological politics around the world (except, in his view, the US).

There's a lot in here. For one thing, Yglesias says that his "impression is that politics wasn’t especially “ideologically” before the late 18-th century," and also talks about (in the post linked first above) how "The “left-wing” position is to be against this stuff—to be on the side of the people and against the forces of privilege." But those things are connected, and in my view, mostly irrelevant to 21st century politics, or at least 21st century American politics. "Left" and "right" (as Yglesias I'm sure knows) come from a specific place and time: from the French Revolution. Indeed, to vastly oversimplify something on which I'm not an expert anyway, it's not wrong to say that "left" and "right" began as simply attitudes towards the French Revolution, for or against. This did, indeed, put the "left" on the side of the people -- against the Crown, against nobility, and at least in France, against the Church. This translated reasonably well to the rest of Europe during the 19th century, when politics was really involved in whether "the people" would or would not rule.

However, and this gets back a bit to what I was talking about recently, once you have a democratic republic, it's not clear that "left" and "right" mean anything -- because as the constitution-makers of revolutionary and post-revolutionary Americans discovered after 1776 and through the 1780s, in a democratic republic there's only people. One of the problems they had to deal with was that Montesquieu said that you're supposed to have different branches of government representing different estates within the nation -- but in America, there was only one estate, so what powers were there to balance? Of course, Madison's brilliant solution (as he describes in Federalist 51) is to balance the people against each other, thus creating more, not less, power.

OK, but...we do in the US have people who call themselves liberals and conservatives, and we have "left" and "right" in other democracies even though it's not about support for or opposition to the French Revolution, so what is it about? The answer is not at all easy, at least in my view. One way to talk about ideology, the way that public opinion researchers tend to think about it, is just about knowing which issues are supposed to go together -- so that if you support, oh, gun control and abortion rights, you might know you're also supposed to support more government spending on education and oppose the war in Iraq. By that measure, Americans tend not to be ideological in general, although people who know a lot and care a lot about politics, people like Yglesias and Friedersdorf and Serwer and me and you (since you're not reading on into such a long post on this blog unless you're way high on the scale of political awareness), do tend to be far more ideological by that measure. Then there's what Friedersdorf refers to a couple of times in his discussion, first principles. It could be the case that there are deep principles at stake between American liberals and movement conservatives, and that positions on specific issues of public policy flow logically from those principles. Friedersdorf seems to think that's the case, and I'd guess that most people do. I don't, for the most part. Unfortunately, while it is I think an empirical question, it's also (in my view) an impossible one to get at. At any rate, that might be going on.

Let me propose a third way to look at it, either in addition to or instead of either just grouping issue positions together because you know they sort that way in our politics, or issue positions deriving from first principles: groups, and impulses.

Groups: we belong to groups, and in those groups we form alliances with other groups, often through political parties -- which are, in addition, one of the types of groups to which we might join. These groups, as groups, hold positions on issues of public policy, sometimes out of self-interest, sometimes out of custom or habit. We tend to adopt the positions of the groups with which we identify, or with which our groups are allied, or which leaders of those groups profess publicly. Then we go back and find justifications for why that basket of issue positions go together. That's not a bad thing -- even those of us who think self-interest in politics is perfectly fine also believe that it's both natural and healthy for political actors to (at least sometimes) express their self-interest in the context of principles that everyone else can recognize as public spirited.

So to some extent, looked at this way, ideologies are the residue of the connections we make between policies we already support, although then its also true that those connections might also influence us and others as we make other choices about who to ally ourselves with, and what new positions to adopt.

But I think that's only part of it; I do think that there's something authentically different between liberals and conservatives, at least some of the time, and at least in some cases. If not first principles, though, perhaps we can call them impulses. To me, the liberal impulse is basically: We Can Do Better. And the conservative impulse? Don't Make It Worse. Liberals, or perhaps all of us when we're inspired by the liberal impulse, look around and see a variety of problems and available resources and want to alleviate pain and suffering; they want to solve problems. Conservatives, or perhaps all us us when we're inspired by the conservative impulse, remember all the cases of noble intentions gone awry, the cases of unintended consequences, the cases in which problems seemed terribly severe but then they seemingly melted away without anyone, and certainly not everyone collectively, trying to address them. Liberals appreciate the promise of the future; conservatives appreciate how rickety the accomplishments of the present are, and how easily what we think is safe can be destroyed.

I don't know; reading back, that seems a bit on the trite side to me. My real point is that to dress these things up as ideologies, and in that in most cases "first principles" have little to do with our approach to public policy preferences, even among the most politically sophisticated who are most likely to conform to our political parties' platforms and to therefore poll as ideological, is to miss something important. So I'm not saying that either the "sorting issues" or the "first principles" way of looking at ideology is wrong; I'm just saying that the groups-plus-impulses approach may (also) help us understand what's going on.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"leaving an actual mark"

John Cole: Let the Fluffing Begin

So now that McCain has won his primary and no longer needs to cater to the wingnuts, how long before the beltway press begins to rehab his image? Who will be the first out of the gate with a “That’s the McCain I knew” piece?

My money is on either Halperin or Milbank.

mistermix: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Via the comments, here’s the story of a real American, who’s fighting for his and his community’s freedom from the yoke of oppressive taxation:

Doug Knox retired with his wife to a small ranch outside of Alturas. His driveway is lined with American and Confederate flags, and he is single-handedly leading the opposition to the parcel tax with radio and television ads.

“If it costs me $10,000 to $15,000, I’m willing to do it,” Knox says. “Because I do not believe that throwing money at a problem is the way to go it, and put it on the backs of the taxpayers.” But even the staunchly conservative county supervisors—who’ve come under fire for creating the crisis—admit the parcel tax may be the only choice.

That parcel tax will be used to finance the county hospital:

But it’s no exaggeration to say that the county hospital in Alturas — even with its limited services — is a lifeline to the people who live here. The closest full-service hospitals are hours away, and the nearby medical centers over the mountains are often unreachable during winter storms.

If the tax vote does succeed, we can only hope that Knox will challenge it in court to protect the Constitutional right of Modoc County residents to die in the back of an ambulance stuck in a snowstorm.

Barbara Morrill (DK): CNN goes for the racist's point of view on Park51

As the traditional media continues to flog the story about opposition to building a mosque at ground zero turning a Burlington Coat Factory in lower Manhattan into a community center, CNN decided that giving a known racist airtime to voice his deep thoughts on the subject was a good idea:

In an interview with CNN's Jeff Simon, [former Tea Party Express spokesman Mark] Williams said he's on a new mission when it comes to the Cordoba House -- he told Simon he will "personally commit myself to coming up with funding" for what he called a "mirror image" of Cordoba built in Mecca "that would be dedicated to showcasing American values."

"How about we reinforce the peaceful, moderate nature that Islam claims to be and how about we have an Uncle Sam center to introduce people to the understanding of human rights?" Williams told CNN.

The right to build such a building would be all it takes for Williams to "drop his opposition to Park51," he told the network.

Mr. Williams raised an interesting question. Others might be, why should zoning decisions made in New York City need a clearance from an out-of-work teabagger from Texas? Or, why does someone's support for tolerance and freedom of religion in America hinge on an imaginary building in one of the world's most repressive regimes? Or, most importantly, why is CNN giving a platform to this nitwit?

Publius (AmBlog): David Cay Johnston on the Bush tax cuts

Countdown had a nice Bush tax cuts segment, including an interview with David Cay Johnston (this guy). Johnston is always very clear and very specific. (I'm including the whole piece, including the lead-in bit from Meet the Press. The Johnston interview starts at 3:58.)

So from Johnston we learn:

    The Bush tax cuts were financed with $2.4 trillion in borrowed money.

    Interest alone on that: All income taxes paid in January & February of this year. (That's 1/6th, if you got through grade school math.)

    Right now, Small Business needs domestic demand, not tax cuts, to be profitable.
Which prompts me to ask, does Big Business need domestic demand? Because the rich are doing everything they can to kill it, and when the subject is money, those folks aren't stupid. (That's not a facetious question, by the way; it's worth pursuing. Do the rich still need the U.S. consumer?)

About that "relentless questioning" by David Gregory, I have the same media curiosity I had before. Assuming Gregory's not off the reservation, it seems he's busting Boehner's chops because:
  1. The fix is in to kill the Big Boy tax cuts, and this is his piece of it; or
  2. The fix is in to extend the tax cuts, and he's burnishing populist cred in spite of that.
Either way, he's leaving an actual mark on GOP chops — not something you normally see on the Sunday talks.
Terrific segment.
Boehner, Republicans' burden?
Jonathan Alter, Newsweek senior editor and columnist, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether a newly assertive John Boehner is an asset or a liability to the Republican Party.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Chris in Paris
UK austerity programs hit the poor the most

Surely nobody thought the rich bankers who caused the financial meltdown would foot the bill, did they? Besides, poor families with kids are already too busy making ends meet to find time to voice their opposition and it's not as though they have the spare cash to throw at political parties to plead their case. If the GOP wins in November we should expect to see a lot more out of them that will look much like this. Wall Street has been sending cash to the Republicans who are revving up their engines, preparing to throw more handouts and tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.

So does anyone still like Nick Clegg? Somehow he makes Blair sound honest and sincere and that's no easy task. The Guardian:

In a direct challenge to Treasury claims that the package of spending cuts and tax increases announced in June was fair, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said welfare cuts meant working families on the lowest incomes – particularly those with children – were the biggest losers.

The IFS said it had always been sceptical about Osborne's claim that the budget was "progressive" but added that this instant judgment had been reinforced by a study of proposed changes to housing benefit, disability allowances and tax credits due to come in between now and 2015.

Passing judgment that is likely to make uncomfortable reading for the Liberal Democrats, the IFS concluded: "Once all of the benefit cuts are considered, the tax and benefit changes announced in the emergency budget are clearly regressive as, on average, they hit the poorest households more than those in the upper middle of the income distribution in cash, let alone percentage, terms."
Krugman: Orwell And Social Security

I have to say, after Bush’s Social Security scheme collapsed five years ago, I never thought I’d be back over the same old ground so soon.

But Social Security is actually a key testing ground — it’s the place where you really see what people are after, and also get a sense of whether they’re at all honest about what they’re trying to do.

So: Pat Toomey supports replacing much of Social Security with a system of private accounts, but denies that this is privatization — and denounces those who use the term:

I’ve never said I favor privatizing Social Security. It’s a very misleading — it’s an intentionally misleading term. And it is used by those who try to use it as a pejorative to scare people

Oh, my. Back in the 1990s the Cato Institute had something called The Project on Social Security Privatization, which issued papers like this one from Martin Feldstein: Privatizing Social Security: The $10 Trillion Opportunity.

Then the right discovered that “privatization” polled badly. And suddenly, the term was a liberal plot — hey, we never said we’d do that.

Wait, it gets worse: Cato not only renamed its project, but it went back through the web site, trying to purge references to privatization. Bush also tried to deny that he had ever used the word. More here.

And here we go again. So remember who originally called privatization privatization: the privatizers, that’s who.

Anti-choice Virginia A.G. makes de facto law with dirty tricks

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice in Virginia, talks with Rachel Maddow about back door tricks Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli is hoping to use to get around the law and shut down women's health clinics and discourage women from exercising their right to abortion services.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

This guy is a conservative, but literally the opposite of Cuccinelli.
E.D. Kain: Limited government can still be Big Government

One of the things that first drew me to conservatism and by extension libertarianism was the concept of limited government. Now, oftentimes people conflate the concept of limited government with small government. I don’t think the two are the same. And one of the things that’s pushed me away from both conservatism and ideological libertarianism (as opposed to the neoclassical liberalism that I’m working with these days) is that I don’t think many conservative policies lead to limited government (and libertarian policies often just serve to bolster conservative policies despite whatever good intentions). No, conservative politicking too often leads to small government in terms of size* but not limited government in terms of scope.

See, I’m all for big government. I’m perfectly comfortable with a very distributive tax system, with a very progressive tax code, with big government expenditures on things like high-speed rail and other infrastructure projects, with a robust private labor movement, etc. What worries me is not the size of government, the rate of taxation or any of that – indeed, I’ve argued before that for a free market society to truly function, for a liberal economy to be as liberal and free as possible, the state will need to provide a generous and constant welfare net. So sign me up for big government. If…

...we can also manage to limit the scope of said government. Scope is key, whether we’re talking about our bedrooms or our digital privacy or our ability to practice religion freely, build mosques, or say stupid hateful nonsense about other people. Let’s limit the ability of our government to create monopolies, to work in cahoots with big corporations to quash competition and hurt consumers. And let’s limit the power of the state to make war, to construct secret prisons, to torture our prisoners, to spy on or assassinate our own citizens. There’s plenty of evil a government can do whether it’s big or small. Limited government – as far as I’m concerned – has nothing to do with the size of the state, the tax rate, or the sorts of welfare programs we construct.

The point is we need a government that is not too top-down, not too much invested in our day to day lives, not too powerful or centralized – but rather a government that provides the support systems that keep people on their feet, keep kids from going hungry or people who lose their jobs from also losing their homes and healthcare, that helps enforce health and safety and environmental standards without placing undue burden on the working class.

If that’s all very meta, I apologize. I just read this passage from Kevin Drum and it got me thinking:

It’s useful to know where you can find political allies. If you can find liberals who favor charter schools, less regulation of small businesses, and an end to Fannie Mae, that’s well and good. But that’s 10% or less of my worldview. I also favor high marginal tax rates on the rich, national healthcare, full funding for Social Security, more spending on early childhood education, stiff regulations on the financial industry, robust environmental rules, a strong labor movement, a cap-and-trade regime to reduce carbon emissions, a major assault on income inequality, more and better public transit, and plenty of other lefty ambitions that I won’t bother to list. If we could do all that without a bigger state, that would be fine. But we can’t. When it’s all said and done, if we lived in Drum World I figure combined government expenditures would be 40-45% of GDP and the funding source for all that would be strongly progressive. “Statist” is an obviously provocative (and usually puerile) way to frame this, but really, it’s not all that far off the mark. It wouldn’t be tyranny, any more than Sweden is a tyranny, but it would certainly be a world in which the American state was quite a bit bigger than it is now.

Honestly, I’m not that opposed to anything Drum lists here, but there’s this nagging voice in the back of my mind that keeps saying – okay, in Sweden this might not be tyranny, but this is America we’re talking about. I know the politicians here. I know we can march off to war with Iraq unprovoked, can start a whole new culture war over whether drowning people in order to gain intelligence should be termed ‘torture’. Maybe we should strive to be more like Sweden, but we have a long ways to go before I trust our government to be both big and limited at the same time. Then again, I don’t trust it to be small and limited either.
  • Though often as not we see contracted private services replace government functions rather than any real dismantling of the state. See Will Wilkinson on so-called privatized prisons for more on this. I think privatized prisons are a very bad idea by the way.

You've likely heard about the egg recall that's currently underway, in the wake of at least 1,300 salmonella-related illnesses spanning 22 states over the summer. The Washington Post noted this week that the outbreak highlights the need to fix "the holes in the country's food safety net."

As we learn more about the story, we see that the salmonella problems stem from an uninspected producer in Iowa, with a record of health, safety, labor, and other violations that go back 20 years. Democrats in Washington are nearing approval of a new food-safety bill, but Jonathan Cohn takes a closer look this morning at pending egg regulations, which have been lingering for quite a while.

Cohn notes that the "saga of these standards seems like a case study in how conservative politics and conservative politicians have weakened federal regulation, exposing the public to greater health risks."

It begins ... with the administration of Ronald Reagan. Convinced that excessive regulation was stifling American innovation and imposing unnecessary costs on the public, Reagan's team changed the way government makes rules.

Prior to the 1980s, agencies like the FDA had authority to finalize regulations on their own. Reagan changed that, forcing agencies to submit all regulations to the Office of Management and Budget, which cast a more skeptical eye on anything that would require the government or business to spend more money. The regulatory process slowed down and, in many cases, the people in charge of it became more skittish.

Clinton didn't share Reagan's antipathy to regulation. Prodded by consumer advocates and more liberal Democrats, his administration announced its intention to impose new safety requirements on the egg industry. But that happened in 1999, a year before Clinton left office. When George W. Bush succeeded him, the administration's posture reverted to its 1980s version.

Like Reagan, Bush was skeptical of government interference in the market. And, like Reagan, he appointed officials sympathetic to businesses that wanted to avoid the cost of complying with new federal rules. It was not until 2004, five years after Clinton had proposed the new egg rules, that the Bush Administration issued actual regulatory language. And by 2009, when Bush left office, the administration still had not finalized the rule.

William Hubbard, who was associate FDA commissioner from 1991 until 2005, told Cohn the Bush White House simply wouldn't let the FDA act, because Bush's team was "very hostile to regulation."

This isn't quite new -- we've seen related outbreaks a little too often in recent years, and much of it stems from insufficient government safeguards. Relevant companies are doing what the industry is expected to do -- exploiting loopholes to cut corners and save costs -- but if policymakers simply let the free market guide the food-safety process, the results include the salmonella illnesses we're seeing now.

The answer, then, is a political one -- federal officials need to intervene to do what American consumers cannot do for themselves, in this case, imposing stricter safety regulations. For all the Republican hatred of government regulation -- "I don't want Obama's hands in my eggs!" -- recent developments should turn the anti-government crusade on its head.

A few years ago, Rick Perlstein coined the phrase "E. Coli Conservatism." The importance of rejecting that ideology keeps getting stronger.

Booman: Huge Upset in Alaska
It looks like Sarah Palin got the scalp she wanted most:

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is battling for her political life this morning against Republican primary challenger Joe Miller, the Tea Party-backed candidate who had a slim lead as ballots continued to be counted overnight. Miller, a Fairbanks attorney, led from when the first returns came in Tuesday night, and was on the verge of pulling off one of the biggest election upsets ever in Alaska. With 84 percent of Alaska's precincts reporting around 2 a.m., Miller had 45,188 votes to 42,633 for Murkowski.

Joe Miller is promising something unprecedented for an Alaskan politician. He's promising to kill off the federal spending that Alaskans depend on for their livelihood. The recently departed Ted Stevens made his entire career on hauling federal appropriations back to Alaska. His best friend was the long-time Democratic senator from Hawai'i, Daniel Inouye. They bonded over their shared mission to build their relatively new states economically. Now, suddenly, the Alaskan Republican Party has gone 180 degrees in the opposite direction and embraced the tea bag.

While it seemed unthinkable yesterday, there is now the prospect of Alaska having two Democratic senators. Whether Democratic nominee and mayor of Sitka Scott McAdams can capitalize on the schism on the right will depend on how angry Murkowski's supporters are with Sarah Palin and the outside influence of the Tea Party Express. Early indications are that feelings are raw.

Murkowski on Tuesday night took a shot at Palin, saying that when Palin resigned as governor last summer she said she would use her new national role to help out Alaska.

"I think she's out for her own self-interest. I don't think she's out for Alaska's interest," Murkowski said as she waited at her campaign headquarters for results to come in...

...Murkowski criticized Miller's campaign tactics, including the use of robo-calls. "It doesn't feel like it was a campaign that was run by Alaskans," Murkowski said on Tuesday night.

Despite the Tea Party's heavy investment and influence, abortion also played a major role in Murkowski's (seeming) defeat.

Murkowski's pro-choice stance is a particularly sore point, one that Miller supporters hammered her on.

Tuesday's primary election also included Ballot Measure 2, which would require parents to be notified before their teens age 17 and younger received an abortion. Miller said he thinks that brought out voters who supported him over Murkowski, even though she supported the ballot measure as well.

"The Prop. 2 supporters were our supporters, largely. ... Frankly I think the pro-life vote was important," Miller said on Tuesday night.

Of course, you wouldn't have known that Murkowski was pro-choice since she supported the parental notification ballot measure and voted against the confirmation of both Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Even so, Murkowski was what passes for a moderate Republican these days. Her biggest problem was probably the same thing that killed off Utah senator Bob Bennett's career. She is an appropriator who understands how the federal government functions and who takes responsibility for funding its agencies. At a time when the Republican Party is in full-minority opposition, there is no valid use of federal dollars in the minds of most GOP base voters. Of course, the second they have to take responsibility for funding the government again, all this bullshit rhetoric will be gone as fast as Dick Cheney can say that deficits don't matter.

This result reinvigorates Sarah Palin's profile, bolsters the Tea Baggers, sends a warning shot against even modest cooperation with the Democrats, and wipes out one of the few Republicans willing to vote with the Democrats at least some of the time. It's bad all around. It's bad for Alaska. Murkowski recently became the Ranking Member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, a position of great possible benefit to Alaska's economy. Now their senior senator will be freshman backbencher Mark Begich. Alaska hasn't been this bereft of seniority in living memory.

But this could open the way for Scott McAdams if he can successfully reach out to Murkowski's people. We shall see.

digby: Boring Boehner
I have to give it to Boehner. His speech today was almost elegant in its pompous vapidity. He's got a real gift for saying absolutely nothing with the careless aplomb of an empty playboy years past his prime.

Unfortunately, he's actually a thoroughly corrupt tool of corporate interests who wields great power over millions of people and as the potential speaker of the House his actions are of much greater interest than his shallow rhetoric.

Blue America and its partner Americans for America responded to his dull remarks with its latest ad set to start running tomorrow morning. His actions speak much louder than his words:

A big tip 'o the hat to Dan Manatt and his creative team at Americans for America for turning that ad around immediately upon hearing Boehner's plodding words this morning. But for the millions of Americans who are suffering because of Republican policies that created their problems and Republican obstructionism that's keeping anyone from solving them, it would be very hard to find inspiration in such drivel.

Update: Howie adds:

Notice this DNC ad below, which I like a lot. They used it yesterday-- while Justin Coussoule was racking up endorsements from Tim Ryan (D-OH), Steve Filner (D-CA) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus-- to ask for money: "Boehner's horrible; he's going to eat your children; send us your money." But not a world about Boehner having an opponent. But he does; it's Justin Coussoule and you can donate towards electing him and defeating Boehner right here. Remember, when Boehner is shrieking "Where are the jobs, Mr. President," it isn't the DCCC or DNC telling voters in southwestern Ohio that it was Boehner who engineered the 2008 no-strings-attached Wall Street bailout; it's Justin Coussoule. And it isn't the DNC or the DCCC telling voters in Ohio that the trade policies, like NAFTA, that Boehner has been pushing for two decades explains where the jobs are; it's Justin Coussoule. Let's help him.


Monday, August 23, 2010

What Steve, Booman, and Kthug said ...

In early July, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) delivered the weekly Republican address in the midst of some discouraging economic news. It was delivered just one day after the worst monthly jobs report since October, and amid disappointing data on construction spending and manufacturing activity. Chambliss highlighted the Republican Party's top priority: deficit reduction. The far-right senator literally didn't mention unemployment or economic growth at all.

Yesterday's GOP weekly address came under similar circumstances, coming just two days after initial claims for unemployment insurance climbed to 500,000 -- the highest since November -- and amid new concerns of an economic slowdown. And what economic message do Republicans want to emphasize?

...Representative Charles Djou, Republican of Hawaii, took Democrats to task for ignoring the minority's pleas and proposals to reduce the federal deficit. Mr. Djou called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to consider the Republicans' plan to use unspent stimulus money to close the spending gap and to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.

"If we keep spending too much, borrowing too much, and taxing too much - if we keep doing the same things, we're going to get the same dismal results. It's time to change direction," he said.

Right, change direction back to the exact same failed policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

The entire GOP address was devoted, not to job creation -- voters' top priority -- but to deficit reduction. "No price tag has been too high for Washington, and now we're all paying the price. Altogether, we now owe more than $43,000 for each man, woman and child in the United States. That is a frightening number."

No, an unemployment rate pushing 10% is a frightening number.

I suppose I should know better, but Republicans' misguided priorities are simply mind-numbing. Worrying about deficit reduction right now -- indeed, prioritizing it above all else -- is nothing short of crazy. Republicans want to scrap economic recovery efforts, which is insane, and want to extend Bush-era tax policies, which failed miserably and helped create the massive deficit Djou claims to be worried about.

Indeed, the context would be amusing if it weren't so transparently pathetic -- in the official GOP weekly address, the entire message was about deficit reduction, followed by an appeal for hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts that Republicans have no intention of paying for.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) added on Fox News, "The bills are being passed on to our kids tomorrow, and it's a calamity."

No, a jobs crisis and an economic slowdown right now would be a calamity. And if the deficit really was such a disaster, why is Gregg demanding Congress add $678 billion to said deficit with tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires?

How on earth can anyone take these guys seriously?

Krugman: Op-Ed Columnist - Bush Tax Cuts - Now That’s Rich -

We need to pinch pennies these days. Don’t you know we have a budget deficit? For months that has been the word from Republicans and conservative Democrats, who have rejected every suggestion that we do more to avoid deep cuts in public services and help the ailing economy.

But these same politicians are eager to cut checks averaging $3 million each to the richest 120,000 people in the country.

What — you haven’t heard about this proposal? Actually, you have: I’m talking about demands that we make all of the Bush tax cuts, not just those for the middle class, permanent.

Some background: Back in 2001, when the first set of Bush tax cuts was rammed through Congress, the legislation was written with a peculiar provision — namely, that the whole thing would expire, with tax rates reverting to 2000 levels, on the last day of 2010.

Why the cutoff date? In part, it was used to disguise the fiscal irresponsibility of the tax cuts: lopping off that last year reduced the headline cost of the cuts, because such costs are normally calculated over a 10-year period. It also allowed the Bush administration to pass the tax cuts using reconciliation — yes, the same procedure that Republicans denounced when it was used to enact health reform — while sidestepping rules designed to prevent the use of that procedure to increase long-run budget deficits.

Obviously, the idea was to go back at a later date and make those tax cuts permanent. But things didn’t go according to plan. And now the witching hour is upon us.

So what’s the choice now? The Obama administration wants to preserve those parts of the original tax cuts that mainly benefit the middle class — which is an expensive proposition in its own right — but to let those provisions benefiting only people with very high incomes expire on schedule. Republicans, with support from some conservative Democrats, want to keep the whole thing.

And there’s a real chance that Republicans will get what they want. That’s a demonstration, if anyone needed one, that our political culture has become not just dysfunctional but deeply corrupt.

What’s at stake here? According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent, as opposed to following the Obama proposal, would cost the federal government $680 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. For the sake of comparison, it took months of hard negotiations to get Congressional approval for a mere $26 billion in desperately needed aid to state and local governments.

And where would this $680 billion go? Nearly all of it would go to the richest 1 percent of Americans, people with incomes of more than $500,000 a year. But that’s the least of it: the policy center’s estimates say that the majority of the tax cuts would go to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. Take a group of 1,000 randomly selected Americans, and pick the one with the highest income; he’s going to get the majority of that group’s tax break. And the average tax break for those lucky few — the poorest members of the group have annual incomes of more than $2 million, and the average member makes more than $7 million a year — would be $3 million over the course of the next decade.

How can this kind of giveaway be justified at a time when politicians claim to care about budget deficits? Well, history is repeating itself. The original campaign for the Bush tax cuts relied on deception and dishonesty. In fact, my first suspicions that we were being misled into invading Iraq were based on the resemblance between the campaign for war and the campaign for tax cuts the previous year. And sure enough, that same trademark deception and dishonesty is being deployed on behalf of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

So, for example, we’re told that it’s all about helping small business; but only a tiny fraction of small-business owners would receive any tax break at all. And how many small-business owners do you know making several million a year?

Or we’re told that it’s about helping the economy recover. But it’s hard to think of a less cost-effective way to help the economy than giving money to people who already have plenty, and aren’t likely to spend a windfall.

No, this has nothing to do with sound economic policy. Instead, as I said, it’s about a dysfunctional and corrupt political culture, in which Congress won’t take action to revive the economy, pleads poverty when it comes to protecting the jobs of schoolteachers and firefighters, but declares cost no object when it comes to sparing the already wealthy even the slightest financial inconvenience.

So far, the Obama administration is standing firm against this outrage. Let’s hope that it prevails in its fight. Otherwise, it will be hard not to lose all faith in America’s future.


I'm generally inclined to leave criticism of Pete Wehner, the former aide to Karl Rove and Minister of Propaganda for the Bush administration, to Jon Chait -- who seems to enjoy it.

But this Wehner gem deserves special attention. Politico ran an interesting item about the culture war, and the ways in which the right has responded to the Obama presidency by starting a fight over "whether he's moving the country toward socialism and over the very definition of what it means to be American." Wehner's insights on the subject were ridiculous, but important.

Pete Wehner, a former top official in the George W. Bush administration and a social conservative thinker, described the resistance to Obama as "beyond politics."

"What we're having here are debates about first principles," Wehner said. "A lot of people think he's trying to transform the country in a liberal direction in the way that Ronald Reagan did in a conservative direction. This is not the normal push and pull of politics. It gets down to the purpose and meaning of America."

Read that quote again, because it's really significant -- Obama wants to move America to the left to the same extent that Reagan moved it to the right. This, Wehner believes, is "beyond politics" and falls outside "the normal push and pull" of our political system.

Now, whether Obama really is fulfilling Wehner's vision -- serving as a liberal counter-weight to Reaganism -- is open to debate. Hell, whether Reagan really succeeded in pulling the country to the right, by the standards of 21st-century conservatives, is itself worthy of skepticism. But the key here is Wehner's overarching contention -- politics in the United States can change, but it's only allowed to move in one direction. Reagan's conservative agenda was within American norms, because it was conservative. Obama's progressive agenda deserves to be labeled radical because it's not conservative.

A Democratic presidential candidate can present a progressive agenda to the electorate; that candidate can be easily elected, giving that agenda a mandate; and in office, that successful candidate can begin making compromises to move the vision forward through a labyrinthine Congress. But if the Democrat is successful, the result is necessarily at odds with "the purpose and meaning of America."

A center-left candidate, in other words, is allowed to run, and even allowed to win. He/she is not, however, allowed to govern. Why? Because it's fundamentally unacceptable -- liberalism is not part of "the normal push and pull of politics."

It's the kind of maxim that brings the larger political landscape into sharper focus.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently endorsed a very similar line of thinking a few weeks ago. He told reporters that, after the midterm elections, policymaking will have to change.

"What I hope we are going to have after November is more balance, more balance, which would give us the opportunity to do things together that simply were missing when you have this kind of disparity," McConnell said. "But, I'm not going to be very interested in doing things left of center. It is going to have to be center-right. I think the president is a flexible man. I'm hoping he will become a born-again moderate."

On its face, this seems idiotic. A "balanced" approach to lawmaking, McConnell argued, reflects a system in which the left gets nothing, and everything has to be center-right. Indeed, a "moderate" Democratic president would have no choice but to agree that every proposal be right of center.

But with Wehner's contention in mind, the coherence of McConnell's seemingly-insane demand comes through -- of course McConnell sees his way as an example of "balance"; in American politics, the left necessarily has to lose every dispute. Ideas are "balanced" if they strike a compromise between the right and the far-right.

Looking back over the last year and a half, it's hard to overstate how illustrative this is. The GOP line with the Obama White House has always been the same: "I'm willing to compromise with you, unless it means you getting some of what you want, in which case, forget it." This is precisely the kind of thinking, for example, that leads Republicans to embrace 80% of the Democratic health care plan, but nevertheless literally characterize it as "Armageddon" when it passes -- the left got some of what it wanted, which necessarily made the bill un-American.

Republicans really should just drop the pretense, and forget words like "balance" and "the normal push and pull of politics." What they mean isn't ambiguous: only Republicans should be allowed to govern, no matter what voters have to say.

Steve M. summarized this well: "If we were having an honest, well-informed discussion of modern American politics, we would acknowledge that this is what right-wingers believe: that governments to the left of a certain point simply should not be allowed to exist in America, regardless of any electoral results. And we would ask ourselves whether we still have a democracy if one party reserves the right, like guerrilla warlords, to destabilize any duly elected government that doesn't meet its criteria of acceptability."

Booman: Understanding Transformation
For once, I have to disagree with Steve Benen. There are certain instances where a president actually moves the country onto a long-term trajectory in a left or rightward direction. When Franklin Roosevelt created the SEC, FDIC, FHA, the Fair Labor standards, and Social Security, he moved the country decisively (and in some ways, irrevocably) to the left. When Ronald Reagan appointed conservative Supreme Court Justices, fired the Air Traffic controllers, hired conservatives to run his administration, and rewrote the tax code, he started a thirty-year movement to the right.

There have been other presidents since World War Two, but only Lyndon Johnson can stake a claim to being a transformative president, and his legacy is ambiguous. Arguably, he built on and entrenched the welfare state at the same time that he split the left and provided the momentum that the conservative movement needed to come into power with Reagan. The rest of the post-war presidents haven't moved things too much in any particular direction, at least not in any enduring way. But Obama is different, and that is what Pete Wehner is worrying about when he says this:

Pete Wehner, a former top official in the George W. Bush administration and a social conservative thinker, described the resistance to Obama as "beyond politics."

"What we're having here are debates about first principles," Wehner said. "A lot of people think he's trying to transform the country in a liberal direction in the way that Ronald Reagan did in a conservative direction. This is not the normal push and pull of politics. It gets down to the purpose and meaning of America."

Benen interprets that statement as a kind of double-standard, where it's okay for the pendulum to move to the right under Reagan, but not okay for it to swing back to the left under a Democratic president. But that's not what Wehner is getting at. He's worried that a successful Obama presidency will wipe away all the progress (as he sees it) that the conservatives have made since Reagan took office. It's not a ridiculous concern. No conservative wants to look around in 2016 and realize that they're back to square one, circa 1980.

A lot of confusion has arisen because Obama has by instinct and necessity pursued a fairly traditional center-left course. His health care bill, for example, left liberals feeling half-full. His Wall Street reforms didn't go far enough for their taste. His foreign policies have failed to forcefully challenge the Establishment's assumptions. But just the health care bill alone has the power to permanently shift the political landscape in Washington in a way not seen since the enactment of Social Security. Liberals like to carp that the bill is similar to the Heritage Foundation's 1994 counterproposal to HillaryCare. Yet, those liberals forget that that the counterproposal was offered in bad faith. The goal was to scuttle any health care bill while appearing to be reasonable. Obama established the principle that the federal government is responsible for making sure every U.S. citizen has access to health care. From now on, the debate will focus on how to improve services, not on whether or not they should exist. That's transformation. And that's what Pete Wehner fears. The health care bill punched a hole through Reagan's sails, and by the time they get the thing patched up the boat will be headed in a leftward direction.

So, yes, the Republicans freak out any time a Democrat is in the White House. But this isn't just the push and pull of politics. And the reaction on the right shows that they know this.

That's why we're seeing this unprecedented obstruction and open hallucination. They may have held the line on Wall Street reform (although that remains to be seen) and they're holding steady (for now) on the Supreme Court, but they'll be damned if they're going to let the president pass immigration reform or cap and trade because they actually have the power to stop that kind of transformation.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the far-right lawmaker who'll head the House Budget Committee if Republicans take the House, has a fairly radical budget plan -- he calls it a "Roadmap for America's Future" -- which his party's leadership has been reluctant to embrace.

Dick Armey, apparently, is sick of it.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) on Sunday said lawmakers who have not signed onto Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to balance the budget lacked "courage" and could be targeted by the conservative tea party movement as a result.

Armey's comments on NBC's "Meet the Press" came just moments after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sidestepped a question about Ryan's plan, which looks to balance the budget by reinventing slimmer versions of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the tax code.... [...]

"All Paul Ryan is saying is let Social Security be voluntary, let Medicare be voluntary," Armey said. "The fact that he only has 13 co-sponsors is a big reason why our folks are agitated against the Republicans as well as the Democrats -- the difference between being a co-sponsor of Ryan or not is a thing called courage."

As a substantive matter, Armey's description of Ryan's proposal is absurd. The "roadmap" is a right-wing fantasy, slashing taxes on the rich while raising taxes for everyone else. The plan calls for privatizing Social Security and gutting Medicare, and fails miserably in its intended goal -- cutting the deficit. As Paul Krugman recently explained, the Ryan plan "is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future."

Having said all of that, let's not be too quick to dismiss the larger political point of Dick Armey's complaints. After all, Ryan's plan may be ridiculous, and it may seek to radically transform governmental institutions and Americans' way of life, but it's also a fairly explicit summary of how Republicans would like to govern.

Ryan himself has conceded that his GOP colleagues are too afraid to endorse a plan they agree with: "They're talking to their pollsters and their pollsters are saying, 'Stay away from this.'"

To this extent, Armey raises a reasonable argument: if Paul is putting on paper what Republicans really believe, why don't they have the courage of their convictions? Why not have the guts to endorse a budget plan that reflects their actual thinking?

Armey and Ryan think the radical roadmap should be part of the debate -- and oddly enough, I couldn't agree more. Are Republicans on board with Ryan's roadmap or not? Is his plan a reflection of what GOP candidates would do with their majority? Shouldn't voters have a chance to hear from Republicans about this before there's an election?

The leading GOP official on budget issues has presented a proposal. It's not unreasonable to think every Republican candidate should say, before November, whether they think it's a plan worth pursuing.