FIGHTING WORDS

Adam Serwer: “So in the past day, the following things have been happened: The idea that there was outside pressure from the administration to close the case has been shown to have no evidentiary basis, the commission has been exposed as deliberately attempting to damage the administration with this investigation, and Adams’ claim that the Voting Section does not intervene on behalf of white voters has been proven conclusively false. This story should now be over. It won’t be, but it should.”

Eric Alterman:”The Journal editors warned against the “temptation…to settle for a lowest common denominator stimulus, for the sake of bipartisanship.” But this was only the beginning. “The transformed political landscape should also boost other Bush initiatives,” the editors argued. They went on to argue that Bush should use the attacks to demand more offshore oil drilling, greater authority to negotiate free trade agreements, the approval of all of Bush’s nominees to various offices and a whole host of things that had nothing whatever to do with protecting America from terrorism. Meanwhile, eight years later, with a new president, one could find the editors making an almost perfectly contrary argument.”

Chris Hayes: “This all seems eerily familiar. The conversation—if it can be called that—about deficits recalls the national conversation about war in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. From one day to the next, what was once accepted by the establishment as tolerable—Saddam Hussein—became intolerable, a crisis of such pressing urgency that “serious people” were required to present their ideas about how to deal with it. Once the burden of proof shifted from those who favored war to those who opposed it, the argument was lost.”

Advertisements

IN GOOD COMPANY

McCain’s new strategist draws on Barack Obama’s supposed smear of Bill Clinton as a racist to attack Barack Obama’s supposed smear of John McCain (The Original Maverick!) as a racist (seeing as it’s not as though the McCain campaign actually created an ad warning that Barack Obama would put a scary picture of himself on the dollar bill or anything):

“Say whatever you want about Bill Clinton,” Schmidt said, “but it’s deeply unfair to suggest his criticism of Obama was race-based. President Clinton was a force for unity in this country on this subject. Every American should be proud of his record as both a governor and president. But we knew it was coming in our direction because they did it against a President of the United State of their own party.”

This reminds me of one of the fun angles of a McCain-Romney ticket: The chance to make John McCain eat his words about Mitt Romney being a feckless French surrender monkey for using the word “timetable” once regarding Iraq.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that attacks candidate lodge against each other in the primaries don’t (with “voodoo economics” as maybe an exception, maybe not) come back to sting them if they end up on a ticket together in the general because voters recognize that that was then and the attacks were just opportunistic. But that’s why resurrecting old attack lines could have more sting when targeted against the attacker than the attacked. In other words, voters probably won’t think less of Mitt Romney when reminded that John McCain attacked him for harboring plans that “would have led to a victory by Al Qaeda.” But that reminder might affect how seriously they take McCain’s equally spurious attack on Barack Obama, at least if John McCain turns around and decides to puitch the man he once opportunistically attacked that way to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

A SORT OF CONVENTIONAL CAMPAIGN BOOK FROM A LESS CONVENTIONAL SENATOR

Just finished Paul Wellstone’s memoir The Conscience of a Liberal. It reads like a campaign book, which is what it is. Too much of it is taken up with descriptions of how much he respects colleagues who disagree with him, and how impressed they are with his courage. And Wellstone raises and then retires too quickly some questions that could have been the core of a better book – how effectively can electoral politics complement local issues-based organizing; did he vote for DOMA for the sake of re-election; how could Bill Clinton have pushed through more progressive policy. That said, Wellstone offers some telling reminders of the difference between merely opposing a bill and moving heaven and earth to stop it, and between paying lip service to a different kind of campaign and actually running one. And it needn’t cost you your job or your usefulness at it.

THE CLINTON PRESIDENCY THAT WASN’T

Had the chance while I was back East for Rosh HaShanah to read George Stephanopoulos’ memoir, which I guess is a lot like you’d imagine it to be. Not to give away the ending, but Stephanopoulos closes with the image of Bill Clinton delivering his State of the Union in the thick of impeachment, and his final sentence is:

Wondering what might have been – if only this good president had been a better man.

This perspective on Clinton – that the great potential of his presidency was spoiled by his sex scandal – is pretty popular, but I don’t see a lot to support it. What were the big domestic or foreign policy initiatives that Clinton would have been able to push through in the last two-and-a-half years of his presidency if not for Monica Lewinsky? What’s the political strategy that would have overcome the hostility of Bob Dole’s Senate and Newt Gingrich’s House to get them through?

Sure, the Lewinsky scandal drew a lot of public, media, and congressional attention. But it’s wishful thinking to imagine that otherwise that airtime would have gone to important public policy. Bill Clinton spent much of the time he was being impeached at higher popularity than any of his peers at the same point in office. Like his wife, he did a deft job of parlaying Republican attacks into anti-anti-Clinton feeling. And if not for the impeachment overreach, it seems unlikely that the Democrats would have bucked history in 1998 by taking back House seats.

The story of a progressive savior that could have been if not for his adulterous appetites has a fun Greek tragic flair to it, but there’s not a lot to back it up. And it has the unfortunate effect of perpetuating the idea that a brilliant politician could have triangulated his way to big progressive reforms if only he’d passed up that blue dress.

WORLD’S SHORTEST POLITICAL QUIZ

Guess where you can read the following political history:

You know, it is a word that originally meant that you were for freedom, that you were for the freedom to achieve, that you were willing to stand against big power and on behalf of the individual. Unfortunately, in the last 30, 40 years, it has been turned up on its head and it’s been made to seem as though it is a word that describes big government, totally contrary to what its meaning was in the 19th and early 20th century.

Is it the pages of Reason Magazine? The declaration of some self-described “classicaly liberal” professor? Nope. Those words were spoken at last night’s Democratic Debate by the party’s frontrunner.

This is what people mean when they complain about the Clintons’ much-vaunted triangulation – although this particular argument is really worse than triangulation, in that rather than positioning herself between two bad boogeymen of the hard left and hard right, she’s just defining her politics against left-wing “big government” (didn’t her husband already declare it over?). And she’s defining “individual freedom” against “big government” too.

It’s not a mystery why she would do this. Conservatives have done an impressive job of convincing people over the past decades that more government means less freedom. That’s how they’ve peddled their attacks on the majority’s ability to legislate against plutocracy. It’s how they’ve pushed forward an agenda that leaves Americans less free – prisoners of fear of disaster, dislocation, and disintegration of their communities and their hopes for their families.

Democrats have not done a great job over the past few decades of framing the debate in a way that elevates freedom from want and freedom from fear and challenges the idea that we are more economically free if your boss can fire you for being gay or fighting for more money. Right-wing frames are powerful. That means contemporary candidates need to either co-opt them or challenge them. Which choice they make is telling.

"ANATHEMA TO FREE-MARKET SUPPORTERS"? I’M QUAKING IN MY BOOTS

From Jon Chait’s rebuttal of the aforementioned indecent proposal:

If I understand Lindsey, he is proposing the following bargain: Libertarians will give up their politically hopeless goal of eliminating two wildly popular social programs that represent the core of liberalism’s domestic achievements. Liberals, in turn, will agree to simply eviscerate these programs, leaving perhaps some rump version targeted at the poorest of the poor. To be fair, Lindsey offers these ideas only as the basis for negotiation, but the prospects of bridging this gulf seem less than promising.

It’s worth noting that even the libertarians at the Cato Institute, in a study Lindsey touts and Chait pokes some holes in, could only come up with 13% of the population to label libertarian. And half of them are already voting for Democrats, despite the “anti-nafta, Wal-Mart-bashing economic populism” that Lindsey warns will be the party’s undoing. You wouldn’t know it from visiting most elite universities, but libertarianism is not a big hit. That’s why Bill Kristol urged congressional Republicans not to go wobbly against the Clinton healthcare plan: Not because an expansion (insufficient and needlessly complex though it was) of the government’s role in the healthcare system was contrary to the will of voters, but because if it passed it would cement the popularity of the party that passed it.

SAM BROWNBACK, CALL YOUR PUBLICIST

I’m not much one for “Great Man” theories of our political history – that is, I think most of the writing on twists and turns in American political history overstates the importance of the sensibilities and psychology of individual politicians and understates social movements, cultural trends, demographic shifts, and so forth – but I’ll readily acknowledge that when it comes to, say, the Republican presidential primary for 2008, there are only so many apparent contenders. And an act of hubris or poor strategery that pulls one out of contention can seriously shift the playing field for everybody else.

That’s why Democrats may come to reconsider their glee over George Allen’s “macaca” muck-up of two months ago if it turns out to have indeed taken Allen out of serious contention for the GOP presidential nomination. Because not long ago, George Allen was well-placed to bear the mantle of “Un-McCain,” a charismatic candidate with the right combination of sterling conservative credentials and cultural compatability (however affected) to excite folks from the GOP base, particularly Christian conservatives, either nonplussed or turned off by a McCain candidacy. The evidence of racial animus on his part could have been just enough to let him take the primary but not the general election.

Now, not so much.

And just as Hillary Clinton’s best chance of taking her party’s nomination is the scenario in which a single charismatic, consenus “Un-Hillary” never quite materializes, for the GOP nod to go to McCain, whose otherwise right-wing record is marred by opposition to global warming, hard money, and torture, and by some carefully chosen symbolic snubs to the base, is the absence of a single viable “Un-McCain.”

Maybe what’s most striking in all this is the lack of a strong McCain alternative to gather in all the GOP activists under one placard. First it was supposed to be Bill Frist. Then he got outplayed by the “Gang of 14” over judicial nominations. And his impressive conversion on the road to Iowa into a religious right zealot was undercut by his betrayal on stem cells.

Rick Santorum, one of the most telegenic elected Republicans out there, from one of the states the party is trying hardest to bring back into its column, is now on track to get kicked out of office by Keystone State voters.

Mike Huckabee has so far failed to make a name for himself for more than losing weight – except with the Club for Growth and the economic right-wingers in its orbit, who hate his guts more than most non-McCain GOPers’.

Mitt Romney, though he pulled off an impressive ground game in the SRLC straw poll six months ago, is still going to have a hard time as the Mormon Governor of Massachusetts exciting the base enough to avert a marriage of convenience to McCain.

Newt Gingrich, like Gary Hart in the lead-up to ’04, seems to have underestimated the staying power of his scandals and overestimated the yearning of the American people for a wonk.

Rudy Giuliani believes in the right to choose.

So it’s not clear who is left to stop the steady flow of strategists, fund-raisers, and activists to John McCain, who is by far the most popular advocate of right-wing politics in the United States. After Macacagate, McCain has at least a passable shot at benefiting from the kind of dynamic that played a key role in elevating Bill Clinton in ’92: the absence of a primary candidate beloved by the party’s base.

And while McCain is beatable, he has the benefit of years of praise not only from starstruck journalists but from short-sighted Democrats who’ve boosted his claims to speak for the center of America.

Meanwhile, you’ve gotta wonder what’s going through the head of Sam Brownback, as staunch a social conservative as you’ll find in the Senate, with no bruising re-election fight in sight, no awkward position in the Republican leadership, and no scandal-ridden press clippings to buck.