I have a new piece up at Alternet on what the attack on the Postal Service shows us about what the GOP House really cares about:
Now, like the US economy, the USPS faces a crisis brought on by Republican policies, which Republicans insist only more right-wing policies can solve. USPS has informed Congress that it can’t pay $5.5 billion due to a federal retiree health fund September 30, raising prospects of default. Republicans, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, are demanding layoffs and service cuts. Here’s how the Republican plan – burning the Postal Service to save it – contradicts the stories Republicans tell us about themselves.
The Netroots Nation conference has traditionally been an occasion for mainstream media types to take a whack at the unreasonableness of the left. Michael Grunwald offered up, if not a classic, a fairly representative example of the genre on Swampland yesterday. Take this paragraph designed to dispatch left criticisms of Barack Obama with patronizing parentheticals:
It’s true that President Obama is not as liberal as some Daily Kos bloggers would like him to be. (Although he has blogged at Daily Kos.) He continued some of President Bush’s national security policies. (Although he did end the war in Iraq.) He ignored left-wing calls to nationalize troubled banks. (Which turned out to be the right call.) He’s pushed for middle-class tax cuts and public-employee wage freezes that his base dislikes, and he’s outsourced most of the Republican-bashing that his base craves. (Which may be why he’s way more popular than his party.)
Let’s take the parenthetical potshots one at a time:
It’s true that Obama has posted on Daily Kos – although the most prominent instance was when he took to Daily Kos to criticize progressives for being too hard on senators that backed John Roberts (more on that one here and here).
Just saw Mary Matalin on CNN kvetching about Congress members using Twitter. It shouldn’t be used by politicians, she said, just by “kids telling their parents where to pick them up.”
Um, either Mary Matalin is very trusting, or she doesn’t understand what Twitter is. More evidence that you don’t need to know what you’re talking about to be on TV.
Lindsey Graham went on Face the Nation today to trot out one of his favorite metaphors:
“If you want to have a chance of passing START, you better start over and do it in the next Congress, because this lame duck has been poisoned,” Graham told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer.
“The last two weeks have been an absolutely excruciating exercise. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ a controversial topic – some say the civil rights issue of our generation, others say battlefield effectiveness – was passed in the lame-duck session without one amendment being offered,” Graham said.
This is the same guy who warned that the healthcare bill would poison the well for immigration, climate, closing Guantanamo, and the year 2010. It’s a favorite phrase of Lindsey Graham’s. And it’s totally bogus.
It’s bogus because it’s based in a view of politics like marriage counseling, where to get anything done the participants need to trust each other and share common goals, and offenses or betrayals can be paralyzing. When Lindsey Graham talks about poisoning the well, the implication is that Republicans may want to get things done that Democrats want too, but be unable to make them happen because they’re not feeling good about Democrats.
With just under a month to election day, below is a ranking of how important each of the competitive statewide races is to me. My cut-off for “competitive” is that the top two candidates are within single digits of each other (in the 538 polling average); among the 30 races that made that cut, I tried to rank without regard to how likely I think the more progressive candidate is to win or lose – only based on how much I want them to win. I tried not to be decide based on which states I live in/ have lived in.
Factors I considered (totally unscientifically) were:
– Population of the state in Governor’s races – the bigger, the more important the race is
– Ideological range between the two candidates most likely to win – the more liberal the candidate I want and the more conservative the one I don’t, the more important the race is
– My guess at how effective each of the candidates would be (at getting legislation passed, defeated, or blocked; at making legislation more or less progressive; and at shifting public debate) – the more effective the candidate I support would be, and the more effective the candidate I oppose would me, the more important the race is
Here’s the ranking I came up with – from most important to least. Where do you agree? Disagree?
Read my brother’s new piece up on Slate about the filibuster:
When Republicans have been in the majority, the filibustering minority has actually represented the majority of Americans 64 percent of the time. When Democrats have been in the majority, that figure plummets to 3 percent. So the charge that it is somehow hypocritical for Democrats to decry Republican filibusters as affronts to majority rule—if they also stand by their past decisions to filibuster the Republicans—is easily answered. When Democrats have filibustered Republicans in recent years, they have very often represented more Americans than the Republican majority; the same is almost never true in reverse.
Hopefully, responding to the responses will force Ben to start blogging again.
Two weeks ago, lots of folks were predicting that Scott Brown would win the next day’s election. I don’t think as many people predicted (I didn’t) that by February it would still be left to Washington Kremlinologists to try to figure out what exactly Obama, Pelosi, and Reid want to see happen, and how quickly, on healthcare. I thought by February, the American people, let alone the American Congress, would have a clear idea what the leadership wanted to see. I definitely would not have predicted that an hour after the vote Barney Frank would be on TV talking about scuttling the bill.
It’s like a thousand-times-magnified version of the 2006 dust-up over who would chair the Intelligence Committee in the new Democratic majority. It didn’t captivate the media, but it did provide a slow burn of embarrassing stories for the Speaker-to-be speculating whether she would tap hawkish Harman or impeached-as-a-judge Hastings. In the end, she went with the 3rd most senior Democrat. In the weeks it took Pelosi to make that call, I kept wondering: Why didn’t Pelosi mull this one over ahead of time in October when it looked clear she was headed to victory?
Speaking of what Dems should do now, Jon Stewart got at something last week: “No matter what you do, the Republicans are not going to let you into the station wagon. They’re never going to let you in. And here’s the worst part: You’re the majority. It’s your car!”
If Pelosi and Reid’s folks are indeed working on how to make the reconciliation sidecar work (we can only hope), now would be a good time to be reminding the members why it’s gotta happen. Nature abhors your vacuum, but Dick Armey doesn’t.
Folks who were hoping that a lame duck Dodd would be more inclined to push for more aggressive financial regulatory reform should be disappointed to hear that Dodd, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, is now considering negotiating away creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency in an attempt to win over Republican senators. Actually, all of us should be disappointed. What’s as discouraging as the move is the motivation: Dodd is saying he wants a financial regulatory reform that Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the committee, can support. He’s created a team of four Democratic senators and four Republicans to try to hash out a deal.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? Dodd and Shelby seem to be reading from the Max Baucus – Charles Grassley script that consumed the healthcare process in the Senate for long enough that now a special election result in January has the chance to blow up the bill again. What did they get to show for it? Olympia Snowe voted the bill out of the Finance Committee but then voted with every other Senate GOPer to declare it unconstitutional.
What’s most frustrating about this is that it’s just bad negotiating. Chris Dodd only weakens his position by giving Richard Shelby (and thus Mitch McConnell) a veto over financial regulatory reform. Republicans have no motivation to help Democrats pass a strong bill regulating the banks – first, because Republicans are in bed with the banks, and second, because Republicans want to keep bashing the Democrats for being in bed with the banks (a strategy which is paying off, judging by the polls in Massachusetts).
Even if the Democrats are desperate for Republican votes (whether to give moderate Democrats cover, to make up for Democratic defections, or to earn a bipartisan aura), the best way to get them is to show you’re ready to pass a bill without them. Then there’s a shot a Republican offers to support a weaker version. The worst strategy to win Republican votes is to try to show how reasonable you are by offering them veto power in exchange for being willing to talk to you. We call that negotiating against yourself.
And as Matt Yglesias observes, there are worse things that could happen than a Republican filibuster of financial regulatory reform.
Points for answers. Extra credit if you can identify the podcasts I’ve been driving with recently.
Do GOPers make their global warming messaging about attacking Al Gore because they think he’s unpopular and they want to discredit science? Because they think he’s popular and they want to discredit him? Or just because they want to change the topic?
If Barack Obama combined a blue ribbon panel with a moratorium on firings of service members for being gay, how many Democrats in Congress would back him up?
Does having Democrats running the federal government make people who don’t like abortion but want it to stay legal feel more (not 8%, but maybe 1%) comfy identifying themselves “pro-life” without worrying about an abortion ban?
How do thousands of already-and-now-permanently married same-sex couples affect the fight for equal marriage rights for everyone else in California?
When will America have its first Supreme Court nominee who’s open about having had an abortion?
Is Obama serious about using our leverage to push Bibi?
Is Bruce Springsteen the only liberal immune from being tarred with the “elitist celebrity” brush? If so why?
(First in a series? You tell me, dear readers)
The Speaker of the House is not constitutionally required to be a member of the House. So a future Democratic majority could draft Rahm Emanuel directly into service as Speaker without Emanuel needing to primary (please please) LWB Idol Tom Geoghegan for his old House seat. Unlikely to happen, right? Because even (maybe especially) after the pathetic performance of both houses through much of the Bush years, we can expect the House to show enough jealousy in defending its own institutional power not to put an outsider in the driver’s seat. And if not that, we can definitely expect individual members to show enough jealousy in defending their personal ambitions not to let somebody leapfrog to the top of the party leadership, even (maybe especially) if it’s a former congressman who bolted to run the White House.
But are there scenarios where this could happen? Republicans wide a wave of discontent over the still-terrible economy and frustration that Obama’s (GOP-engineered) legislative failures to take back the House in a few years, but John Boehner and enough of the guys around him flame out that a party turns its lonesome eyes to Newt Gingrich? Or Joe the Plumber?
Hillary Clinton got some deserved criticism for her lecture about how “it took a President” to pass the Civil Rights Act (didn’t Obama prove he values the role of the President when he started running to be the next one?). But Robert Caro’s op-ed today reminds us she could have said something worse:
“Abraham Lincoln struck off the chains of black Americans,” I have written, “but it was Lyndon Johnson who led them into voting booths, closed democracy’s sacred curtain behind them, placed their hands upon the lever that gave them a hold on their own destiny, made them, at last and forever, a true part of American political life.”
This isn’t poetic – it’s just offensive. Did LBJ tie African-Americans’ shoes before they left the house to vote? It should go without saying that African-Americans have been a “true part of American political life” since before the birth of the United States. Among other things, they led a movement which seized the franchise by shifting public opinion and transforming the political landscape. That movement made the difference between the days when LBJ was strategizing against Civil Rights legislation to the days when Jesse Helms must claim to support it.
Caro seems smug towards Civil Rights activists who didn’t trust Johnson’s support until they got it. No doubt which bills Johnson supported, and when he came around to support them, is indeed, as Caro says, some combination of “ambition and compassion.” It’s short-sighted for historians to lionize Johnson’s choices while disparaging the people whose vision, tactics, and courage made it possible for him to wed the two. Of course it makes a huge difference who the President is. But the Great Man Theory that tells us Lincoln freed the slaves and then Johnson gave their descendants the vote is a theory that should be in the dustbin of history by now.
Let’s remember that as we consider the progress Barack Obama’s nomination represents as well as the struggles ahead should there be an Obama presidency.
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.