Quote of the Week from Jon Chait:
"Rob Portman did go so far as to call impeachment "premature,"
which is quite a concession given the complete lack of evidence
Obama did anything at all wrong. That sort of caution is what marks
Portman as a judicious elder statesman within his party."
The Daily Strategist
It's quite possible, writes Ronald Brownstein at The National Journal, that the Benghazi and I.R.S. 'scandals,' along with the Administration's seizure of journalists' phone records may serve the GOP cause of tying up Washington in investigations. But it's equally likely that any advantage they gain will be overshadowed by the difficulties the Republicans will cause within their own party. As Brownstein notes how this happened in the Clinton and other admiinstrations and explains further:
...President Obama may not prove to be the only one hurt by the eruption of controversies around the Benghazi attack, the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups, and the Justice Department's seizure of Associated Press phone records.
...Examining such questions is a necessary congressional function. But in our polarized era, oversight often becomes a partisan cudgel. And that process, which is already infecting the Benghazi inquiry, could bruise not only Obama but the Republicans driving the investigations as well.
These confrontations' most predictable effect will be to enrage the GOP base, which will strengthen the party factions most dubious about any compromises with Obama. In that way, these storms will likely weaken not only the president but also Republicans who believe the party must reboot to restore its competitiveness for the White House. "The base of the party is going to go ballistic on this, particularly the IRS [issue]," says Tom Davis, the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "It makes it harder for [GOP legislators] to go along with Obama on things in general."
...Even before these disclosures, congressional Republicans had dramatically escalated their resistance to Obama's second term. While the House is voting yet again this week to repeal the president's health care law, Senate Republicans have blocked consideration of Obama's nominees for Labor secretary and Environmental Protection Agency administrator. As in Clinton's era, the approaching cycle of investigation, media leak, and hearing-room confrontation over the IRS and Benghazi will deepen a sense of unstinting partisan conflict that will further narrow the space for serious legislative negotiations.
But the polarization is even worse now, owing to Obama derangement syndrome and tea party hubris. Brownstein adds:
Davis, now director of federal affairs at the Deloitte consulting firm, says one critical difference from the Clinton years is that many GOP leaders still consider deals with Obama on immigration and the debt ceiling to be in the party's self-interest. But to the extent Republicans believe scandal is bloodying Obama (and thus Democrats for 2014 and 2016), party leaders will face greater pressure not to buttress him with any policy agreements...
Prospects for any legislative reforms are seriously imperiled, Brownstein believes, and that hurts Obama's legacy prospects. However, concludes Brownstein, "Yet such a breakdown would also endanger the GOP's need to expand its unsustainably narrow electoral coalition. Republicans could find that stoking the flames of scandal may sear not only Obama's hopes but also their own."
The Washington Post has an editorial today that takes a clear stance on the deeply bogus nature of the current GOP attacks on Obama. The title - "Obama a new Nixon? Oh get serious" -- very accurately suggests the tone of the piece.
But, startlingly, directly below this title on the online Post's opinion page is a subtitle that profoundly alters and deeply undercuts its message
The subtitle says "But Obama's misdeeds aren't trivial"
Whoa, Hang on. Stop the clock. Wait a minute. That's a very nasty little allegation. It claims that Obama has actually committed "misdeeds." Misdeeds that "aren't trivial." That's a profoundly serious accusation and one that essentially says that there is indeed some degree of truth to the Republican attacks.
Now if that's what the editorial itself argues then there's nothing wrong with this subtitle. But, in fact, there is actually nothing in the editorial itself that supports this accusation.
Here's how the editorial frames the basic issue:
Nixon, in a series of crimes that collectively came to be known as Watergate, directed from the White House and Justice Department a concerted campaign against those he perceived as political enemies, in the process subverting the FBI, the IRS, other government agencies and the electoral process to his nefarious purposes. Mr. Obama has done nothing of the kind.
The Post editorial writers then review each issue in turn:
(1) "The Benghazi talking points scandal is no scandal whatsoever. ...there was no cover-up of the failure and no conspiracy to deceive the American people about what had happened."
(2) "The broad search of telephone records from the Associated Press in search of a government leaker seems, on all available evidence, to have been a dangerous and unjustified violation of normal Justice Department practice, ...[but] There's no reason to believe that Mr. Obama knew anything about it."
(3) "The IRS targeting conservative opponents of Mr. Obama for special scrutiny is horrifying and inexcusable....But there is so far no evidence of White House knowledge or instigation of the practice."
So, OK Washington Post headline writers, please explain exactly where are the "misdeeds" Obama committed - misdeeds that "aren't trivial"
Well, the editorial does indeed say this:
...the president's unwillingness to condemn [the search of telephone records] is sadly consistent with his administration's record of damaging the First Amendment in its ill-advised pursuit of leakers.
O.K. But does that criticism actually merit a subhead that essentially contradicts the main thrust of the editorial and says "Let's be fair, there is indeed some merit to the Republican claims"?
Aside from this, there is only one other direct criticism of the president in the editorial:
For its part, the administration this week has seemed at times arrogant and at others defensive and flat-footed. When the second-term team took shape a few months ago, we worried about the preponderance of staff loyalists over people of independent stature. Mr. Obama's advisers are smart and hardworking, but when you think about his first-term circle -- including Robert M. Gates, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel and Timothy F. Geithner -- it's not clear this time around who might have the standing and the inclination to speak up when the president errs. Every second-term president needs that kind of help, even if he doesn't relish it.
Wow. Is this really all the Washington Post headline writers have to back up their nasty little smear of a subhead? Obama's frequently and openly stated hard-line policy on leaks? The fact that his second-term advisors might possibly not give good advice at some completely undetermined time in the future on some as yet completely undetermined issue? The absolutely damming fact that this week Obama "seemed at times arrogant and at others defensive and flat-footed?"
If the Washington Post's headline writers think that these things are "misdeeds," somebody better get these poor victims of a disastrously inadequate education a dictionary as quickly as possible; they clearly have absolutely no idea what the word "misdeeds" actually means and why it's an extremely vicious, dishonest and explosive accusation to level at Obama in the current highly charged situation.
In fact, as an alternative, I'll give you a real example of a damn "misdeed" - one that really "isn't trivial." It's when the headline writers at one of the most influential newspapers in the country are so appallingly and pathetically timid and unwilling to take a completely uncompromised position that they deliberately undermine the thrust of an major editorial because they are absolutely terrified of being accused of being insufficiently "evenhanded" and not automatically blaming Democrats or Obama equally with the GOP regardless of the actual facts.
Now that's a really serious "misdeed." One that really "isn't trivial." Maybe the Washington Post should start following Obama's example of how to deal with a scandal and start firing some people itself.
The labor movement could use a little good news -- and they get it from Alana Semuel's L.A. Times article "White-collar workers are turning to labor unions."
Greg Sargent argues persuasively that the I.R.S. does not quite "make the broader case against liberal governance that Republicans are trying to weave out of it."
This NYT editorial says GOP's scandal-mongering is all about distracting the public from their obstruction of needed economic reforms.
You're probably sick of the Republican's Benghazi nothing-burger. But if you can read just one mare article about on the topic, make it Chris Gentilviso's HuffPo post, "Republicans Altered Benghazi Emails, CBS News Report Claims."
Sen Ayotte doubles down against background checks, bets on "Blame Bloomberg" strategy to raise dough. 'American Future Fund,' reportedly a Koch Bros. political conduit, ponies up $550K to support her.
At Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball, Geoffrey Skelley probes "How migration does -- or doesn't -- change how a state votes."
Here's an interesting approach to fighting suppression of young voters ---lower the voting age to 17, like they are getting ready to do in Illinois.
Jonathan Bernstein explains "Why Obama's Popularity Still Matters," even though he is a lame duck.
Nate Silver debunks the "second-term curse," noting that "some recent presidents have overcome the supposed curse and actually become more popular on average during their second terms."
For those who long for a tell-it-like-it-really-is president, Ezra Klein's "If Obama went Bulworth, here's what he'd say" is just the tonic.
The following article, by Erica Seifert, is cross-posted from the Carville-Greenberg Memo:
Several months ago, the GOP announced that it would begin a concerted outreach program to groups of voters, including women, who consistently vote for Democrats by large margins. So last week, just in time for Mother's Day, House Republicans offered American mothers the "Working Families Flexibility Act." The more appropriately titled "More Work, Less Pay Act" would essentially eliminate overtime pay, putting working families on a collision course with rising prices at the grocery store and mounting costs of childcare, rent, and education.
That is not an agenda that works for working women. It is little wonder that 60 percent of women say Washington is not addressing the issues that are important to them. As one women in Denver told us a few months ago, "Oftentimes I worked 5 jobs, never saw the kids. They raised themselves. A majority of politicians don't understand."
While Washington politicians focus on solving crises of their own invention and dreaming up new ways to squeeze working people, our research has found that working women are intensely concerned about their own pocketbook economies--concerns that somehow eluded supporters of the "More Work, Less Pay Act."
Our most recent Democracy Corps survey found clear evidence that women want Washington to advance a serious working women's economic agenda. This agenda must address the cost of childcare, invest in education and job training, expand paid maternity and sick leave, and finally put resources toward enforcing pay equity.
If Republicans want to put forward policies that will actually work for working women, it should look more like this:
Jobs. Any working women's agenda must include a plan for good jobs that provide good incomes, employment security, family leave, and health and retirement benefits. Pay equity and raising the minimum wage are necessarily part of this agenda; the Economic Policy Institute estimates that women comprise 56 percent of those who would be directly affected by an increase in the minimum wage. The "good jobs" agenda must also include job training and education to afford women the opportunity to get and keep those good jobs.
Cost of living. The working women's agenda must address the cost of childcare. For middle-class families, the average cost of childcare is high--about 10 percent of monthly income. But for low-income families (a majority of which are headed by women), the average cost of childcare was 50 percent of monthly income in 2010. Addressing the cost of living also means expanding access to affordable healthcare, including preventive care for women.
Retirement security. Retirement security is critical for women because they live longer and because they are less likely to have jobs that provide pension and retirement benefits. Well over half (56 percent) of Medicare recipients are women. Older women are more likely than older men to pay for health care out of pocket and more likely to be low-income. For many of these women, Medicare is a necessity.
Alex Seitz-Wald's "When the IRS targeted liberals" at Salon.com makes a couple of points that help to put the latest dust-up about the IRS targeting political groups in clearer perspective:
While few are defending the Internal Revenue Service for targeting some 300 conservative groups, there are two critical pieces of context missing from the conventional wisdom on the "scandal." First, at least from what we know so far, the groups were not targeted in a political vendetta -- but rather were executing a makeshift enforcement test (an ugly one, mind you) for IRS employees tasked with separating political groups not allowed to claim tax-exempt status, from bona fide social welfare organizations. Employees are given almost zero official guidance on how to do that, so they went after Tea Party groups because those seemed like they might be political. Keep in mind, the commissioner of the IRS at the time was a Bush appointee.
The second is that while this is the first time this kind of thing has become a national scandal, it's not the first time such activity has occurred...."I wish there was more GOP interest when I raised the same issue during the Bush administration, where they audited a progressive church in my district in what look liked a very selective way," California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on MSNBC Monday. "I found only one Republican, [North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones], that would join me in calling for an investigation during the Bush administration. I'm glad now that the GOP has found interest in this issue and it ought to be a bipartisan concern."
The well-known church, All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, became a bit of a cause célèbre on the left after the IRS threatened to revoke the church's tax-exempt status over an anti-Iraq War sermon the Sunday before the 2004 election. "Jesus [would say], 'Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine,'" rector George Regas said from the dais.
Shouldn't Democrats insist, make that demand, loud, clear and relentlessly, that any probe of I.R.S. political activity also include an investigation of abuses against progressive organizations?
Seitz-Wald adds "And while All Saints came under the gun, conservative churches across the country were helping to mobilize voters for Bush with little oversight." A couple of conservative churches in Ohio were said to have "essentially campaigned for a Republican gubernatorial candidate...and even flew him on one of their planes." And then there is the harassment of the NAACP during he Bush administration:
And it wasn't just churches. In 2004, the IRS went after the NAACP, auditing the nation's oldest civil rights group after its chairman criticized President Bush for being the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the organization. "They are saying if you criticize the president we are going to take your tax exemption away from you," then-chairman Julian Bond said. "It's pretty obvious that the complainant was someone who doesn't believe George Bush should be criticized, and it's obvious of their response that the IRS believes this, too."
In a letter to the IRS, Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel, Pete Stark and John Conyers wrote: "It is obvious that the timing of this IRS examination is nothing more than an effort to intimidate the members of the NAACP, and the communities the organization represents, in their get-out-the-vote effort nationwide."
Greenpeace was also targeted by he I.R.S. under Bush, reports Seitz-Wald, at the behest of an organization heavily subsidized by Exxon Mobil Oil Co., which Greenpeace had labeled the "No. 1 climate criminal."
None of this is to argue that there should be no accountability for the latest I.R.S. abuses -- only that any probe and punishments should be scrupulously nonpartisan. Otherwise it's a partisan farce masquerading as concern about ethics.
Ed Kilgore has a blast with inside-the-beltway media's self-importance in his Washington Monthly post, "D.C. to Obama: Don't Mess with this Town." Responding to a VandeHei/Allen almost gleeful Politico post claiming that 'the town' is turning against President Obama, Kilgore explains, "What amazes me the most about this column is the forthright announcement that the MSM are going to make explicit common cause with the GOP."
Kilgore quotes the Politico tag team:
....Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old-fashioned Washington pile-on -- so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile up...Obama's aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.
They add that NYT columnist Maureen Down has joined the bash-Obama fest, as if she is the emblematic Democratic progressive, to which Kilgore dryly responds, "Yes, MoDo is your representative Democrat. When you've lost her, you've clearly lost the Blue States altogether."
The Politico tag team also trots out the "Anonymous Insider Democrat" to whine about Obama's lack of political courtship skills -- "He has never taken the Democratic chairs up to Camp David to have a drink or to have a discussion," no "flowers and candy" blah blah.
Kilgore observes that "...The new "narrative" of Obama being on the ropes is bringing back all sorts of stupid and discredited criticisms. "This town" has turned on him! That's all that matters." Allen/VandeHei also attribute Bush's miserable record to his failure to observe D.C.'s political etiquette, rather than his failed policies on a broad range of national issues.
The Politicos "come so close to self-parody that every sentence is like a pinata you could hit from any direction," notes Kilgore. "...Make no mistake: this is a declaration of war by elements of the Beltway Media who are determined to show us all they still have the power to "bring down a president," as they arrogantly used to say about Watergate, and that not only the GOP but the Breitbartian wingnuts have a new ally in the "Vetting" of Barack Obama."
Meanwhile, far, far from the beltway, out in the real world, the actual electorate's response to all the village hyper-ventillating can most accurately be described as a collective yawn, as Charlie Cook explains, quoted in the post below.
Charlie Cook's National Journal post "While Republicans Rant About Benghazi and IRS, Public Mostly Yawns" puts GOP meme-mongering about the two 'scandals' in adult perspective:
... At this point, the significance of each is more in the eye of the beholder. Liberals and Democrats tend to de-emphasize both affairs, while many conservatives and Republicans think that each rises to the level of impeachment. It will take time to know which end of this ridiculously broad spectrum of assessments proves to be more accurate.
...One wonders whether the same Republicans who are frothing over Benghazi would have been quite as vigilant had they been in Congress after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, which killed 220 U.S. Marines, 18 sailors, and three Army soldiers in the largest single-day loss of American military since Vietnam and the largest number of Marine Corps fatalities since the Battle of Iwo Jima. By the end of December 1983, hearings and investigations were complete, reports had been issued, and the tragic episode soon became history (other than to the families and friends of those lost). In today's political culture, such sad events have considerably longer shelf lives.
...Perhaps the best way to determine whether either (or both) of these stories is starting to resonate with the American people is to simply watch Obama's daily and weekly Gallup job-approval ratings. After all, this is the first presidency that will be covered from start to finish with daily public-opinion samplings. Since the beginning of March, the president's approval ratings each week have been between 47 and 51 percent, and between 48 and 50 percent for all but two weeks. For the week of May 6-12, with the last interviewing being conducted Sunday night, Obama's approval rating was at 49 percent, down a point from the previous week, and his disapproval was at 44 percent, the same as the week before.
According to the Gallup Organization, the average job-approval rating for presidents in their 18th quarter in office, covering the post-World War II period, was 51.3 percent. That's a little over a point higher than where Obama is right now. Bill Clinton had the highest job-approval rating at this point in his presidency over the past 50 years, with 57 percent. Ronald Reagan was at 55 percent, George W. Bush at 46 percent, and Richard Nixon at 45 percent. Nixon had been above 50 percent until early April, and then he began his gradual decline, never to recover.
If Obama were a stock, you could say he has a very narrow trading range; indeed, one can argue that he has had a higher floor and lower ceiling in terms of job approval than any other modern president. His bedrock support--particularly among minorities, youth, and liberals--keeps him from dropping below a certain level in all but the worst weeks. But the equally vehement opposition among conservatives and older white men puts a ceiling on how high Obama can go in even a great week.
Going forward, Cook suggests,
The most objective way to ascertain whether either or both of these stories have "legs" and are beginning to get traction with the public is to watch every Monday afternoon for the release of the Gallup approval rating for the previous week, ending the night before. Although you can look at the Gallup three-day moving average, those have a smaller sample size than the full week of interviewing and tend to be somewhat volatile. As long as Obama's job approval remains in that 47-to-51-percent range, particularly between 48 and 50 percent, it's safe to say that neither story is hurting him significantly, at least with the public. If you are going to look at other polls, take a gander at that poll's "trading range" for Obama over March and April, and see whether it drops below that range. Each pollster's methodology is a bit different, and each has its own idiosyncrasies, making comparisons between polls a little more iffy. It's always better to compare each poll with previous numbers from that specific pollster.
Cook adds that such distractions tend to burden second-term presidencies by taking away time and attention from more urgent problems. He could have also added that these distractions also help Republicans avoid acknowledging that the budget deficit they have been whining about for years as the mother-of-all-issues is now rapidly declining.
Americans do love their scandals, as the Republicans well understand in their amping up their bogus outrage over Benghazi and the alleged I.R.S. investigation targeting right-wing organizations. But sometimes we get distracted by the bright and shiny thing and overlook the real scandal, the one that does much more damage and justifies more legitimate outrage. As Jonathan Bernstein writes at The Plum Line:
Want a real Washington scandal -- one worse than the (phony) Benghazi scandal and the (apparently real, but apparently limited) IRS scandals combined? Try the continuing, and possibly accelerating, obstruction of executive branch nominees by Senate Republicans.
...Republicans, by abusing their Constitutional powers, are -- deliberately, in several cases -- preventing the government from carrying out duly passed laws.
...Republicans have manipulated loopholes in Senate rules to delay confirmation of Secretary of Labor nominee Thomas Perez and Environmental Protection Agency nominee Gina McCarthy...Republicans are delaying these nominations beyond their eventual insistence that almost all nominees must get 60 votes. In other words, they're filibustering on top of their own filibusters.
That's just two examples. There are numerous others; again, with virtually all nominees required to have 60 votes...Republicans are filibustering every nomination. But perhaps the worst are the "nullification" filibusters, in which Republicans simply refuse to approve any nominee at all for some positions -- the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- because they don't want those agencies to carry out their statutory obligations.
In doing so, Republicans are not breaking the rules of the Senate. They are, however, breaking the Senate itself, and harming the government...Republicans, by refusing to accept those norms, make it impossible for the normal machinery of government to function.
...This is entirely unprecedented. Until very recently, simple majority confirmation was the norm on executive branch nominations with only a handful of exceptions. Not only that, but both Democrats and Republicans agreed that in almost all cases presidents were entitled to their choices when it came to these posts.
...The only recourse for the majority -- and recall that Democrats enjoy a 55-seat duly elected majority in the Senate -- is to threaten to change the rules if Republicans continue, and then carry out that threat with majority-imposed reform to end filibusters on executive branch nominations altogether...If filibusters become routine instead of used only for those things the minority objects to the strongest, then the majority will have little choice.
Yes, I know that in the way Washington works, this kind of routine disruption of normal government procedures doesn't qualify as a Scandal! But it should. And while it's quite proper for those concerned about good government to be outraged by the IRS story, this one is a much bigger deal, and the facts of it are plain for all to see -- in fact, the people responsible are openly bragging about what they're doing...Now that's a scandal.
Bernstein is right. The only question is how long the MSM will continue to be suckered by GOP theatrics and when, if ever, they will find the courage to address the real scandal with the coverage it deserves.
Although "Republicans hope public anger over the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath will besmirch congressional Democrats in next year's midterm elections," reports AP's Charles Babbington, "a major independent inquiry largely absolved [former Secretary of State]Clinton of wrongdoing." Further, ''The unsubstantiated Republican allegations about Benghazi disintegrated one by one,'' said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the House committee's top Democrat. ''There's no evidence of a conspiracy to withhold military assets for political reasons, no evidence of a cover-up.''
Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas argue in "The good reasons for the IRS's dumb mistake" at Wonkblog that it the IRS should target political groups like the tea party to insure that they are not abusing their 501(c)4 status with political activity. "The IRS is supposed to reject groups that are primarily political from registering as 501(c)4s. If they're going to do that, then they need some kind of test that helps them flag problematic applicants. And that test will have to be a bit impressionistic." What would be wrong, say Klein and Soltas, is if progressive groups were not also scrutinized.
The Newark Star-Ledger editorial, "Christie's early voting veto will hurt turnout" pretty much shreds NJ Governor Chris Christie's bogus image as a leader committed to bipartisanship.
At The Fix Chris Cillizza asks "Can Democrats rebuild Obama's winning coalition?" and answers, "Black voters, the census study makes clear, were the story of the 2012 election. For the first time since the bureau started measuring voter participation in 1996, the African American turnout rate (66 percent of eligible voters) surpassed that of whites (64 percent)... The bigger problem for the party in attempting to rebuild the Obama coalition is the youth vote. The census study of the 2012 electorate found that just 41 percent of eligible voters ages 18 to 24 actually voted, well below the overall turnout rate of 62 percent of eligible voters. The youth voting rate was a significant dip from the 49 percent of voters ages 18 to 24 who turned out in 2008....Voters ages 18 to 29 made up just 15 percent of the 2012 electorate -- lower than exit poll data have shown for the past few elections. That decline should be of significant concern to Democratic strategists, particularly without Obama on the ballot in future elections."
That the Obama Administration is leveraging private and nonprofit sector support for publicizing and implementing the Affordable care Act is commendable; That it should have to as a result of GOP obstruction of funding is a sad commentary on the Republican party's willingness to endanger the health of millions of Americans for political advantage.
At Daily Kos, Joan McCarter reports that "Maine became the 13th state in the nation to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission..Maine joins West Virginia, Colorado, Montana, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Maryland, Vermont, New Mexico and Hawaii in calling for that Constitutional amendment...Outside of the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court, Republicans hate corporate spending in campaigns [pdf] almost as much as Democrats (71 percent versus 73 percent, respectively) and want to see reform. A Constitutional amendment is not an easy thing to achieve, but the time is right for this one."
Michael Wear's post at The Atlantic "How the GOP Can Win Back the Values Debate--and How Dems Could Lose It" should probably be put in the "not likely, but worth a quick read" category. His point that Dems should tone down the "strident moralizing" and embrace a little more civility in dialogue is not a bad one, although the Republicans are worse offenders by far.
In the Washington Post editorial "The GOP's Politics of Dysfunction," the editorial board calls out the Republicans for their "absurdly flimsy pretexts" in blocking cabinet appointments needed to enable proper functioning of government: "Americans elected Barack Obama president, and reelected him. He's entitled to his Cabinet. It's possible that Republicans will muster the 41 votes needed in the Senate to block both nominations -- despite their strong qualifications and high ethical standards. If they do, Americans will be under no illusions that the GOP has led Washington to new lows of dysfunction."
Joseph E. Stiglitz's "Student Debt and the Crushing of the American Dream" at the New York Times Opinionator spotlights an issue of increasing concern to middle class voters, and one which Dems would be wise to address with more assertive leadership.
In his May 12th Daily Beast column, Mike Tomasky says that "the idea of impeaching Obama is industrial-strength insane. Republicans will probably try anyway"
Here's his analysis:
When the histories of this administration are written, I hope fervently that last Friday, May 10, does not figure prominently in them. But I fear that it might: the double-barrel revelations that the White House hasn't quite been telling the whole story on Benghazi and that some mid-level IRS people targeted some Tea Party groups for scrutiny are guaranteed to ramp up the crazy. But to what extent? I fear it could be considerable, and the people in the White House damn well better fear the same, or we're going to be contemplating an extremely ugly situation come 2015, especially if the Republicans have held the House and captured the Senate in the by-elections.
...I can assure you that already in the Pavlovian swamps of the nutso right, the glands are swelling. Theirs is a different planet from the one you and I inhabit. Most Republican members of the House live in districts where it is a given (among the white constituents, anyway) that Obama is a socialist; that's he bent on bringing the United States of America down, or at least that he definitely doesn't love the country and the Constitution (nudge nudge) the way they do; that he's not a legitimate occupant of the Oval Office to start with. ...
... there is no end to Republican figures--and to a distressing extent, the mainstream media--feeding the crazy. [Republicasns] do their base's bidding, not America's. How many times do you need to see them do this before you accept that it is the reality? And now there's an added element. They want to gin up turnout among their base for next year's elections. And if they gin it up enough, and the Democratic base stays home, they could end up holding the House and taking the Senate. And if they have both houses, meaning that the vote in the House would not be certain to hit a Senate dead-end, well, look out.
I hope the White House knows this. I hope they understand, I hope the President himself understands, that the fever has not broken and will not break. It might crescendo right up to his very last day in office. ....If my worst fears are never realized--well, good, obviously. But it will only be because they couldn't identify even a flimsy pretext on which to proceed. Never put the most extreme behavior past them. It is who they are, and it is what they do
Tomasky's right and before any Democrat dares to disagree with him and say "Oh, they'll never really go That far" they should just stop and think about how many times they've said the same thing before in the last five years and been utterly and totally wrong.
Below you will find recent items published at this site that we feel have significant continuing value.
This item by J.P. Green was originally published on April 30, 2013.
Tom Raum's AP article "Economic gains may not help Democrats much in 2014" really deserves a subtitle like, say, "Unless of Course They're Really Good." The nut of Raum's argument:
--Presidential claims of responsibility for economic gains rarely win plaudits from voters, yet presidents nearly always get blamed when things get worse.
--The historical odds for midterm gains in Congress by the in-power party are slim at best. Since World War II, the president's party has lost an average of 26 seats in midterm elections and gained seats only twice -- Democrats in 1998 under President Bill Clinton and Republicans in 2002 with George W. Bush in the Oval Office.
--Presidential elections are often referendums on the economy. That applies less often to midterms.
Raum adds that "there has been a feeling of incremental improvement after Obama's first term in office. That's the key word, incremental. Presidents have to make the people believe that things are getting better every month."
Raum concedes the good news Dems are trumpeting: "Right now, surveys and reports show that the recovery is continuing, although more slowly than most, despite continued high unemployment and an environment of modest economic growth and inflation. Home prices are on the rise, manufacturing is slowly improving." He cites an uptick in consumer spending and economic growth statistics. He says economists credit Obama's policies with creating about 3 million jobs, while the Administration claims 6 million jobs added.
But Raum believes sitting presidents have to be very cautious about how much they brag about their economic accomplishments:
Democratic strategists James Carville, Stan Greenberg and Erica Seifert concluded from focus-group sessions with both Democratic and Republican audiences that Obama fares far better in speeches when he highlights economic progress without taking credit.
People "are very much on edge financially ... because they live it every day. Every speech needs to start from a place that understands this is not theoretical or ideological," they wrote in a policy memo. Obama must "thread a very careful needle," they concluded.
Raum also quotes Rutgers political science professor: "Americans would say, 'Well, that's our judgment to make, whether you're doing a good job or not....Facts speak for themselves," Baker said. "If things are good, you don't really need to make any extraordinary claims."
President Obama is certainly smart enough to avoid crossing the line between skilfully defending his record with facts and bragging immodestly. He's got articulate surrogates who can amplify his accomplishments in a way that allows him to preserve his dignity. he also has a good sense of just how much he can get away with in terms of explaining his challenges without sounding like a whiner. We will never hear him echoing his predecessor's mantra in the 2004 debate with Sen Kerry "It's tough...It's hard work"
Most voters are smart enough to know that presidents can have undeserved good luck or bad luck. The 2012 vote suggests that a healthy majority apparently gets it that President Obama inherited an unholy mess from his predecessor, and increasingly, that he has done fairly well, especially considering that the Republican party has zero interest in doing anything that might help the country if it also means helping Obama.
Historical patterns suggest that the Republicans will take control of the Senate and hold their majority of the House. For that to happen, however, a majority of the voters who show up at the polls in 2014 will have to think continued gridlock is a good thing or believe, against all evidence, that their Republican incumbent is capable of bipartisan cooperation for economic recovery.
What Democrats have going for them in 2014 is the growing realization among most informed voters that President Obama needs a substantial congressional majority to get anything done. Most swing voters will figure out that electing more Republicans means even more gridlock. Getting rid of a few Republicans on the other hand, just might enable the President to kick-start the economy. If Democrats do indeed have a qualitative edge in ground game mechanics and candidate recruitment for 2014, an upset just may be in the making.
This staff post was originally published on April 17, 2013.
Ed Kilgore's "The Era of Big Accomplishments Is Over--For Now" at The Washington Monthly provides a much-needed reality check for critics of President Obama: As Kilgore explains:
Look, everybody knows the score: so long as congressional Republicans refuse to work with Democrats on legislation dealing with the major challenges facing the country, there will be no Era of Big Accomplishments for a Democratic president if the GOP has either control of the House or 41 firm votes in the Senate. Right now they have both, and they know it. As the gun issue has shown, big Democratic advantages in public opinion do not significantly inhibit Republican obstructionism. And even on the one big issue where many Republicans feel it is in their long-range interest to bend--immigration--it's (a) not at all clear comprehensive reform legislation can survive conservative opposition, and even if it does (b) it will likely be a less progressive reform than George W. Bush was proposing six years ago.
Since Democratic presidents have a habit of wanting to govern, of course Obama hasn't thrown up his hands or thrown in the towel in the face of this situation. He's laid down second-term markers that reflect what he campaigned for in 2012, and what his supporters expect from him, and has also risked that support by making an offer to congressional Republicans on entitlements that seems designed to further expose their incorrigible obstructionism. He'll also, I'm sure, try some executive gambits (e.g., on greenhouse gas emissions), though it's unclear how many he can actually execute without practical control of Congress.
But we've known for a good while now that the odds of Obama being able to do much of anything other than protect the accomplishments he achieved before 2011 (and even that will be difficult) were low, and probably won't improve a great deal after another midterm election cycle where Republicans have all sorts of advantages.
Inveterate Obama critics from the Right, and those on the Left who expect Obama to deploy magical powers to overcome the entrenched power of the GOP, will mock his record for its limited accomplishments. Lord knows he's made mistakes and isn't perfect. But at this stage, even if Obama combined the public charisma of FDR with the legislative skills of LBJ, it's difficult to see how the road gets any easier. An unlikely House takeover in 2014 combined with a continued Senate majority willing to undertake radical filibuster reform might change everything. But anything less won't change the basic dynamics.
Republicans are going to keep bashing away at the president regardless of what he does. Obama's Democratic critics will continue to fault him for his mistakes, doomed bipartisan overtures and perceived lack of gumption. That's OK. Democrats are supposed to press the president toward more progressive policies at every opportunity. But let's get real about the unprecedented wall of obstruction he faces --- and the only hope for breaking it, which is a major upset in the 2014 midterms.
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This item by James Vega was originally published on April 14, 2013.
Come on, progressives, let's be honest. Of course it's necessary and proper for progressives to criticize Obama's budget compromises as either bad economics or lousy electoral strategy -- or both. Heck, that's the progressive coalition's job and progressives would be derelict in their duty if they didn't firmly oppose the compromise of basic progressive positions and goals.
But there's no reason to resort to armchair psychiatry or to otherwise impugn Obama's motives - saying he's "timid" "gutless" "a DINO (Democrat in name only)" "gullible", "in wall street's pocket", "a corporate tool" "a phony progressive" and all the other personal accusations against him when deep down we all know perfectly well the real reasons why he's doing what he's doing.
Let's face it. Every Democratic president has to walk a very fine line in dealing with the business community and the economic elite of this country. That group is not entirely composed of extreme right wing ideologues like the Koch Brothers (although there is a very disturbingly large group who are). Many are relatively pragmatic individuals who are willing to accept a certain range of progressive policies when the political climate of the country overwhelmingly favors them. The majority of American businessmen are not going to go on a John Galt-style "producers strike" and shut down all their banks, offices and factories to protest a modest tax increase nor will they try to foment a military coup because they don't like Elizabeth Warren.
But on the other hand, any Democratic president absolutely has to maintain a certain working relationship with the business community or face huge obstacles to almost all of his domestic priorities. Had Obama seriously threatened to prosecute substantial sectors of the business and the financial community for their role in the financial crisis when he first took office in 2008, he would not have gotten the stimulus bill, the modest financial regulation bill that he did get or health care reform. There were only a few major business figures who went overboard with hysterical accusations that Obama was out to destroy the entire free enterprise system in 2009, but if he had really come down hard on business and Wall Street that attack would have been picked up and become so widespread in the business world that plenty of Democratic Congress and Senate members would have melted away from supporting Obama's first term agenda like snowflakes in forest fire.
Now, sure, its loads of fun to imagine an alternate reality in which a fiery populist president "takes his case to the people" and develops such titanic, fierce, ferocious and powerful grass roots support that American big business has no option except to meekly accept the president's firmly populist agenda. And yes, we can all cheerfully recite Roosevelt's stirring line "I welcome their hatred" as the great rhetorical model for how a really tough populist Democrat could deal with the business community.
But, come on, let's face it, if intense grass roots support for that kind of muscular populism had really existed in recent years, Dennis Kucinich or John Edwards would have won the Democratic primaries by a landslide in 2008, blowing away the far more centrist Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. In 2004 Howard Dean would have walked away with the Democratic nomination without raising a sweat and in 2000, Ralph Nader would have outpolled Al Gore. Right wing populists like George Wallace and Ross Perot pulled a major slice of the national vote in their campaigns in past decades while no left wing populist in the post-war era has ever even come close. You can't just go around simply assuming and asserting the existence of some huge, sleeping left-wing populist majority that is just waiting to be mobilized as if it were a given fact of American political life when somehow or other it never seems to be able to drag its butt out of bed and go out to vote for firmly populist candidates on election days.
So let's stop with the alternate reality stuff for a moment and try to visualize the strategic situation as Obama has to see it when he looks across the table during a meeting with a group like the Business Roundtable or similar organizations of the economic elite. He starts out knowing that a large segment of American business won't even sit down with him at all - that they are wildly, irrationally and passionately opposed to everything he stands for and are willing to invest huge sums of money to defeat him and every policy he advocates.
So the members of the business and financial elite who are indeed willing to sit across the table from him are the ones he really needs to keep at least reasonably neutral if he doesn't want an absolutely united front of business opposition to everything he does.
Now the business guys at the table are not completely unreasonable. A recent opinion study "Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans," by Benjamin I. Page and Jason Seawright of Northwestern and Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt, indicates that the "1 percenters" -- those with $8 million in net worth - are at least somewhat open to some relatively liberal economic ideas. Most agreed, for example, with improving public infrastructure such as highways, bridges and airports; scientific research; and aid to education. They also agreed that the Social Security system should ensure a minimum standard of living to all contributors, even if some receive benefits exceeding the value of their contribution and they also agreed that people with high incomes actually should pay a larger share of their incomes in taxes than those with low incomes. And they recognized the need for sensible regulations.
But on the other hand, the study also found the following:
When we asked respondents how important they considered each of eleven possible problems facing the United States, budget deficits headed the list. Fully 87 percent of our wealthy respondents said deficits are a "very important" problem facing the country. Only 10 percent said "somewhat important," and a bare 4 percent said "not very important at all." The high priority put on this issue was confirmed by responses to an open-ended question about "the most [emphasis added] important problem facing this country today." One third (32 percent) of all open-ended responses mentioned budget deficits or excessive government spending, far more than mentioned any other issue. Furthermore, at various points in their interviews many respondents spontaneously mentioned "government over-spending." Unmistakably, deficits were a major concern for most of our wealthy respondents.... [In contrast, unemployment and education] were mentioned as the most important problem by only 11 percent, indicating that they ranked a distant second and third to budget deficits.
So it's not just the professional deficit scolds like Pete Peterson or the PR shop called "Fix the Debt" who are pushing the deficit fixation. Nor is it just the columnists and editorial writers at the Washington Post. The belief that dealing with the deficit is the most important national issue is pretty much a consensus opinion of America's wealthy and business elite.
And now here's the funny thing. If you ask progressives, most of them would passionately agree that "the one-percent" -- the economic elite like those in the survey above -- really run the show in America and make the political system dance to their tune. Many progressives will be happy to recite in vast detail how the economic elites in countries like Chile organized the overthrow of democratically elected populist presidents when the latter got the plutocrats really ticked off.
Yet, at the same time, when it comes to evaluating the political strategy and political compromises a Democratic President has to employ in dealing with the economic elite and the business community, the pivotal role and power of the 1% suddenly does not have to be taken into account. It's like suddenly they don't have any power at all.
But in reality Obama is faced with a basic choice: he can tell the sector of the business community that is indeed willing to sit across the table from him that he thinks the whole deficit issue is completely overblown - just like Paul Krugman says it is -- and accept the fact that they will walk away from the table completely unsatisfied with his answer or he can say that he understands their concern and is willing to make compromises if the GOP will meet him halfway.
Continue reading "Come on progressives, Obama's not making budget concessions to the "serious people" because he's gutless or dumb. He's doing it because they're PR flacks for the economic elite that basically runs the country.....Oh, please, don't tell me you didn't know." »